Saturday, January 31, 2015

A few weeks ago I introduced you to IR4 (Industrial Revolution #4): 10 principles for future design and manufacturing.
Today, here is the first of a series of 'ideal objects', where I either feature objects that already follow the principles of IR4, or imagine what a popular mass-produced item would be if it was IR4 compliant.

So there you have it: the IR4 Converse Chuck Taylor sneaker.
I am not endorsed by Converse.
I chose this shoe because it is a great example of a simply made, daily item which is manufactured in great quantities - internet claims that 750 to 800 million pairs have been sold worldwide [when you quickly search for these number online]. Also important to note, it is a vegan shoe!

So, tons of potential: a few changes in its manufacturing process could have a big material and human impact.

The pair I own has the following characteristics:
- made in Vietnam
- cotton canvas upper
- cotton canvas lining
- natural rubber sole
- metal eyelets
-synthetic shoelaces (polyester?)
From the multiple pairs I have worn out, the shoe gives in at the junction between the sole and the upper. The eyelets are intact but have to be thrown away.
Its IR4 counterpart, would be something like this:
- made in USA (or your local country)
- undyed hemp canvas upper (grown in the USA)
- undyed hemp muslin lining (grown in the USA)
- natural guayule rubber sole (grown in the USA)
- embroidered eyelets made of undyed hemp thread (grown in the USA)
- undyed hemp shoelaces
Nothing mined. Local crops which require zero or low inputs of water & pesticides. Completely biodegradable. Super strong.

Utopia sounds so simple.


Friday, January 16, 2015

Regular jeans are probably the most widespread, mendable item still owned in the western world. By 'regular' jeans, I mean: made of strong, non-stretch cotton twill

Unsurprisingly, the current mending renaissance is happening big time through the denim world. Check out the beautiful repair corner of the japanese clothing brand Kapital, or the mending gallery from the stitcher Darn and Dusted.

This made me think about a major principle of the repair/re-use economy (if we ever manage to create one): it just can't exist if the objects exchanged are not of the best quality. Things cannot and will not be repaired if they aren't sturdy enough to handle that repair, and/or if their beauty and quality isn't worth the time it will take to mend them. One more reason to acquire thoughtfully, and encourage the making of good goods.

Current repair happening in the home shop:
LEFT LEG repaired by the people at our dry-cleaning place - with a sewing machine, for $10.
RIGHT LEG repaired by yours truly - by hand, with love. 
LEFT LEG FRONT: almost exactly matching thread - wow
LEFT LEG BACK: denim patch (probably less comfortable, but strong)
RIGHT LEG FRONT: cotton thread colors available in the house
note: the big black stitches are temporary basting holding an unfinished patch above the knee 
RIGHT LEG BACK:  the soft, double cotton canvas patch.

Still working on an extra patch covering the thigh.
Can I just warmly express how enjoyable an activity this kind of mending is?
The stitch isn't complicated, you make progress fast, and the peaceful rhythm of stitching is absolutely calming. I used this sashiko tutorial.

Just let go, and listen to the radio.


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Saturday, January 10, 2015

It's on!
After reading some excellent pages on minimalist wardrobe websites such as Into-Mind, Project 333 and Un-Fancy (thanks to a friend who pointed them to me), I have finally decided to take stock of my wardrobe. 

The goal being (and this is totally personal):
1) identifying useful-successful garments and understanding why, so as to make better informed acquisitions in the future
2) identifying useless-unsuccessful garments and understanding why, and then getting them out of the house by donating or selling them
3) understanding the minimum number of garments I can function with

It was a scary thought.
Like diving into a messy pile of reasonned vs. impulse purchases, more or less successful attempts at a redefinition of myself, things that had just accumulated and never got worn, things that had gotten overly overly worn, items I was clinging on for the wrong reasons, and a heavy sprinkle of memories.
On the other hand I knew I had been pretty good (verging on the obsessive) in the past few years about buying ethically and locally made clothes, and mostly natural fibers.

To make the process less daunting I made it playful: got all the draft paper I could put my hands on at home, cut it into cards, and sat in front of the wardrobe with a pen.
Made a card for each item of clothing I had, with the same 5 pieces of information:
I figure that once all created, the cards will be a useful tool to sort through the wardrobe (put them all on a table, start sorting)

This made me realize how crucial the information on the inside labels is (and also how some brands get away with never telling you where the clothes are made). It's a tricky one because I dislike labels intensely: very often they itch, are made of a synthetic material different from the clothes themselves, and are stitched inside a garment's seam (so if you want to remove them you'll need to close a hole afterwards). Food for thought - form to be improved.

Also, there were items I couldn't find a name for ('hum, this is too thin to be a sweater, too structured to be a t-shirt, too light to be worn over other clothes, too full of zippers to be worn under clothes, gosh what is it?' - surprise surprise, it never got worn).

Still in the process of compiling all that info.
More wardrobe-editing posts to follow.


Tuesday, January 6, 2015

It seems we need a total change of paradigm.
So many of us are making so much effort to navigate the current material world, every day, because it's too polluting, too socially unfair, too wasteful.

Consumption needs to change for sure. But production needs to change too.

Very roughly (and condensed by yours truly from wikipedia), there have been three successive industrial revolutions already:
- from the 1750s, with steam power, ship transport, textile, steel
- from the 1820s, with electricity, oil, the reciprocating engine, automobiles, railroad transport - global production doubled its pace
- from the 1970s, with the internet, microprocessors, computers - delocalization became possible, plants moved out of industrialized countries, the financial & communications sector flourished, social inequalities rose.

I believe we now need Industrial Revolution #4 (IR4): the generalization of environmentally and socially viable low-tech solutions, made as locally as possible, in the context of necessarily frugal consumption.

1. minimum material - i.e. do not over-engineer, use the minimum amount of material that will do the job safely > saves material

2. least harmful material - choose the material with the least embodied energy, the most renewable source, the least risk on health > protects the environment and its inhabitants

3. least processed material - use materials as raw and mono-material as you can find them, avoid using or creating composites > makes waste sorting, recycling and upcycling easier; lowers costs.

4. most local labor force - employ the qualified people nearest to you, or train the people nearest to you > supports local economy, reduces carbon footprint, reinforces & creates communities

5. no harming of labor force - do not kill, abuse, or exploit people; offer compensation sufficient to make a decent living, make the job safe in terms of materials, processes, and schedules; ensure a caring, supportive environment > honors basic human rights and relationships

6. equitable distribution of revenue - strive to create horizontal partnerships instead of vertical ones, give back cooperatively the profit created cooperatively > expresses respect for all types of work, makes everybody engaged in the enterprise

7. function, safety, sustainability, over aesthetics - do not let aesthetics / fashion / future media coverage have an influence on your design process strong enough to make you weaken your commitment to making good objects > prevents going back to the situation we are trying to get away from.

8. full biodegradability OR full reusability of parts - do not think of objects are individual finished goods, but as a temporary assembly of ressources, belonging to a vast material cycle > allows for composting; otherwise makes waste sorting, recycling and upcycling easier

9. maximum repairability - planned-obsolescence is forbidden. > reduces labor and material waste, maximizes return on investment into product, creates repair service jobs

10. no harming of animals - do not kill nor abuse living things; avoid animal material if you can, otherwise make sure what you take from them does not prevent their best livelyhood > respects all forms of life

Naturally not ALL things can be made following these principles, but if we try to at least transform all the ones we can, we might end up in better shape.

Wishing you IR4 new years to come.