“It’s just paper, you know,” insisted Bea Szenfeld at the opening of the exhibition “Everything You Can Imagine Is Real,” which highlights her otherworldly garments formed from thousands of cut, folded, taped and sewn A4 sheets. Though the source may be mundane, the results have been worn by performers including Lady Gaga, Bjork and members of the Royal Swedish Opera, and highlighted on this year’s Eurovision Song Contest.
Szenfeld’s costumes, or “Haute Papier,” along with photography and illustrations featuring them, are on display until Oct. 29 at concept mall Bikini Berlin. The exhibit was opened by Sweden’s Queen Silvia, and kicked off Oct. 7 in tandem with a symposium on sustainable fashion that featured representatives from Filippa K and H&M, as well as Mistra Future Fashion, a project of Sweden’s Foundation for Strategic Environmental Research.
Also speaking at the event were ESMOD Berlin president and professor Valentin Rothmaler, Hessnatur Foundation chair Rolf Heimann, author and designer Magdalena Schaffrin and Rebecca Earley of the University of the Arts London, a trained textile designer who challenged the crowd to change tactics and redefine fast and slow, looking for appropriate-speed fashion.
“What if fast fashion could be sustainable? What if we changed from putting our time and energy into trying to stop people buying fast fashion, change their very nature and young consuming habits?” asked Earley.
“What if we look at how fast fashion can actually provide a wealth of benefits? We need to deal with materials, we need to deal with production. But we can put our time and energy there instead of trying to hold back the tide, which is an emerging generation that want to find themselves in clothes and music and technology,” she said.
For Earley, this new system, which she calls Tango Textiles, includes upcycling, cheap recyclable compostable apparel made from paperlike materials, as well as higher prices for handmade fashion.
Other sustainable solutions floated by panelists included teaching customers care and mending techniques, leasing clothing and selling it secondhand — all tactics practiced by minimalist fashion brand Filippa K. “Our philosophy has always been to make clothes that last a long time, both in terms of quality and style,” said Filippa K sustainability director Elin Larsson. “But then you come to realize that’s not enough.”
The company started a framework for circular fashion, which is pushed along by what Larsson called “front-runner” garments, which are made as sustainable as possible, and released every couple of years. She showed off an almost zero waste navy suit and a long skirt made from recycled wool that has been sorted into colors, so does not have to be dyed. From the garment to transport bag hanger, all parts are recyclable. However, these specially made pieces are not treated with antipilling or antistatic chemicals, so, noted Larsson, the consumer has to be educated about how to fix these issues.
Consumer education was also key for H&M’s sustainability manager Hendrik Heuermann. He noted that the fast-fashion chain’s stores have garment recycling bins, but getting people to use them was difficult. “Despite all the interest people declare in sustainability when you ask them about it on a survey, if you ask ‘do you live by it and shop accordingly,’ the answer is no,” he said. Nonetheless, H&M has recently released the latest edition of its Close the Loop collection, partly made with recycled cotton and wool from these bins.