Could sustainability be the greatest creative challenge of our time?
An open letter to designers of the 21st century
Dear Designers and Makers,
In 1996, two American designers (Van der Ryn and Cowan) declared the environmental crisis a design crisis. “It’s a consequence of how things are made,” they said. Nearly a quarter of a century later and our planet continues to face extraordinary environmental challenges. Climate change is threatening human existence. And sadly, fashion is playing far too large a part. Synthetic (ie plastic) clothing now makes up 65% of all fibre used in clothing today, and we consume over 100 billion items per year. 83% of all waterways are contaminated with microplastics shed from those synthetic garments.
If fashion were a country, it would be the fourth largest CO2 emitter in the world. So, what role do we play in transforming the industry for the better? What role could you, as a designer, play in making things better? The problems may sound grandiose, insurmountable; they may make you feel small, insignificant and powerless. But moments of darkness sow seeds of change. Big challenges require big thinking, creative thinking.
The environmental crisis is granting us an opportunity to start again, to design better products, better business models, better habits. Could sustainability be the greatest creative challenge of our time? American political scientist Herb Simon said, “Everyone designs who devises courses of actions aimed at changing existing situations into preferred ones.” Design is inherently about improving the status quo.
I challenge you, designers, to step up to the plate. This is your moment to make a difference, to imagine a better future, and design ways of getting us there. It could be a simple dress, a bag, a shoe. It could be a disruptive business model or an engaging story.
We’re all in this together, but you, designers, play a special role. The decisions you make can, in fact, have disproportionately large impacts.
80% of a product’s impact is decided at the design stage. You can inspire change with the smallest decision. From material use to where it’s made, and by whom. How and where you design a product to be made could impact dozens, hundreds, even thousands of lives for people in supply chains. It could save rainforests, rivers, and wildlife.
How you design a product to be worn, communicated, photographed, remembered could mean the difference between growing throwaway consumer culture or one in which things are treasured, cared for, mended and loved.
The challenge is no easy feat, but as designers, your creative ability to imagine a better future will also inspire others to challenge the status quo.
Don’t we all share a common objective of a world in which business supports all people, and the planet, to thrive and not die? Will you design us there?
Co-founder / Director of Product
Join Common Objective at www.commonobjective.co to be part of a community driving forward a better future for the fashion industry.
Photography by Paul Whitfield
Photography by Paul Whitfield