One size fits all: The clothing that grows with children
The environment is not usually high on a list of priorities for a fashion designer, but Ryan Mario Yasin is hoping to change all that with a range of clothes that grow as children do. Rob Cole takes to the catwalk to talk sustainable fashion models
The first years of a child’s life are some of the most exciting for parents. They can also be some of the most expensive. Children can grow seven sizes in the first three years, outgrowing clothing no sooner than they’ve stepped into their first pair of Thomas the Tank Engine dungarees (a memory that still fills this author with a lingering sense of loss), with parents having to fork out hundreds of pounds to clothe their sprouting sprogs at a time when household budgets are stretched.
This not only impacts on parents’ pockets – spending an average of £2,000 on clothing for their child before the age of three, according to a recent survey by Aviva – but also exerts tremendous pressure on the environment. The waste produced, water consumed and carbon emissions released by the UK textile industry creates some 800,000 tonnes of waste every year. But it doesn’t have to be this way.
Step forward Ryan Mario Yasin, a London-based aeronautical engineering graduate from the joint masters course offered by the Royal College of Art and Imperial College, bringing a fresh perspective to fashion in the hope of addressing some of the most pressing environmental challenges facing the industry. Yasin, who recently won a James Dyson Award for design, has rocked the good ship fashion with Petit-Pli, his range of infant’s clothing designed to increase the durability, longevity and cost-efficiency of clothing.
Frustrated at how quickly his niece and nephew grew out of their clothes, and drawing on his engineering background and his first-hand design experience in Tokyo, Yasin created a range of origami-style children’s clothing, reminiscent of the work of renowned Japanese designer Issey Miyake, from a durable, pleated, synthetic fabric that grows with the child, reducing waste and parents’ spending.
For children from three months to three years old, the clothing range (currently in production and not on sale, yet) includes trousers and shell-tops available in a range of colours, combining engineering principles with traditional conceptions of clothing to provide an undoubtedly innovative product which grows with its owner. As Yasin explains: “It’s a structure that has a negative Poisson’s ratio and what that means is when you pull a structure along its length, it grows along its width. Typically, materials will get thinner as you pull them, but this gets wider, and that’s the reason why it provides the unrestricted fit and grows along with the child. It’s not only the length of their limbs that are growing, it’s also the circumference of their arms, legs and waist, so we need to accommodate for that.”
The emphasis on durability has won many supporters among those invested in reducing textiles waste, with Leigh Mapledoram, the Waste and Resource Action Programme’s (WRAP) Textiles Delivery Manager, reiterating its contribution to waste prevention. “I think, generally, it raises the consciousness throughout the industry about looking to make clothes more durable”, said Mapledoram.
“We need to look at this as a sector and as an industry to help us move away from this attitude of using something once or twice and then getting rid of it. And that starts with the design and production teams within this industry.”
Yasin’s application of engineering techniques and concepts into clothing design has allowed him to look at an existing problem from a different angle and come up with a novel solution. It’s an approach that not only the textiles industry but all sectors are being encouraged to adopt, in the face of ever more pressing environmental challenges posed by waste and inefficient resource use. “An interdisciplinary approach to any problem will offer you a million times more perspectives,” affirms Yasin. “If you have all these different perspectives, you can build a more detailed picture of your problem, and if you have a more detailed picture of your problem you can come up with so many different ways of looking at the problem and so many more solutions and giving you a much better chance, in my opinion, of coming up with a solution that is better.”
The fashion industry appears to have managed to make some inroads over recent years into tackling the negative environmental outcomes arising from clothing production and waste, with signatories of WRAP’s Sustainable Clothing Action Plan (SCAP) having reduced their carbon and water usage and waste produced by 10.6 per cent, 13.5 per cent and 0.8 per cent respectively since 2012, according to WRAP’s ‘Valuing our clothes’ report.
According to Mapledoram, this needs to be focused on ‘priority garments’ if further progress is to be made: “In [the ‘Valuing our Clothes’ report] we suggested that retailers and brands should focus on their priority garments which have the biggest environmental impact, primarily because they are the biggest sellers, but also because of the fibres that these garments are made of.”
But any attempt to make further progress on tackling the environmental consequences of the fashion industry, must directly confront the elephant in the room that is ‘fast fashion’ – the attitude of disposability engendered by a fashion industry dictated by constantly-changing trends and styles, which not only encourages, but implores consumers to forget that they already own one white t-shirt and that they should go out and buy a slightly different one for a nominal price.
Attitudes of both consumers and retailers must be changed, but that is no easy feat when we are so hooked on the need to have the latest thing. Yasin says that consumer awareness campaigns, such as WRAP’s ‘Love your clothes’ campaign, are crucial in stimulating behaviour change. To make informed decisions on sustainability when buying clothes, consumers must be aware of the benefits, not only to the environment, but also themselves.
“Basically, you have to give consumers a better alternative to fast fashion or they will continue to want to buy cheaper clothes and will continue to buy into this streaming model – buy new stuff, get rid of the old stuff and just keep on buying the new for cheaper prices,” asserts Yasin. “Instant fashion companies will have a maintained income stream, which is good for them, but it’s bad for us because we end up wasting all these clothes and resources. So it’s just about finding a better alternative for consumers and fashion houses.”
With 500 prototypes for Petit-Pli at the ready and £2,000 in hand from his Dyson Award, Yasin intends to begin taking his idea to potential investors as he seeks to offer parents the sustainable and cost-efficient alternative to lower-quality fast fashion they’ve (hopefully) been looking for.
Yasin appears to have a bright future in the fashion industry and is certainly optimistic about the future of sustainable fashion itself. “I think there is huge potential for innovation in the fashion industry, and I think if more people focused on it, the happier everyone would be later on.” Let’s hope this optimism lasts.