Doctoral Research: An Expanded Fashion Design Practice Towards Interfacing the Anthropocene
Human-induced changes to the Earth system ushers into a new proposed geological epoch, known as the ‘anthropocene’ (Crutzen and Stoermer 2000). Of the numerous anthropogenic acts altering the terrestrial fabric on unprecedented scales—fashion is a major contributor. The fashion industry, at present, is a gigantic machine churning over 100 billion clothing items per annum (Kirchain 2015). From micro to macro level, raw materials become threads, to mass-produced fabrics and garments; fashion is a planet-scale process where bodies, matter and machines partake in its production system.
Dominant responses to environmental issues within fashion practices rest upon sustainable approaches, operating through either a technological (‘techno-centric’) or artisanal (eco-centric’) means (Payne 2017). However, a more integrated spatio-temporal approach to the anthropocene appears lacking. The anthropocene constructs an alternative reading of the human body as a geological force, whose actions leave material traces on Earth across extended timeframes. This research asks how can fashion engage with these scales in its designs for the body?
Departing from a solution-driven approach, this thesis foregrounds fashion as an Earth-shaping practice, divested from the human body as a design metric. It situates the body against its anthropogenic markers, such as dust storms, oil spills and geological disturbances. Using computational design, digital fabrication, design diagrams and remote sensing methods, this research develops an expanded practice of fashion design as an interface between the human body and the anthropocene. The practice synthesises patterns of human-environment interactions as computational information into material artefacts to meditate upon the anthropocene.
The investigation mode integrates fashion with a research through design framework (Downton 2003). It centres around three types of anthropogenic impacts, presented within a project-based design portfolio. The projects explore human disturbances of the terrestrial underground, Anthroturbation (2017-8); human emission of particulate matter, Dust (2018-9); and a site-specific environmental disaster, DWH Oil Spill (2019-20). Each project contains 3D printed masks, design diagrams, digital animations, data visualisations, a moving image, and a written exegesis. Together, these projects supply a fashion-based understanding of the anthropocene. The projects conclude with a workshop-based dissemination, drawing from the concept of ‘design probes’, to elicit further insights into the practice.
Through this investigation, this research practices fashion design beyond its disciplinary boundaries whilst broadening its intellectual horizon vis-à-vis the anthropocene studies, ranging from Earth system Science, computer science, critical theory, speculative philosophy, theory-fiction, media theory and architectural theory. In doing so, it seeks to develop a self-reflexive practice of fashion through the artefacts it makes, where fashion becomes a form of critical inquiry to engage with world scale issues. At the same time, this research revitalises fashion practice from its existing garment-led methodologies toward generating systems of data-driven designs indexing a dialogic human-Earth relationship.
The University of Edinburgh
Beverley Hood, Dr Mike Anusas, Prof. Jane Calvert
Prof. Jane Harris, Dr Craig Martin