Generative Fashion: Companion Planting Fashion's Digital Futures

Published in The Fashion Studies Journal

Image 1: Generative fashion designs created by the author and artificial intelligence with the text prompt, “Generative fashion realities are sprouting all around, connected via modems through the earth’s soils, through complex energy systems.”

Image 1: Generative fashion designs created by the author and artificial intelligence with the text prompt, “Generative fashion realities are sprouting all around, connected via modems through the earth’s soils, through complex energy systems.”

The last few years have brought new growth to digital fashion realities, forming new systems of opportunities. Divergent fashion systems can leave behind the challenges of physical fashion systems derived from fossil fuels, greenwashing, overproduction, and overconsumption. There is a new creative fashion landscape far more valuable than capitalistic tendencies played out in whitepapers. This text is dedicated to sowing seeds for a fresher fashion landscape, generative and regenerative fashion design, and new fashion realities linked intrinsically to our Earth.

Generative fashion realities are sprouting all around, connected via modems through the earth’s soils, through complex energy systems, seemingly as intangible as microfibers in the waters. Beyond early cyborg fantasies, nature’s evolutionary algorithms prepare us for crafting healthy ecosystems for these new fashion-able realities (as able fashion takes action). A phygital symbiosis is necessary, for the physical to inform the digital, and vice versa, to help repair the soils, to companion plant fashion-able identities. The act of companion planting is one of actively nurturing another in creating partnerships for earthly survival. The pin-pricked tailors’ hands worn from crafting can inform the mechanisms in fashion’s newer machines, together to repair the soils in the earth.

Fashion’s wicked problem creates its own extinction era at a time when digital fashion is sprouting after decades of nurturing the seeds. Earth’s strata, now made up of overstock, leached synthetic fibers, and azo dyes from years of fashioning physical identities, can not withstand additional toxic strata. Planning for companion planting fashion must include the acknowledgement of the last three decades of fashion technologies and sustainability. The late 1980’s brought Brooks Brothers body scanning for digital tailoring and Steve Mann’s wearable computing, preparing processes for new systems for how we address and what we input on/in our bodies. The same time period brought the first seeds for desiring ecologically healthier physical fashion from brands like Patagonia and ESPRIT. The coincidence of the planting of early seeds of fashion sustainability and fashion technologies remind us to review both subjects critically, learning from history and striving for harmony in their symbiosis within companion planting fashion.

Image 2: Regenerative fashion seeds created by the author and artificial intelligence with the text prompt, “regenerative fashion design being planted into the soils.”

Image 2: Regenerative fashion seeds created by the author and artificial intelligence with the text prompt, “regenerative fashion design being planted into the soils.”

The complexities of textiles, geometries and fit, the unending equations of how to express self within space, allows for the computational nature of digital fashion to have unending possibilities for metaversal expression. The carefully crafted digital identities are distinctively linked to Earth’s soils, just as the physical identities are linked to Earth’s overstock strata. Fashion-able identities have purpose beyond feeding the need for expression, in that they are companion planted with Earth. The fashion-able fashion is crafted for the soils, to help the soils repair for survival. Crafting the fashion-able is a slow process, it is the optimisations of the lessons from our human mistakes, it is not seasonal. To divert the fashionable is to change identities to convert to the fashion-able and must be done in collaboration, the tailor’s hand alongside the identity seeker. Can our identities become fashion-able without relapsing to the rapid sugar-high fashion glitches of seasonal consumption?

Donna Haraway argues in Staying with the Trouble that, “We must ‘dare’ ‘to make,’ the relay; that is to create, to fabulate, in order not to despair. In order to induce a transformation, perhaps, but without the artificial loyalty that would resemble ‘in the name of the cause,’ no matter how noble it might be.” [1]

If we consume digital-only-proof-of-work-blockchain-fashion-identities is it not a repetition of the physical-only-cheaply-mass-produced-fast-fashion-identities of late? Is the production of thousands of combinatorial digital fashions simply mirroring high street or is it really new due to its digital-only nature?

The repetitiveness of quick techno-exploitation and capital gain bubbles must be paused, as such artificial loyalty is incompatible in ‘companioning’ with Earth’s soils. The practitioning in promises from the techno-capitalistic fashion dreams, the non-fungible token (NFT) status symbols, the play-to-earn indentured servitude of glamour gaming and greed, act in aiding the wicked problem. Fashion’s newer machines and mechanisms have already made promises for the digital fashion realities, in the flat void of two- and three-dimensional NFTs, even if they may crumble within my tacit knowledge-filled hands…within most tailor’s tacit knowledge-filled hands. Years of practitioning, and slow technological-fashion puzzling, our tailors’ hands are able to right-click-save almost anything digitally or physically within the fashion realities.

Image 3: New fashion machines created by the author and artificial intelligence with the text prompt, “ tailors’ hands and sewing needles with new bot machines planting fashion threads.”

Image 3: New fashion machines created by the author and artificial intelligence with the text prompt, “ tailors’ hands and sewing needles with new bot machines planting fashion threads.”

The practiced phygital tailor can, with all the consciousness of the time it took to fill their hands with the physical and digital knowledge, gather virtual textiles and physically craft couture stitches in rhythm. The mechanisms and machines become the tailor and the tailor becomes the machines and the mechanisms. As the phrase, digital fashion sustainability is often glued to innovation with touches of artificial loyalty to the Earth, let us remember to not mistake machine use with the solving of sustainability or consumption; png files cannot fix fashion’s wicked problem. Uncritical digital fashion approaches are already repeating the sustainability glitches of past fashion systems, and so caution is warranted. Computational processes have their own boundaries and footprints that must be accounted for. So what is left in the promises of the newer digital fashion machines? When Vitalik Buterin (creator of Ethereum) already worries about the blockchain landscape of greed he did not set out to create, what can the newer machines promise fashion beyond old capitalist gains? [2] In forgiving our human errors, we create space for companion planting new realities. These allow us to follow nature’s evolutionary systems for regenerative fashion-able identities.

To learn from nature’s approach, from such evolutionary algorithms resulting from thousands of design generations, help in guiding one to find the one bespoke design needed for you. Holland’s evolving computer programs can transform the biological world into other realities, the evolution of the desired nutrient-rich microbes of life planted to generate the regenerative [3]. If the design processes are truly biomimetic, they are never about the thousands of fashion design outputs from generative systems, nor do they capitalize from simple combinatorial systems matching textile and design. The purpose of design with the evolutionary generations is to find the exact bespoke design needed for you. The most beneficial fashion design needed for Earth’s soils and the identity seeker, to companion plant fashion. The generative systems aid in analyzing the plurality of designs to compute the complex ecological footprint of the proposed design.

Generative and regenerative fashion systems lead to learning the healthier fashion genotypes. In consideration of digital and physical fashion realities, there is no limit to the variables introduced over time into evolutionary systems. A notable example of a climate-caused evolution in unnatural selection is the peppered moth from the physical world, evolving its coloring from white to black due to the air pollution caused by the Industrial Revolution in Britain circa 1819 [4].

Image 4: Digital fashion geological strata created by the author and artificial intelligence with the text prompt, “Earth’s strata, now made up of textiles and dyes, geological strata.”

Image 4: Digital fashion geological strata created by the author and artificial intelligence with the text prompt, “Earth’s strata, now made up of textiles and dyes, geological strata.”

Is it possible to program companion planting fashion for positive evolutionary survival? To find regenerative fashion phenotypes? In digital fashion realms, many fashion genotypes must be considered for editing; the blockchain miners and validators, the servers and modems, each and every transaction, and of course, where it lives; the digital closet is not free, data has costs. Optimizing for such variables and complexities is why mechanisms and machines become valuable colleagues. Some drive personalization in intrinsic value, some discard synthetic fiber and proof-of-work blockchain use as such important digital fashion machines give knowledge and share it to keep fashion regeneratively evolving.

Programming regenerative fashion futures is a challenging task to be completed by the same species who maintain responsibility for the repetitive programming of fashion’s physical past. It should be noted, the machines and systems are not sentient, the programming responsibilities are real. Digital fashion created and pinned to the interplanetary file system (IPFS) can easily be sold in editions of thousands. The discarded piles of “fashion” in Chile [5] may be disassociated from the piles of digital fashion on the IPFS, but they are the same piles in the realities, all piles leave footprints. Repeating the past physical fashion errors, such as large production volumes, informs us the systems have unreliable functions, leading to system failure. Inclusion of variables which support Earth’s boundaries is necessary for generative fashion systems to protect Earth, the identity seekers, and the continuing creation of fashion-able fashion.

The degrowth, the post-growth, the green-growth, must collaborate together with new systems of companion planting. The digital fashion spaces are ripe for exploration and exploitation. However, the generative tailor is not bound by such overhead, such spaces, labs, factories, the connections are via the modems, through the soils, and dial-up speed could be preferred [6]. Capitalistic growth ethics no longer need to be adhered to, and it is freeing up the digital spaces. Slow techno-deployment, the formation of fresh roots for the decentralizing systems question if these realities, of taming and rewilding, of techbro and tech no, can become symbiotic, nurturing each other, if there is any hope towards a regenerative fashion-able future [7]. The ability of companion planting digital fashion-able systems is within us, beyond techno-energy-expenditures, beyond the companions who will dabble in incremental growth, beyond the companions who practice in the regrowth of the invasive consumption and greed – we simply need to listen to the soils while crafting our identities.

“—we need a hardy, soiled kind of wisdom. Instructed by companion species of the myriad terran kingdoms in all their placetimes, we need to reseed our souls and our home worlds in order to flourish—again, or maybe just for the first time–on a vulnerable planet that is not yet murdered.”[8]

notes

  1. Generative fashion is created from algorithms developed to generate fashion design options under given design objectives and constraints.
  2. Evolutionary algorithms are nature inspired algorithms which solve problems through processes that mimic living organisms biological behaviors such as reproduction, mutation, and selection.
  3. Companion planting in agriculture is planting different crops closely together for the benefit of both for nutrient or crop production, pest control or pollination.
  4. A wicked problem is a difficult or impossible problem to solve because of incomplete, contradictory, and ever-changing requirements of complex interdependencies which are challenging to recognize.
  5. The InterPlanetary File System (IPFS) is a protocol and peer-to-peer network for storing and sharing data in a distributed file system. IPFS uses content-addressing to uniquely identify each file in a global namespace connecting all computing devices.

references

Donna J. Haraway, Staying with the Trouble: Making Kin in the Chthulucene (Experimental Futures) (Duke University Press Books, 2016), 130.

Andrew R. Chow, “The Man Behind Ethereum Is Worried About Crypto’s Future,” Time Magazine, March 18, 2022.

J.H.Holland, “Genetic Algorithms,” Scientific American 267, no. 1 (1992): 66–73.

David Farrier, “Why we are living in an era of unnatural selection,” BBC Future, January 26 2022, https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20220125-how-humans-are-changing-evolutio

Paula Bustamante, “Chile’s desert dumping ground for fast fashion leftovers,” Phys.org, November 8, 2021, https://phys.org/news/2021-11-chile-dumping-ground-fast-fashion.html

Elizabeth Bigger and Luis Fraguada, “Sync: The Phygital T-Shirt. A test case for decentralized fashion customization utilizing blockchain technology and local production, ” Hic et Nunc, November 12, 2021, https://teia.art/objkt/572119, IPFS:https://ipfs.io/ipfs/QmYew1F4KniZad2yPt6iMbgfPdYTkmcLVyLqZFWCirqWcp.

Alice Payne, “Fashion Futuring in the Anthropocene: Sustainable Fashion as “Taming” and “Rewilding”, Fashion Theory, (2017).

Donna J. Haraway, Staying with the Trouble: Making Kin in the Chthulucene (Experimental Futures) (Duke University Press Books, 2016), 117.