Representing the creative future

A group of CSM students refused to take part in a live project with a brand. This is what they did instead

We sat down with 10 students from Central Saint Martins, to talk about the presentation of their collaborative, community-based project, Voyagers

“Imagine a new approach towards fashion.” This is how articles on sustainability usually start. Sustainability in fashion requires action, but fashion requires to somehow keep the fantasy alive. To think against the system demands creativity, a lot of work and willingness not only to create a new approach but to commit to it. In the collaborative project “Voyagers”, ten students from Central Saint Martins questioned not only what  sustainability is, but they built something that fashion is clearly lacking – a community.

Once upon a day in fashion school, ten students were presented with a live project in collaboration with a global retailer. In times of fast production and a burning planet, the consumer-focussed attitude of the system was against the student’s beliefs. The twist was that the project was focussed on sustainability, in times of hyper-capitalism. The brief felt hypocritical, the students share. Motivated by rebellion, they decided against the live brief and returned to their instinct to create, rather than to follow.

Fashion design students Linus Stueben, Dieter Vlasich, Milana Pomarico, Alona Cohen, Ciara Loughran and Sofia Testino partnered with Fashion Communication and Promotion students Nimie Li, Johanna Strachwitz, Anna Hallens, and Sannica Wong to translate their vision into visuals.

Forming a community in times of crisis might be the most fundamental thing fashion students need to do as long as they are in the comfort of school. We had a chat with the creatives behind the Voyagers project and talked about the importance of community and what sustainability means in the age of capitalism.

NM: First of all, tell us what your project is about. 

Linus: We started off by thinking about what the perfect community would look like for us. We had a briefing where the word life wear kept being mentioned. We wanted to question that, because it is such a weird description of clothing, especially for just one brand. So, we started thinking about what a perfect community would look like to us. Through the garments, we built our way up to it.

Dieter: I think it is important to also point out that we don’t necessarily have the same consensus on what sustainability is. Each of us gave our viewpoint of what we believed a better world would be. It was about having this discussion through garments, drawings and textiles. The main question was about what Utopia means to us. This came from the slow factory talks that we have had here at Central Saint Martins. The way I see this project, it’s almost like these grown-up children with their own identities. Everybody is so different; everybody is so expressive and that is the naïve quality that makes this project so special – they all have this dream of what the world could be.

“Something we wanted to question regarding the life-wear term, was that it was presented as a very westernised version of what should be.”

Sophia: We brainstormed what people would be important to us in our own community.

Dieter: We ended up having these conversations about creating these characters. The first one that came up was the therapist. Linus had the activist. Then we had this character that symbolised traditions, the preserver.

Alona: I wanted to create a character that would keep the memory of the community. There was a combination of everyone within their own identity. Something we wanted to question regarding the life-wear term, was that it was presented as a very westernised version of what should be. We wanted to bring everyone’s identity and culture into one, so we ended up making lace that had everyone’s drawings on it. We had these pieces of jewellery that looked almost as if they were taken out of everyone’s pieces to turn this project into one.

Dieter: We also had the character of the carpenter.

Milana: They are just the dreamer of the community. My character does not exist in reality. In every community, there is someone who is more in dreamland than in reality.

Ciara: All of it had a lot to do with preservation. Our basic references were women-led ideas, like crocheting around trees. The lace stands for preserving these ideas that we had as a group. I made these drawings and preserved them between two pieces of fabric, mimicking the activity of pressing flowers.

Alona: Another important part of sustainability is being able to preserve things, so they last a long time. Moreover, what was interesting is that we all have very different ideas of sustainability.

Alona Cohen & Ciara Loughran

NM: You keep mentioning the idea of community. Do you guys think that there is even space for community in the current fashion landscape? 

Alona: I think it is even more important to have a community now, because with community comes culture. This is a way to enable us to show where we are from and who we are – especially in fashion right now. As a global society, there is even more importance for communities. In a way, there are also communities merging, since everyone is trying to find a community to find solutions and make it work. Sometimes, it’s in the small groups where you can make things work.

Dieter: Even in the materiality and the production of garments – there should be a community aspect to it. We had a brief with a well-known retailer, and one of the issues we had with them was the fact that they praised themselves to be loyal to their garment workers, even though you can google this statement and find the opposite. I think in the fashion industry there is this big lack of community. There is a lack of respect for others, the garment workers, the materials or nature.

NM: That reminds me of a scene in Dior and I, where the seamstresses, who made the collection, describe how they would never fit in at the show or even be welcomed there. 

Linus: That is why we decided to wear our own clothes as well. That evokes a strong sense of community and shows that we all belong in this world we built. We have the privilege to be in school right now, so we can start building this community. Another nice thing about this project is that we focus on putting our worlds together, which are so individual. We mash them into one and take that one forward.

Alona: At the end of the day, it is like a mix of various personalities that come together and create this sense of culture and creation. There is a big need for community.

Linus: And we all managed to do that, even though we are so different from each other, and we are all quite big characters.

Alona: We are all from cultural backgrounds as well, so it was a community within communities.

Dieter Vlasich

NM: It is always so beautiful to see when creatives form a group and grow together. Nimie, Johanna, Anna and Sannica, how did you convert this design philosophy into your style of fashion communication? What was your process like?

Anna: Our process was responding to the design whilst growing along nature with a value for the humane. We wanted to see how we could represent this circular structure in our work. With our work, we wanted to have no end destination, because Utopia as well, has no end destination. In the studio, we created our utopic world, where we represented aspects of garment design. Most of the models weren’t wearing anything, but the accessories of the designers. We wanted to see this in relation to stripping it down. We wanted to ask, what are your clothes? What do you wear every day? Is everyone always fully clothed? It was based on the idea that everyone’s basic is the same basic. We were trying to challenge that. We tried to involve nature in the movement of the garments. It was based on the idea of this outside utopian space, where you keep going around in circles. When you look at the images, it is a circular journey.

Johanna: I think you expressed it quite well. The most important aspect of this visualisation was the journey. It was about having this divide between the outside and the inside. The outside part is very much searching for the answer to the utopia question. Utopia can be tangible in a way, distressed or searching. It can have a stressful energy in the pictures. We filled the studio space with sand on the floor and a tree growing out of it. Another thing we did in the studio in relation to time was to re-create the different seasons. One image is full of snow, one is quite rainy, one is at night and the other one is at dawn.

Anna: Time is such an important aspect of everything. We questioned how consumers spend their time. The nature of fast fashion is to do things as quickly as possible, whereas, in the community, we wanted to slow it down a little. We wanted to see what one could do with a day, instead of pushing it to the absolute maximum. Can you value things? How do you value things? Also, Milana’s character is a bit displaced – in our utopia we put them into a lot of scenes, for example, we had random cutlery. We had some of the figures in trees. We had these jars that were supposed to be pickled things, which also represent preservation. We tried to incorporate one massive family community and wanted to make this circular holy experience for all of us.

Nimie: It is a cyclical journey. The whole point of it is that there is no end to this conversation about sustainability. There is no end goal– there is always a progression.

Anna: There are more ideas for the now, rather than a statement about an end solution – it’s always moving.

NM: Currently, the fashion system praises hustle culture in an era of hyper-capitalism. Do you personally see a growing demand for clothes that last, and people form an emotional connection with rather than quick disposable ones?

Johanna: 100%. People need a longing for something that lasts. There is so much seasonal change, especially in fast fashion stores. It doesn’t have any durability. There is also a need for clothes that won’t break after using them once. I think that is very important. I think people are longing for something that lasts longer than six months. There is also a sense of timelessness that is extremely important.

Nimie: We also try to convey the timelessness in our project, that is the point of it.

Mini Milana: I also think when items have more sentimental value to the individual, it means something to you, and you are way less inclined to throw them away. If clothing has more personal meaning and attachment, it’s less likely to be just disposed of.

Linus: That goes hand in hand. When you feel how personal a garment is, how much consideration and love went into it, you treat it with a lot more respect. When you can’t trace where the garment is coming from, how are you able to have respect for the garment? When you treat it with respect, you treat it like your child almost.

“The issue with this entire debate of sustainability, is that it is projected to be equal. That allows for so much elitism because it is so expensive. There is this glorification of everybody thinking that their designs should last forever. But maybe, they should just be made from compostable materials.”

Alona: I think it’s our responsibility when we are making our clothes. It might not necessarily be the approach that everyone has when it comes to clothing now. We have this extensive knowledge of clothes and how we want to treat them – I think, genuinely, it’s something people are going to look into. It is a habit that we need to have. We need to inject into people’s ways of buying and consuming.

Dieter: Beyond this, consumer behaviours are really important in the fight for sustainability. I do think that the choice of materials is extremely important, and it needs to be changed. We need to respect nature and the cycle of decomposition. We need to make sure that the clothes we make can go back into the ground at the very least.

Alona: I think there is a need for both. The clothes that we are looking at aren’t necessarily super utilitarian. There is a need to find a middle ground between high fashion, which we put a lot of time and value into and something more accessible, which can turn into a natural solution for people to have more of an emotional connection with their clothing.

Dieter: The issue with this entire debate of sustainability, is that it is projected to be equal. That allows for so much elitism because it is so expensive. There is this glorification of everybody thinking that their designs should last forever. But maybe, they should just be made from compostable materials.

Alona: If we are in a trend of people wanting disposable clothes, it is about changing the material.

Dieter: Some so many designers are emerging right now. If everybody focuses on making things that are gonna last, there will be too much.

Alona: Currently, people are looking at their clothes as disposable. If we will continue this way, we need to find alternatives.

“What would happen if we treated our clothes the way we treat the food that we put into our bodies?”

NM: Right now, we are constantly confronted with the seduction to shop. I am not saying you should shop every week, but we do live in a capitalist society, and detaching yourself from the urge to buy and not falling into marketing traps is super hard. Just go on Instagram or walk from here to the station- you will be confronted with advertisements. It is interesting to see someone tackling the issue of materiality.

Linus: Yes, it is the responsibility of the people that make the clothes, and not the consumer. I get it – I constantly judge everything I do. I understand if you have no connection to all we just talked about, I completely get it. We as designers have a responsibility to do better.

Alona: I feel that changing global habits is something that is so much harder than actually changing the product.

Dieter: An interesting food for thought is the question of what would happen if we treated our clothes the way we treat the food that we put into our bodies. It is something that we wear every day, it is in direct contact with our skin and our body. If we treated it like something that needs to be made out of organic and natural materials, those clothes could potentially be composted just like we compost our food.

Linus Stueben

“It is about having diverse solutions, not just one idea. Nature teaches us this all the time – nature needs diversity to thrive.”

NM: I like this thought a lot, Dieter. FCP, what do you think of this? Since you don’t directly make clothes, you market them – what is your perspective on this? 

Anna: I think it is important to never forget the average consumer. At the end of the day, we are all in this building [Central Saint Martins], and we are very privileged to be here. We are very privileged to have these ideas and to be able to experiment and do these things. We need to think of the average person who is walking down the street. We need to think of solutions for them. Therefore, I agree that materiality is one of the biggest problems. If we solve those, or even just think of new ways to make it more of a circular process – that is how we start creating solutions. In this capitalist society that we are living in right now, it is not the question of whether we are going to end consumerism, or if consumers will stop consuming because capitalism won’t fall in the next ten to twenty years. It’s just not gonna happen. That’s why we’ve got to think positively and try to encourage change, rather than presenting the only solution. That is the whole point of this project, and we should be proud of ourselves that we are just trying as a group in this whole new space to challenge ourselves in the way we view possibilities and what we can do. Depending on which country you are in, things could decompose a lot faster than somewhere else. There are smaller things that feed into this whole thing, but just thinking and talking about it is so important.

Dieter: It is about having diverse solutions, not just one idea. Nature teaches us this all the time – nature needs diversity to thrive.

Nimie: Another thought – this might be a bit silly, but there are these TikTok videos of people recycling things instead of taking things from a vintage shop. They upcycle it themselves, and I think this is interesting that these pieces might be in vintage shops in 20 years. People will then go and discover these cool pieces that were deconstructed. Then it would be resold and reused again. It could be repurposed and reimagined again. It could have this cycle that can go forever if the material lasts that long.

NM: That is cool – I love the thought of this never-ending cycle, especially thinking how many generations could potentially bond with those clothes. I wanted to know, why did you decide against a project with a well-known retailer and if you think that retailers could potentially be interested in a more community-based approach in the future. 

Linus: The problem for us was that the retail project was marketed as sustainable. We did not agree with their values and didn’t want to be part of a greenwashing campaign. We wanted to develop a genuine approach for us towards sustainability. We tried to find that. In terms of brands and community, I think the problem is that they are very exclusive. It is those communities where it is about spending more money.

“When we had the briefing with the retailer, they positioned themselves as these leaders of sustainability. It felt incorrect and immoral to participate in that project when it was well-known that there are issues with the garment worker’s pay.”

NM: Do you think community and fashion are tied to spending power? 

Linus: Yes, 100%.

Sophia: I don’t know if it’s hard or if people just don’t want to do it. I don’t know if it is accessible to everyone, but if you try to be sustainable, I think you can. It just takes longer and a lot of devotion.

Dieter: When we had the briefing with the retailer, they positioned themselves as these leaders of sustainability. It felt incorrect and immoral to participate in that project when it was well-known that there are issues with the garment worker’s pay. It felt really hypocritical when they started talking about their loyalty to their garment workers.

Alona: During the entire briefing, we felt like there was a lot of greenwashing, despite them talking that they’d want to be more of a circular economy. They spoke about their transparency within the supply chain when there isn’t any. When we spoke about these issues, they were really closed off. It would be interesting to work with them, but when they are clearly not open to finding a solution, it is just a performative project to them.

Linus: We really didn’t want to refuse a conversation with them, that wasn’t the aim of it. We instead started our own conversation about this topic and decided to showcase the project this week.

Ciara: When we said that we were against the retail brief, we were just getting told that this is “how it works” once you finish uni and work in the industry. That is one of the biggest things within a community, for example the use of money. When you are working with someone, the goal is equal, it is an equal transaction. If you are working with an artist, you should respect their art. You are getting the same mark from each other. I felt like in this setting, we weren’t getting that.

Nimie: The work was born out of that rebellion against that – without this, it wouldn’t exist. Because of that, it is its own entity in itself. Now we are showing new approaches to being sustainable. The conversation is in a completely different space now. We are also demonstrating how beautiful it can be and how fantastical everything could be. It is almost like creating this extreme fantasy of sustainability.

Dieter: The ultimate goal is to make people dream.

Ciara: You can see it in a positive way. A lot of people think negatively about sustainability. The beautiful thing about the project is that it is seen in a hopeful, positive light.

Sophia: It sounds difficult, but it honestly just needs a bit of thinking. A lot of people who are not trying to be sustainable, are being lazy – myself included. Doing this project made me realise that it is actually quite simple.

Linus: Another issue is the time aspect. The industry moves so fast, and we tried to source sustainable fabrics, and it took so much time.

“Being sustainable comes at a cost for the less fortunate.”

NM: When it came to working with the retailer- were you allowed to be critical? Do you think we have to blame the system here? 

Linus: We were allowed to be critical– but we really got pushed into a corner. It made us feel bad. It is probably a sign of how outdated the system is. There is this blaming of you can only be sustainable if your whole persona is 100% sustainable. I mean you have to start somewhere.

Anna: A huge part of it, that since a brand was involved, it was about winning. So, you could win a sum of money. By not doing it, it felt like we put ourselves in a disadvantage. Because it was presented like this opportunity. In many ways, it is a very valuable opportunity, but we could afford to not do it, so we decided not to do it.

Alona: It went against our idea of community. We wanted to bring people together and find solutions together. And there we were feeling pitted against each other.

Nimie: It was about money and the system. It kind of reflects that sustainability isn’t affordable for everyone. Being sustainable comes at a cost for the less fortunate.

Sofia Testino
Milana Pomarico

NM: In your own words, what does sustainability mean for you?

Sophia: Consciousness. It is about knowing the process of what you are making, how it is being made and how it affects people and your surroundings. That is the most important thing.

Linus: Being genuine. Having respect for the people and the materials.

Alona: It is all about honesty at the end of the day. Knowing that you may not be 100%, it’s a journey that you are trying to find solutions for. It is about complete honesty.

Dieter: It is also about seeing nature as a teacher. Understanding all these systems and not trying to fight nature.

Milana: It is just about trying your best and doing what you can do within your own life. Some people don’t have the facilities or resources to be 100% sustainable, but as long as they are trying – that is all that matters.

Johanna: A big word for me is mindfulness. When you are working on projects take the time to do your research – don’t fast-track. Taking time is important.

Sannica: Sustainability is something I will consider when I am working on projects or consuming things in every bit of my daily life. That is really fundamental. How do I operate in my own practice?

Nimie: Sustainability is not capitalism.

Anna: For me, it is about process and time. Anything that is sped up, isn’t sustainable for me. When you take your time, things become a lot clearer, and you allow yourself to appreciate it.

Alona: For me, a big part of sustainability is looking at how things used to be made and allowing different dialogues with cultures as well. When you look at other cultures, you can see how things are being made and how that can implement in your daily life. It’s something we also try to do with our project.

Dieter: It’s also about decolonising our society, the way we design and the things we value. Another point is that there is so much indigenous knowledge embedded in traditions all over that we have disregarded them as a society. We went with more western approaches that led us to capitalism. There is so much information about people’s interactions with nature and people’s interactions with the world. It’s about listening to all these different approaches and decolonising it.

NM: That is true. To round this conversation up, I wanted to ask how you want your project to be seen – as a collection or of a community? 

Alona: Personally, I want it to be perceived as a conversation. An open conversation, welcoming people into the community. It’s not a closed circle, everyone is welcome. It is approachable, so everyone can be sustainable within their practise.

Sophia: Sustainability has this reputation to be ugly, not wearable, and not sellable. Our version is more high-end but also sustainable. You can have both.

Ciara: Aside from everything, it is about the textile development. As a group, we have a lot of different things to see, there are so many things going on.

Nimie Li - Photography Johanna Strachwitz - Creative Direction Anna Hallens - Art Direction Sannica Wong - Videography