Reading about Fairtrade and sustainable fashion recently I came across some tips for designing more sustainably. They included using neutral materials that don’t date so quickly. This is very valid advice. It’s also been influential. You’ll have noticed a rise in the use of block colours and neutral tones, simple stripes and checks in recent years and there’s definitely a connection here. Of course, without taking other factors into account there’s no guarantee that these more ‘neutral’ fabrics are any ‘better’ than any others in terms of their production values, social and environmental impact, or durability. But still it made me think about the purpose of print pattern and it’s place in our lives.
Research suggests an item of clothing lasts on average around three years in a wardrobe. Sorting my own wardrobe recently, ahead of a long anticipated trip to the wonderful Leeds Community Clothes Exchange, I identified lots of thing that I’ve had three or more times that long. In most cases the reason I bought and still wear these clothes is not because they are cutting edge fashion (many of them were already second hand when I bought them) but because their patterns and colours bring me joy. My attachment to them could be described as a kind of emotional durability ie. the garments stick around longer because they add value in terms of the joy bring me.
People across cultures and over centuries have decorated their clothes for a whole variety of reasons - a means of expression, to signal status or social allegiances, or simply to express joy. And I realise that’s what pattern is about for me – an expression of joy and vibrancy. Joyful patterns put a smile on my face and a spring in my step and on a good day this can change the way I experience the world for the better. This all started to make sense when I read Ingrid Fetell Lee’s book Joyful. In this beautiful book Fetell Lee explores the aesthetics of joy. Through some extensive and varied research, she unearths the things people across cultures seem to find joyful. As she expands on ideas of colour, harmony and abundance etc. I started to get excited to see written down things that influence my own design practice. I am always looking for a balance between order and chaos in the patterns I design. I love multiples of similar but non-identical shapes in repeat. I also love organic, rough or wonky edges that show a sign of the human hand in the process. These are the things that spark joy for me and in Joyful Fetell Lee goes some way to explaining why.
The trick then, to designing for longevity, may be to focus on what is joyful and not just what’s ‘on trend’. I think you can see this in the enduring patterns of companies like Marimekko, whose Unikko and Kivet prints have been favourites over years (even decades!). I’d love to know what you think…