The designer opens up about how science is creating a better future in fashion.

By Alyssa Hardy
Dec 08, 2020 @ 1:17 pm
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Sustainability in fashion is often nothing more than a buzzword, something used to market pieces from brands that are otherwise not doing the work to correct the pervasive, ethical problems in the fashion industry. With no regulations on who can use the term and why, it becomes difficult to discern what is truly an innovative step toward a better future in fashion, and what is just greenwashing.

This is where the Slow Factory Foundation comes in. Along with Swarovski and support from the United Nations Office for Partnerships, the foundation has launched One X One, the first science and design incubator program to pair fashion designers with product innovators, who will then use science to make clothing better.

For the launch, designer Phillip Lim was partnered with scientist Charlotte McCurdy, who helped him develop a carbon-neutral dress made out of algae sequins. The piece is completely circular in that it comes from a natural material, but if it were to be discarded, those same materials would go back into the earth.

In a video chat with InStyle, Lim explained that he wanted to be a part of this project to normalize this type of technology for his customers. "When you see this dress in person, you will not even know it is seaweed," he explained.

He's right. The long, feather-like sequins on the dress both look and sound like regular plastic ones — satisfying swish sound and all. Though the dress was inspired by the colors and movement of the sea, it's something you could easily picture on a red carpet or at an event.

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"We want to get this out there so people understand that this technology is available and to get behind it," Lim says. "All things considered, making seaweed sequins that look and feel like the real thing was quite simple. You can make anything, any shape. After you get the material to stabilize, it's really just about cutting a template."

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Despite the program's exciting achievements, Lim also understands that we can't have a sustainability conversation without talking about the toll the industry takes on the people who work in it.

"There's no such thing as 100% sustainable fashion because if you exist, you already take up space," Lim admits. "It's about achieving balance. But when we talk about that, it's not only about products or the materials, it's also about human sustainability. This all means nothing without fair wages and making sure that people have access to healthcare."

He went on to explain that normalizing sustainable garments that are made fairly also means normalizing what they cost.

"Our prices are not the cheapest, but they're also not the most expensive, because all the overhead is not going into marketing, it's actually just really an honest cost of living for our workers. If we could get away from the idea that we need more, faster, and less expensive and turn that conversation and turn that into livable, fair, and valuable, I think that people's perception would shift. And, more importantly, we need to communicate that when things are too inexpensive, someone is paying part of it for you."

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This new project has helped facilitate a shift for Lim, and it's one he hopes continues throughout fashion.

"I hope that fashion dismantles this idea of a monolithic industry. When I say that I mean that not everyone needs to be the same size, not everyone needs to be working at the same pace. It shouldn't be controlled by a monolithic calendar. It should be broken down to the model that serves your business," Lim says. "I really sincerely hope that the challenging times during the pandemic have helped brands get more of an understanding about who they are and what makes their customer happy. And from there, pursue that, not only in product but pursue that in a value system. Pursue that in community."

In the video below, shot by filmmaker Christelle de Castro, Lim and McCurdy give an exclusive behind the scenes look at how they created this incredible algae dress.