on finding worth in waste

My latest printed words as found in Trouble magazine…this month’s writings are based on zero-waste bespoke design principles, as demonstrated by Melbourne-based label MATERIALBYPRODUCT.

OCTOBER 2010: Frockerphiliac …on finding Worth in Waste

materialbyproduct SS10 - SCREENGOWNWith warmer days that mark spring’s arrival, so blooms the excited lament of a new season and having nothing to wear. Retail racks overflow with vibrant new colours in fine, lightweight fabrics; department stores, designers, artisans and crafters emerge to showcase their wintery creative flair; registers ring to the chime of the racing dollar and the wardrobe restock begins.

In making room for the new it raises the question of what to do with the old. Most of us probably have a garage or market sale, drop them in a charity bin or give them to a friend. Some of us might go to an organised clothing swap and discover the joy of a money-less, quality exchange. If you haven’t yet been to one, the Clothing Exchange provides a very civilised and guiltless way to freshen up the closet, and on 25th October, you can have the experience en masse by taking part in their first National Swap Day.

Unfortunately, of the garments that are donated to charities, 35% of them are still deemed unfit to wear and are sent to the ever-growing hole in the ground. In May this year, the Victorian Government increased landfill levies from $9 to $30 per tonne, with further rises on the plan. While still a far cry from Sydney’s rate of around $70/tonne, it is nonetheless a positive step in the very right direction, and a leap ahead of Queensland’s no-cost dumping.

I’ve been aware of the rag trade’s landfill rates for some time now but haven’t had a tangible understanding of what that means. So to make amends I’ve done some sums. If an average of three garments weigh 1kg and 3000 unwanted frocks make up one tonne, it basically means that even with this recent price hike industry is only being charged one cent to send one of our favourite old garments to the grave.

One measly cent! It seems crazy given that denomination is no longer even in our currency.

If made ethically, the cost of a basic t-shirt under the no-sweat Australian award system should retail for as much as $60. Yet in reality, we can walk into a handful of mass produced stores and pick up a basic tee for less than ten bucks, or a better quality version for around $20-25.

Perhaps it’s a value judgment, but for me this poses a question of Worth. With an RRP of $25, is it then fair to give that same t-shirt an RIP of $0.01? I understand that there can be unwearable destruction to a garment, but otherwise how can cloth depreciate so drastically? Is it a faulting of workmanship or a failing within ownership?

Charles Frederick Worth, an Englishman working in Paris in the mid 1800s, is considered to be the Father of Haute Couture. Credited as the first designer to put labels into clothing, he also introduced the idea of designing and showcasing seasonal collections, the platform from which his exclusive clientele could then chose their own fabrics before having their selected style custom-fitted and impeccably tailored to their individual colour and form.

As much as it is excessive, elitist, often impractical and not exactly environmentally friendly, I nevertheless find it hard to not applaud the underlying ethics and beauty of Haute Couture – particularly the emphasis on fair wages, quality materials and bespoke workmanship. Whilst no expense is spared in sourcing exotic materials through far-flung, carbon-heavy reaches, there is atonement in the expertise and waste-less-ness of highly skilled artisans that is mirrored by the purchaser’s care, responsibility and aesthetic airs. In forging a symbiotic relationship, the designer and client become intertwined and a creative cycle is formed.

Building on this cycle is Melbourne-based fashion house MATERIALBYPRODUCT. Visionary advocates of a zero-waste approach to quality bespoke design, Susan Dimasi and Chantal Kirby challenge the motivation and methodology of producing seasonal collections, redefining what it is to be a contemporary fashion ‘house’.

By creating forms that embody the physical components of a ‘house’ – a wall, a curtain, the lights – Dimasi and Kirby propose a template-based system where tailored interventions, both subtle and complex are redefining the way fabric is seen, made and worn. Favouring salon-style intimate screenings of their collections, the audience is invited to engage not just with the end product, but also with the process and gesture that bring you there; watching as Rubenesque models are dressed, draped and tied into rectangular reams of craftily-cut cloth, morphing away from a window or into the floor. Within this fluid motion, one is asked to reflect on our relationship with body, object and cloth, gently demonstrating how organic the cycle can be.
In reassessing the modes of joining fabric, this duo are also aware of the negative space and fabric trace their cuttings leave behind, subtly educating the wearer to the imprint of their actions, as offcuts are left hanging, forming draped sleeves and decorative décolleté.

At a time when fashion is questioned for it’s consumption and wasteful flippancy, MATERIALBYPRODUCT show us that not all by-products are destined for landfill and that mindfulness can be found in all things material.

materialbyproduct  tablegown prototype

MATERIALBYPRODUCT are located at 337 Gore Street Fitzroy.

With a showroom out the front and their workroom out the back, you can make private appointments to sample their wears. You can also view more of their inspiring work here.