Imagining Possibilities Festival goes forth

Over this academic year, members of Centre for Sustainable Fashion (CSF) have been exploring what we mean by our ambition to practice fashion as equity in a more than human world. As teenagers in our journey (CSF D.O.B. mid-2008) we started the year restless, we had growing pains. Now recognised on world stages for shaping and contributing to education, practices in the fashion sector and research in fashion, design and sustainability; we are also constrained by living in the imaginaries of our times, perceptions people have of us, and we of ourselves.

When we set out, it was to challenge the fashion status quo, to recognise fashion as a practice in living well, within planetary boundaries. As members of University of the Arts London, we recognised an opportunity to flex and with experience as designers, we knew better than to take our ambition lightly. We started the same year as the UK’s ground-breaking Climate Change Act, at the same time as good friends were about to get started, Christopher Raeburn and Clerkenwell Vintage Fair, each demonstrating what is possible when care and repair, resourcefulness and ingenuity flow through your practice. The Nordic Initiative Clean and Ethical (NICE), part of Nordic Fashion Association which evolved into Global Fashion Agenda, set out the following year, and Estethica had already been established for two years.

There was a palpable sense of shared momentum. We’ve worked hard, and our passion, and hope endure, but it is difficult work, the climb is steep, slippery, and sticky. All that we and others have achieved, ground-breaking graduates, ingenious practices, world-reaching courses, and discipline-shaping research, has been outsized by increasingly harmful, legitimised, undervaluing, overstimulating, privately profiting, socially costly, environmentally devastating, practices that parade under the banner of fashion. But, as anyone who knows us might expect, we decided to rise out of what is going on around us and to find ways to nurture the human capacity of imagining, do creative making and use pragmatism to make radical imaginings possible. 

Our work is grounded in a framework we developed early on. It recognises a context of living systems, where social, cultural, ecological and economic interactions can flow in balance through mindsets and practices of interdependence and mutuality. Through participatory practices, co-inquiry, and methodologies including action research, co-operative inquiry and grounded theory, we check ourselves against scales of transformation.  

As a person who has committed huge thought and time to this work, as a guide, condition creator, and leader of Centre of Sustainable Fashion (CSF), I recognised that my focus on creating spaces and fostering capabilities for ecologically based practice was hampered by concern about conditions around me. I found myself wearing an armour, worn to protect me and those around me, but that it was brittle, with fragilities from the wear and tear of this work that many may recognise. Not one to be thwarted by difficulty, and in gratitude to CSF members who are exceptional in their creativity, ingenuity, care, knowledge, capabilities and commitment, I proposed that we coalesce our ideas, make decisions, and decide directions, based on Imagining Possibilities, through a series of embodied practices. 

Imagining Possibilities Festival - Field Day. Image Credit: Aleks Faust
Imagining Possibilities Festival – Field Day. Image Credit: Aleks Faust

The Imagining Possibilities Festival offered a moment of pause, to disentangle from the pain of the present, drawn from actions of the past, to see beyond the current trajectories of conditions for life. Such a practice suggests hopefulness, based on a premise that humans are a social, empathic species that seeks to thrive. At the same time, we experienced feelings of being inappropriate, indulgent, and disrespectful, when the concerns of the present require urgent, immediate action. In this rub, a set of questions arose that informed what we created for the festival. Some elements were created by groups within CSF, with the wisdom of friends, and more still by inviting people we’ve never before been able to involve in this work. 

Imagining Possibilities Festival - Mossibilities workshop with Lucy Jane MacAllister Dukes and Laura Melissa Williams. Image Credit: India Mae Alby.
Imagining Possibilities Festival – Mossibilities workshop with Lucy Jane MacAllister Dukes and Laura Melissa Williams. Image Credit: India Mae Alby.

What emerged from the preparation, was four days of wonder; teaching as an ecological practice outside of the walls of academia, learning from living systems and from each other. We formed a convening of people working in the fashion sector to design it from its aspiration, working backward to make decisions in the now, and to go forth. We prepared a CSF Field Day, one of CSF’s long-practiced ways of being and doing that surprises and helps us to make sense of things. This year’s adventures in moss and seaweed were tactile and astounding proof of what we can learn about co-operative living from other species and how we mediate our inquiry.  

Imagining Possibilities Festival - Photo of moss close-up through a loupe (small magnifying glass), taken during a Mossibilities workshop with Lucy Jane MacAllister Dukes and Laura Melissa Williams. Image Credit: Jessie Von Curry.
Imagining Possibilities Festival – Photo of moss close-up through a loupe (small magnifying glass), taken during a Mossibilities workshop with Lucy Jane MacAllister Dukes and Laura Melissa Williams. Image Credit: Jessie Von Curry.

The cherishing event was framed around perceptions of value and how we can influence social, sector and legislative behaviours towards collective and individual thriving. The intimate sharing of a rooted fashion practice and a growing of relationships, through Life in Clothes, changed the pace and breath of the four days, demonstrating that fashion is more than the distractions of its Frankenstein monster. Our Radical Imagination event was a gathering, on the lines of the ones we have held every five or so years since we started, with over 200 people, to look deeply, to listen without distraction, to use our bodies, minds and senses, together.  Performers and participants articulated the sometimes elegant, sometimes monstrous mash-up of personal, societal and biospherical phenomenon of fashion in its always political mix of bones and flesh and soil and cotton and air and water and carbon, and mind and spirit. It was quite a ride. 

Imagining Possibilities had no beginning, and will have no end, whilst it marks a turning point in CSF’s sights. We are emboldened by it, by what we are doing, and with whom we spend our time. Standing by the river, on the last day, listening to the resonance of voice under a bridge, its absorption into the water and our minds, felt like a new kind of strength in softness. An evolving of our identity, taking the armour off, replacing it with an ability to embrace mutuality, to make it irresistible. And new ways of protecting each other.  

My huge appreciation goes out to everyone involved in Imagining Possibilities, past, present and future. If you listen carefully, in the new London College of Fashion building, you can still hear the soundtrack of the choir, along with the rustle of fabric and the humming of minds. These events have changed us, as you will see through how we are, what we do, what we let go of, what we change, and how we acknowledge how we feel.  


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