Mr. McGuire: I just want to say one word to you. Just one word.
Benjamin: Yes, sir.
Mr. McGuire: Are you listening?
Benjamin: Yes, I am.
Mr. McGuire: Plastics.
As one of the most influential films to emerge from the 60s, The Graduate (1967) nailed a growing social divide fueled by shifting mores, the freeing of love and widespread questioning of the values of an older generation whose keyword was plastics.
Small wonder Dustin Hoffman's character was a little worried about his future - the movie's clever marketing tagline.
Interestingly, plastic need no longer be as worried about its own future. Plastic is precious...at least according to profs Helen Storey, of the London College of Fashion and polymer scientist Tony Ryan of the University of Sheffield. They collaborated to take another look at this much-villified material. "In recent years society has been bombarded with negative messages surrounding the use of plastic bags," notes Ryan. "Scientifically speaking, however, plastic bags are more eco-friendly than many popular eco-bags available to the public, especially if the plastic bag is reused prior to its disposal. One of the things we really want people to think about, is how plastic is precious and shouldn't just be thrown away, but reused."
Plastic is Precious was part of Project Sunshine, a serious attempt to understand the uncertain climate and global environment change in order to meet the increasing food and energy needs of the world's population, the biggest challenge of our day. As always, a spoonful of sugar helps the bad-news medicine go down, so the duo cleverly sprinkled on some sweet: arm candy created by luxury-goods designer Bill Amberg. He came up with this cool hybrid handbag that would make it fun to show off your plastic thanks to a shell made with high-end leather. "Leather provides the lasting and timeless quality we all too soon forget with a disposable bag," says Amberg. "I wanted to juxtapose this luxurious material with the humble plastic carrier bag to provoke some thought about what, how and why we use our bags."
Indeed, looking at why we crave constant newness in fashion involves deep thoughts most of us tend to avoid - particularly concerning the dark underbelly of fast-fash and disposable design. But zoning out ostrich style doesn't magically - poof! - change or even erase the costs. The cumulative impact of our collective choices to fund fast fashion comes with a big bill, but that could change if all of us changed our ways, even just a bit. "There are no easy answers to living green, but by changing our behaviors in small ways we can make a big difference to our environment," opines Storey. "By sharing the science behind the materials we use in every day life we hope to encourage and support those who wish to live more sustainable lives."
Another interesting way to be sustainable is to buy vintage. I am particularly enamored of the work of Peter Chang, a British artist collected by the Museum of Arts and Design, the Cooper-Hewitt and the Victoria and Albert Museum who creates jewelry out of plastic. His acrylic pieces, like the bracelet at top, are often made from the same stuff as those disposable plastic picnic spoons - and are luminously colourful and suprisingly covetable. While the artist is of the mind that plastic reflects the age we live in, he also admits that part of what attracts him to this unusual medium - unusual for the museum-quality jewelry genre at least - is how "anonymous" plastic is; its lack of character and throwaway'ness both encourage the taking of design risks.
This looking-back to look forward is a very cool aspect of the Folkspun fashion tribe.* Eco doesn't have to automatically mean garish tie-dye and nose-assaulting patchouli. A particularly lovely aspect of our waking up is how we're rethinking and preserving our past, making it look new again. And in the case of justonewordplastics - desirable, even.
- Lesley Scott
*NOTE: IF YOU WANT TO KNOW MORE ABOUT EACH FASHION TRIBE, START HERE
Podcast music: Kevin MacLeod, Incompetech.com
- Lesley Scott