This week I’ve participated in Fashion Revolution Week in many ways. I’ve posted a love story on Instagram about some clothes I own as part of the campaign #LovedClothesLast. I’ve listened to podcasts and participated in on-line open studios listening to and watching young designers teach skills and talk about the incredibly creative and collaborative way they have been developing as ethical and thoughtful designers. I’ve been filled with an overpowering need to work with my hands and started some upcycling projects. Since I love words I’ve taken up a childhood skill again: embroidery and writing with thread. I’ve reached out and made contact with women I feel have an intelligent approach and who by all they do clearly see fashion as a social “practice”. I have two calls scheduled with them for the upcoming week. The practice of fashion is a function of both knowledge and “doing” or the application and that is how I have “practiced” fashion this week. I’ve come to see there is a great deal of science involved when one seeks to understand what sustainability really means when it comes to sustainability and fashion.
In my practice as a social worker and a professor (I always viewed teaching as a performative practice), I often read articles and debates about whether or not these activities should be characterized as an art or a science. As both are “applied” professions, I always believed they were both/and art and science. They have a code of ethics. Both are practice-based professions and academic disciplines where research is applied to the practice of it. Yet it is in the individual relationships, the unique social and ecological context, that moment of application that the art part comes in. Because each and every time you apply what you know there is always an element of improvisation and experimentation and thus to me, it becomes an art form. Each individual act of applying it is not reproducible. You practice, you reflect, you re-imagine, do the process again and again. It is in and through the process, not the desired outcome, that change occurs. That real art happens.
The definition of social work goes on to state that the practice of it should promote social change and development, and the empowerment and liberation of people. It engages people and structures to address challenges and enhance well-being. Nothing in that definition precludes fashion from being used as a tool in service of the practice. There is nothing to preclude fashion from striving for those outcomes too. Something I have long maintained to be true. I’ve been finding examples where this happens and nothing has to be compromised.
One of the podcasts I listened to this week, and I recommend the whole series, is Wardrobe Crisis by Clare Press, Vogue Australia’s sustainability editor. In this particular podcast, she interviews three young British designers, all fantastic, but I direct your attention to the first one, Bethany Williams. I found out about her a couple of months ago as I was looking for ways to integrate my two loves, Social Welfare and Fashion. She is a stunning example of how fashion can be used as a tool to achieve all of the goals we strive to achieve. It is an example of a fashion practice that embodies the ethics and the goals of social work practice I presented above. She is also an example of how in the moment of application the creativity of the practitioner raises the application to art.
Bethany William’s last words in her interview were, “If I wasn’t a fashion designer I would be a social worker”. To which I replied, “If I wasn’t a social worker I would be a fashion designer”.
I invite you to explore her work and let’s have a chat about it.