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  • Writer's pictureErica Schwartz

What is Eco-futurism?

By Erica Schwartz


Geometric shapes, futuristic silhouettes, and recreations of natural textures are some of the many elements that make up the visual lexicon of eco-futurism. However, this focus on nature extends beyond just what one can see on the runway. Commitment to sustainable practices is integral to eco-futurist design.

Breaking from the typical practice in the fashion industry of using or manufacturing more, leading to excess waste, eco-futurism seeks to do less. Instead of creating new products, eco-futurism often builds upon existing items, upcycling them into something new and never seen before.

Many cite Marine Serre as one of the pioneers of eco-futurist design. Serre, the 32-year-old French fashion designer and 2017 winner of the LVMH Prize for Young Fashion Designers, is perhaps most widely recognized for her crescent moon logo and the way she incorporates it into her designs. However, it is Serre’s focus on marrying sustainable practices and modern dynamic design that won her the coveted LVMH Prize, making her the youngest designer to do so.

“We found Marine to be very impressive, from her unique point of view to the fact her product is very modern, as well as the confidence she displayed at the age of 25 when walking into a room and talking about her ideas with some of the most established designers in the world,” Delphine Arnault, executive vice president of Louis Vuitton, told the New York Times in 2017.

A key element of Serre’s work is her transparency with how her materials are sourced. In fact, there is a section of Marine Serre’s website solely dedicated to sharing the materials used and the products they are used in. Fashion Revolution’s annual Fashion Transparency Index emphasizes the importance of fashion brands' transparency as a crucial first step in holding brands accountable for their production processes.

Marine Serre’s Spring/Summer 2019 collection, Hardcore Couture, is a key example of not just Serre’s design work but the eco-futurism movement as a whole. Serre crafted modern silhouettes in bold colors, unlike anything seen before. However, many of these pieces have been seen before. According to Serre, around half the styles from this collection were upcycled from preexisting garments.

While Marine Serre focuses primarily on reducing waste in its sustainability efforts, other brands have focused on other aspects of sustainability, like Catalytic Clothing’s focus on reducing air pollution. Catalytic Clothing was a project run from 2011 to 2016 by Helen Storey, a professor of fashion science at the University of Arts London, and Tony Ryan, a chemist and professor at the University of Sheffield. Together, Storey and Ryan utilized nanotechnology to craft clothing pieces that purify the air as they are worn. Catalytic Clothing’s first and possibly most well-known design was the “Herself” dress.

This white and blue ombré gown fans out in a rounded trail, covered in a dark blue network of branching shapes that echo the shape of alveoli or the roots of trees. The dress’ allusion to oxygen intake is more than just suggestive, being partially composed of air-purifying nanoparticles of titanium dioxide.

According to University of Arts London’s Centre for Sustainable Fashion, one of the primary goals of the project was to make the public aware of the potential of science to make a difference. Although Catalytic Clothing is no longer active in the public domain, its legacy continues to inspire other innovations in science and design. 

Camille Herzog, Boston University Fashion and Retail Association’s creative events director, chose eco-futurism as the theme for the organization’s annual fashion show this April. She says she was inspired by Iris Van Herpen's designs and is excited to engage in conversations about sustainability.

“To me, eco-futurism means innovation and forward-thinking in parallel with sustainability,” she said. “The future of our world must include environmentally conscious practices while still pushing boundaries and creating new technologies.”

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