Design Museum: Waste Age Exhibition

January was the month I had chance to visit the Waste Age exhibition at the Design Museum, so it’s taken a few weeks to get around to writing up the experience. Nevertheless, I’m excited to look back at the pieces that piqued my interest to capture and reflect on it now.

In no chronological order of the exhibition, but the one I’m starting with, is this Stella McCartney outfit. I’ve always loved the brand for its determination and pioneering of sustainability, even before sustainability became a trend or tick to check off for high-end fashion labels.

The look itself is made from econyl®, made from ocean and factory waste, it is a regenerated nylon. As one of the most sustainable synthetics stood before me, I was actually more intrigued by the zip detailing. Running down either sleeve and trouser legs, I thought the zipper line had simplicity yet effectiveness, creating a cohesive look.

‘A fragment textile technique’

Phoebe English is another designer I follow closely, so to see just a couple of her garments, felt like a special moment. One reason for being so inspired by her is because of the technique ‘fragment textile’ she has developed. In short, English uses off-cuts from her own studio’s textile waste back into new work. The second look in the image above is from the collection ‘Nothing New Part 2’ and made with reclaimed silk wool, stuffed with silk off-cuts. You would have no idea the fabric was deemed as ‘waste’ before English designed it back into the system. This repurposing of fabric is something I want to keep as an important factor within my own design work.

I first heard about a circular fashion solution like the one pictured above, when I was studying as an undergraduate a couple years ago. But I didn’t fully understand the process, how could it truly work? Being at the Design museum allowed me to revisit the concept.

Above pictures a ‘service shirt’, a garment designed to last 50 years. In our current throwaway society, I find this concept fascinating and one I want to explore further. The idea is that it has chance to evolve through remanufacturing. Starting as a white shirt, then transforming to a patterned one, a black shirt, to a jacket lining before finally an accessory. The idea one item could hold so much longevity, is definitely a solution the industry needs to get behind. Even if it’s too big of an ask for designers to implement that many transformations within one garment right now, I think it’s still manageable for them to consider the overall longevity of garments in the design process.

Evidently less so garment-fashion related but nevertheless interesting, were these paper bags that sat centrally within one of the exhibition spaces. Artist Celia Pym practises visible repairing, in this case mending paper bags from her food shopping. The concept behind the project was to give hope that something damaged and deemed as ‘worthless’ could be repaired to become significant again. I found it mesmerising to examine the detail and work that had gone into mending something as simple as a paper bag. But putting it into the context of fashion, I envisioned socks on the same level as the above paper bags. When a sock gets a hole, I don’t see the value in the item to repair it, I’d just replace it. In today’s world, that is an unacceptable attitude on my part and I’m then, therefore part of the problem. Seeing the bags above forced me into to attaching a greater value to my own items. So the next time a hole appears in one of my socks, I’ll let you know how good my darning is to mend it.

If you missed the Waste Age exhibition at the Design Museum, I urge you to keep a close eye on their page for upcoming events that might pique your interest. It was incredibly interesting to understand what design, in the wider context (not just fashion), can do for our throwaway culture.