Ethical Living: Space Between
Fashion today has become as disposable as paper towels. An enterprise with a conscience is trying to change that
Space Between, based in Massey University’s School of Design in Wellington, is a new social enterprise for fashion aimed at bringing about change in the industry.
"It’s about exploring alternatives to mass-produced high-waste clothing, and creating ethical business opportunities for new designers,” explains director Jennifer Whitty. “We also hope to decrease the amount of clothing sent to landfill, to raise awareness of the time, craft and energy that goes into the production of garments so that people start to question and change their consumption practices.”
We spoke to Whitty about how it all began, what exactly goes on in the “Fashion Lab’’ and why she’s giving old NZ Post uniforms a stylish second life with the Fundamentals range.
What is the Space Between?
Space Between is a social research platform at the College of Creative Arts at Massey University, which enables students, recent graduates and fashion researchers to work on aligned projects with the shared philosophy to bring about “positive change’' in the industry. We work according to two distinct, but complementary, strategies to design, with the textile waste from the current system and to ultimately eliminate waste from the industry by design in closed loop solutions.
Our goal is to create a hub for design research production using fair trade labour and ethical fashion practices here in Wellington and ultimately with other hubs in other cities and countries.
Space Between asks the tertiary, private and not-for-profit sectors to work together to develop a new kind of sustainable fashion system that can create value for people, planet and profit.
We want Space Between to be accessible so that we can enable more people to experience sustainable products and to understand a more expanded view of fashion outside of the narrow confines of the fast fashion impetus. It is important for the public to know where products come from, how they were produced and distributed and how they can be part of something positive. This is fashion that sits well with your conscience.
How did this all begin?
The project was initiated when Booker Spalding, a corporate uniform manufacturer, and NZ Post, one of its corporate clients, approached researcher Holly McQuillan and I to carry out a pilot study to identify a more sustainable method of “disposing” of their end of life retail uniforms. We examined their current system and subsequently developed a series of upcycling (remanufacture) processes, design strategies and techniques, which could be applied to any given garment, including other corporate uniform manufacturers. This helped determine the viability of and next steps required to make the project applicable on a larger scale, which led to the conceptualisation and formation of Space Between.
Walk us through the ‘‘Fashion Lab’’ and the ‘‘Fundamentals’’ range.
Fundamentals range: The two distinct strands of Space Between have been created to deal with the current waste from industry (Fundamentals) where we use the waste from industry in a more symptom-based approach. This is our slow fashion antidote to the take, make and waste fast fashion model. Designing with waste: limited edition collections designed by students, recent graduates and fashion researchers, made locally, using unwanted corporate uniforms and other waste material.
The Fashion Lab: Designing out waste from the system. Using new research strategies that shift fashion towards zero waste through products and services, to challenge and amplify experiences of consumption, retail and post-purchase. Here, we use design to create unique minimal or zero-waste garments and explore different models for the future of fashion.
Why do you up-cycle corporate uniforms into wearable everyday garments?
Simply put, we are buying too much, too cheaply. We don’t know how much human effort goes into making clothes and clothes today have a shorter lifespan than they ever have had before. The effects of the shortened lifespan and the rise of consumption on society and the environment are manifold. The impacts include increased pollution, waste, resource depletion, climate change and exploitation. These impacts have been facilitated by a linear production-consumption-disposal process developed during the Industrial Revolution based on a paradigm of infinite growth. According to the Waste and Resources Action Programme, 350,000 tonnes of used clothing, worth £140 million, goes into landfill in the UK every year.
In a fast-fashion world of throw-away clothing upcycling (remanufacturing) is the ultimate expression of the slow-fashion movement.
The Fundamentals range gives people the opportunity to feel good about fashion, as they know they are supporting local jobs and are helping to redirect local textile waste back into circulation.
The green business model for Space Between sets out to influence the existing fashion industry to consider every phase of the life-cycle of garments, paving the way for collaboration with industry partners to repurpose their waste stream and produce real impact.
One of the challenges is the public perception towards garments made from reused materials as people can have a negative opinion of secondhand goods and the work involved to make them saleable. However, I think this reservation is something that we need to overcome as the studies show that reusing rather than landfilling clothing provides a range of sustainability benefits. It is estimated by WRAP that 16 million items of branded corporate clothing are disposed of every year in the United Kingdom, which equates to approximately 39.2 million individual garments Currently only 9 per cent of this is recovered for reuse. Clearly, we cannot continue to operate like this.
Why are you personally so passionate about the topic?
It is an opportunity to change or offer alternatives to what I believe is a fundamentally flawed system. These systems were created and designed by humans, therefore we can change them.
Creating a more just and fair industry for our graduates and other workers is a very worthwhile objective. I feel a huge sense of responsibility towards our graduates. I want to empower them to have fulfilling careers in an industry that they feel good about being part of.
You have said that there is a “low participation with clothing”. Why is this the attitude most consumers have towards their garments?
I think this "low participation" has come about due to a variety of contributing factors. Fashion is now fast and disposable. As a result of the fast fashion, the garments’ value lies in its cheap price. To achieve this it requires low priced outputs including cheap labour, cheap raw materials and fast production, the result of which is that the value no longer lies in its quality but rather in its cheapness. The disposal of cheap and low quality goods is encouraged, resulting in a desire to consume more.
Unwanted items are quickly abandoned in favour of the next bright, shiny new thing and the promises it holds without forming lasting attachments or placing value on their garments. The relationship in our current system between fashion designers, their designs and the consumer is fraught. Designers are increasingly disconnected and disengaged from the customer, trapped on a treadmill of continuous product replenishment and accelerated changing fashion cycles. Consumers are shielded from the real stories behind the items they buy. The fashion and textiles are global industries that have a huge effect on people’s lives and health as well as on our environment. Through the acceleration of mass-production and marketing we have lost sight of the real nature of fashion. We at Space Between want to resurrect the power of fashion, to make it responsible again, because it is made by people, for people.