How aware do you live your life?

A fashion company on the search for the visual language of Lifestyle of Health and Sustainability.

By Florian Michl

Trends tend to crop up everywhere, but nowhere near as much as in the world of fashion. Here the latest one is called LOHAS – Lifestyle of Health and Sustainability. A fashion company is exploring the ins and outs of this concept. The goal – depth in the superficiality of fashion. This doesn’t have to mean the end for good looking design, however.

In the world of superficiality, it’s not sentences or text that convey meaning, but images. Take for instance the shiny red tomato calling out “Buy me!” from the supermarket shelf or the green light at the traffic lights letting you know that you’re “Clear to go”. According to In Praise of Superficiality, a publication of media philosopher Vilém Flusser who died in 1991, these are technical images. Since clothes are more than just a simple commodity, this also includes fashion.

Now Norintra House of Fashion is trying to devise a technical image for the abstract concept of “Lifestyle of Health and Sustainability”: A collection that sends out the clear message that there is nothing wrong with consumption, as long as production is ecological, fair and sustainable. But how should such an image be designed, especially when tailored toward men? This was the challenge that the company set to fashion students at the University College Falmouth in England. The result was: Fashion that plays with contrasting colors and forms, that uses only ecologically produced fabrics and that insists on adhering to social standards, but still offers design that stretches beyond the potato sack.

This was made possible through collaboration between Norintra House of Fashion and an English school of design, University College Falmouth, presenting a win-win situation for both sides. The students got the chance to benefit from a placement at Norintra in Hong Kong, work directly on collections with designers and product developers and learn how design is transformed into production. Norintra, on the other hand, was confronted with the young designers’ unconventional way of thinking. As for instance with that of Sarah Lee. 20 years old and one of the best in her year, Sarah has been awarded a prize by Norintra for designing a men’s collection which reflects the current trend for sustainable fashion.

Her designs center around the question: “How aware are you?” for which she herself offers an answer: “People are blind. It wouldn’t make any difference whether they had their eyes open or not. There’s just a plain lack of awareness for the problems in the world among them,” says Sarah Lee. This is reflected in her designs. On the one hand, these involve dark colors and tight fitting styles, signifying hopelessness, confinement and despair. Not to mention the feeling of sadness, generated from the fact that there are people working on cotton plantations under conditions that are detrimental to their health and children hunting through contaminated dumping sites for salvageable material.

At the same time though, Sarah does not want to give up hope. She believes in a change in people’s awareness – this is why she contrasts the dark shades with light ones and permits a baggy, looser cut alongside the tight fit. By playing with contrast and opposition, she wants to express that there’s more to things than meets the eye. With the words “Take a closer look and discover the truth,” Lee challenges those who view her designs. “Discover the need for sustainable economic management” And take the first step in this direction.

But she doesn’t stop there. She also considers production conditions: from growing organic cotton, through spinning, weaving and manufacturing, right up to buying and selling – nothing should contradict the Lifestyle of Health and Sustainability. Her goal is a brand that does justice to the value orientation of LOHAS and that conveys a message that even goes a step further: “Be brave and challenge reality.”

First published at changeX Partnerforum.

Photo: Annett Koeman (Director), Wendy Chan (Division Manager) and Bruno Schmalz (Division Manager).

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