I have a confession… I have a professional crush on someone! I name drop him whenever I can, I refer people to his writing, I tell them where he works, I can’t stop thinking about what he says and how he says it and obviously I follow him on Twitter.
There is a reason for this. He uses the words ‘emotionally’ ‘durable’ ‘design’ all in the one book title. Originally written in 2006 and updated in 2015, Emotionally Durable Design is a book written by the person of my obsession, Professor Jonathan Chapman about how we can and why we should design more sustainably. When you open the pages you just get it! You get the concept of sustainable design without the feeling you’ve be smacked over the head with a Jesus sandal. During his ‘Perspectives on Sustainable Design’ lecture, delivered as part of the Textile Futures Research Centre (TFRC) lecture series in 2012, Professor Chapman argued that if someone is not interested in sustainability, then we as creative people need to find a way to engage them.
I work with businesses to help them to embed circular economy principles such as leasing out rather than selling their products, designing for disassembly and working towards zero waste design but I have a tendency to beat myself up about my own behaviour. I’m guilty of owning my jeans and handbags rather than leasing them, I love shopping, I love clothes and it makes me feel good to wear something I know is well designed although that usually means an expensive investment.
Preparing to write this blog I peered into my wardrobe, berated by my other half for being the SJP of Edinburgh (in his opinion). My eye was drawn to my favourite winter sweater, a scarlet red, chunky jumper from a high end French brand that has lasted longer than the boutique I bought it from in 2005. Red is my favourite colour and when I wear it I feel invincible against any winter chill. The tight fit means I can wear it under a winter coat and the high neck is cosy. I am so emotionally attached to this jumper I have kept it for 12 years. It has been through rain, mud, snow storms, and too hot walks and has puppy gnawed cuffs, coffee and wine stained fibres (a permanent reminder of other weaknesses…). Of course there were also new and newish purchases folded in my wardrobe but not as many as there once might have been. I looked in again, I’m not perfect but I’m getting better.
As designers, the ultimate affirmation to our ego is to design something that is so loved there is no need to replace it. This is our job. Good design is emotional. It stirs something in us that creates loyalty, love and if it is well crafted holds itself together through our sometimes abusive behaviour. So, how do we achieve emotional durability in our designs and how does this relate to a circular economy?
When I was wee my Gran, Mum and aunties knitted Aran sweaters. The craftsmanship and detail in the sweaters were executed as part of a multi-tasking evening by the fire, needle clicking patterns embedded in their brain from an early age, watching Coronation Street and puffing on the odd cigarette (well, it was the 70s). The wool often felt scratchy to a wee nipper and the neck hole tight. And just when you thought you had grown out of these body binding, heavy garments two or three would be unraveled and then knitted into one bigger jumper and the process of growing out of it would start all over again. Today this process is referred to as a circular economy, designed to be disassembled by using a single yarn and remade again and again and again and…Only now we can choose beautiful sustainably sourced wools in an array of responsibly dyed colours.
My hero, Professor Chapman concluded his lecture by saying ‘What we need are not mass answers, but a mass of answers’. I get that. I am a designer, I can design, knit and wear my own creations and I sometimes do, I make good (and bad) consumer choices and the good ones usually mean a garment is part of me for a long time. I sometimes lend wardrobe pieces to friends when they don’t want to fork out on a new wedding outfit that might only be worn once. These are not a mass of answers for a circular economy but it’s a start and that’s what matters.