Fashioning Futures Alternatives

In a recent podcast interview for Shapers of Society, hosted by Fashion Academic, Forecaster and Artist Rachael Taylor, I got to speak about my work as a Futurist and as the Founder of the Trend Atelier.

Rachael is also the Course leader at Brighton University’s Fashion Communication and Business degree, and has a focus on designing alternative economies for sustainable fashion and creative futures.

You can find out more about Rachael’s well known academic paper in sustainability circles ’Invent Your Own Fashion Economy: Post-Growth Culturesavailable here.

I also love how Rachael described her journey in her Instagram post stating:

When studying my MA and exploring sustainability. I seemed to always find that central to a lot of the answers were about alternative processes and practices to the continuous buy and sell models. This led me off road to try to understand the world of economies and their alternatives.

Although the podcast was recorded in the early part of 2022 and months went by before it went live, the conversation feels just as alive today, because what we discussed are principles that cannot disappear overnight.

You can listen to the interview on Apple and Spotify and Anchor FM.

🌐 EPISODE 6: Fashioning Futures Alternatives - Trend Atelier  by Shapers of Society

Below is a small selection of talking points during our 1 hour conversation where we wove in and out of discussing:

  • future forecasting and community
  • Rewilding
  • the nature of trends
  • sustainability in the context of fashion futures
  • our responsibilities as forecasters
  • questioning the fashion system
  • creativity and helping each other through the challenges of creating a better future

Rachael Taylor

I've had to do some workshops and getting to know you on a personal level and, you know, really recognize that passion of yours to you know, create change in the world through what you do. Thinking about sustainability and futures, you know, which both can be very loaded terms. What does sustainable futures mean to you in this present moment?

Geraldine Wharry

It's a really, really good question, because sustainability is such a broad term, that is probably at times overused. And there are other terms at the moment emerging like regenerative. First of all, and I have to preface that obviously, climate and social justice has been very much at the heart of what I do for years now, even before sustainability kind of became mainstream. But I think today, sustainability and futures means a couple of things:

  • A more considered approach to what we forecast so evolving from ways of reporting the trends in a detached way to progressing to a value or mission or a purpose led way of forecasting trends
  • Trying to also push forward new metrics that are not necessarily about what's going to sell, but what is urgent for the planet as trends researcher and Trend Atelier member Flavia Mendonca pointed out during one of our community calls. What is not going to have a toxic impact on our planet, those should be the metrics. So, that's one way of looking at sustainable futures.
  • The other the other aspect is actually completely trying to question the way we forecast trends, the actual methodologies we use. At the moment, the urgency of what needs to happen in our industries and in our society is so huge, that there's also a changed perception of time, where on the one hand, there's still quick fashion trends, although they're kind of slowing down and there's a huge amount of shoehorning going on.

But at the same time, the magnitude of what needs to happen is so hard to even wrap our heads around that it has brought to the forefront, the far future. People are much more aware of the more long term consequences. So it's it's a really it's a bit tough, approaching sustainable futures kind of on the one hand, you want to take bold measures and make bold changes.

On the other hand, they need to be considered and thought through so that we don't repeat the same short-sighted mistakes. And I think it's really important to look at the sort of the timelines and meet this idea of a change perception in time because trends are a temporal phenomenon.

At the at the moment, time clock is confused. This is something that philosopher Bruno Latour talks about, he says in his book, ‘Where to Land’. He talks about how our compasses and sense of progress at the moment are deranged. So that's is quite a big, big topic. But I think if we look at the principles of sustainability, where it might be circular, it might be recycled…. There are many different aspects, but if you try to apply some them to forecasting, is there a way that we can change the way we forecast so that we become a resource for reuse or resource for circularity? Those are the types of questions that I ask myself as we transition to a kind of new era of fashion, I think it's absolutely key.

Rachael Taylor

Yeah, I think those really are those bigger questions that need to be explored. And how has that changed your vision and role of exploring fashion futures in trend forecasting?

Geraldine Wharry

Yes, I guess what has changed is that for me, the future is now is much more a question and an exploration rather than a finished destination. And I think many forecasters understand that there are multiple futures or multiple scenarios. And I talk a lot in my work about future making mindsets. It used to be that you gave a trend prediction, and that was it. These are the colors for next season or in a couple of seasons. These are the themes etc. This is what we predict.

And I have thought a lot about this because there was a time when I felt a bit I guess disheartened or I felt some kind of dissonance with the process of, of trying to come up with new trends all the time. It just to me it doesn't feel right. To me, it's maybe that's not even a creative process. So it's more of a shoehorning process.

And also, I thought, What is the purpose of a forecaster because we're supposed to give these predictions and use an element of handholding with our clients and help gives them some assurance in the decisions they're making. So actually, we have a great power of influence. But we're also just buying into a system of convenience and obsolescence and the NEW NEW NEW NEW NEW.

So I guess, when one of the things I've been exploring as part of fashion futures, has been What does New mean? What does innovation actually mean? And what are we here for and what is our sphere of influence and, how can we be a lot more conscious. As even as a very niche industry, we actually have great influence.

Rachael Taylor

In  2019, you set up the Trend Atelier school, and then that evolved into the community in the fall of 2020, which was like a beta testing, and I was grateful, so honored to be part of that, and then it was open to the public in spring 2021. And you know, my experience of being in that space, I think, is transformational, because I think being with lots of creatives, talking about the challenges, but also talking about solutions, and you know how we've explored different themes to sort of look at these things from a different angle and you know, that space is for learning, its connection, its tools, its openness to share and create solutions towards future solutions. Can you explain your vision behind this community and what you've learned in the process of building this space?

Geraldine Wharry

Gosh, it's been a big learning journey. Well, before the turned out to community even happened even before the school I started to question sort of the fact that trend forecasting could be quite prescriptive, but also felt a bit like you send a PDF and then you never hear back especially as an independent or the strategies and solutions that you suggest, it's a written documents. Sometimes it's also a live presentation or you get to speak in public.

But I always felt that it was in the conversations and in a sort of more educational format that people ingest. The information like they integrated they, it goes inside of them in a different way. And I'm looking for impact, right? So I want to make a difference and I try and look at the tools I have in front of me. And  to me forecasting can make a difference and teaching can make a difference and coming together can make a difference. And so I was wondering how can I do this?

I always thought the name Atelier, that's unique in French it  is a place of experimentation, and it's a place where things are made in small quantities. It can be something where things are being made in their final form and sold but it's still very considered. So that's kind of the way. We all come together to elevate our work and try and envision a preferable future and many of us are forecasters or strategists or like yourself, academics and artists and working on content.

Many of us are also designers and in general, we're all passionate about futures and futures literacy and trying to figure out what's the future pathway to creating a better world and so we try and support each other in different ways.

Rachael Taylor

It's great when you're part of it as an important part of a trend to communities exchanging dialogue. So building curiosity and openness through shared experience between creatives, a large part of that collaboration, why do you think co creation is important and moving forward?

Geraldine Wharry

Well, we need collective solutions and although change starts with the individual, we can only carry it out together. The other thing is that we're going through an experimental time and kind of rewriting the playbook of capitalism of what our plan is and our own survival means, what it might mean to be human.

Plus, if you add an additional layer of excess, like a bit of cake, of economic uncertainty, geopolitical polarization, things like loss of trust in our institution and fake news, there's just so much we're working through.

Plus, we're coming off the back of now having lived with smartphones and social media for over a decade, which has had a massive influence in how we communicate. There's this kind of humbling sense that we have to stop being secretive or competitive, which is specifically the trend forecasting engine, industry and fashion used to be quite that way. And that the future is highly collaborative.

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🌐 EPISODE 6: Fashioning Futures Alternatives - Trend Atelier  by Shapers of Society

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If you liked this article, you may also enjoy our piece on Degrowth & Capitalism Futures here.

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