A ZEITGEIST CONVERSATION
BY ALEXIA GEORGIEVA
WITH LUIS FELIPE RODRIGUEZ LOPEZ, OMAR ANTABLI, XANDER NIMAS, SCARLET DAHYE LEE, SAINTE DÉRY, JOSHUA BOUDREAU AND GENEVIÉVE DELAND
“From the way we dress to how we see the world, algorithms play a role in shaping our identity through the visuals they deliver to us”
The widespread access to the Internet has engulfed 59.5 percent of the population into a vortex of information. Once we dive into our screens, the possibilities are endless, we are co-existing in a fastpaced digital reality defying the concepts of space and time. The lack of authority and arbitration in this digital universe blurred the separations between time periods. This fluidity has allowed us to experience “timefulness,” which is the ability to locate ourselves within eras and aeons, rather than weeks and months, a concept developed by geologist Marcia Bjornerund. The combination of endless possibilities across time and space results in an overload of information; so much happens that we cannot perceive anything anymore. Flatness emerges from this abundance, and breaking through it has become a laborious task.
Throughout the last few years, social media platforms attracted considerable numbers of users. These platforms restructured society by leading to the emergence of new communities in part created by the algorithms that study our online behaviours. Michael Veitch, managing partner at creative agency Rehabstudio, states that: “Most algorithms work by suggesting things you might like based on what you already like; they don’t account for something you might not currently like, and will have to force yourself to, but will one day love.” Simply put, algorithms analyze our digital interactions and try to match our interests by straining the vast amount of information on the Internet to create a curated, personalized aesthetic for each user. Although algorithms are helpful, they create bubbles that, in the long term, are inescapable. From the way we dress to how we see the world, algorithms play a role in shaping our identity through the visuals they deliver to us. It becomes a vicious circle of interacting with some content and then being directed towards something similar. One of the main concerns is that it can reinforce some ideas to the point where lateral thinking becomes an effort and a challenge. In this situation, the ability to reflect on the recurring ideas presented by the algorithm becomes crucial for every individual scrolling through a feed, but especially for young creatives trying to make their work stand out.
Despite the overstimulation created by social media platforms, they can educate and share stories, thus raising awareness of our generation’s pressing social and environmental challenges. Climate change is undoubtedly one of the most discussed subjects on social media. Documentaries like “The True Cost” directed the spotlight towards fashion and its long-standing abuse of the environment. Slowly but surely, the internet communities started to peel back the layers of this glamorous industry and put to the forefront the harmful effects our consumerist society has had on the environment. At the moment, it is clear that to reduce pollution, fast fashion brands must slow down their fast-paced mass production. Algorithms contributed to the formation of communities willing to defy fast fashion brands and to embrace the concept of the timeless sustainable wardrobe. More and more individuals started to dress from their concerns about the environment, which means that designers’ creative process should originate from those same concerns. The environmental sustainability criteria is now central in the industry. In the context of fashion education, students and teachers have started to experience “Green Fatigue.” This constant reminder of the environmental sustainability criteria leads the students to a sense of helplessness, inactivity, disillusionment, and –eventually– disengagement. Social media platforms and algorithms contribute to this “Green Fatigue” by reinforcing the so-called eco-emotions. In an interview with Vogue on overcoming climate anxiety, British designer Bethany Williams admits that “when you feel like something is out of your control, that’s when mental health issues come up.” Running a sustainable business, there’s a balancing act between people and planet, looking after people and making enough money to pay their wages. Climate anxiety comes up a lot because we’re always thinking about our impact.” So how can one creative overcome the bubbles of the algorithm with eccentricity and uniqueness while using a constraint as a driving force.
To understand how young creatives respond to the constraints of our time, I sent a few questions to seven students from Lasalle College in Montreal, Canada. Omar Antabli, Joshua Boudreau, Sainte Déry, Scarlet Dahye Lee, Xander Nimas, Luis Felipe Rodriguez Lopez, and Geneviéve Deland took part in the Order Project, which was conceived by Milan Tanedjikov, fashion design teacher at Lasalle College. The objective of this pedagogical project was to provide students with the opportunity to choose where they stand on the topic of the environment. The project originates from the idea that eco-anxiety has become one of the main drivers of the fashion industry. The constant online and invivo conversations surrounding this eco-emotion have led to various attitudes regarding how we dress, consume and create garments. Some individuals have become hyper-aware of fashion sustainability, while others have started to experience “Green Fatigue.” Aiming to shift away from the indoctrination and the restrictions technological bubbles can set on a creative process, the Order Project focused on reflective practice. It encouraged the young creatives to develop a positioning on this ethical norm and to provide solutions for sustainable designs while balancing social requirements and personal values to create an authentic design identity. To reach this goal, students had to reflect on the different reactions that can emerge from eco-anxiety. A map composed of four regions representing possible attitudes towards the environmental threat was their starting point. The map brought up two collectivist and two individualist reactions. The pessimist collectivist mindset stands for a real drawback from technology and fast fashion followed by a return to the crafts and life in smaller communities. Contrastingly, the optimist collectivist group believes in technology. They consider that mechanisms like augmented reality and dematerialization can provide solutions to climate change. Now, on the other side of collectivism stands individualism. The individualist attitude can either be pessimistic or optimistic. Individualist pessimists fight climate change by building their resistance; they think that the world will collapse, so they need to build a bunker and look for survivalist clothing. Finally, the individualist optimists are ethically aware and in play mode. They embrace environmentalist ideologies while being all about fun and going out. This map of attitudes exposed students to multiple perspectives. Each one of them had to use the different attitudes as a driving force to create their own stance on the environmental topic.
BEFORE STARTING THE ORDER PROJECT HOW DID YOU FEEL ABOUT ENVIRONMENTAL SUSTAINABILITY IN FASHION? WOULD YOU SAY THAT YOU WERE EXPERIENCING SOME “GREEN FATIGUE” ? (WERE YOU MOTIVATED TO INCORPORATE IT AS MUCH AS POSSIBLE IN YOUR WORK OR WAS IT A CONSTRAINT THAT WAS IN THE WAY OF YOUR CREATIVE VISION )
Luis Felipe Rodriguez Lopez: I definitely did feel like it was a constraint at first, but I quickly recognized that it was a reality that could not be ignored. In the future, I believe almost everyone in this industry is going to have to make the move to a more ethical and sustainable production, whether or not we want to. So by adding these constraints, it forced me to think harder and more creatively to try and work around them.
Scarlet Dahye Lee: Before starting the Order Project, I felt the lack of concerns towards environmental sustainability in today’s fashion. [...] I get very egoistic when I face fashion.
Sainte Déry: I feel like environmental sustainability is something I’m pretty concerned about not only in my work but also in my everyday life. I do feel like it’s a constraint when it comes to finding new ways to integrate it though. It is something we all are so aware of and so important to be part of in today’s fashion world, but it can really start to be a pressure when you don’t know how to make it part of your aesthetic. The way I translate sustainability in my everyday life is really much related to the interaction and the feeling of the garments. It’s by using the same item and styling it in relation with the body, always in a different way, that I’m creating a “new” piece every time. In doing so I can reinterpret and recycle the resources I’ve already accumulated and decrease my consumption.
Omar Antabli: There was, of course, a lot of pressure put on us. We have been really informed in many classes about the impact of our industry on the environment. However, we are not given the tools, the connections, and the resources to perform in a more conscious way.
DURING THIS PROJECT HOW DID YOU GO ON WITH FINDING A BALANCE BETWEEN THE ETHICAL PART OF IT AND YOUR DESIGN IDENTITY AND CRAFT?
Joshua Boudreau: Finding a nice balance between ethical production and design identity can be a real challenge, your design identity must be flexible enough to adapt to what you find. Whether you find sustainable/organic fabrics, a new pattern design that reduces waste, found/second hand materials, recycled fabrics, etc... it more often than not, will be something new or won’t be what you expect. From my experience, working with newer materials and techniques takes exploration and time, but it is these things that’ll push your designs further than you’d naturally take them.
OA: A lot of my inspiration as a fashion designer comes from my queer identity and culture. The party scene, especially, influenced me to repurpose clothing and open my eyes to all the possibilities a piece of fabric or a simple garment can bring to me. I play with deconstruction, deformation, and upcycling to create interesting looks. I tried to bring this energy into as many school projects as I could.
WHAT WOULD YOU SAY IS ONE KEY DISCOVERY THAT YOU MADE DURING THE ORDER PROJECT ABOUT YOUR PERCEPTION AND UNDERSTANDING OF SUSTAINABILITY IN FASHION?
Xander Nimas: I knew what sustainability meant and the different aspects of it but during the order project I became aware of all the waste that I created, so throughout the project I tried to generate less and reuse it. Sometimes I was trying to convince myself that I had to keep paper and fabric scraps, my inner hoarder. But seriously, the best thing I did was to collect the poly-fill from the stuffed toys that my friend Luis dissected for his project. Business idea: collect and organize trash and sell it as material.
LRL: I really liked finding out that we aren’t reduced to only using fabrics or fabric waste to make clothing. It was fun to experiment with different materials to try and come up with a unique solution.
Geneviéve Deland: During this project, I understood better that sustainability in fashion is not only obtained by using recycled materials, buying locally and using eco-friendly fabrics. Obviously this is a major part, but I comprehended more clearly that sustainability can also be put forward in the construction and design of a garment. It is not all about the materials.
SD: I think that understanding sustainability comes with how you perceive the word itself and how you can make your own definition of it. For me sustainability is about not only introducing it into the garments but making it work into my concepts and to see the bigger picture of it.
OA: I forced myself to use natural textile modifications. For example, I discovered that you could dye some textiles with coffee and used it to change the color of the fabric of my skirt. Sustainability fashion is not only through recycling fabrics but in all aspects of fashion. It’s important to stay aware of that during the whole process of designing clothes.
WHAT WAS THE MOST CHALLENGING PART OF THIS PROJECT AND HOW DID YOU OVERCOME IT ?
XN: The most challenging part was COVID, lockdown, everything was closed and I had to set up a workshop in my room but I overcame it with the power of MONEY, thank god for the government, which was my sponsor at the time.
LRL: The hardest part was probably trying to figure out a way to make a nice showpiece using only recycled or upcycled materials. I ended up going to thrift stores for inspiration and I noticed so many toys that were collecting dust. I guess it’s not necessarily sanitary for children to play with used toys. I figured there was so much textile waste right there (the plush toys specifically) that would eventually end up in landfills. So I bought, gutted and overdyed around 60-70 plush toys that went into the making of my project.
JB: My project consists of two pieces; The outer layer is a wearable sculpture that represents connection through pain and global issues, the inner layer is a bodysuit that represents hope and healing wounds. My biggest personal challenge during the Order Project was finding unity and balance between the two pieces I designed. Not only does one have a positive message and the other a negative, but they consist of entirely different materials. I found balance conceptually by focusing on how the pain and the healing connects us all. As well as how pain and healing don’t exist without each other.
SDL: It was to keep all the elements in my garment environmentally sustainable