Every shirt tells a story. From fibre to factory, fabric to finishing, ship to shop; from the wardrobe to the washing machine, the second-hand outlet to landfill or incineration. This ubiquitous garment comes with climate change credentials. Professor Becky Earley’s Inaugural lecture looked through the Top 100 archive of shirts; twenty years of remaking second-hand polyester shirts. She has brought them back to life in order to discover the new slow design stories we need to write for the industry, towards a more equitable circular society. The shirts are viewed through the lens of Latour’s Actor Network Theory to help us understand more about the value of the emerging roles of practice researchers in creating material systems for our circular futures.
Click here to watch the talk. (coming soon)
Imagine if our clothes lasted as long as the materials they were made from?
The Service Shirt concept explores the multiple complexities, contingencies, challenges and opportunities associated with design for circular business models in extended use contexts.
The Service Shirt was designed as a ‘deliberate extreme’ to have a total lifecycle of 50 years. This lifecycle includes inhouse and external remanufacture processes, and various sharing cycles – often moving between single ownership and rental contexts. It becomes the lining for a jacket before being crafted in to fashion accessories, before finally being regenerated in the year 2068.
The shirt was created with the intention of exploring how designing for this context differs from linear design; to design using lifecycle assessment to guide decision-making; and to stimulate discussion around issues that emerge when companies attempt to make circular business models operable in the fashion industry. In the end the work went further than this – we asked, ‘who are the people and what are the places?’ that will make extended-life, circular fashion a reality? The insights we gained also enabled us to see the potential beyond the brand context: to garments that could flow between users, maker spaces and entrepreneurial ventures and charities – to new forms of more social and local fashion production, use and reinvention.
Silence Shirt is the 17th collection from the Top 100 project and explores the contribution silent meditation and portraiture can make to developing relationships between inter-disciplinary partners in the design science EU project, www.trash2cashproject.eu . Building on previous collaborations that explore the multiple human aspects of textiles for the circular economy (Shanghai Shirts, Shavasana Shirts, School Shirts) this collection focuses on the relationships between material scientists and industry designers. Trash-2-Cash is a project with 18 partners from 10 countries; language and expertise levels can be barriers to successful outcomes. This experiment sought to create a baseline experience from which the first co-created piece could be made.
“This has been the most difficult of all the shirts in my Top 100 project. The images were created through a silent meditation and portrait session between scientists and designers in the Trash-2-Cash project. I wanted to facilitate the making of a co-created garment for the project, to bring people from different backgrounds, cultures and disciplines together in to one focused task. I wanted to find a common ground for us all – and to give us a chance to connect in a less formal way. After we had made the portraits I found it difficult to make a unified design – the drawing styles differed so much. But the end result is a shirt that represents the effort required to make collaborative projects work – especially between designers and scientists – and I got the print design to work by extending the lines between portraits and literally linking people up.”
By stitching second hand garments together – an old H&M sundress with a home made Shanghai shirt – these pieces reflect upon the need for us to consider the disconnect that exists between the people in the supply chain. The H&M Buying Office staff I worked with in Stockholm are very much removed from the decisions made by staff in the Production Offices in China. Sustainability concerns often exist within large fashion companies but the organisational infrastructure may prevent change taking place at the speed that is required.
For these pieces I continued to explore the upcycling of polyester shirts and exhaust transfer printing - here using over-printing and stitch to create a quilted jacket full of symbolism and messages for a young Swedish consumer, inspired by the Hundred Family Jacket. The design of dragons, horses and flowers has been hand drawn and painted, fusing visual research from Dong Hua Museum in Shanghai, the Ming Dynasty artifacts at the British Museum in London and folk textiles from museums in Stockholm..
Isabel Dodd stitched into the first print design to bind the monomaterial fabric layers together, making the sculptural garment warmer, more durable and adding more decorative surface detailing inside and out. I wanted to turn the simple, inexpensive yellow Shanghai shirt into something of much higher value, and potentially imbue it with greater meaning, significance and emotional durability for the owner.
The second paper print went onto a subsequent item - a crepe jacket - and produced a paler, more faded effect. Karen Spurgin then hand stitched into the jacket, using naturally dyes threads. She also stitched into the hand painted papers, creating beautiful artworks from the 'waste' created in the print process.
In order to drive the profound cultural and industrial change that is needed to achieve a more sustainable future, designers must be many things. Aside from creating less impactful materials, products and processes, they must design new systems and services to enable the way that we meet our needs to be lighter and brighter. Mindset and habit changes are needed - meditation and yoga help with making this transformation.
In March 2015 the Well Gallery at LCC was transformed into a yoga studio for a one-hour workshop. Bridget Harvey, Trish Hegarty and I moved through yoga sequences - directed by Clara Vuletich on Skype from Australia - using transfer inks to mark-make on wallpaper yoga mats. The papers were then used to overprint and upcycle a set of shirts, creating mindful patterns on neglected garments.
This work was created as part of Ezio Manzini's Cultures of Resilience project at UAL.
Inspired by the activist organisations and culture, as well as the colours, food and architecture from field research in Hong Kong during January 2014, this shirt was created to highlight the global relationship between waste the actions of the designer, the industry, food production. The shirt aims to highlight the quantity of garments that are being thrown out each year in a context of a limited second-hand clothing market. It was co-created by Earley facilitating 8 industry designers in Hong Kong in January 2014 – at the ReDress Miele challenge workshop, an educational project to encourage HK designers to use recycled materials to their practices. It used traditional local food stuff, a domestic iron, a second hand garment and transfer paper to create an upcycled monomaterial ‘designer’ garment.
I can't remember exactly when I decided that I should spend some time conducting some research in primary schools - I guess I could just see my own kids growing up so fast I needed to make sure that they were learning about materials and environment. The constant turnover of lost uniform in our house was also a prompt.
I ran two interventions for this project, both with pupils from St Mary's School in Chiswick. You can read more on my 2015 blog, weeks 14 and 16. These were fun times, and I hope to do more work on this soon.
Black Hack Chat was a collaborative workshop co-designed for the 10th EAD conference (Gothenburg, April 2013) and combined my Black Hack approach with Old is the New Black (2010) where Jen Ballie and Otto von Busch re-worked old clothes using black paint.
The aim of the EAD workshop was to push the boundaries of textile design practice through co-design, to identify how it can be used as a tool for citizen engagement for both the individual creating for themselves, and the retailer who wishes to creatively engage with their products over a longer time frame. In the run up to the event I created the Fast Refashion (Fractal) Shirt using a domestic iron and some folded and cut black transfer paper. With a tripod set up over the table I made the Shirt Film to capture the process and serve as a demonstration tool at the workshop - which I co-facilitated via Skype.
From 2012 onwards the project began to use workshops to inspire consumers and designers to engage with materials - towards closed-loop thinking and action - with an approach I called ‘Fast reFashion’. Referencing the speed of high street trends, but here drawing people back to their wardrobes or a second hand shop for the garment that will begin the fashion process – the material and the personal transformation. The approach was first tested at the Black Hack workshop (Chelsea, September 2012), where 10 TFRC researchers were invited to join me to design and execute a heat photogram overprint for a polyester garment, using the college heat press.
Jabot Shirt was created with Dr. Frances Geesin in 2010, and was funded by the Science Museum and Chelsea. Trash Fashion: Designing Out Waste showcased design research and practice concerned with upcycling and rethinking fashion waste. Jabot Shirt tested a combination of several of The TEN strategies: the minimization of waste; the reduction of resource use (material, water, energy, and chemicals); emotional durability and multifunctionality. Geesin’s metal lace detachable pieces on the neck and cuffs tested the idea that one industrial waste stream could become the raw material for another sector of the industry – a form of industrial symbiosis – where cheap lace can become more precious by being transformed by the artist’s silver electroplating technique into jewellery.
For this 2009 collection I took ten Marks and Spencer’s shirts that I wanted to upcycle. I always find hundreds of these M&S shirts when I go second-hand shopping. The key approach to this collection is concerned with ‘multiple print lives’, or lifecycle print layers (LPL’s). I experimented with designing over-prints that could be added to in time with another layer of decoration. I also worked with a pattern cutter to radically restyle them. We worked on a concept of reproducible upcycling alterations. I worked through the collection of re-styled shirts responding to the new silhouette shape with a dye painting on paper. The first overprint was designed with the second overprint in mind – to be added to the shirt when the consumer tires of the current look.
The year after the Ever & Again exhibition, Dr. Kate Goldsworthy and I wanted to make some shirts that would create an extra, third upcycled life. I had always wanted to create a layered up, ‘quilted’ Top 100 shirt, but I hadn’t known technically how to develop the idea. Simultaneously, Kate had been experimenting with laser welding and etching processes. We took a once upcycled shirt from the 2001 Eden collection, unpicked it, cut and printed a fleece lining for it, and then Kate used the laser to weld the layers together with tiny lines. This created a hi-tech laser quilting effect. The second shirt we proto-typed used a laser etching effect and we used a shirt from the 1999 East End Weeds collection. Kate etched lace and floral patterns across the printed surface of the polyester crepe shirt.
In 2008 I pushed the exhaust printing technique to capacity, taking an old nylon lace shirt and printing with it, whilst reusing the same sheet of dyed paper behind it. I wanted to see how many shirts I could reprint from one single application of black dye. I started with an un-dyed stencil, which gradually took on the colour and became a painted template, which was then flipped over and reverse printed with no dye behind it. The resulting print was always different, and the colour change very subtle. I love that the lace pieces I used were either cheap machine-made lace pieces, or very delicate but damaged hand-made lace. The printing process gives both the lace and the new shirt a very durable second life.
In 2005 I was awarded funding from the Arts and Humanities Research Council for a project called ‘Worn Again: Rethinking Recycled Textiles’ - (which later became known through an exhibition as ‘Ever & Again’). As Principal Investigator I aimed to bring together 12 textile designers, to explore through theory and practice how textiles can be upcycled. My shirts for this project experimented with sonic cutting and slitting to reshape the shirts (with limited success I have to admit!), and fusing digital sublimation printing with heat photogram printing. For this I had to translate my heat photogram print designs, which used real objects like wire and leaves, into digital repeats using photoshop.
In 2004 I began to research an idea for curating an exhibition surveying sustainable fashion. In May 2006 Well Fashioned: Eco Style in the UK opened at the Crafts Council Gallery in London. Around this time the Constance Howard Resource and Research Centre in Textiles gave me ten shirts that had belonged to the late textile designer Christine Risley. I used a collection of objects from her studio to create digital photographic dye sublimation print designs. I radically re-cut the shirts, and the off-cuts were used to embellish the new garments, and were also used to make limited edition bags by Barbara Lee.
“Earley has brought passion and dynamism to the Crafts Council, raising a flag for craft and design examined in a profound way”. (Suzy Menkes, International Herald Tribune, 2006)
In 2003 I created a selling collection of new shirts for the East London Design Show. This collection continued to explore exhaust-printing techniques, and also eco design theories concerned with:
detachability – the corsage ribbon details were made to enable the wearer to style themselves;
locality – Brick Lane shirts were collected, restyled and printed using Brick Lane plants in my E1 studio, and finally sold to Brick Lane customers;
mono-materiality - the shirts, buttons, labels, and trimmings were all made to be 100% polyester, making recycling easier at a later lifecycle stage;
emotional durability – the shirts in the Top 100 project are created with a unique ‘story’, that is passed on the wearer, in an attempt to increase the consumer’s sense of attachment to the garment.
In 2002 I was commissioned by Ilse Crawford and Tord Boontje to create a set of ten shirts for a boudoir – a room of one’s own - for the modern woman, as part of the British Council’s Hometime exhibition. The shirts were used to create a fabric wall for the room. I created a collection of shirts which were re-cut and then over-printed using old underwear - at the time second hand shops still stocked such items. The collection was zero waste as all off-cuts from the shirts were reused in the reshaping process.
“Responding to the current boom in home-ownership and home decoration among young, professional, urban Chinese, ‘Hometime’ was a major exhibition for China about domestic interior design which toured China as part of Britain’s commercial and cultural campaign, ‘Think UK’, during 2003. The subject of the home, the private space, has considerable public appeal at a time when global communications and technology threaten to eradicate difference in the forms and surfaces of the world: how can architects, designers and policy-makers continue to give people homes and products with personal significance?”
In early 2000 I began working on a commission for the Eden Project in Cornwall. It was still a building site at this point! My job was to work with a team of scientists from Reading University to create a garden concept concerned with UK natural indigo dye on a project called ‘Spindigo’. Over the next two years we spent many weeks there, developing the garden, installing the indigo yurt, and hosting a series of inter-active workshop events. My final commission in summer 2002 was to create a set of upcycled fleece jackets for the Eden Project performance team. I used cuttings - from the extraordinarily exotic compost heaps at the back of the biomes - to over-print the jackets. Whilst in Cornwall I had also been continuously searching for and collecting shirts from the local second hand shops in St. Austell. I took the cuttings and shirts back to London and produced a set of Palm Print shirts.
I over-printed my first polyester shirts in 1999. I had been collecting polyester clothing and interesting textiles from charity shops for some years. In 1998 I had developed an exhaust-printing process, which printed textiles in a sequence creating no water pollution and using a minimal amount of dye. I had used discarded and found textiles to create gradually fading patterns, on a series of recycled polyester fleece scarf panels. These first shirts I bought from a second hand clothing warehouse on Cheshire Street E1, and were exhaust printed using the weeds and plants that grew on the street outside my Brick Lane studio.