Sustainable food and fashion chains? The future is in the making

Posted by ap507 at Nov 11, 2015 11:10 AM |
Dr Maria Touri discusses issues with a loss of skills in making things

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Food and fashion may appear to have little in common, at first glance. But when it comes to sustainability, they share a common ground: the need to re-connect consumers and producers, to re-discover people’s skills to use materials.

This was the feeling of the day at a recent workshop on ‘Sustainability, Food and Fashion’, organised by Dr Jennifer Smith Maguire and Dr Maria Touri from the University of Leicester last month. Participants included SMEs from the food and fashion industry and academics from the Social Sciences. The two groups shared the floor, in this one-day event, to discover new paths of collaboration between SMEs and Social Scientists for a sustainable future.

Sustainability is about self-reliance, and recycling materials is at the heart of it. But using and re-suing is a skill that, as consumers, we seem to have lost. As we move away from the process of making, we lose control over the future of the planet. We need to reconnect not just with the land and materials but also with the process of production. SMEs can play a big part in engaging consumers in hands-on involvement in the food and fashion chains. Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) is a good example of partnership between farmers and consumers and sharing of responsibilities.

In fashion, companies can encourage consumers to pay more attention to tending fashion. Promoting the craft of using textiles and making/re-making one’s own clothing can be part of their philosophy and branding. Because real connections between producers and consumers can only happen in small-scale settings – where ‘small-scale’ does not mean ‘limited’. As knowledge is spread and practices become replicated across places and spaces, sustainability becomes an achievable goal.

Sustainable food and fashion also need connections between practitioners and social scientists. Consumer involvement in the process of making is about building social relations and the social sciences can be valuable: through knowledge transfer, tools and methods of storytelling and sharing information on good practices. As teachers and researches social scientists need to step into the world of SMEs, understand the hidden processes in food and fashion chains and make them visible to consumers, students and future leaders.

As the participants in the workshop agreed, the future lies in slowing down, connecting and making the process our focus.

At the end of the event, Louis Marshall from The Langton Greenhouse and Garden Centre, Market Harborough commented: "We spend too much time worrying about the end goal of our endeavours. It’s nice to hear that the process is also important. Sustainability should be held in higher regard. We are on the cusp of a real breakthrough, not only in enterprise, but in consumer culture as a whole. It is an enlightening and a very positive experience."

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