3 September 2018

Building a Sustainable Wardrobe for the Future

Last week, Danish designer Marie Sloth Rousing was awarded the prestigious Designer’s Nest Award August 2018 at Copenhagen Fashion Week — a prize presented annually to an outstanding young designer from one of the leading Nordic design schools. Sloth Rousing, who recently graduated from The Royal Danish Academy Of Fine Arts, came in first place out of 18 candidates for her conceptual and boundary-pushing collection, Transformable Wardrobe. In this collection, everyday objects, for example the umbrella, the slap wrap (reflective band), and the roller blind, were incorporated into garments to make inventive ensembles treading a thin line between installation art and fashion. For Sloth Rousing the purpose of this was to “make clothing transform from one shape into another — to add another layer to clothing as we know it”. 


what’s her work about?
It’s easy to see why Transformable Wardrobe scooped the Designer’s Nest Award — this is your not your average fashion offering, delivering aesthetically-pleasing, easy-to-digest clothes. Instead, Sloth Rousing is interested in the limits — and unlimits — of clothing, and expands our understanding as to what constitutes “clothes”. Sloth Rousing’s collection strives to go beyond the narrow confines of today, and trespass into the future. As she tells me, “The project is a comment on what kind of wardrobe we would like to have in the future, and whether we should have different expectations with regard to what clothing is than what we have today”. 

The thought-provoking use of everyday detritus steers the collection into the arena of political commentary, questioning not just how we wear clothes, but also our incessant consumption of products in a monstrously material world. “A big part of Transformable Wardrobe is to shed light on the fact that we are surrounded by new products all the time, and that they all have some kind of an effect on us. The project questions how we would like to be affected, and whether we should give more consideration to what kind of products we take into our lives,” explains the designer. In that case, it’s impossible not to read Transformable Wardrobe as an experimental meditation on sustainability, consumption and the wasteful way we perceive objects to be only functional insofar as their prescribed use. 

what’s her aesthetic like?
Sloth Rousing describes her aesthetic as “sculptural”. She expands, “I build on the body. I like to work on a big scale — there’s always a lot of volume”. On the Designer’s Nest runway, Sloth Rousing presented a number of looks that embodied this type of thinking. Her ensembles consisted of billowing sleeves, loose trouser legs, mismatched sleeves, wet-look foil, voluminous folds and, of course, the abstract insertion of household objects and materials into the mix — a roller blind impaling a cargo jacket; an apricot umbrella piercing an arm; sleeves poking through a sheet of blue plastic wrapping. 

She used a range of fabrics that she describes as “futuristic”, explaining, “I mixed different kinds of plastics and coded materials with classic materials like plain cotton to make it difficult to place these clothes in a specific time period”. These are clothes that exist in the in-between, oscillating between real life and a strange future — as evidenced in the accompanying fashion film she made with Mathias Kruse Jørgensen to expand upon the collection’s narrative, which shows the garments being “cultivated” in a greenhouse. “This could be the future, this could be now,” Sloth Rousing says. 


why does her work matter now?
In a world ravaged by a cataclysmic pollution problem — much of it caused by single-use packaging and plastics — Sloth Rousing’s Transformable Wardrobe feels like a vital breath of fresh air. The fashion industry — like any other — needs to partake in this conversation and offer ways out of the ceaseless tendency toward wastefulness. By fusing commonplace items with clothes, Sloth Rousing is providing one such solution. To do so is a bold move, and as Sloth Rousing says of the project herself, the biggest challenge was to actually “dare to do the project”. 

She believes that it’s “important that designers consider which type of projects (they) make” and to be “really curious” when embarking upon a new collection. Most of all, Transformable Wardrobe encourages us to think beyond the tight perimeters of our routine extistence, and to enlist our imaginations as tools for transformation. “I think that there’s nothing that can’t be done and nothing that can’t be used in clothing. Everything I see can be potentially used,” insists Sloth Rousing. “I really just try to be open and ask ‘OK, what is a pop-up tent? And what is clothing?’”.