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Reimagining Sustainability: A Chat with Mira Musank of Fafafoom Studio
FSW talks with designer Mira Musank about the craft of upcycling and the strategy of fashion sustainability.
Making more with less is not something that the fashion industry does instinctively.
Yet, the climate crisis has given rise to increased awareness of the huge scale of waste in the fashion and luxury industries and, in turn, public and regulatory frustration with greenwashing and brands masking the extent of the problem. Brands are now facing a crackdown from country governments and global regulatory bodies, particularly in Europe, demanding transparency and improved practices across a range of areas from supply chain to product marketing and communications.
At the forefront of change within fashion sits a growing group of designers with a more intrinsically climate-conscious, ethical approach to fashion. They have a natural instinct for re-using and re-cycling garments and textiles, in effect producing something new and creative from something old and discarded.
Mira Musank is an interdisciplinary artist and creator of Fafafoom Studio, a design hub to reimagine, repair, and refashion used clothes and textile waste. She is deeply concerned about overconsumption and waste within the fashion industry and is a keen proponent of climate art activism.
Fashion Strategy Weekly (FSW) sat down with Mira to talk about her take on the current state of fashion and the climate crisis and on strategies brands should think about to reduce textile waste and to improve practices across the board.
FSW: How did you get started in fashion?
MM: In 2007, I went to the Academy of Art University annual student fashion show in San Francisco, and was so impressed with the whole production and fashion designs. I got curious about garment constructions soon after, and began learning to sew through manuals, videos, and online resources. Moreover, I am lucky to befriend some veteran designers who are gracious enough to share their skills in pattern making and sewing pro tips with me.
Now that I'm getting more confident with my sewing skills, my textile upcycling works can be mostly divided into three distinct categories: REIMAGINING - create garments from pre-consumer cutoffs, samples, or secondhand home linens and upholstery fabrics; REPAIR - patch and mend existing garments and accessories with remnants and cutoffs; REFASHION - redesigning or altering pre-owned clothes.
FSW: What inspires you as a designer?
MM: Textile waste inspires me - I mostly work with fabric remnants, cutoffs, and pre-owned garments. My experience learning how to sew, creating, and finishing garments well was quite turbulent. But eventually, I felt compelled to create with the abundance of remnants and reuse materials whenever possible. The constraints of working with a limited quantity of cutoffs and remnants are endlessly inspiring.
Sometimes the batch of fabric cutoffs I initially set aside is not enough and more remnants have to be patched in. Sometimes the initial fabric chosen doesn’t “behave” the way it’s initially thought to be. Sometimes the design simply has to be altered and/or changed entirely. That’s when the magic happens, and I love it every time that moment comes - when my plan only works so far, and the rest are all real-time adjustments and adaptations.
FSW: Sustainability and recycling are a big part of your design ethos. How did you come to have this vision? How do you implement it in your approach to design and craftsmanship?
MM: I didn’t set out to be that kind of designer, it just gradually became more and more sensible to me. Now more than ever, it’s becoming more important to be designers who constantly think about how to create the best things possible with materials available, make them repairable or reusable, and eventually have them go back to the planet as renewables instead of landfill dumps.
Currently, textile waste is the fastest-growing type of waste in the United States and most of us never even see the problem firsthand. Secondhand clothes and textiles are shipped off to countries with lax environmental laws and even more lax enforcement. We’ve seen the Chile dessert littered with textile waste going viral on social media. We know Kantamanto Market in Ghana receives 15 million secondhand garments each week, with 40% of them going straight to landfill. The devastation of overproduction and overconsumption is far and wide, and we in the Global North only see flashes of the reality many are dealing with unfairly, every single day.
My approach is to become a better storyteller today than I was yesterday. Yes, creating well-made garments that last is important. It's also important to I tell stories with each garment or wearable art I make. Some stories have simple messages, many of them are multi-faceted. My ever-evolving Gathered Cloths project illustrates the growing threat of textile waste with each iteration. My Accidental Boro Silk Shirt project asks a question (among many implied others) about how each individual judges what item “deserves” to be repaired.
I’d like to spark conversations and foster meaningful discussions toward progress and direct actions through my creations. That’s why I’m so excited about my upcoming in-person exhibition in Oakland, CA on October 21, titled Hem & Jaleo. Hopefully, we will get to have some of that discussion there.
FSW: For a designer who does craft so much by hand, you also have a huge tech focus. What technologies do you find most helpful either in creating or marketing your designs? AR/VR or AI?
MM: I am close to documenting all design and sewing backlog with custom Airtable templates. My product management experience influences how I document and manage my work - I document details of a given project, from the inspirations, the materials (including threads), an overview of sewing tasks, and status. However, my workflow in creating garments is still quite manual. If not for my industrial sewing machine (that I got secondhand), I would work at a snail’s pace.
That said, I will start exploring Clo3D to create an initial digital garment prototype before creating a physical garment. For refashioning works, this may not be time efficient, but for reimagining works, this will be a good step to introduce. I stay away from Generative AI in procuring garment inspirations. Sure they're great but devoid of the actual designers or makers the designs are derived from, they feel very cold to me. It's the people behind the garments that continue to inspire us, and I hope that aspect can continue for many years to come.
Moreover, I increasingly give more weight to digital presentations via AR/VR platforms. Last year, I created a virtual Textile Art Gallery with Mozilla Hubs as part of my work with Climate Creative (best viewed on laptop/desktop, on Mozilla Firefox or Google Chrome). I digitized 8 of my garment creations as 3D objects and uploaded them into the gallery. The interactions between gallery visitors and I (presented as avatars) were so delightful and insightful. The experience motivates me to continue learning 3D / VR / AR and create an even better virtual experience for people who may never be able to see my works in person but are very eager to learn and connect.
However, this doesn’t mean I’m going to limit the focus on remote virtual presentations. In one of my future in-person exhibitions, I want to introduce an AR aspect to my physical garment presentation. Let’s see if the space has a reliable internet connection!
FSW: What does the future of fashion look like in your mind?
MM: Designer and fashion tutor Zoe Hong said this many times already, and I agree with her: textile innovations. The materials that we are wearing on our bodies. Design intention starts with materials, and the upcoming arrival of textile innovations—hopefully, most of them natural and biodegradable—is very exciting first and foremost. Will the new or augmented properties of textile innovations introduce new silhouettes, functions, or even new methods to create garments? Or will the concept of “garments” themselves be outdated? These are all possibilities that are exciting to me. Maybe not all of them will come to light in our lifetime, but boy, am I excited for them.
FSW: You're an active participant in the FashionSocial Mastodon community. What inspires you about a fashion micro-community?
MM: I find it refreshing to have a very diverse group of people in FashionSocial! Because we are all connected to fashion (personally or professionally), it’s a robust discussion and quips about anything related to fashion. I find that insightful, inclusive, and above all, warm.
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