In the mainstream fashion industry the production process typically involves a wide range of people who help to create garments quickly and efficiently. Designers, suppliers, dyers, production teams, manufacturers, finishers, buyers and PR agents each contribute to a system that is driven by speed and economy. However, placed beside this crowded market are a number of producers that are choosing to do things differently. These producers, concerned with issues of equality and a drive for change, are engaging in social and collaborative practices that embrace different knowledge sets.
A typical example of this type of producer is the Swedish non-for-profit organisation, Stockholms Stadsmissionen (Stockholm City Mission), which helps and supports a wide range of people within the local area. The Stadsmissionen organises a number of activities and schemes for people in need that are delivered through their community centres, outreach programs and social enterprise initiatives. Under the REMAKE label, one of the social enterprise initiatives focuses on recycling and remanufacturing donated goods into new products. Designers, volunteers and mission staff work alongside trainees on the Stadmissionen’s job training back-to-work scheme to turn worn clothing into new fashion garments. The funds raised from the sale of the new products are reinvested to finance further mission initiatives. But while the Stadsmissionen initiative, like many social enterprises, aims to support people by embracing the intentions of TED’s “Design for Ethical Production” directive, the organisation also provides environmental benefits as it embraces “Design for Cyclability” practices. By recycling waste materials and discarded garments into new upcycled products the REMAKE label diverts textile waste away from landfill and incineration.
Central to the Stadmissionen’s work is the importance it places on connecting with people. Alongside activities that connect the Stadmissionen with people through making, they aim to connect through the concept of “Design Activism”. Following a study commissioned by the organisation that revealed approximately 31 garments lie unworn in the average Swede’s wardrobe, the Stadmissionen launched the ‘You’ll Never Wear That Again’ campaign to (re)connect people with clothes. Introduced to motivate wearers to engage in garment recycling, the campaign challenges the general public to sort through their wardrobes to identify unworn items. Photographs of these garments are posted on the campaign Facebook page, after which they can be donated for remanufacturing at the REMAKE studio in Stockholm. The impact of the campaign has been positive. In a recent interview Susann Blyback, the Project Manager at the Stadmissionen, stated that, “Usually we can see a decrease in the number of clothes being handed in after the Christmas period, but this year we keep a steady flow as a likely result of the campaign.”
Traditionally the fashion industry relies upon many interdependent partners whose connection to a product is often determined by price, quality and speed. However, by expanding these relationships to include NGOS, voluntary and non-for-profit organisations it is possible to explore different models of practice that lead to new, inspired ways of doing things. By engaging in models that consider other factors beyond the traditional drivers of price, quality and speed, as seen in the example of the Stadmissionen, fashion producers can begin to play a greater role in benefiting society.