Community repair was a project where MA students of Fashion and the Environment at London College of Fashion took on an artistic research project and explored a series of questions: How can the simple process of repairing a garment mobilize resources in a local community? What social capacities can repair liberate and strengthen? How can designers engage in community repair as part of their design practice for sustainable fashion?
Fashion is a vehicle of identity in the social play of everyday life. As a commodity the fashion garment and accessory enacts wishes for imitation as well as autonomy and its ephemeral qualities makes us continuously re-enact social relations. The fashion commodity promises transformation and metamorphosis. We can dress to become someone, to enact a persona; perhaps ourselves, perhaps someone else. But most importantly today, the fashion commodity requires no commitment. The essence of the object is its ephemeral quality. The fashion garment promises instant satisfaction; no strings attached, use me then discard me.
Community Repair was a collaborative artistic research project in spring 2011 at London College of Fashion, Centre for Sustainable Fashion. MA students from the Fashion and Environmen program examined how garment repair could be a way to mend communities and stitch social networks together as an expression of local fashion. The final garments and comunity experiences were documented in the exhibition "Community Repair" at the Foundation Showroom. Download lo-res catalogue here [pdf 4 mb]
As an effort towards sustainability fashion needs to embrace repair as a designed feature for everyday clothes. Normally we think of repair as merely fixing a broken object, making it functional again. But repair can be so much more. It can be an update of function, an improvement of style, a sign of compassion, or even rebuilding of community. If sustainable fashion takes repair seriously, designers might be able to reengage communities in strategic collaborations for repair; using the broken object to mend the social fabric scattered by the status anxiety of fashion.
A possible way to use repair as a tool for community restoration is to start by making an inventory of unused capacities; assets within the community that could be better shared and catalyzed into an intermediary resource. A garment in need to mending can be the litmus-paper with which to reveal local craft knowledge. In the process of finding such social assets and actualizing them, the facilitator engages in an activity similar to the mental site-visiting of rhetoric. It is a meandering motion between various themes, or skills, which builds an argument or supports an endeavour of vision.
Community repair is about activating sites of knowledge, energizing craft assets and putting them into work for the community. It is a local detective work, searching the neighbourhood for local knowledges that can catalyze gift exchanges. Community repair is a strategic method of finding and using existing knowledge, tune it for repair, and apply it to the current issue as an act of restoration. It is a matter of recircuiting local knowledges together in new forms.
In the project of strategic repair the MA students of Fashion and the Environment have explored how craft skills among the members of their local communities can be mobilized for the repair or adjustment of a garment. The task of the designer is not so much that of designing a specific garment, or directing a group of people to solve a problem, as much as exploring how the quality of the “social”, the mobilization of the communal or common-wealth, can be part of an endeavour towards sustainable fashion.
Repair can be a purposive element of design to encourage social empowerment and catalyze skill exchanges. This is not a practice of do-it-yourself, but rather do-it-together. Repair is not an issue of opposing the ephemeral nature of fashion, but proposing how this very fleeting passion, built into fashion’s essence, can become the tool to intensify community com-passion.
Read about the community repair project in the catalogue [download pdf 4 mb]. Big thanks to the fantastic MA students at Fashion and the Environment, London College of Fashion, and the generous work of the Centre for Sustainable Fashion.