“Recognizing the need is the primary condition for design.” —Charles Eames
Thoughts on designing and making stuff.
Maybe you don’t think of yourself as a designer—a problem solver, a maker of things—but you are, we all are. We design our lives, the way we spend our time, the way we interact with the world; the way we’re always making adjustments, improvements—from the everyday to the big stuff, like how to build a meaningful life; how to get it all done and make it all work.
At VIEV, we’re a hive of designers and makers, and we’re always asking questions. Because we always aim to do things as efficiently as possible, so we can get to the good stuff. We don’t approach clothing design from a product designer perspective because we’re not a clothing company. We’re optimizers.
Since 1958, our roots have been in experimentation, innovation and creating solutions that make life better: A blend of art, science, and humanity. We are design driven. We use the word design as economist Herbert Simon used it: “Everyone designs who devises courses of action aimed at changing existing situations into preferred ones.”
We’re living in precarious times: on a planet that’s exceeding its carrying capacity; with systemic environmental and social imbalance, and with a manufacturing and consumer mindset that’s modeled on a linear system that’s not sustainable.
While all of this is happening, there’s a new movement afoot: more and more people are breaking away from the artificial (manufacturing) model of living in silos of time that turn 24-hour days into discrete chunks of time: usually defined as work, play and rest. There’s a desire for more freedom. To live without outmoded constraints on how we spend our hours, and days, and lives. To break from these conventions and live on our terms, and to weave a day together by getting the most from every moment.
We’re passionate about making life work, and making it better, so here’s what we’re thinking:
Make less better.
There are a couple of ways to interpret this statement: from a manufacturing perspective or a consumer perspective (By the way, wouldn’t you rather be called a “citizen” than a “consumer?” Let’s start now.). If we start with the manufacturing side, and fully admit that we’re part of the problem, we can come up with solutions. It’s not about placing blame, it’s about finding ways to be more responsible.
It’s easy to spot the conundrum that’s inherent in the idea of a manufacturer talking about making less stuff. Even if we’re making stuff so it lasts longer, we’re still making more of it. But we have to start somewhere. The apparel industry needs a systemic overhaul. The statistics about the industry are grim because the industry—along with most manufacturing models—is based on a take-make-waste model. We take resources from nature—energy, materials, water—transfer them to an industrial system, consume them, and then discard them in landfills or burn them.
All of this extraction wreaks havoc on our planet. For instance, total greenhouse gas emissions from textiles production, at 1.2 billion tons annually, are more than those of all international flights and maritime shipping combined. Textile manufacturing is also the second largest polluter of water (after agriculture) and one of the least regulated, especially at the early, chemical stages of the supply chain. Which is crazy, because clothing and other textiles touch your skin—your body’s single largest organ.
Then there are the vast amounts of resources (water, energy, and chemicals) that are required to manufacture clothes—up to 200 tons of water, for example, to make a ton of fabric.
We’re collectively part of a throwaway fashion mentality in which brands are pumping out cheap clothing of marginal quality that end up in landfills. The average American now generates 82 pounds of textile waste each year. That adds up to more than 11 million tons of textile waste from the U.S. alone. Worldwide, the average number of times a garment is worn before it’s tossed has decreased by 36% compared to 15 years ago.
Last but not least, the fatal 2013 Rana Plaza factory collapse in Bangladesh that killed 1,127 factory workers revealed an industry fraught with unsafe working conditions and in need of global oversight. And according to Fair Trade USA, approximately 80 percent of garment workers are women, and they are notoriously underrepresented in the garment industry.
So, if the problems we’re tackling are finite resources, social and environmental harms and a desire to live in a world where we’re all responsible for making things better for our planet and for communities—all while living our fullest life—we think that’s an excellent place to start brainstorming solutions. Making less, better.
Make less more.
The other side of the coin is a growing recognition of citizens embracing this idea of “less stuff” and making it more important. Have we reached a tipping point in society and an accepted understanding of how less can be more, or are we still measuring success based on our GDP and how well the stock market is doing? If manufacturers were incentivized to make less—but better—products, would more and more citizens be OK with that? Are these problems that we can solve together? These are some of the questions we’re asking.
We don’t have all the answers, but no matter. What we can see, and what we’re exploring, are the benefits of operating with less, more simply, more adaptably. Having less stuff means less to manage, to work for, pay for, care for, store, repair, throw away. All of that equates to more time to do what you want and less time managing the inanimate objects of ownership, and spending more time on the experiences you really care about, like investing time in your neighborhood or producing something you can afford to give away, like art or a backyard tomato. We aren’t designing for work life balance or less work or more downtime, we’re designing a way of operating so that the accoutrements of modern living don’t encumber us to get at whatever it is that lights us up.
Maybe that is work…maybe it’s creating, relating, surfing, or writing the next great American novel. That’s not up to us. That’s up to you. Our job is to make it more possible.
We see manufacturers and citizens looking for ways to change the way the world works and not waiting for someone to show them. Like companies looking at regenerative models based on how nature works; gig economy workers dividing up their day in a way that optimizes and structures their time on their terms; a graphic designer that works on Sunday so she can surf on Monday. Companies and citizens are reorganizing—and in the process they’re becoming more fully engaged citizens.
All this change that’s happening around us, and all these questions, create opportunities. It’s like broadcasting seeds in a field of newly turned-over soil. The anticipation is palpable.
We’re excited to keep the conversation going.
Ellen MacArthur Foundation, A new textiles economy: Redesigning fashion’s future, (2017, http://www.ellenmacarthurfoundation.org/publications)
The True Cost
Circular Fibres Initiative analysis based on Euromonitor International Apparel & Footwear 2016 Edition (volume sales trends 2005–2015). All figures include all uses until the garment is discarded, including reuse after collection and resale.