Wednesday, 4 January 2012

A New Year - A New Beginning

It's 4th January 2012 and my blog is starting again.  A new beginning.  I have been so busy this past six months that this blog has been sadly neglected!  Poor blog, however, it has been with me in spirit.  Much has happened, many conferences have been attended but more will be revealed.  To start I will begin with a review of the fabulous conference I attended in cold, dark Denmark last November.

Sustainable Design Between Ethics and Aesthetics – Kolding Denmark

Me, Matty Aspinall standing on a bridge in Copenhagen!
Last week I flew to Denmark to attend a day long seminar oganised by the SEADS project.   The SEADS project is part of a new centre for Design, Culture and Management set up in collaboration between Kolding School of Design, University of Denmark and Aarhus School of Business. The aim of the SEADS project is to explore the interplay between ethical and aesthetic values in sustainable design with the view of promoting sustainable production and consumption.  It also seeks to strengthen and refine the public and professional debate on design and sustainability.

The seminar was held in Kolding within the design school.  The first keynote speaker was Dr Martina Kirtsch who began by raising the question, if aesthetic experiences contribute to sustainable development, how does this happen?  Her presentation was coherent and easy to follow especially as for over an hour; she spoke on the theories of both Martin Heidegger and Adorno.  She successfully dispelled my own myth that Heidegger would be too ‘difficult’ for me to understand!   She, also, discussed some of the core philosophical ideas in sustainable development such as anthropocentrism, utilitarianism and the ethics of responsibility.   What I took away from her talk was the importance and value of framing ones research methodology within a relevant philosophical structure.

The next speakers followed with the same intensity.  Professor Bente Halkier, sociologist and political scientist talked us through her latest research published recently in her book, ‘Consumption Challenged:  Food In medialised Everyday Lives’.  Using practice theory, the research has focused on food consumption.   She has examined the media campaigns surrounding food consumption and the contestation of food habits over the last 15 years.  Although, not about fashion or textiles I was fascinated to hear that some of her interviewees had incorporated sustainable attitudes in to their life styles almost as second nature.  However, for the majority, the study highlighted the complexities in the deciding factors made by consumers even if they did have the information on how and where the food was produced.  It lead me to think, if the consumer did have the knowledge of where a garment was produced and how much energy was used to get it to the point of purchase what choices would they make?   Like with food consumption, it would, no doubt is variable.  I had a flick through the book and would recommend it.  The methodology was a very interesting example of how to produce and evaluate quantitative and qualitative data.

After a lovely lunch, so different from those M & S sandwiches usually on supply at UAL, we were treated to another keynote speaker, Dr Ann Thorpe.  The clarity to which Anne defined current western economic thinking and the challenges of the thought behind GDP was brilliant. Her book, The Designer’s Atlas of Sustainability is equally comprehensive and a one that I must purchase.  However, the main strand of her talk was her latest research into ‘well being.’  The growth in our country’s wealth is based on increased consumption and profit however her research has proved that this form of wealth does not increase the individual consumer’s happiness.  The quick novelty and stimulation of buying is boring and short-lived.  What does bring about ‘well being’ is finding novelty and stimulation through long-term commitment strategies.  She exemplified this with the slow textile movement.  Although, I have believed this to be true, it was affirming to hear it being talked about by an academic who has done extensive research in to the matter.  Thought provoking and intelligent design is likely to bring you more happiness than buying that dress you saw in Top Shop!

Of course, there were other speakers.  However, those are the three that I will take with me on my research journey.  Before a quick dash to the station to catch the train to Copenhagen, I must mention the presentation by UAL’s own Emma Rigby.  Brilliant as per usual, she cohesively talked to us through her research on pro-environmental behavior change in garment maintenance.  All in all, a great trip!

One final word, Emma and I found the best vintage shop ever in Copenhagen.  We spent an hour and a half in there and could have spent about another 3 hours.  As a bit of a second hand connoisseur, I have to say that this was the best shop ever for vintage clothes and accessories.  The website is

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