a while ago i stumbled across a book called design revolution by emily pilloton. it holds a collection of design innovations that have ended as products that empower people whether providing education, mobility, play, or energy among others.
the starting point in pilloton's book is her dedication as a designer to devote her time towards projects that actually benefit people rather than create more of the same for the already over-consuming population of the world. her claim is that most of designer ingenuity goes toward design for design's sake disregarding the reason why great design exists in the first place, that is, for the people. the perception of ethical problem-solving as she laments comes down to regarding product design as trend-guided and superficial, disconnected from human needs. self-evidently she does not start from assuming that aesthetics are secondary, in case you were wondering.
moreover, when it comes to ecological consumption we often appear content with diminishing damage; developing hybrid cars or sustainable cotton are processes that reduce the damage traditional petrol gulping cars and cotton clothing produce and hardly improve the lives or conditions of people, but just adjust the guilt levels of the already privileged. pilloton asks a serious question about aiming higher than "do no harm" as an ethical guideline and actually striving towards "embetter".
as far as i'm concerned every single entry in the book deserves its own blog post, but i'll introduce you to some of them.
water: hippo water roller. a durable container for water transport.
well-being: target pharmacy bottle. a redesigned bottle for medication that reduces the risk of confusion between family members' pills and facilitates understanding.
energy: windbelt. a more efficient, turbine free wind harvester that utilizes the flutter effect better known for destroying bridges...
education: kinkajoy microfilm projector and portable library. a solar panel operated led based projector with microfilm content for non-electrified areas.
mobility: whirlwind roughrider. a sturdy wheelchair for rough terrain providing accessibility in areas without perfect intrastructure.
food: daily dump. an inexpensive compost for organic waste reduction.
i wanted to raise another question of whether the design ethic of pilloton could be applied to fashion consumption as well: we all need clothing but could we also do good? pilloton compares design and medical solutions, and finds that solutions in product innovations are often temporary fixes that hardly ever reach for the source of a a problem. it could be argued that systematic solutions should be preferred over temporary fixes. is there a way for an ethical consumer to start acting analogically to someone seeking medical prevention? can we consume in non-band-aid ways and start creating change with and through our consumer actions?
when it comes to taking personal responsibility as a fashion consumer, stella listed her own rules of eco-awareness with fashion, and i agree with them. as anu pointed out, we all already know how to be better consumers: buy less, buy work-ethically and ecologically sound products, buy quality, buy used. that's it, and despite sounding easy, the rules are incredibly difficult to follow. perhaps that is the reason we often stop the discussion on consumer ethics there. as anu also reminded us, the effect we as consumers have for societal change is limited and much narrower than we're lead to believe.
the basic suggestion is simple: intend to buy things that not merely avoid or do less (the usual) harm, but that actually bring about improvement. taken literally this implies a radical change in our consumption since we're used to exploitation on levels that are almost impossible to comprehend.
there are obvious requirements. there's a need to educate oneself in matters of production, social realities, marketing, etc. in order to make informed decisions. as an example of fashion, consider this t-shirt from edun that combines sustainable material (organic cotton), ethical production (sustainable factories in peru) and the added benefit of fund-transfers towards those in need (15% of proceeds to benefit war child). the last could be considered a form of pill-popping fixes, but there is no doubt some medication is also needed in this world of ours, right?
without full knowledge of the production costs and the division of proceeds it is difficult estimate whether the production is fair. as i have pointed out before, merely creating jobs is not ethical if we expect people to settle for conditions we ourselves would consider unbearable.
in addition to fair labor and sustainable materials there is a need for openness of design: kamicha called for the transparent designer, i.e. the abolition of nameless designers who copy for the mass market, but are unwilling (or unable) to stand behind their work. although there is no undeniable evidence that coming forth with your own name could secure quality (those who have recently visited marc jacobs will know what i mean...), it may improve the chances of designers creating things they actually feel proud of. assuming there is a significant addition of brand extra in the price of the edun shirt, the fact remains that a tee would probably end up costing close to a 100€ if produced ethically and priced according to global equality.
as a lover of all things beautiful, i struggle with the thought of the background of my favorite objects, and as much as i'd love to invest in couture to promote the artisanship of southern europe, i must settle for the cheaper alternatives – fully aware that they do not come cheap. could we start demanding full exposure? thus, are we ready and willing to bear the costs?