Sustainable Textile and Fashion journey from Brooklyn, Oslo, Stockholm, and Paris

When people talk about the maker movement, they generally think about robots, electronics, and nerdy engineers at the MakerFaire. MakerBay is a makerspace focused on social and environmental impact so we are interested in what people make that have a social and environmental impact. And it turns out “The clothing industry is the second largest polluter in the world…second only to oil,”. So as makers interested in sustainability, we cannot overlook this area of making. Get dizzy with numbers if you desire. 

In Hong Kong, the topic of textile is relevant today. “The textiles industry – comprising spinning, weaving, knitting, and finishing of fabrics – had a total of 446 manufacturing establishments as of March 2017, employing 2,569 workers or 2.7% of the local manufacturing workforce. The textiles industry is one of Hong Kong’s major export earners, accounting for 1.7% of the total exports in 2016.” (Source HKTDC)

“The 1920s and 30s saw the initial rise of the city’s manufacturing industry. The textile industry became the backbone of Hong Kong’s manufacturing sector.” Wikipedia. At its peak, the textile industry employed almost 30% of Hong Kong Industrial workers. That textile golden age is well documented – what happened to it? What’s next? 

Now, textile and fashion -as all fields- are facing new challenges to become more sustainable in what they are made of, how they are made, and also how they integrate with novel technologies and aesthetics.

How will we create beautiful textile and fashion in the future, that will not destroy our future? 

USA: Brooklyn + Fashion Design Accelerator at CITA (HK)

I (Cesar) was very lucky to attend a workshop about fashion, textile, and sustainability with Debera Johnson and Tara SaintJames of the Pratt Institute Brooklyn + Fashion Design Accelerator happening at CITA in Hong Kong. 

HK CITA Textile Center

 At the workshop I learned a lot about the impact of the textile and fashion industry and how business and design can work hand in hand to educate the consumer to improve the industry. Many brands and retails are now progressing towards sustainable fashion, but we definitely need a lot more of sustainable fashion. 

HK CITA Textile Center

I was also impressed by how well equipped CITA is and particularly interested in the sample making capability it offers for local designers.

Norway: The Plastic Whale, Bergen Makers, Oslo School of Architecture and Design (AHO), Fellesverkstedet, and Bitrav

This is a bit out of topic, but I was traveling in Scandinavia primarily because of an invitation to speak at the Bergen Design Week and at the Oslo School of Architecture and Design – and meet a boat called Caesar in the port 🙂

I made a surprise encounter with a mythical animal that suffered from man-made pollution: The Plastic Whale. Bergen recently came to the international attention when a whale died and beached from plastic suffocation. 

University of Bergen, Plastic Whale

In January 2017 the whale was found dead in Bergen waters

Bergen Design Week festival and chickens

it was heart-breaking to see that what remained from this beautiful animal was a pile of bones and the content of its stomach. 

Bergen Design Week festival and chickens

Some of the plastic bags contained the stomach of the Whale are on display at the History Museum, go check it out. This was a stark reminder of the impact of plastic in the ocean and marine life. The impact of synthetic textiles and microplastic is also enormous and currently studied but is already understood as a major threat to ocean life and permeates our food chain. Textile and fashion definitely have something to do with this…

I took a chance to visit the brand new Bergen Makerspace! The place is still under construction, but what an amazing location for an ocean-lover like myself: feet in the port, under an incubator for ocean tech startups, next to ROVs manufacturers and operators, nearby a great university! Link to Bergen Makerspace.

Bergen Design Week festival and chickens

Trygve Trohaug, the Makerspace manager, was incredibly kind to take the time to show me around what would become the community space. 

The Makerspace is still very much under construction, but what a great space! 

One the first floor, many ocean-related startups, most in fisheries. Next door, ROVs that can go as deep as 6000m!

In Oslo, I visited the School of Architecture and Design (AHO). What a jewel. Small, but very well equipped university. Unfortunately, no textile or fashion design as the university specialties are on Service and System Design.

The Oslo School of Architecture and Design

A great woodworking shop. Wood stock racks for students to purchase A great metal shop With a rolling metal rack, how smart. Of course, they also had all the digital fabrication tools a student could want (3D printers, laser cutter, CNCs). What impressed me most is that they had a room with a bridge crane to build gigantic projects! How cool is that? 

Another great thing was the material selection they offered as the first thing you see when you step in the workshop: it is all about materials! The University must surely have had textile / sewing equipment, but during my short visit, I did not get a chance to see any unfortunately. 

Next, I was very lucky to visit Fellesverkstedet by its cofounder Jens Dyvik thanks to the introduction of my magical friend Martin Gautron. I was happily surprised bumping into the legendary Nadya Peek who wrote her dissertation about machines that make machines.

Again, not related to textile, but I think it is important to show this space and community as it underlines the vitality of the maker and creative scene in Norway

Very very very impressive space, still active even if they are about to move to a brand new (historic) building!

This is the model of the future building! Follow their progress on their facebook group page.

I did not have a chance to visit Bitrav in person, but both Martin and Jens were raving about how great the community is there.

Sweden: Konstfack, Borås, Beckmans

In Sweden, I was lucky to visit in person the Konstfack, thanks to my friend Carl Barstad of Quirkbot and Kids Hack Day, check his TED Talk here

First thing, I was stunned by how much space there is. Right at the entrance is the open exhibition space. Better than most gallery spaces! The woodworking shop is gigantic! Wonderful weaving and knitting lab! Someone is busy! Many samples of the wall, show you what the machines can do, what the yarn looks likes once woven. Next door, the chemistry lab!There are many vats for coloring, dyeing, cleaning, drying! You would feel as much in a kitchen as much as in a lab. The textile printing room is also minimalist and spectacular. A long wall has many labcoats and silk screens stored, ready for action. The University has glass blowing, metal casting (above). There is even a master in “CRAFT!” An amazing photostudio. And every student has their own table, comfortable relaxing and dining area! The cantine we went to was all vegan (and delicious) !!! How amazing is that!?

My dear friend Carl Barstad, was kind to introduce me to the amazing textile designer and artist Malin Bobeck Tadaa. You must watch her work here:

 She studied at The Swedish School of Textiles in Borås and told me that “Borås is the top when it comes to textile technology and creativity, whereas Beckmans School is more fashion forward and Konstfack is mostly about fine art – in general”. Next time I am in Sweden, I will definitely go and check out Borås and Beckmans! 

Paris: CRI, HallCouture, DataPaulette

In Paris, it was wonderful to see family and have a quick look at innovative textiles. I will come back to see more – there is a lot to see – but this time, I was lucky to connect with Kevin LhosteClaire EliotAlice Gras, thanks to Carine Cheu, Clement EpiéAudrey Richard LaurentJean-Louis Frechin and more. I had some connections from back in the days at the ENSCI at the ANAT. But this time I went to visit the CRI “Centre de Recherche Interdisciplinaire”.Weirdly, the CRI is hosted inside the “Descartes University Faculty of Medicine – Cochin”. It is a fascinating place where the maker space is about as big as the biology lab. The CRI has a presence in Shenzhen, just next to Hong Kong called OpenFiesta.   

The FabLab of CRI. The CRI biology lab. One biology researcher kindly showed me her research about designing with bacteria and fluorescence. 

This is the work of Claire Eliot, a garment that reacts to sound. She explains the piece on a video below (in French) from Arte TV.

She was also very generous to share with me her process and parts. In the true spirit of Open Hardware.The components she uses. This one is made by Kevin Lhoste. The machines she likes to hack with. She also told me that there is a private group that does amazing work to push e-textile at the Moulins de Paillard.  Even the type of electroconductive yarn from sparkfun she buys! It was also wonderful to see the work of Claire Eliot on interactive textiles, with Maurin Donneaud who worked at Hall Couture with Alice Gras and DataPaulette.  

I was lucky to share a coffee with Alice Gras of Hall Couture and hear about her vision for furthering the textile innovation sector in France and in the UK. 

This was an amazing journey, from Hong Kong, learning from specialists from Brooklyn, to Norway, Sweden, France. There is so much to explore when it comes to the textile education and maker scene from these countries. I am more excited than ever to come back to Hong Kong and experiment how we can develop textile and fashion practices for a more sustainable future with MakerBay

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Ms. Angie Zhou

Education Specialist

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Angie Zhou is an Education Specialist at MIT App Inventor. She was the founder and CEO of Dreams Come True in Shenzhen, where she developed online coding courses for kids. She also has previous curriculum development, teaching and staff training experience at First Code Academy in Hong Kong.