When it comes to consumer culture, the question of want versus need inevitably arises – is this item something you really need, or do you just want it?
“We need textiles, we need clothes,“ said UC Davis Master of Fine Arts design student Rachel Stone. “And we also want clothes – we often want to buy new things. Is that really the sustainable choice to buy new things all the time? Is it really justifiable right now, considering the state of our planet?”
Stone tries to solve the problem of an “I want it now“ society with the exhibition “I want, I need … I need, I want.“ The exhibition is currently on display at the Design Museum.
The exhibit features basic garments made from the “cleanest available” materials and using pre-industrial methods. Stone uses natural, low impact dyes instead of synthetic dyes and sustainable fabrics that were grown, processed and woven without the use of chemical additives.
“I’ve learned a lot about environmental challenges that our generation faces,” Stone said. “There’s a lot of chemicals used in growing crops, processing the fibers – and those things just really frighten me. They’re dangerous.“
Fabrics like organic cotton and hemp are most typically used in sustainable fashions, but UC Davis alumna Carol Shu said that it is also important to consider the process behind making these fabrics. Shu, who graduated in 2007 with a degree in design with an emphasis in fashion and textiles, now works for Stewart Brown, an environmentally conscious clothing company based in Ventura, Calif.
“Bamboo is the new ‘green‘ fabric, but it’s chemically intensive to spin into yarn,“ Shu said. “People are so into the title of being ‘green,‘ but in my opinion it‘s not that great if you have to use chemicals to process the fibers.“
Tim McNeil, director of the Design Museum, said that industrial practices in design are currently being questioned from the perspective of the environment. However, he said that it is possible for mainstream manufacturers to move away from the standard methods of production.
“I prefer to see green design as a movement,” McNeil said in an e-mail interview. “The potential for designers to take energy efficiency, non-toxic materials, ethical manufacturing and make them palatable to both business and consumers is huge.“
This way of thinking has also been integrated into the design program at UC Davis, McNeil said. The Design 127 course series focuses on environmental consciousness and sustainable design, addressing renewable resources, post-consumer products, endangered sources and alternative materials.
More than just trying to change the way manufacturers produce clothing, Stone wants to change the all-too predominant pattern of mass consumption.
“I do think there is such a thing as guilt-free shopping,” Stone said. “Obviously buying anything recycled is guilt-free. Buy few things that are well made, and keep them.“
“We really have to ask ourselves: Do we really need what we’re after?” McNeil said. “And if we do, demand products that take advantage of green practices.
“I want, I need … I need, I want” will be shown at the Design Museum until Aug. 29. For more information on the year of eco-exhibitions, visit designmuseum.ucdavis.edu.
RACHEL FILIPINAS can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.