At the Copenhagen Fashion Summit 2019, WaterAid, WWF and HSBC commissioned sustainable textile designer Ellen Rock to design garments athat featured as part of an interactive installation which reflected the mission of the WASH initiative of the HSBC Water Programme. The garments illustrated the fragility and vitality of water as a global resource in the fashion industry.
Under the theme of ‘Putting water at the heart of a shared ambition for a sustainable future for the people and ecosystems’ the stimulating visuals explore the impacts the apparel industry makes on communities and the environment. It explains how sustainable solutions for clean water, decent toilets and good hygiene throughout the supply chain will not only transform the lives of factory workers and their families, but will hugely improve their surrounding environment. Examples of these projects in WaterAid’s India and Bangladesh programmes demonstrate this innovation in action.
Words by Ellen Rock
Ellen Rock is an artist and designer specialising in graphic prints and collaborating with artisan communities in traditional craft processes.
I was so inspired when approached to design the garments and print for the installation at Copenhagen Fashion Summit as it is a movement which resonates with all of my values, I
love creating a visual impact in order to tell a story.
The WASH initiative focuses on implementing a foundation of standards surrounding water, sanitation and hygiene access across all platforms. Whether in garment factory settings, natural fibres, hand-dying, screen printing or other processes such as batik - water is always an integral element to the process. Alongside the statistical information provided by WaterAid, the garments provided a large scale illustration and were suspended to look like they were on a washing line.There was a projection and interactive element which was provided by agency Inition, and the stand
told a story which brought to life the impact of WASH to communities worldwide.
The prints I designed which were screen printed were an extension of my paint brush strokes and were positioned to look as if they were flowing off the garment. The garments had frayed edges and a translucent organic fabric to show how garments can deteriorate over time and to highlight that often we think of water as an unlimited resource. I am fascinated by the role that craft and traditional processes play in a global industry and have travelled to work with artisan communities in Indonesia, Guatemala and most recently Nepal. One thing that all of these projects have in common is that they rely on the earth’s natural resources in which to flourish.
There are two ends of measurability surrounding production in the fashion industry; the mass production of garment factories through to rural and ancient techniques of traditional handcraft.
I became particularly aware of the processes and hand crafted element of garments back when I was studying at Fashion Textiles at London College of Fashion, this was around the time of the tragic Rana Plaza collapse in which 1134 garment workers lost their lives out of which the Fashion Revolution was born. It is this fragility in the name of fashion which demands higher standards, not only in production but as designers and the choices we make. Over the last couple of years I have been working to develop a relationship with the Janakpur Women’s Development Centre which actively works to preserve the ancient art of Mithila painting. My focus at the centre is within the screen-printing and hand - painting sector and with the support of Permaset we have been working to make this more sustainable with Permaset water-based inks. The water pump is a central function within the centre - and encourages a sense of community. Whether used for drinking, cleaning, hand sanitation or rinsing equipment it is vital to the functioning of the centre. My mission as an artist is to create a conversation in which my prints tell a story. As a designer it is to be a connector and consciously link the journey of pieces of clothing or textiles with the maker. The result is actively encouraging the consumer to have lifetime or long lasting relationship with that garment.
Collectively as an industry we can support WaterAid in ‘Putting water at the heart of a shared ambition for a sustainable future for the people and ecosystems’
The installation is currently on exhibition in Hong Kong for HK Fashion Summit.