University of the Arts London student Alice Davidson has created an ethical design project that centers around the normalized waste of the fashion industry. Appalled by the social and environmental damage wrought in the name of fashion, Davidson hopes to educate consumers with her art. Here, in her own words, she shares the origin of and meaning behind her project, HASTE.
Over the past four years of work and study I have discovered, to my dismay, a more ugly side to businesses and brands that had once seemed glamorous and aspirational. My current project, which I launched and exhibited in April is a response to fashion as a capital and global industry.
HASTE (from the phrase, "haste makes waste") focuses on the businesses which use subcontracting to mass-produce poorer quality clothing in "developing" countries. Studies reveal many reasons behind this business models’ trillion-dollar success.
I was interested in creating artworks which would display the less desirable side of cheap fashion.
To confront the guilt-free impulsive buys that fast fashion businesses thrive on, I began with the incredible amount of clothes we each own. I ran with the idea, thinking of the phrase we hear so often of “nothing to wear” and how quickly refreshed stock can make us feel “out of season". With their masterfully merchandised shop floors packed with affordable things we don’t yet own, stores such as Topshop and Zara persuade us we always need new things.
To illustrate how much we already possess, I created three outfits. The first is a "gown" made of 13 pairs of blue jeans, four of which I owned, the rest donated by friends.
The second, a caped dress, with a train of tiered black and grey t-shirts stitched together, topped with all the grey coats I found at my parents' house and my own. I heavily layered them to reiterate the idea that we can’t wear them all at once.
The environment pays the highest price for our cheap clothing. I quite literally demonstrated water usage and pollution during the dyeing stages of production using the process of chromatography. A white dress with a line of black ink is left hanging over a tank of water. As the water is absorbed up, the colours separate and "dye" the garment.
The people that make our clothes are kept hidden well away from us by retailers. This, in a globally connected society, is something to question.
A play on the term "fast fashion", my next piece employed film reels and a live art performance. I began undressed, and made a series of outfits in real time in front of an audience to demonstrate the contrast between what we know to be fast fashion today and high-end couture collections we see on the runway. My goal was to highlight our dependence on garment labourers to produce our clothing.
The people who make our clothes are kept hidden well away from us by retailers. This, in a globally connected society, is something to question. I cannot cut patterns, design or use a sewing machine properly. I barely know my own measurements. The performance demonstrates how useless I am, in a "developed" country when it comes to clothing myself. I rely on other people to clothe me in that sense, and believe strongly that transparency of supply chains will remind consumers of the hands that worked to make their latest purchase.
Without the consumer's driving the force, I struggle to see how else these big businesses will change. Alternative work to garment labouring in developing countries may be worse than sweatshops, but who are we as consumers, retailers and buyers to use these alternatives as an excuse to drive prices further down as a convenience for those of us in a more stable home, economic, political and living environment. We can afford to buy less for a higher price. The price for workers and the environment is already too high.