A Drop in the Polluted Ocean

Marian Lynch, the Programme Manager for Textiles at Morley, outlines the steps being taken within the Textiles provision to support sustainability in E21 and beyond.

Textiles Foundation 2017It is easy to feel overwhelmed by the scale and implications of manmade global warming and the accompanying degradation of the natural environment. Those of us who work with textiles and fashion must acknowledge the huge negative impact that the industries have on the health of the planet, our shared home, and consider what action we can take to influence the greater scheme of things for the better.

Taking our responsibilities seriously in the Textiles section at Morley, we start with awareness as a foundation for change. We believe that small, behavioural changes on a large scale empowers us to do something positive that makes a difference.

Textiles Studio E21 SilkscreenAs part of our student induction process, all learners receive and sign for a studio code of practice. Top of the list is a directive to use materials, water and energy economically and sustainably, to upcycle waste where possible, to choose ethical and organic alternatives and to minimise consumption of the new. We also declare a ban on single use plastic. Waste management is another big concern for us and our code includes clear instructions on managing chemical waste and recycling.

Learning Statements are another vehicle through which we raise awareness. All course outlines and related statements include elements around sustainable practice as learning outcomes.

Together with our technician, we have started to scrutinise and question our suppliers. Where does their product originate, how is it manufactured, how far has it travelled, is it really necessary to deliver it cushioned in a mountain of un-biodegradable polystyrene chips?

E21 is divided into two studios with each having a Sustainability notice board. These disseminate a wide range of information around all things environmental, much is concerned with textiles but also guidance and information pertaining to the Anthropocene, biodiversity, disposability, emissions, design for cyclability, ethical production, landfill, microfibres, natural habitats, pollution, oceans, recycling and importantly, some uplifting stories and positive innovations which hopefully inspire fresh thinking and behavioural change.

Textiles 01/2017The studio supplies organic cotton (provenance detailed on the Sustainability notice board) and unbleached linen by the metre and we make good use of donated and second hand fabrics. There is a growing resource of other environmentally sound cloth such as hemp and recycled polyesters and relevant information sheets, books, magazines and articles for tutors and students to access. We also make a statement, ensuring our cleaning products are eco-friendly and visible by the washing machine and sinks.

Sustainability is an increasingly important element of the Textiles curriculum, most obviously through our four seasonal natural dyeing courses and year-long sustainable textiles course. There is also a sustainable textiles module embedded in the Textiles Foundation Diploma. These are all supported by the Morley Dye Garden large flower bed which is establishing itself slowly in what used to be the old playgroup sandpit. This contends with interference from the resident foxes as well as some human intrusion - in the unseasonably warm weather in February, two tutors were spotted sitting on chairs oblivious they were in the middle of the dye garden plant bed. There is clearly some work to be done to communicate our purpose and mission!

When other opportunities arise, we aim to highlight issues of environmental concern. In our recent Made at Morley show Cultural Patterns, inspired by cultures in the Pacific, students commented through their work on the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, dying coral reefs, rising sea levels and the respect for the natural environment in Pacific Island indigenous cultures.

Operating on a micro level in the studio as we do, may seem like a drop in the polluted ocean, but every drop makes a difference. Most importantly, as well as raising personal awareness and initiating behavioural change, it is through collective pressure on governments and big business that we can all, as voters, citizens and consumers, become environmental activists.

Marian Lynch
Textiles Programme Manager