Research: Examples of Artists that Include Sustainability as Part of Their Practice

Jane Atfield – Recycled polythene chair (1996) was made entirely from recycled plastic bottles

Laura Marsden – uses recycled plastic bags to create hand made lace installation pieces and wearable art. She juxtaposes a 21st century synthetic waste product with inspiration from nature and historical costumes to create delicate but sculptural works. She refers to the pieces as ‘Eternal Lace’ which “intentionally refers to how long it takes plastic to decompose”. Laura Marsden says

“I’ve always been inspired by historical costume, and traditional hand stitch and manipulation techniques of fabric. I like to reference historical costume/technique and then rework to create contemporary pieces. Instead of traditional yarn I use plastic bags. I think it’s important to acknowledge the past to progress and explore new methods.” (Marsden, 2018)

She is particularly inspired by Elizabethan ruffs which, given the reign of Queen Elizabeth I (1558-1603) was 460-415 years ago, gives a sense of the time scale involved in the decomposition of plastic bottles at approximately 450 years. (This New Statesman article discusses the biodegradability of so called biodegradable plastic bags)

Textiles Environment Design (TED) – Say on their website that:

“Over the last ten years TED has been developing a set of practice-based sustainable design strategies that assist designers in creating textiles that have a reduced impact on the environment.”

TED’s TEN (criteria for designers and makers to follow):

  1. Design to minimise waste
  2. Design for recycling/upcycling
  3. Design to reduce chemical impacts
  4. Design to reduce energy and water use
  5. Design that explores clean/better technologies
  6. Design that looks at models from nature and history
  7. Design for ethical production
  8. Design to replace the need to consume
  9. Design to dematerialise and develop systems and services
  10. Design activism

I realise from this that I forgot to add in my brainstorm about sustainability the importance of the consumer thinking “do I really need this?”

Leon Kaye’s article ‘Clothing to dye for’ (12/8/13) found here was very thought provoking. Clearly I missed off water waste off my post about sustainability too, the scale of the problem is shocking. Whilst the majority of people want the cheapest garments they can get, there is little financial incentive for major retailers to invest in expensive new technologies which will drastically cut water waste.

The Toaster Project by Thomas Thwaites is an interesting experiment to attempt to build a £3.99 toaster from scratch. The realisation to the extent of materials, their procurement and refinement, and the number of processes that goes into the manufacture of the toaster (as an example of modern products) makes the final costs absurd. The only way this can be financially viable is to produce these (and their constituent parts) on a global scale. Given that mining is no longer financially viable in the UK, the materials are obtained from less economically strong countries ie where wages and costs are less, are we as a Western Society exploiting other cultures? With cost of living rising globally and aims to ensure that so called ‘third world’ countries obtain similar living standards as their ‘first world’ counterparts, will we be prepared to pay more for goods to ensure that workers get fair wages? Or will we still expect to buy ultra cheap clothes and goods? In the end, who will pay the price?


Marsden, Laura (2018) extract from conversation via Facebook chat.

[All links were accessed on 11/3/18]


Exercise 2: Lush Knot Wraps and Sustainability

Lush is a manufacturer of fresh handmade cosmetics based in Poole, Dorset. They pride themselves on their policies of ethical buying and all their policies can be found here.

As part of their drive to avoid packaging, Lush offer a selection of ‘knot wraps‘ in which to wrap gifts and purchases. They have produced a webpage entitled ‘Why knot wrap?‘ outlining the reasons to purchase a knot wrap. The majority of the wraps are either vintage scarves, scarves made from 100% organic cotton sourced from India or fabric ones made from recycled bottles.

The webpage ‘10 reasons to knot wrap’ goes into more detail and explains that the scarves sourced from India are produced in collaboration with re wrap. The only scarves that I couldn’t discover much about were the ones produced in collaboration with SplashMaps. On the FAQ’s of the SplashMaps site, a question about the composition of the scarves can be seen below:

Screen Shot 2018-03-05 at 13.46.07

I emailed Lush the following email in an attempt to discover more information:

To whom it may concern,

I am doing some research into sustainable textiles. I wanted to spotlight your knot wraps and am aware that you use vintage scarves in addition to scarves made of recycled plastics.

I was trying to investigate the sustainability of your map knot wraps produced in collaboration with SplashMaps. Unfortunately I haven’t been able to discover what the composition of these scarves is. Could you clarify in any way? Alternatively, could you outline the methods Lush has employed to ensure that these maps comply with your ethical, environmental and sustainability policies?

I would be grateful for any information you can offer on this issue.

Yours sincerely

Nic Hopkins

Lush were quick to respond, letting me know that:

We’ve spoken to our buying team, and the SplashMaps were made of recycled PET from plastic bottles. 

I was able to confirm this when I went into one of their shops and found the following on their label:


On a personal note, this project has provoked me to consider the sustainability of silk used in my own work. I emailed my UK supplier and received a very prompt response explaining that the supplier has used the same factory for 15 years (who assures them that the factory does not use child labour). However the UK supplier has not been able to visit the factory personally as it is based in China. The difficulty with a global marketplace is that it becomes very challenging to ‘drop by’ and convince yourself that the standards we would like to be upheld, are being. I’m not certain what the solution is other than trying to source as much locally as possible.

Exercise 1: Sustainability

The processing and making of textiles is one of the most polluting industries in the world.

Sustainability is difficult to define simply. We need to consider 3 aspects:

  • economy
  • society
  • environment

According to the Chambers dictionary:

sustainable adj 1 capable of being sustained. 2 said of economic development, population growth, renewable resources, etc: capable of being maintained at a set level. sustainability noun.

Continue reading “Exercise 1: Sustainability”