What's your favorite piece of clothing? As we've learned from our forays into street fashion, every treasured scarf, worn-out t-shirt, and hand-me-down skirt has a story. Most fashionistas could give an itemized tour of their closets, describing when each piece was bought and how it was worn. These stories may seem inane -- we wonder, Why can I remember this and not my parents' birthdays? -- but now they're being granted a higher purpose in the Local Wisdom project.
Researchers from seven international colleges are collecting these stories at public events through 2013. California College of the Arts, S.F.'s Local Wisdom affiliate, will be stationed at the Mission Cultural Center for Latino Arts and the Marin City Community Center this weekend to photograph your favorite outfit and hear the story behind it.
Sure, it's a chance to flaunt your favorite dress and maybe even get a new profile pic of yourself looking fierce, but there's a greater mission behind all this: a fresh approach to sustainability. Researcher Lynda Grose explains, "In the apparel industry, companies working on sustainability are primarily focused on materials procurement and processing impacts." These efforts show themselves on the rack in the form of organic cotton t-shirts or tags that read, "Made in the U.S.A."
However, Grose aims to reach an untapped element of the process: "Solutions for sustainability are often cultural and emotional, not just physical and technical." We don't buy the organic cotton option because it feels or looks different from the alternative, but because we have a cultural imperative to consume conscientiously, or an emotional reaction to news stories about child laborers picking cotton overseas. Our outfits are also inspired by emotions and culture, which means there's no guarantee we'll wear that new sustainable outfit unless we form an attachment to it.
Grose advocates considering customers "not just consumers, but wearer-collaborators" and wants designers to take their wearers into account when creating new clothing. She describes the practice of passing off old clothing to a younger sister or daughter as a "trans-generational concept" and posits that clothing should be designed with it in mind. "If we designed for trans-generational use," she says, "it would be radically different from the current process of designing for maximum unit sales. We might consider changing body types over generations, changes in resource availability, and so on."
The Local Wisdom project hopes that widening a designer's perspective will make sustainability seem like a less abstract, scientific endeavor. After recording the outfits and the wearer's stories, students at each of the seven involved colleges (London College of Fashion, Amsterdam Fashion Institute, Kolding School of Design in Denmark, Polytechnic University of Milan, Cittadellarte in Italy, Parsons School of Design in New York, and Emily Carr University in Toronto) will create designs inspired by them for exhibition alongside the photos in a 2014 exhibition in London.
To contribute your image and story, visit the Mission Cultural Center for Latino Arts on Saturday, July 21 between 10:30 AM -- 4:30 PM, or the Marin City Community Center on Sunday, July 22 between 12:00 -- 5:00 PM. For more information, visit Local Wisdom.
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