With Repair Futures project we explore the current and future possibilities for repair within the fashion system.
We want to stimulate popular interest in clothing repair and inspire greater engagement of consumers, designers, and businesses in this practice.
The project consists of an exhibition, workshops, discussions, collective mapping, and a public campaign.
It promotes repair as a method for transforming, reactivating and (re)imagining clothes and advocates for its structural inclusion in the fashion retail system.
We invite participants to collectively explore potential futures, in which we all have a more meaningful relationship with material objects and a renewed attention to maintenance and care.
Together we map the ‘seeds’ of change, such as grassroots repair initiatives, start-ups that make it possible to order repairs with a few clicks, or designers creating new repair solutions. We imagine they growth and conditions needed for it. We also envision the contributions that various actors, such as fashion brands, schools or governments should make to the future cultures of repair.
This collective exercise will result in an open online map of current and future possibilities, co-created with the participants of the project and the global community of repairers and menders. Crowdsourcing ideas from people the project will return them to the community in a hope to inspire innovation and change.
So, we start with the question:
The current fashion industry has massive environmental and social impacts. It is the 3rd most polluting industry in the world (1). It has quick turn over rate and a large overproduction, resulting in a garbage truck full of clothes being burned or dumped every second (2).
Fashion retail and its marketing infrastructure are centred around selling new garments. In this system it is cheaper and easier to buy new clothes than to repair or upcycle what you already have. At the same time there are currently enough clothes for the next 6 generations of people on this planet (3).
There is a variety of approaches that address these problems, including better recycling methods, on demand production, new materials, etc. However, none of these solutions alone can help us out of the current crisis. It becomes increasingly apparent that we need to slow down the flow of materials and keep using our clothes (and other objects) much longer, prioritising the extension of their lives over their remanufacturing. This means that we need to turn our renewed attention to maintenance and repair.
Currently most garments are created without future repair in mind. Very few brands offer warranties and repair services, and repair businesses have low visibility and a limited number of clients. Most consumers do not repair their garments because of the convenience of buying new ones, the lower price of new clothes compared to the price of repair, the lack of time and repair skills, and a somewhat negative perception of repaired items.
Despite the logic of the current system, it is possible to imagine alternatives to it – new cultures and infrastructures of repair and reuse that are powered by knowledge, talent, and innovation. In these alternative futures it is fun to repair and upcycle your clothes, making them personal and unique, and it is way easier than buying new ones.
We mostly associate the future with technological innovation and not with the revival of practices that have somehow lost their popularity. However, repair can be an important approach for building better futures because of it’s potential to transform our relationship with objects, materials, living beings and ecologies. We can and should innovate around repair (4).
Alongside its significance for material culture, repair has a deeper philosophical meaning as a way of attending to and acting in the world. It recognises the damage and injuries that happen to material objects and living beings and responds to them. It acknowledges the interdependence of the world and links between causes and effects, that are often obscured or ignored by dominant systems.
Repair represents a deliberate action against trauma, despair and disconnect, that are experienced by people in the face of the climate crises, pandemic, and the extinction of species. As Willow Defebaugh puts it, despair might represent one of the greatest threats we face as humanity because when people become overwhelmed, they dissociate (5). We believe that we should find courage and resources to act in the face of these challenges, in compromised situations and with limited possibilities that we have. We see repair as a powerful and hopeful strategy for saving what we have and building a more response-able world.
Why imagine futures
Many people today feel anxious about the future. Only 34% of people in the Global North think that their children will have better lives when they grow up compared to those that they currently lead themselves (6). Thinking about the future is either dominated by fatalism that makes people feel that they have no influence on it. Or some sort of elite futurism that colonises the time to come for the interests of big business, tech, and governments (7). This discourages the majority of people from imagining alternatives and their possible role in them.
As other actors among the arts, activism, and academia, we feel the need to open up and democratise the futures. And this can be done through collective exploration of alternative scenarios.
We believe that participatory future exercises can help to democratise the future, encourage long-term thinking, and inform actions in the present.
We chose to imagine multiple futures because there is no single one. At any given moment there are a range of possibilities, which can unfold on shorter and longer-terms. Futures are flexible and thinking about them inspires people to realise their plasticity and the possibility to act in new and different ways (8).
The Repair Futures project works towards the emergence of new imaginaries, alternatives for action, and common paths for future transitions.
It connects designers, artists, activists, repair groups and initiatives, businesses and anyone interested in repair and its potential to transform the fashion system.
The project is made possible with the support of Stimuleringsfonds Creatieve Industrie, Gemeente Utrecht, Vrienden Loterij Fonds, Stichting Elise Mathilde Fonds.