Circular Podcast – TOAST Renewal: A panel discussion
Do we always need to mend? How can mending help to nudge us towards significant behaviour shifts? What are the materials innovations that might help? Are there self-healing materials – or even self-destructing materials?
In this bonus episode, I’m leading a panel discussion with TOAST, including amazing insights from Seetal Solanki, Tom van Deijnen, Celia Pym and Bonnie Kemske.
Below is a transcript of our conversation. Find the full episode available to listen on Spotify here.
I’m Katie Treggiden and this is Circular a podcast exploring the intersections of craft design and sustainability. Join me as I talk to the thinkers, doers, and makers of the circular economy. These are the people who are challenging the linear take, make waste models of production and consumption and walking towards something better. In this series, we’re talking about repack. I think that part of what that comes from is Kintsugi like many, many things really, it can be a fad. Let’s be honest, it can be a fad. And I think that’s what we see when it’s just fashion with no nothing underneath it. But Kintsugui is actually a way of life. Just like this, all the mending that we’ve been talking about here, it’s a way of life. It’s a sustainable way of life and a beautiful way of life.
Not just a fashion that’s going to be over next year. This is long-term, a long-term approach in a way to establish and strengthen and reinforce that relationship that we have with the objects that are important to us. Back in April, the clothing brand toast invited me to chair a panel event, a conversation, exploring the importance of repair and reuse through the lenses of sustainability culture and storytelling.
We brought together visible mender, Tomofholland, author of kintsugi, the poetic mend, Bonnie Kemske, renowned textile artist Celia Pym, and Seetal Solanki, a materials researcher, designer, and author of why materials matter. We talked about their different perspectives on the functionality of repair or esthetic approaches and the Japanese art of Kintsugi, of course, the importance of forming relationships with our belongings and the acceptance of natural life cycles.
It was such a wonderful conversation that I’ve decided to include it as a bonus episode on the podcast. I hope you enjoy it. I’m Katie Treggiden, a podcaster author of wasted when trash becomes a treasure. I’ve got a stack of books next to me, because we have a couple of authors with us and a journalist championing a more circular approach to design because planet earth deserves better stories.
And I really believe in the power of storytelling to change the way that people think. And I’m joined on the panel today by an incredible group of humans dialing in from Lagos Seetal Solanki is a London based materials designer, researcher, and writer. She’s the author of why materials matter the heaviest book on my pile, which I highly recommend. She’s the director and founder of materials, research studio master, and a fellow at Hereford college of arts. Celia Pym is a trained teacher and a trained nurse, but now works as an artist exploring damage and repair primarily in textiles. She was shortlisted for the woman’s hour craft prize and her work is held in permanent collections of the cross council in the UK and the nouveau musée national de Monaco, Bonnie Kemskew is an artist, researcher and former editor of ceramic review.
She completed her undergraduate degree in religion before traveling to Kyoto to study the Zen Buddhist art form of tea ceremony, where she discovered her love of ceramics. And only as the author of this book, I mean, you guys are going to be filling up your hopefully not Amazon baskets bookshop to all baskets by the end of this. And this book Kintsugui, the poetic mend, and Bonnie also has a PhD from the RCA. Tom Van Deijnen otherwise known as Tom of Holland is a Brighton based self-taught textiles practitioner found out of the visible mending program and a volunteer at the Brighton repair cafe and thinks he was probably the first person to use the hashtag visible mending on Instagram. And that hashtag now has more than 105,000 posts attached to it.
So you’ve got some answering to do for that. I think so, Bonnie, perhaps I can come to you fast as I think your expertise is probably the area that viewers will be least familiar with. Can you first explain briefly what Suki is and what it means or meant within Japanese culture? Sure, sure. Let’s start with that first. I’m going to start with something to look at.
So this is a Kintsugi mended pot. It’s a traditional Raku Wabi tea bowl that was broken in transport when it was sent to me and I had kintsugi repaired. You can see the gold outline of the seams. So that’s what we’re talking about. So Kintsugi is a Japanese repair technique. It’s used for many materials, but most often used for ceramics and it uses lacquer and gold to produce these scenes that appear to be solid gold.
And it takes a lot of fine skills, a lot of highly skilled artisans to do this. And it takes a lot of time and it takes expensive materials. So it tends to be used only for those objects, which are that we cherish those objects that are important to us either because they have high monetary value or more likely because they have a story behind them.
They have, and they have more sentimental value or they connect us to something or someone. So in Japan, there’s an aesthetic concept that many of you will have heard of which is called Wabi and it in Wabi in, it comes through tea ceremony and Zen Buddhism and other things. But what it is is that we develop an appreciation for the beauty that can be found in both irregularity and in imperfection.
So Kintsugi very much fits into this sort of Japanese tradition. Although I would say that not every Kintsugi repair is Wabi but, we need Wabi in order to be able to have Kintsugi the acceptance of the imperfect and the acceptance of the irregular and the uniqueness of it. So hope that that does explain it enough to…? That explains it very well to get us started.
Thank you, Bonnie. And you mentioned Wabi there, and I think in the west, we’ve sort of clutched onto this idea of wabi-sabi without really knowing what it means. So could you perhaps pull apart those two terms for us and just give us a bit more understanding? Well, the terms are used together, they’re often conflated together because they are related and interwoven to some extent.
And I have to say that in Japan, a lot of people won’t articulate these terms. They’re, they’re considered, you know, enough where you can’t really define them, but as we’re in the west and as I’m American by background, I’m allowed to. So what we see in tea ceremony, we sort of see Wabi is the irregular, the imperfect and Sabi as the worn,
the, the, the quality that shows the use of something, something that’s damaged by age. And it has a sort of an overtone of a beautiful loneliness or a beautiful almost sadness, sort of like some music, you know, which is just hauntingly beautiful, but very sad at the same time that sort of rolled into that concept as well. Brilliant.
Thank you. I think that gives us a little, little bit more of a rich understanding of those terms that so often get used out of context in the West, and you’ve talked about repair as an apology. You’ve talked about repair as a hug and the metaphorical side of Kintsugi again, is not something that Japanese often talk about, but you know, it’s,
It’s sort of implied. Is that something you could sort of just explain a little bit more as well before we, before we get onto the other? Yeah. Well, and this is the same in, in any visible repair, it has a story. You can’t look at it without knowing that there’s something that has happened to that piece. So every, and that’s where the metaphor comes from. So first of all Kintsugi does three things. It restores function, it adds beauty or decoration, and it shows a narrative. It shows that story. So one way I’ll explain this. So when I was in Japan and I was asking people, doing this research and I was asking people about Kintsugi metaphor and they all sorta just looked blankly at me and then they would tell me a story.
So one was, we went to visit a very famous Potter named Raku Kichizaemon on the 15th. So he’s a 15th generation of potters in his family going back to the 15 hundreds, okay. So here we went to meet with him and his wife would brought out a bowl that was repaired using silver instead of gold Kintsugi. It was called Nekowaride, which means it was broken by a cat. That’s another story. So there’s a whole story in that, but she told me that they had a very close friend who was a very, very wealthy businessman. And in the crash that happened in Japan a few years ago in the economic downturn, he lost everything. His business was destroyed. He lost all of his assets, everything was gone and they invited him over. And in the tea room, they served him a bowl of tea using Nekowaride and a year later, he wrote to them and he said that he was at his lowest point when they had served him tea, but that in using Nelowaride, he had realized that that brokenness could be put back together.
And he said it was by thinking about that bowl and how that bowl had been put back together after it had been destroyed. And in the end, it was more beautiful, more meaningful, stronger, and more valuable than it had been in its original state. So that’s the metaphor that underlines every Kintsugi repair. Yeah. That’s a really beautiful story.
Thank you, Celia. I wonder if you’d like to come in here? Your interest in mending, I know, has less to do with the kind of functionality of the men and more about the stories and conversations that the damage and the process of repairing brings up. So why don’t you tell us a little bit about your approach? I’m actually quite moved, just hearing that story from Bonnie and I was thinking we could spend the next to five minutes just telling stories about less than perfect things we’ve encountered, but to answer your question about, you know, my interest is often in the story rather than doing something practical when I mend garments and mending clothing in my own expert way. When I say that, I mean that I’ve largely taught myself over the last 14 years. I’m much more interested in mending other people’s things than many of my own things people often say to me, oh, do you wear your mended clothes out? I really don’t. I w I’m much more excited about other people’s stuff than my own. And early on when I started doing this, I sort of, when I first became curious about damaged clothing and it was exactly as Bonnie described, I lean towards liking the imperfect. I’ve always been attracted to the slightly damaged thing.
And so when I started thinking about how that might marry with repair and mending, I had to become an expert in holes. Like I have to really know holes. If I’m going to do this, I’m going to go all out. And I would hold these events where I would just invite people to bring me damaged goods. And what I discovered very quickly was that if you ask someone,
do you have a hole in your clothing, you very swiftly discover an awful lot about a person that you weren’t expecting to learn. You learn who their relative is, how the thing got damaged. You learn about maybe someone who’s important to them and I was like, I’m onto something here. Because I’m fundamentally quite a nosy person. I’m always, if I’m on a bus person who wants to talk to my neighbour, or if I’m, you know, someone falls over, I want to run and help them because I well, and then all of a sudden you’re talking anyway, my point is, is that I was very excited and moved to discover that clothing and this invitation to repair clothing would invite all this conversation. And they actually thought a lot of the stories that’s interesting, funny, sort of described quite a sad story in a way or positive and sad that the businessmen who came to the tea ceremony was in a low app. He was having a hard time because I found that quite often, that when I’ve held events, open events, asking people to bring me things to mend, there are mixed in quite often quite sad stories.
There’s something about looking at the damage the government that provokes, and there’s a sort of reaching out. And I remember one woman saying who brought me an item that had belonged to someone she loved, who just recently died. She said, I think my friends are tired of me talking about my grief. And I said, I didn’t say anything, but I thought, you know, there is that ease to talk about sad things with strangers. Sometimes I’ve experienced it myself. And so, I don’t know, I’ve gone off in a bit of a segway here, but I know that I like other people’s stuff. No, no. I think it’s really peaceful. And you’ve actually collaborated with these workshops in the past. Haven’t you Wonderful.
So toast. It was such a perfect marriage for me. So we did a project which I called. I have sharp elbows, but my needle is sharper where we did what I have done in the past. We invited people that own Toast clothing to bring in items to me in need of a man. And we had a short conversation about the garment. And I said, if you’re keen to participate, I’ll mend your object. I mean, it was very generous by Toast because the men were free. And the idea was this exchange that they would tell me a kind of history of government that I would then write up. And I was very curious about it. I sort of saw these Toast items that I mended as a kind of family of sweaters.
Because they do all the originators in this same place, by similar designers. And then they left and going out in the world and got burned and torn by Blackberry bushes and stretched out of shape by children and moth-eaten and all these sort of not very dramatic damage, actually quite humble, simple damage cats were involved, I think with one person. But this act of noticing that I thought was so nice.
And I liked seeing it notice as a group as well as very similar garments. So yes, we did that with, and it was cool to have sharp elbows, but my needle is a sharp flush men project because one of the participants said I have shelf elbows and always that left elbow, right. Elbow, can’t remember how it goes, and I felt there was something restorative about the needle.
It was like, you may have a shell elbow, but don’t worry. I got this sharp needle. And yeah, That’s lovely. I like that. Now Seetal, within the context of Toast, we’re obviously talking about really high quality clothing and a lot of these mends are objects that we care about. They have sentimental value, but the sort of imperative to mending is, is really an antithesis of the sort of fast fashion problem, you know, clothes that are made largely in the global south shipped up to the global north where we wear them a few times and then effectively send them back again. Why is that cycle so problematic? Why is it important that we break out of that? So many reasons. And I think a lot of it really comes down to the fact that we don’t really care or respect these textiles even, and the clothing that they become and how they actually adorn our bodies. And because we haven’t really formed a relationship to those pieces of clothing in a way where we build a relationship towards care respect, because we actually don’t know where it’s they have derived from because the supply chain of a lot of the textiles being made for clothing is really convoluted and complicated and deceitful also, I would say. So it’s really quite challenging to kind of therefore understand where things are being made, how they’re being made and where they end up even. So we’re so disconnected and so far removed from what things are made of simply and therefore that kind of relationship. And this actually comes back to the storytelling component, which is what the first part of this conversation has been about.
And clothing tells stories very much about Celia, what Celia Pym does. She’s very much about telling stories about clothing or fabric or yarn even, and like what, how it can be rebuffed somehow and tell her another story, someone else’s story you’ve been, I think textiles have the ability to do that, but we don’t understand that story enough. And what happens is the clothing cycle begins to be even more complicated when we dispose of it because it tells a colonial story.
I think the way everything is being made and manufactured, it’s going back to colonial history, because like you said earlier, things are manufactured in say the global south shipped to the global north, but then actually disposed of in the global south again or dumped should I say? And I think that’s incredibly problematic because we’re not really taking accountability or responsibility for our actions. That is really down to the fact that we don’t really care a respect for it.
We’d just dispose of it at our leisure. And we don’t really have the transparency around, like what happens to these items that we actually own. I think it really does come down to the fact that we need to relate to materials and form a relationship toward them. And that can only really come through. Right. I mean like brands like toast, for example, they tell stories about their clothing and where it comes from and are very conscious about that. And I think building awareness in that way is really, really crucial for that kind of relationship towards care and respect for cares. So yeah, I think a lot of that needs to change in this, not just a colonial problem history that needs to be shifted the narrative about it, the systems around it, it’s a systemic issue, but that’s also a behavioural issue, right? So it can be done through a bottom-up approach, but also top-down. So I think there’s policy change involved, but there’s also just human behavior that can actually be shifted. And I think you make a really important point because I’ve spent a long time thinking about the power of stories.
You know, the little strapline I use for my work is planet earth deserves better stories, but I haven’t thought of it in the way you just articulated it before, which is the danger when those stories become hidden. So the fact that we don’t know where our clothes are made and we don’t know who’s made them that the supply chain is deceitful and complex.
And the fact that we then don’t know, okay, where our clothes go, there are parts of that story that are being suppressed and that’s almost as dangerous as the power of the positive stories. So that’s, that’s a really useful refined, thank you Seetal. Tom, you described your approach to mending as more pragmatic. You’re more interested in a functional and sustainable mend than an artistic one.
Although you do talk about wearing a darn as a badge of honor. So I’d love you just to unpick that for us a little bit and explain a little bit more about your work. So yeah, that’s, I do favor a pragmatic and practical approach to mending, but you know, it’s been the highlights of that thing already by all the other panelists’ stories behind what you’re repairing are very interesting.
And, you know, I also hear a lot of stories around clothes and I, I really enjoy that part of, of repairing. And I, I, for me personally, I think repair is successful mostly if it’s, if it means that the people who asked me to repair it or my, for my own clothes, that they will wear it again,
as opposed to I’ve got the sweater that I really like again, fix it. And then I fixed it and it’s really beautiful, but they’re scared of wearing it. It kind of feels like somehow failed a little bit in my, in my repair, but I do feel, I, I think it’s because I, I, when I started repairing, I really wanted to try and do invisible mending, and that says that to be very difficult, you know, you know, if it’s visible anyway, why not really look at the, take that as a, as a starting point and make it a feature. And I think by doing a visible repair and one, you can build up a relationship with an item, you know, people that make their own clothes already have a relationship with whatever,
you know, the articles that they’ve made here. Like you have to look for patterns that you find in your fabrics or your knitting yarn. So you’re really infested in that item. And I think with shop bought clothes, you might not have that initially, but there might be something that attracts you to it. And then by adding your own repairs to it, or ask somebody else to do it for you, then it becomes a more unique item and you start building that relationship and make it stronger. And hopefully, that means then you want to wear it for longer as well and keep it in active use because I think that’s really important if we want to work on, you know, this circular economy and do something about fast fashion than the, one of the most important things I’ve seen is the clothes you already own are the most sustainable ones that you can have. So, You know, making those last is really important, I think. Yeah, lately. And I think you can reduce the environmental impact of light clothing by 30% if you extend its life span by nine months. Yeah,
Absolutely. Now you’re behind the visible mending hashtag, which is a phenomenon. I mean, hundreds of thousands of mend worldwide and Toasts, Toast to time to make hashtag has been gaining momentum this year with all the visible, with all of that virtual workshops and things that have been happening. Now, I’m interested in kind of whether there’s a danger in this becoming trendy and therefore a trend and the kind of the fine line between mending, because I think, you know, there are some, there are instances of sorts of people having something men did that wasn’t broken because they want amend and they kind of want to be part of the gang, but actually, you talk about the idea of mending, the plainness of a garment and mending techniques being used as a form of embellishment. So I’m really interested to explore that a little bit.
Yeah. I think first of all, the, the visible mending hashtag, you know, I’m sure it wasn’t the only person, but I, I, I, I do think I was one of the first people to use it consistently on the Instagram before it’s, you know, started to go through the world and it’s very exciting to see how many people use it, because it’s a, it’s a great way for people to share inspiration and for people to find inspiration. So I think that’s kind of one part of your question. And then I find repairs really beautiful. And I think, you know, talking here in Bonnie about talking about Kintsugi and Celia about mending and stories and, and highlighting the repairs, and also seats are saying, you know, it’s good to have connections and not try to hide things. I find the stitches used and the techniques used beautiful in itself. And even if they are not traditionally embellishment techniques are, I do think there is a way that you can start using them as sort of embellishments. I’m not such a fan of making something fake old, which I’ve been asked to do previously as well. Now that doesn’t feel right to me. You know, if something needs mending, it really needs, in my mind, it does need to have something wrong with it. It needs to be broken, but that doesn’t mean you can’t use mending techniques as a sort of embellishment technique. And I started exploring that about a year or so ago with an exhibition in Norway, where I made a, some kind of a wall hanging that wants to take the, the stitches or the mending techniques away from the clothes and ask people to appreciate them in their own merits. And I was really excited when toast approached me and used that as one of their talking points to see if we could have some kind of collaboration. So I’m really excited to say that I am working on a mini collection with squares.
I do around, we are exploring exactly that, you know, not necessarily repairing things, although there will be some actual repairs involved as well, but also, you know, how can you use it as an embellishment technique? And I think it would be nice. What I’d like to see happen is people embrace men that things more. So, you know, maybe in, in this particular collaboration that might be more about, you know, small banishment. But if we start appreciating that, then hopefully people also start appreciating actual mends and that will no longer be seen as something, you know, outrageous perhaps even, or, or looked down upon. So yeah. So fake mending I’m firstly, not such a fan of like, I don’t like people that come to me and say, oh, I’ve got these jeans that I bought with holes in them. Can you fix them now? And you know, it’s like, well, why would you buy jeans with holes and to start with that’s something that I, Yeah, yeah. It’s a strange phenomenon. And also the processes by which those holes put into those jeans are not great for the environment.
Are they? No. There’s a lot of problems there. So I’m trying a few different things. Why is supporting the podcast this time around? So we’ll be back after a short break and thank you so much to everybody who helped to make this season Happen, Extreme weather, rising seas, species extinction. Our blue planet is on fire this year as a host of 26, we are calling on the governments of the UK to recognize the importance of a thriving ocean as a solution to the climate crisis,
go to sas.org.uk/ocean and climate petition and sign the petition today. Help put this fire out. Steve, I know you’ve also had requests for mend where there wasn’t necessarily a hole, which I’d love for you to talk about. And also just then when Tom was talking about taking the mending techniques away from the clothes, it made me think of the mending map that you made.
So maybe you could talk about those two things briefly. Oh, so it’s so funny on zoom. I want to respond to everyone’s conversation as we go and leap in because I loved what Seetal was talking about. Maybe we can get to that later in response to a question. I have mended things, not very often, but occasionally that have no particular damage.
And one example I can think of was for the project I did with toast. A woman came to me who said, I love Toast sweats, and I love them so much. She may even be here tonight. I don’t know. There’s so much, I take really good care of them and I don’t wear them very much. And I said, well, I can’t really help you. And she said, oh, there must be something we can do. And, and, and so, I mean, what I think is interesting is that actually we then go into a sort of longer conversation about her clothing and being careful with clothing and really the invitation she wanted to participate in the conversation and not so much the need to mend something.
I think actually some Seetal brought up this idea of building a relationship with care and respect with garments, with the materials. So the cloth of your clothing with the clothing itself, I felt that was what was being said. And she, she wanted to have, she had these feelings about her clothes that she wanted to discuss, but, and lots of people do have clothing that gets a bit stuck in their lungs.
Sometimes they know they want to keep wearing North, throw it away, sort of sit in a quiet space and they will do it. Doesn’t get seen a lot. And so I feel like I’ve seen a lot of items like that that are not necessarily a need of mending, but as somehow sort of stuck somewhere in the end, we decided actually that maybe there was the potential for future damage in the elbows.
And so I did in fact, reinforce the elbows of this garment, even though there wasn’t damage right there, we were anticipating the damage for the way this person would wear that. And that was the way of resolving that situation. Yeah. I think it’s fascinating, isn’t it? An item of clothing might not necessarily need a repair, but it might need something they might need some love or a reframe or an embellishment or, and that enables it to be worn again and kind of go back into that use cycle, which is interesting. Bonnie, does this happen in kintsugi? Do you find people breaking ceramics just so they can mend them with beautiful golden joins? Yes, it does. It’s not very much in the spirit of consuming. I have to say at the same time, that’s not to say the breakage can’t be important and be properly employed. So if you look for instance at the artwork of Claudia Claire, contemporary ceramicist and feminist artist. She uses the drama and the violence of breaking her work to represent the violence that many women around the world experience in their own homes. So she’s making a statement through that. Breaking probably it’s different if you just take a pot that has not a lot of, not a lot going for it and you just smash it so that you can stick it back together using gold. I think that part of what that comes from is Kentucky. Like many, many things really, it can be a fad. Let’s be honest, it can be a fad. And I think that’s what we see when it’s just fashion with no nothing underneath it.
But Kintsugi is actually a way of life. Just like this, all the mending that we’ve been talking about here, it’s a way of life. It’s a sustainable way of life and a beautiful way of life, not just a fashion that’s going to be over next year. This is long-term a long-term approach in a way to establish and strengthen and reinforce that relationship that we have with the objects that are important to us.
Yeah. Yeah. And I think that’s a really important point. If anybody has got questions, I’ve got three more questions for the panel, but if you’re sitting in the audience watching and thinking, I must type the question into the Q&A box, do it now, and then we’ll have them all in there. By the time I finished, I finished with my questions. Seetal, are there materials innovations that might help here or there sort of self-healing materials or self-destructing materials,
you know, do we always need to have this relationship of a break and then amend or, or other sort of new things on the horizon that might change that relationship? Yeah. There’s many material developments that we already have as well as perhaps new innovations that are due to be released commercially, but maybe I will start with the premise or not everything needs to be repaired actually.
And not all materials are meant to be yeah. Living long, really not all materials will have a long lifespan. And I think that really stems down to the fact that there are materials that are meant to naturally biodegrade and that’s actually okay. And we need to be more accepting of the fact that things die. Everything has a, a bath, a life, a death, and a Rebbe, and that exists within the material world, human world, animal world, plant world. It’s, it’s just, we are so fixated on the fact that everything has to be long living. And I think this is a sense of renewal that needs to be kind of understood a bit more. And that really comes down to this cyclical, the natural cycles of materials as well, that we need to kind of address rather than forcing a material to kind of do something that maybe it’s not meant to be doing. And yeah, I think that really comes down to the fact that we don’t understand materials enough, but there are materials that are being addressed as self-healing or naturally antibacterial naturally antimicrobial.
And even that even exists with fibers like nettle, for example, or bamboo, you know, things that are actually already existing and think not, we need to pay attention to what we already have available to us and not always think about the newness of things as well. And it’s about perhaps thinking when designers are sorts of creating garments or objects already thinking about the end of life and whether they can be repaired, whether they can go back into natural systems and biodegrade and sort of thinking about making those end of life decisions at the beginning of a, of an object’s life. Totally. I think we really need to bring in the end of life as a part of the design process And we as designers need to be responsible for the end of life. And therefore there’s an accountability there and yeah, who’s accountable for it. Is that a material will that we need to address in this? You know, so that’s something that I would, I’m hoping to work on at some point, but yeah, I think not all materials are meant to live long. Yeah. I think that’s a really important again, shift in perspective. And what we’re asking for sort of in response to the environmental crisis is a huge series of shifts in perspective and shifts in behaviour, both as we’ve discussed kind of at a systemic level and personal level, how can mending and some of these other conversations about materials start to adjust towards some of those shifts. So shifting behaviour really is about a shift in narrative first. And I think that really has to happen with our role as creatives and how we present things. And aesthetics are a really big part of that I would say.
And I think changing the narrative around what sustainable fashion is, has really happened. And, you know, we’re not seeing like jute stacks being worn as, you know, pieces of clothing in the way that it was perhaps in the sixties, it’s a very different aesthetic and maybe more appealing to people because what happens is it looks familiar, but it’s made from something unfamiliar.
And I think that encourages curiosity and questioning ultimately, which means that people are wanting to learn ultimately. And if they’re wanting to learn, that means that wanting to understand what things are made of, well, at least ask a few questions around it. And I think if that starts to trigger things and they, a whole world is opening up there. So there’s just so much to learn.
I will never know everything about materials ever, and I will never claim to even feel like an expert in it because I think I’m always a student in it. They are way smarter than I am and will ever be. So there’s always this kind of ongoing exchange and engagement of learning about each other much like human relationships. So yeah, I think there’s just a change in narrative needs to happen first, which informs behavioural change and then informs systems change. So it has this kind of knock on effect and it is quite cyclical as well because once those systems have been changed, we might need to go back to a narrative change. So that kind of feedback loop that happens. And I think that sense of what you were talking about, about you learning from materials and having that dialogue with materials, there’s a sense that sort of humans use materials. Whereas you talk about materials very much as being on the same plane as humans and being in dialogue with one another. And I think that’s a really interesting perspective shift as well, not just for the materials, but you know, for the, for the world and the environment and you know the sorts of planet that we live on.
And in general to kind of not just treat these things as resources, but to, to encourage that dialogue Celia, I know you wanted the opportunity to respond to some of what Seetal has been saying. So I’m going to give you the last question from me. There’s an imaginative shift required here as well as a sort of functional behavioural shift. And I,
and I love some of the things that you’ve sort of talked about in terms of the magic of, of mending and how that imaginative shift can take place. So perhaps you could sort of mention some of that and, and respond to what Seetal said. Oh, I’m definitely cool. I find that a story of something of an event, especially if it isn’t a story that stirs up emotion and it’s in my imagination for much longer than a pack, they don’t stay personally. They don’t stay with me in the same way. Whereas there is a magic to stories and your response to aesthetics and to, to, to things that live in you in a different way. And that there’s a real power in that.
And so sometimes I think the power of mending something it’s not actually, for me, necessarily telling everyone to mend everything, it’s planting the seed of an idea that there’s beauty in this act or in this material or in this thing. Because actually for me, I know that will, for instance, is a material that I have a great affinity for, and I really love mending, but one of the reasons I love mending wool is because it wears down in a way that I really love. I mean, I think if I’d had the chance to work in ceramics, I mean, I’ve had the chance to work in ceramics, but if I’d chosen the path of ceramics, I might feel that way about ceramics. But with wool, one of the things I do is you can have the thinnest remnants of fiber that you can sort of stitch back into an old fiber.
You can keep the very most fragile traces of a sweater intact by adding more. And you can keep repairing something. I was thinking about this sort of end of life conversation. I have this fantasy that there may be objects that I mean for a hundred years if I live for a hundred years and that the original, whether the original traces of that thing would still exist in that object or government down the line.
But that this act of repair is sort of with that particularity of wool materials is this constant shape-shifting and softening and changing, but it begins with this essence of the first. And so, yeah, I think that there is a strength in narrative and a power in narrative and storytelling, oral history storytelling to, to fix in our imaginations so that messages or ideas spread,
and they need to be true stories either they can be mixed about a garment or a thing or an object. When I think about it for yourself, I want to be the one you said how says how’s accountable to the end of life decisions about materials. I want that job. It wouldn’t be the decision I care about end of life and the end of life, maybe I’ll start with wool, and then other, other categories can come in. Brilliant we’ll send you all to Celia. I think that’s really lovely. And I think it’s important, you know, that it’s not just individuals mending their own clothes, but you know, brands like toast with toast renewal kind of amplifying that story and using their platforms to tell those stories on a wider level.
So thank you so much for that guys. That’s all of my questions. I’m going to hand back over to Madeline. Who’s going to curate some of the best questions from the Q&A in the chat and share those with us. Yeah. Hi everyone. Firstly, thank you so much, a really interesting conversation and thank you to everybody for sending in such thoughtful questions.
There’s a lot that we’re going to try and get to as many as we can, but thank you so much for sending them in. There’s one I’d love to start with, which is around this idea of people wanting to participate in conversations by breaking. What’s not broken mending, where there are no holes and maybe that actually speaks to a deeper need to create care and relationships with belongings.
And do you think that this is actually a possibility? Could you, sorry, could you, so the question was that people desire to add repair mending where there is none and they were wondering if that, could you just repeat the question? Yeah. So it’s by the, is it sort of speaking about a deeper need for care and connection with their belongings and because that wanting to take part in the conversation.
So do you think it is possible to create this deeper connection? I’m happy to start no doubts minds in response to that. There’s a wonderful book that I refer to a lot by Vladimir Arkhipov called homemade, and it’s about sort of mended and homemade objects from the Soviet Union. And I think the more you mess around with things you own, what I mean by that is that you play with them, touch them. No, notice observe when they start to age or change, the more you’ll build up material vocabulary and language and knowledge. I don’t mean words. I mean like your fingers will know how to hold something or pull something or stretch something, that what you’re trying to do is build your material, knowledge of the world. And that is through.
So it’s about noticing, which is your favourite mug and thinking, why does that mug sit in my hand just right. Or why does this garment, why does the colour of this garment make me feel so phenomenal and amazing drape or the handle of it? And so something that I advocate really strongly for is a sort of material knowledge. So it’s not that you need to break it or care for it before it’s broken.
So there’s plenty of care, material care you can do. But what you’re really aiming for is to notice the materials and the damage and the things so that you’re starting to observe and understand in your body, as well as in your brain, what you love about the material wealth that you’ve built around you and why you choose the Formica table or the, I don’t know the stone floor or why you love a house with bricks versus a house with wood fills or something.
I think there’s also something that Springs to mind. I wrote my dissertation for the master’s I did relatively recently on various different sorts of mending, but I compared make do and mend with the contemporary visible mending movement. And I compared borrow and Sashiko in Japan with the shoddy industry, which is currently how we process a lot of waste textiles. And one of the things I found was that the reasons we men have changed. So it used to be that we mended out of poverty and need and things were garments particularly when men did, because that was the only one we had and it was broken. So it had to be mended. And there’s a lot of shame that comes with that. And I think it can be slightly problematic when we kind of directly appropriate those techniques and kind of use them in a different context,
but there are new imperatives for mending. So it’s very rare that we mend an item of clothing now because it’s our only one and we need to wear it, you know, it’s because we love it. Or because we care about the environment or because we want to respect the person who made that for us or, and so I think the imperative to mend are changing, but that doesn’t necessarily mean we shouldn’t. So I think kind of, I’m not necessarily advocating, breaking things just to mend them. But I think as Celia says, the more you think of it, think of it as hacking. There’s a whole hacking movement, right? Where we take something that doesn’t quite work for us and we change it in some way.
And I think that’s really empowering because, you know, at the moment, so many of us are in a position where we’re consumers. And if we don’t quite like something about a garment, our option is to send it back and wait for the powers to be, to decide whether or not we’ll get a refund or a replacement or a different size or whatever it is.
Whereas if we can have the kind of agency to hack items and say, actually I want it a bit more like this. And maybe if I just did that, I think that’s tremendously powerful. And I think that starts to make us citizens rather than consumers. And there’s then a whole chain of events that can come from that, that can start to tackle some of the systemic stuff.
So, yeah, I think it’s not necessarily as black and white as kind of do or don’t mend for different reasons. Does anyone else have any thoughts on that? Yeah, I, we spoke about this previously, Katie. I struggle a little bit when people call my work, the new make do and mend, because, you know, I do know that was initially a campaign from the British government during the second world war, trying to preserve materials towards the war effort. And, you know, that’s, I, I’m not concerned about that and that’s not why I’m mending. So I just find it a little bit. Yeah. I always find it a little bit strange to call out the new make do and mend because I’m not making do I’m choosing to mend.
I think it’s a bit different. Although, you know, the techniques that they advocated, I do use a lot of those techniques in a different way than they would anticipate, you know, in the past it was always, usually very important that things were repaired, invisibly, you know, something that Jessica has written, I believe for the toast renewal, local websites. So, yeah, and I think for me, I also sometimes feel if you don’t like an item of clothing and it’s kind of stuck a Celia has said and you can do something with it, whether that’s, you know, you might dye it or you might embroider something on it in some way, that’s also mending. I feel because it means that you might start wearing it again and restore the function of that object.
I think that’s right. If, if the function is lost because you no longer want to wear it, then a repair will be, we’ll make it functional again. Yeah. Even if it’s not a, you know, fixing a hole, it’s still repairing the phone. Yeah. I think there’s also something to be said around who decides when something’s broken.
And I think that’s something we need to kind of be more aware of, like the voices of what’s broken and how we fix things. And I even don’t like the word fakes because it means it’s a solution and it doesn’t, it’s fixed and it doesn’t have this kind of evolution of gross or change. And yeah, it feels very static and rigid.
And if it doesn’t have its own life and, and to breathe really, I think what’s quite interesting with things that are deemed to be damaged or broken, that can be a new life for it. And maybe it’s, non-functional actually, and I think there’s a sense of, you know, a new life right in that way. And maybe what we need to also do is change our perspective on what is deemed to be broken as well.
So I think we have to almost go back to being more imaginative and something that you mentioned earlier, Katie. And I think our imagination is something that we’re not really tapping into as much because we’re living a life of convenience and therefore we’re being told how to live rather than questioning how we want to live. So, yeah. And I think purely from a sustainability point of view, the second tenant of the circular economy is to keep materials and objects in use, not just to keep objects in use. So sometimes when the functionality of that object is kind of not fixable, it’s fine to take those materials and do something else with them. Right. Exactly. And has a different use for it. And therefore that material is reaching another potential, which is incredible. All materials are really versatile. So let’s embrace that more. I just want to respond that I find it, that because I think that’s one area and fashion were used items or encouraging used looks is really celebrated. And that’s in the denim heads world, you know, some people are really into that denim and they really value they don’t wash them for months and they’re really work hard to get all the holes in the authentic holes through use.
And so that, you know, in some areas there is an acceptance there and also talking about reusing garments in a different way than, you know, making them wearable again. I can’t quite remember now what brand this, but there is a furniture brand that I think that the Bouroullec brothers, they made these chairs and they’re basically, they’re just bundles off of wastes and clothes, just tied together into the shape of a chair so that you know, that there are some examples to be found out already, which showed the possibilities. It’s really exciting to try and explore that further, I think. Oh, yes. Yeah. Yeah. I’m just going to say it really quickly. Cause it relates to what Tom was just saying.
There’s a wonderful quote by Kate Fletcher. Who’s an amazing academic in this space? And she talks about how close the moment you buy them rather than being the sort of pinnacle of perfection or actually a blank canvas. And it’s only when you start to wear them and put the creases into the elbows and the creases into the hips that they become imbued with life.
And I think that’s a really lovely way to look at clothing and certainly, denim jeans are the place that, that seemed most, most vividly, I think, sorry, Celia, go ahead. No, I was just, it was a sort of response to Seetal and I’m normally quiet. I got invited once to look at an archive of costumes, silk costumes that have been worn on the ballet for about a hundred years old, 160 years old. And they’d invited me to think they were, they were very open, and ended the museum. They wanted me to look at the archive and they, but I think they thought I would recommend repairing them and that I would do it in a certain way. And they kept looking at these costumes in this archive.
And I was so excited to even have this privileged access to this archive. And I kept thinking not a lot of people get to go behind the scenes in a museum and see these extraordinary things. What was funny, the silk cuddle rotted, it had aged and the metal sequins were sort of holding the skeleton of bits of silk together. So you could kind of still make out the costumes.
And I went away and thought about it and they said, what do you want to do with these? And I thought about it. And all I could come up with at the time was I want more people to see these things, not necessarily to mend them. And I also thought mending them will take me years and be way too big a task, and it’s not worth their money or anyone’s energy. And so what we decided on in the end, I said, what if we start, they were designed for performance. So why don’t we take them out and let people perform in them again? And we’ll, we’ll dance in them until they’re complete dust. And so we held these events where you could wear these fragments of costume and these sort of skeletal costumes and we danced and we danced, we danced and we sort of put everyone on, we made playlists. I mean, there was a whole structure to it and it was one of the best pieces of work. It was such an exciting piece of work to do. And we caught it in photographs, but not much else. The difficulty was that we, of course, nothing turned to dust from dancing.
The sequence still had in place. And now those that are preserved in the archive are something special. So my idea was that we’d have nothing at the end, but of course, some of the material lasted and went back into the collection and became more precious with me as a result of this very active, non-precious activity with the costumes. Thank you for sharing that Celia.
Madelin, do we have time for any more questions or if we talked for far too long on the first one, Well, we all really, really near to the end, but I suppose I would quite like to ask this one to you or whether you think that there are parallels repairing material objects and international cup recovery from kindness. That’s a good question.
I’m definitely not going to go first. Who wants to take that one first? Yeah, go ahead buddy. Absolutely. I mean, I think because of the metaphor, I mean a metaphor is actually a good metaphor is transformative. It’s not just something that’s out there. It’s not just an English trope. It’s actually a transformative thing. So if you see things that are mended,
things that are repaired, things that are made more beautiful, I think it’s, it somehow moves us to do that. We know that we can recover. We know that not only that, but we know that we should make it better. So when we make that repair, we should make what was better. I shouldn’t go back to what it was.
You’ll never be as good as new again because we don’t want it to be either doing, we want it to be actually better. So yeah, I think it does personally. I think I can think of, I’m not quite sure how this answers the question, but this comes to mind. There is a wonderful question, wonderful company down in Cornwell, where I’m based called Walter Hall and they make litter pickers,
but they make litter pickers from litter. So currently collecting all their little disposable masks that we’ve all been wearing during the pandemic, collecting them all up and turning them into the pickers with which you can pick up more masks. And there’s something about that. That just makes me think there’s a way to sort of use repair and remaking as a solution. Thank you.
I think that is a lovely place to end. I wish I could go through all of the questions we’ve had so many really, really good ones. So thank you all for being so engaged and for staying in and joining us today, it’s been a joy to listen to you or I could probably talk to each and every one of you for hours to be honest and listen to all of your stories and learn more about what you do,
but thank you to everybody for joining us. Thank you Katie, for, for leading this discussion, it’s been lovely. And for those who are interested in renewal, if you have any questions on it, please don’t hesitate to get in touch. Please go head to your local store. If you are near one and do talk to our community about it, we would love to, we would love to hear from you. So thank you all so much. And I hope to see you again soon. Thank you. If you enjoyed this episode, can I ask you to leave a review and perhaps even hit subscribe? I’ll be honest. I don’t really understand how the algorithm works, but I’m told those two actions really help other people to find the podcast.
So that would be amazing. Thank you. You can find me on Instagram @katietreggiden.1. You can subscribe to my email newsletter by our link in the show notes. And if you’re a designer-maker, you should really join my free Facebook group, Making Design Circular, see that part of my commitment to 1% for the planet, I’ve donated the ad spot. In this episode to surface against sewage an organization I’m really proud to support the episode was produced by Sasha Huff.
So thank you to Sasha and to October communications for marketing and moral support. And to you for joining me, you’ve been listening to Circular with Katie Treggiden.
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