Fashion offers creative responses to its environmental impact for COP26

by | Aug 19, 2021

Mega industry’s rising carbon emissions, electric vehicles and endangered environments have long since dominated the landscape of international climate change conventions. This year, as the focus of COP26 hones in on innovation, community and sustainability, the fashion industry gets its moment to contribute to the global conversation. Kicking off in September, Fashion Revolution, in partnership with the British Council will present its Fashion Open Studio events digitally, featuring South African designer Sindiso Khumalo as one of this year’s nine mentors. In response to the themes of this year’s COP26 Convention, which will take place in Glasgow in November, the Fashion Open Studio provides a peek into the world of sustainable designers, by opening up their studios for sharing, insights and skills development.

Sindiso, who is one of the 2020’s LVMH Prize finalists, is joined by a range of designers from across the globe, featuring craftspeople, fabric makers and other artisans from countries like Argentina, Thailand, Turkey, India, Nepal, Bangladesh and others. Thai brand Bhukram uses indigenous processes and materials found in northeastern Thailand to make everyday clothes. Denim upcyclers, Toton, from Indonesia will be sharing their recycling secrets, and introducing viewers to their artisan collaborators, whose insights have been crucial to their creativity and success. Bora Studio works with local indigenous communities around Nepal with natural dyeing and traditional craft techniques and will show how a highly localised supply chain and community works in practice, in harmony with people and planet.

The intention behind the project is to act as a designer showcasing and mentoring initiative, intended to equip audiences with knowledge about what the world of clothes-making and can (and could) look like, and in so doing, encourage sustainability, equitable business practice and a reverence for local products and processes. British Council South Africa’s Arts Programme Manager, Grace Meadows, explains the value of the virtual studio visit:

When designers open up their studios to the public it creates a space for honest conversation, transparency and accountability. It also gives designers an opportunity to share their innovative and creative solutions to some of the urgent social and environmental challenges facing the industry today. The Fashion Open Studio was a global call out that gives nine designers an opportunity to enter this decentralised fashion showcase. Sindiso Khumalo’s extraordinary efforts in areas of sustainability in fashion, now opens the door for SA audiences to join this global conversation and to explore the processes, practices, techniques and ideas behind the design work and ethos.

The digital event series, which launches as part of London Design Festival at the Victoria and Albert Museum in September and will activate physically in Glasgow, is set to draw a diverse audience. Some, well-versed in the areas of sustainable and circular design, some interested in the input of global South designers specifically, and for others still, a first entry point to the conversation between climate change and fashion. This is in line with the broad themes of “Adaption and Resilience and Nature” which have guided the studio experiences the designers will be showcasing.

For Sindiso, the open studio experience will be focused on “showing that social and environmental issues are interconnected,” according to the programme outline. This will include discussions around inequality (and creating equitable work environments) as well as giving audiences insight into Khumalo’s approach to local curation and repairing over replacement techniques.

“Fashion Revolution South Africa could not be prouder of Sindiso. She genuinely cares about people and the planet. She is the perfect person to represent South Africa in this series of digital events in response to the UN Climate Change Conference at Fashion Open Studio x COP26,” says CEO Cyril Naicker.

It’s a conversation well worth having within the context of COP26. Despite being overshadowed in discussions about climate change, the fashion industry is a significant contributor – not least because every individual wears clothes, and thus falls into some relationship between apparel and the planet. For the Fashion Open Studio, founded in 2017, the intention has been to present possible best practice, highlight innovation and technology, and give tools for how we can think about disrupting our current relationships to garments and the projects.

Amongst its many themes, COP26 has identified the protection of local communities and environments, the mobilisation of local financing, and co-working towards solutions building as some of its key goals – and the fashion industry’s evolution and changes is quite closely hinged to these same issues.

The designers selected to take part are:

Garcia Bello

Argentina/Netherlands

Aranya Craft x Rahemur Rahman

Bangladesh/London

Iro Iro

India

Toton

Indonesia

Bora Studio

Nepal

Bhukram

Thailand

Huner

Turkey

Vimbai Natasha Naomi

Zimbabwe

Sindiso Khumalo

South Africa

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