Thinking for you.™
A zero waste system.
No place like utopia.
Upcycling as a rule.
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Complicated is the opposite of simple.
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Design, production & distribution.
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Thinking for you.™
WRIGHT is a collective of designers, filmmakers, writers, and musicians, who work within the realms of sustainable fashion and film. Working out of a studio in Perth, Western Australia, WRIGHT aims to dramatise fashion as a site of reflection, transformation, and possibility. Experimenting with ideas, stories, forms, and textures, the group works collaboratively to create fashion narratives that combine the real and surreal, the prosaic and the poetic.
A zero waste system.
“Our current age is sleepwalking.”
“The earth is groaning”
Our planet is finite. Like all natural things on it, it functions in a circular manner. We are at odds with this sensibility. Ours is a linear society with a throwaway ethic. Our means of production and consumption have a singular trajectory from inception to discard. Extraction → manufacture → distribution → consumption → waste. Wealthier societies that are considered more developed go through this transformation at a much higher rate, so much so that the throwaway culture has begun to mimic a circular sequence - “trend” is seen as a natural force that follows seasons. This is a farce created to encourage consumption. “Nature recycles everything; we do not.” (Connet, 2007) Zero Waste theory proposes reconstructing the systems of manufacturing from the ‘front end’, rather than recovering used products on the back end. In this sense, the design challenge is to remove waste from the inception of the process, rather than finding something to do with the waste post-manufacture and post-consumer.
It is an inherently capitalist perspective that “waste is a highly desirable design feature” (Palmer, n.d.), because it is often the most profitable mode of design. Planned obsolescence is a prime example of an industrial initiative to create waste. Zero Waste is an industrial responsibility first, and an individual responsibility second. Christof Much criticises recycling and its “agendas” for encouraging waste creation, it is a practice that relies on it, and individuals have been indoctrinated into the mentality that recycling is their ‘problem’ for which they are responsible for solving. Recycling, in this pedagogy, is the highest and most invisible form of greenwashing. Waste does not start with the consumer. In fact the product is almost at the end of its waste trajectory by the time it has reached the individual. The onus is on the so-called designers that make products with a massive design flaw: they create waste. This means that almost all design is bad design.
The individual consumer is never forced to think about the factory that made the [glass] bottle or the theory of distribution that resulted in bringing her [sic] bringing home the bottle when all she wanted was a soda or some mustard. She has no reason to keep in mind the enormously greater amounts of waste/garbage produced by the industrial machines that created that bottle in the first place. She pays no attention to the tiny fraction of the problem of garbage which her choice concerns, imagining instead that what she sees is what really counts. The recyclers then join her personal delusion with that of scores of other consumers, all reinforcing the delusion that they are wrestling with saving the earth, instead of being funnelled into a tiny fraction of one percent of a large question. Recycling is sold as a religion… The politicians get on board, further promulgating this non-solution… The result is a self-serving, interactive system typical of most effective propaganda programs.
A fundamental notion to criticising these systems is to avoid the conflation of the individual choice and the design of waste creation. That is not to say the alternative is to stop recycling, this is pessimism for its own sake. The goal is to dismantle and redesign the methods and structures to make recycling as redundant as it theoretically is.
In many ways, the fashion and textile industry appears entirely antithetical to Zero Waste thinking, certainly at this moment it is, but there are clear and manageable steps towards processes like WRIGHT Systems’ Zero Waste program. The key components of Zero Waste design are not foreign, which encourages the evolution towards such means. Modularisation is a key example. In the context of garment production, products can be designed in relation to existing patterns. ‘Hero’ patterns can make up a number of garments or garment elements, for example: ‘The excess fabric in this shirt pattern is used to create the strap for this bag’ or ‘the extra length of these sleeves is used to make pant pockets’ etc. The patterns evolve in a natural way, and new products are designed in the context of older products, creating an eco-system, of pattern making. This approach is astronomically closer to mimicking a natural, birth-death-rebirth function. Additionally, standardised design ensures waste exclusion and consistency in manufacturing, while also allowing for a versatile and inclusive use of the pattern or other design. Standardised design also encourages a careful and considered approach to reviewing and recreating for newer and better ideas. Finally, maximum information allows not only transparency with consumers, but a faster spread of good design. The Zero Waste approach is one to be shared; it is highly educational and transferable, and it is with these tendencies that make its spread viable.
These components are inherently utopian; post-industrial, modular, cyclical and harmonious with the environment. And, like a utopian sensibility, Zero Waste demands radical systemic change. That change, however, must start with a reasonable exemplar.
“Breaking that paradigm will be called revolutionary.”
No place like utopia.
“There is nothing like a dream to create the future. Utopia to-day, flesh and blood tomorrow.”
“You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.”
A little over 500 years ago, an affluent lawyer, Thomas More (not yet Sir Thomas More) published a two-part book called Utopia (1516). In it, a traveller named Raphael describes a distant island where there are no laws, no crime, no private property. Resources are shared, work is enjoyed, chamber pots are made of gold. It is an idyllic place, and different in almost every aspect to sixteenth- century England, where More wrote the book.
This is one of the most widely read books in history, and continues to be referenced and debated to this day. The text’s title itself has sparked great disagreements. It was the first use of the word utopia - now a very common term - and scholars have continued to argue over its true meaning. Originally from the Greek, eu means good or well, and in this translation eutopia means ‘good place, whereas another interpretation of its origin, ou-topos, literally translates to ‘no place’. This linguistic conflict has for centuries thrown into question the very possibility of utopia as a hypothetically-eventual, experienced place, or as simply a textual phenomenon that lives only in an imagined realm.
There is also a common misconception that Utopia is a paradise, and although that is not entirely incorrect, The idea of utopia is, arguably, of much more pragmatic value. It does away with non-essentials, away with making luxuries that merely satisfy human vanity. It strives for civic excellence. In utopia the class system is non-existent; utopia is not noble or majestic, but it is fantastic. If utopian thinking sounds politically and culturally familiar, that’s because it is. Utopia has many heirs: in science fiction, Stalinism/socialism, and even capitalism, according to some. With myriad interpretations evident, we begin to understand the enormity of the concept. Not only has it lasted over half a millennium, but it continues to be reinterpreted. As a theory it is extremely malleable, which is just as incredible as it is dangerous. Interestingly, in More’s Utopia Raphael claims that his telling of this far-off land is useless outside the space of fiction, almost too absurd to rationalise and implement. It has been read variously over the centuries as a satire about the late 1500s in England, about atrophied imagination, and transparent impossibility.
“On a social level, this means that our imaginations are hostages to our own mode of production.”
Frederick Jameson, 2005
Utopia, at its most base form, is about alternative. Its premise has not changed necessarily, but the praxis has evolved. Certainly, if considered in its original sense, Utopia is a practical impossibility; its rhetoric must be reinterpreted to function in lived spaces. In his 1998 book Relational Aesthetics, art critic Nicolas Bourriaud coined the term ‘micro-utopia’, in reference to a community’s relationship with an artwork or artworks that moves away from understanding art as abstract expression to attributing to it a more concrete, political sensibility. Indeed, micro-utopias have become the preferred - and practically viable - response to More’s fictional proposal . The rationale is that making incremental, tangible change better lends itself to fundamental social and political shifts, and that art and design are the Mecca for such transformations. The change is gradual, yes, but sophisticated, and ultimately safer. The appeal of micro-utopias is also thanks to the work of specialists. Micro-utopias are created by the expert, so to speak, rather than a monolithic governing body. Inherently, creating micro-utopias is a rogue practice - the function of the micro-utopia is to instigate alternative. Zero Waste is such an instigation.
The Utopians, whether political, textual or hermeneutic, have always been maniacs and oddballs: a deformation readily enough explained by the fallen societies in which they had to fulfil their vocation.
Frederick Jameson, 2005
Zero Waste is a ‘temporary’ solution whose power is in the rhetoric more than the physical art-object. It is a tangible product of an imaginary future, and in this sense it is the shirt that will save the world. The meaning encoded within the object is the exemplar of utopian thinking, of relational art. It’s satirical, a peaceful protest, a signifier for an impossible non-place. It is oppositional art.
When deciding how to communicate an idea as broad and significant as Zero Waste, utopian thinking quickly came to mind. Our first campaign was concerned with the shirt as a religious object, a tangible relic that could hypothetically save the world from all its problems. Like all WRIGHT projects, the Zero Waste Program evolves, but will always remain centred around a utopian commitment, one that is dense, complicated, magnificent, and potentially dangerous. Like all good art, Zero Waste is about a question, not a result. It is about a marriage of the transparently impossible and the practically possible. Is Utopia really a potential reality? No. But is that the point? No, that’s the point.