2017-11-02 10:56

Is it sustainable just because it is handmade?

In the Western world there is a growing demand for sustainable and artisan fashion. But is that really the same thing? In his thesis David Goldsmith explores the blurry lines between “handmade” and “sustainable”, between marketing and actual definitions.

David Goldsmith, who is a textile designer and part time professor at Parsons School of Design in New York, came to Borås from New York eight years ago to do a master in Textile Management. One thing led to another, and somewhere along the line he decided to do more research on “sustainable fashion”.

On Monday 30 October it was time for the fourth and final seminar in preparation for his the defense of his dissertation in Textile Management, called "WomenWeave Daily – ‘Artisan Fashion’ as ‘Sustainable Fashion’".

We gave David a call and asked him to tell us more about his upcoming thesis.

Hello David! What is the focus of your research?

- It deals with the concept of sustainability in relation to handcrafts made by developing world artisans. The idea is to understand what artisan-made fashion has to do with the notion of “sustainable fashion”. My case is a social enterprise in rural India called WomenWeave. Textiles, such as they make, are always marketed as sustainable, but there is very little research into how “sustainable” they really are – or even how to define the very word “sustainable” in this context.

Why have you chosen to explore sustainability?

- Well, sustainability is the urgent question of our era. Plenty of people producing and consuming fashion are working on improving environmental and social impacts. My work is not unusual in that regard, but I’m trying to understand an area in which there is very little research: the value of the pop phenomenon of poor artisans producing fashion for wealthy consumers under the label of sustainability. There is a lot of marketing, but very little critical research.

How would you describe your thesis? Have you reached any conclusions?

- My work is qualitative and ethnographic. I have watched the case for about ten years, well before my PhD research began. The thesis includes stories about the artisans, but also about the people in management, product design, and leadership, who are all working together in a small city in rural India to improve life there. They very consciously are using fashion as a vehicle for social change.

- My key finding is that the enterprise brings significant, life-changing benefits to the artisans, most of whom were (or to some degree still are) among the billion and a half or so people in the world living in multi-dimensional poverty. The changes are not only financial, but also in terms of emotional well-being and the stability of the community. And maybe producers like WomenWeave are helping to open up ideas about what the functions of fashion are and ought to be. If, however, we use a definition such as industrial ecologist John Ehrenfeld uses –  “Sustainability is the possibility that humans and other life will flourish on Earth forever” – then we are, in the big picture, far away from being able to truthfully equate “artisan fashion” with “sustainable fashion”.

Text och bild: Jenny Bengtsson