Guest post by Rochelle Motha
Rochelle Motha is a freelance artist and graphics designer. She worked as an art director in Sri Lanka and a magazine designer in London, after graduating from Fashion (Dip) Colombo Sri Lanka, Fine Art (BA) from Srishti Bangalore, India. She is alumni of MA Applied Imagination in the Creative Industries at UAL Central St Martins and owner of fashion brand RocEthical.
Growing up in Sri Lanka, an island which is known as the “pearl of the Indian ocean,” with beauty ‘ceaseless to the human eye’ has made me acutely aware of the impact of excessive consumption, particularly of clothes, on the environment. Sadly, there are huge amounts of landfill that overtake the view of the sky, and tragically are often home to lower socio economic groups of people. Sri Lanka has looked to the west for reaffirmation and direction and unknowingly emulated the capitalist, throw-away fast fashion culture. This pattern is emerging all over the world and is now manifesting itself through erratic weather patterns otherwise commonly known as climate change.
Since January 2014, TRAID has been funding the Free Trade Zone and General Workers Union in Sri Lanka through their UK partner War on Want. Of its 19,000 members, around 10,000 are garment workers employed in export processing zones around the country. The union gives legal support and provides training to workers, lobbies for pay increases and the proper management of pension funds, and gets involved in cases of wrongful dismissal. It also champions the cause of women in particular, looking for innovative ways to make their lives easier, such the establishment of community laundries.
My research process here in the UK has been one of many layers. Speaking to experts such as psychiatrists, psychologists and experts in the field of sustainability and education, and communicating with my key target group, aged between 16-27 has given me a great insight and knowledge on how and why the young consumer is frenziedly driven to invest in a “disposal lifestyle,” especially in the world of fashion.
The young, creative and dynamic customers I’ve been dealing with yearns to give back to nature and look their best, on their terms! They are often unwilling to conform to the rules of the “now,” which fascinates me!
They are the key ingredient to future preservation and no one seemed to care for them enough! One customer voiced ‘I didn’t realise how much of a different buying second hand makes.’ This is a wake up call to many of us to reduce the desire to buy more and examine our actions step by step consciously and carefully. Another stated ‘it’s a pity, retail happiness does not last for more than a minute as you walk out the store.’ It is challenging yet important that we stand out of line and not conform to the normal patterns of consumption.
The first steps I took to connect with the audience meant creating a visual representation of transparency and truth. I collected numerous receipts from clothing shops from individuals, then used them as a canvas to write their thoughts on. The undressed mannequins showcased posters that read ‘Do… Weave your story…- nurture the good -evolve better- inspire the best.’
The receipts were handed out and customers eagerly engaged and wrote what they felt sustainability meant to them personally and how to act and think more sustainably as a community. They were displayed in the shop windows at TRAID for many weeks and the curiosity and the enthusiasm of the audience grew as the project evolved.
The youth who have been voicing their thoughts are mostly strong willed and are able to express themselves to encourage their peers. There was also a group of people who did not feel the need to contribute, possibly due to lack of knowledge or socio economic backgrounds.
While I was conducting the research I displayed facts such as it takes almost 11,000 litres of water to make a pair of jeans, 2700 litres for one cotton shirt, and only 1% of the world’s water is drinkable (WWF). This was the first and strongest method of getting the attention of passers-by. They were shocked and dismayed that this was even a possibility. But social conformity comes into play.
It was also very interesting to spot the patterns forming between the customers, how they were beginning to weave a common thread through various languages, cultures and backgrounds. It was an emotive journey expressing itself through words and actions.
Project Eye Cycled aims to create shifts in attitudes and behavior and promote a unique style of thinking, opposed to what consumers are told to look, dress and feel like in today’s disposable world of fashion. In turn, this helps the eco system to cope with its overload of emissions.
Through the numerous collections of thoughts, videos and voices gathered, the narratives tell of personal journeys that echo universally. It was very intriguing to have discovered the conflict and emotional bearing that the media has on individuals. These various narratives were displayed to the public through shop windows such as TRAID to encourage consumers to question their habits.