A Few Things We Learned At The bioFASHIONtech Summit

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I think having land and not ruining it is the most beautiful art that anybody could ever want - Andy Warhol

Inside the bioFASHIONtech summit

Small town Connecticut is not exactly what you think of when you think of the location of revolutionary ideas. But it happens to be where TILL (Today's Industrial Living Landscapes) was born. TILL is a company focused on holistic regeneration of contaminated properties called “brownfields.” Their mission is to heal these lands ecologically, socially, and economically. Along with this they have founded bioFASHIONtech, an ecological fashion company with a workshop/lab in a local mall, nestled between Uniqlo and The Gap that encourages shoppers/consumers to try their hand at being creators. (more info on that here).

They recently held their inaugural bioFASHIONtech summit in an old arthouse movie theater. In their hey-day, these stately theaters told us the stories that both directed and reflected how we saw our lives. It seemed a fitting place to meet up to talk about how we can create new narratives with those TILL has coined "ecological fashion natives" - the new generation of designers making planetary well-being not just a goal of design (i.e., "do less harm") but the defining impulse of creative work and framework for its production.

From reclamation and recarbonization of the soil (yeah, we're talking about dirt and how we came to love it) to our own gut biomes, to grasses that grow on new fabrics, to bio engineers, poets, writers, scientists, designers collaborating …the bio summit had it all

 Here are a few of our takeaways

 EVERYTHING Representative Anne Hughes said - including:

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It’s time…It’s time to be very inconvenienced in our lives. To be inconvenienced by our lifestyle. By the disposable culture we’ve been steeped in our whole lives. By the status quo of convenience. On demand point of sale, what we eat, what we wear, how we move, what we buy, how we spend our time, how we communicate with each other, this consumer abundance that we take for granted, this status quo is killing the planet, we are killing the planet. We are dying by collective suicide. It’s time to be inconvenienced. It’s time to elevate, amplify, celebrate every radical innovation, every opportunity of eco-transformation and disruption of the underlying systems of exploitation in the minutes we have left, before the climate catastrophe overtakes our lives and the infrastructure that underpins our civilization
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It starts and ends with dirt.
Dirt what is interesting about dirt? Turns out, everything.  The foundation of healthy civilization is healthy soil. It feeds us, clothes us, filters our water - heck, we live on it. But we've overfarmed, overplowed, stripped it of its natural diversity, dumped poisons and trash into it to the point where, with mass industrial farming, we have led to the degradation of landscapes around the world. Husband and wife team David Montgomery and Anne Biklé shared the story of how they developed a nontoxic way to regenerate topsoil in 5 years - a process that naturally takes 500 years.

There’s not a lot of things we can beat mother nature at but soil regeneration we can. We need to marry soil health with fashion health because really where we need to be moving is clothing that is all compostible and biodegradable. We’re robbing things from the soil when we cannot return clothing from where it came from.
— Anne Biklé
Photo by  Dan Meyers

Photo by Dan Meyers

To get people really on board with sustainability you have to make it personal.
 As much as people claim to love the planet it is difficult for many to really comprehend how what they buy can have negative effects. But once you make it about them - how the pollution of the water you drink or the chemicals on the clothes you wear can make you sick it changes their mindset.

Gregory Altman, co-founder of Evolved by Nature shared that 98 percent of the people in the US have finishing agents in their blood. Ayesha Barenblat founder of Remake added "When we do testing with our community of Millennials and Gen-Z about what messaging is working, the thing that really strikes a nerve is human health.”

“We have very little awareness from a fashion perspective about what is actually on our clothing. In some instances, it’s the chemistry that is used to make our clothing [whether that is] wrinkle resistant, or water and stain repellent. That is the most pressing issue. The more that we can bring enlightenment to that issue and challenge, the more people will focus on it and then we can make a change. You can’t swap out a fiber if you’re going to use the same finishing chemistry that pollutes our water.”
— Gregory Altman
Michael Flanagan from Genspace - photo by Jessica Taylor

Michael Flanagan from Genspace - photo by Jessica Taylor

There is a makers movement afoot that is working to conquer this through community

Michael Flanagan spoke eloquently about the community that is Genspace which is  both NYC based and global. A highlight of their work is the annual Biodesign Challenge that offers university students the opportunity to envision future applications of biotechnology in a competition that highlights student work. Projects have looked at making denim from corn and fabrics from oyster muscle. And questions arise about major manufacturers investing, from the top down, in yarns that can rapidly biodegrade. Is there a way, not only to scale up, but be seen as "cool" by the fashion industry?

 But ultimately we have to get the right politicians elected because none of this won't happen without structural change

Author Peter Frase broke it down like this:

It all comes down to a question of power - there is 1% that controls a third of the wealth. For all the exciting things here, it will require the intervention of the states, of the government, of masses of people supporting the Green New Deal, of masses of people committing acts of civil disobedience against oil pipelines and while that stuff may seem too big and too ambitious, and too difficult to pull off, I will submit that without addressing these things all of these types of projects that are being discussed here, as promising and exciting as they are will either amount to nothing more than demonstrations or things that create a kind of sustainable eco capitalism for the rich while leaving most of the rest of us behind.

and let’s not forget the fashion!

In the afternoon there was a session which showcased some of the work from the Community Studio with Yimin Deng, Vân Anh Lê and Huashuang Hu as well as work by Jacob Olmedo and Gal Yakobovitch who push creativity through the innovaton of natural materials.

And to end this we want to circle back to Representative Hughes

So how do we hold space for hope and creativity and determination even as we prepare for the worse? Together - in the company of one another, through community of artists and scientists and experimenters and chefs and writers and prophets and musicians, poets, disruptors , sinners, you know, the fun people, that’s all of us.
activistKatya Moorman