See Balenciaga’s first virtual show, a video game set in 2031 with avatars driving Polestars


Balenciaga has been rethinking the unsustainable pace of fashion. The luxury house has been looking at how it can progressively evolve the way in which it presents its collections to the post-pandemic world. Balenciaga isn’t of course alone in challenging a system steeped in tradition which relies on a fixed and ecologically wasteful number of collections, and shows that are increasingly out-of-touch with the consumer habits of a young global audience.

Now the marque has said it will show just four key ready-to-wear gender-inclusive collections with a separate haute couture line annually. What’s probably more exciting is that starting with the autumn/winter 2021 collection, the shows will be performed to an exclusive list in digital format and through virtual runways via headsets, while animated and interactive video games will aim for a wider audience.

The first of the series was revealed over the weekend. ‘Afterworld: The Age of Tomorrow’ is an augmented-reality interactive video game set in an imaginary 2031, with Balenciaga’s avatars wearing designs made from upcycled materials and created through advanced techniques to signify fashion as enduring and sustainable. And they are driving Polestar’s visionary concept vehicles.

See the full story here and take a look at Afterworld here.

From wabi-sabi to crafting sustainable surfboards, why we should all take up making

© Do Make by James Otter is published by Do Books. Photographs by Mat Arney

Wabi-sabi is the belief in the beauty in imperfection. The ancient Japanese philosophy seeks charm in the incomplete object, in the worn and weathered – products with a storied past. A growing movement is championing wabi-sabi, and it is being largely led by generations fatigued with the fetishization of busyness and the cult of perfection. Echoing the Arts and Crafts movement that came before them as a reaction to mass industrialisation and ruthless commercial expansion, today’s social rebels are purposely disconnecting from the hollowness of the corporate world. Instead, theirs is a slower life choice found, also, in the art of craft.

‘Perfectionism is such a funny thing,’ says James Otter, surfboard designer and maker, and founder of Otter Surfboards. ‘Our western cultures celebrate it – tirelessly. But it is a completely unrealistic target for any of us to aim at. It is an unhealthy and often damaging way of thinking.’

Otter has recently authored ‘Do/Make: The power of your own two hands’. by Do Books – the publishers of pocket guides designed to inspire action and positive change. He offers a simple guide to making while posing a compelling case for embracing a life in the arts and crafts. Otter is an award-winning designer who works with wood, sourcing ecological timber and making sustainable surfboards that celebrate beauty in the process.

‘I used to take pride in considering myself a perfectionist until I realised that this way of thinking revolves around judgment from others and when you feel things aren’t perfect, you feel a sense of shame,’ he says. ‘So your options are to achieve something that is technically impossible to reach.’ That doesn’t sound productive, I note. Otter agrees. ‘I found that reframing my making into a journey of achieving excellence was a much healthier way of thinking.’ Otter is also an advocate of the wabi-sabi philosophy. ‘I think it would be amazing if our cultures could move to a place where experimentation and striving for excellence were revered far more than the outcome.’

© Do Make by James Otter is published by Do Books. Photographs by Mat Arney
© Photography by Mat Arney for Do Books

Our entire education system is geared towards promoting perfection though, I say. Otter agrees that we are all likely to suffer from the fear of non-achievement – that at some stage in life our creativity has been knocked back by someone or even ourselves. ‘But what if we lived in a society that celebrated play – a place where having a go, and making mistakes were acknowledged as a way to progress? What a wonderful world that would be!’

Even before the pandemic took us by storm, many of us were reconnecting with the art of making, and the process of creating. Otter’s book happens to coincide with our current crisis. ‘As we progressed with the editing phase during the start of the pandemic, we noticed how people were reconnecting with their local environments, taking time to be with the people around them and reconnecting with the art of making,’ he tells me. ‘There is such a mental, physical and spiritual benefit to be found from reconnecting with our hands,’ he adds, ‘and there is no better time than now.’

Then there are the health benefits of creating. With wellness and mindfulness becoming increasingly pivotal in our lives, the art of making can cultivate a healthier lifestyle. If mindfulness is the idea of being in the present in each moment, regardless of activity or state of mind, then what could embody the spirit more than taking up a slow-motion craft.

© Do Make by James Otter is published by Do Books. Photographs by Mat Arney
© Photography by Mat Arney for Do Books

‘Mindfulness is about being able to calm the mind, recognising thoughts, acknowledging them, then letting them pass,’ agrees Otter. ‘So, when we embark upon any journey of making, we are given the opportunity to be completely absorbed in that process and by doing so, we can be present. With that in mind, the more opportunities we can create to make things, the more chance we will have of forming lasting habits that keep us making and provide us with the mental benefits for years to come.’

It seems like a win-win situation but I’m interested to know the necessary steps towards cultivating a passion for making. How do I know what I want to make, for instance? Otter has some helpful tips: ‘The first would be to pick something you are already excited or passionate about. For me, this was surfing. Then create a space to work in so that you can keep coming back to it as and when you are able. Then schedule the time to devote to it. Then release yourself from judgments by others and yourself.’

He says it is the fear of not being good enough that likely stops most of us in our tracks. ‘So, recognise this and let is pass. Finally, get stuck in – there is no right or wrong way to do this, mistakes made whilst making provide an opportunity to learn and help with the continual development of your skills. Enjoy the journey.’

© Photography by Mat Arney for Do Books

The art of making ought to have some purpose too. Finding happiness in making also entails thinking about the larger picture. ‘As someone who designs and makes things for a living, for me it is so apparent that every decision I make along a product’s journey has an environmental impact,’ says Otter, ‘and if we want to continue to make things – and survive on this wonderful planet – we need to put the environment first, always.’

Otter’s craft of choice has the added power of being a rather evocative product. His current favourite surfboard is designed to be versatile and withstand most wave conditions. ‘I spend a lot of time in the ocean with it – interacting with the wonderfully dynamic environment of the sea,’ he offers. ‘There is such magic in moving across the ocean, riding on a wave of energy that has travelled hundreds, if not thousands of miles to reach the shore before it rises, peaks and folds in a way that we can utilise. It is my happy place! 

John Ruskin, William Morris, and their Arts and Crafts comrades fought tirelessly to bring back the joy of craft and celebrate the natural beauty in materials. They understood the relation between art, society and labour, and in the darkest hours of industrialisation applauded the art of making. As we head deep into the machine age, begin to see the effects of globalisation, and try to salvage a climate in crisis, echoes of the movement continue to shine some light on life.

Do/Make: The power of your own hands’ is published by Do Books

Mercedes design chief Gorden Wagener on how he plans to take the brand into the sustainable era

Daimler chief design officer Gorden Wagener with Vision AVTR at CES 2020
Daimler chief design officer Gorden Wagener with Vision AVTR at CES 2020

As chief design officer for Daimler AG, Gorden Wagener has the complex task of directing the design for Mercedes, Smart, AMG, Maybach cars, among other brands within the group. Lately, he has been consumed with the new EQ electric sub-brand and with such experimental cars as the Vision AVTR. Here he explains his mission to me.

Should true sustainability be about breathing new life into existing objects?

In the age of mass-production, fast fashion, hyper-consumption, and the growing awareness of the environmental damage caused by all this careless consumption, we should rethink our approach to how we shop and of ownership. And in the auto context, it is one thing to subscribe to electrification, but surely true sustainability is about maintaining the value of objects already in existence … to reuse, upcycle, reimagine – breathe new life into old objects.

This is what Lunaz intends to do. This new marque restores classic cars and converts them with electric powertrains. Its aim is to make the most beautiful and celebrated cars in history ready for the future, playing into the above. But equally it explores luxury as rarity, and the preservation of beauty to be relevant and kind to the wider world. Take a closer look

Leather maker’s genuine green thinking

It’s not quite a fifteen minutes drive from Glasgow airport, but those six-odd miles east, takes you to a vast industrial complex, which seems completely incongruent with its beautiful rural setting.

These grey and soulless buildings should be a horrible blot on an otherwise idyllic landscape but they aren’t – they actually appear to be no more out of place than a huddle of huge modern agricultural buildings erected by a go-getting farmer. What’s more, the company that occupies the entire site is probably more in tune with its surroundings than many of the neighbouring farms and small holdings.

This is the headquarters to Bridge of Weir, one of the worlds leading suppliers of leather to the automotive industry. It is still privately owned and can trace its roots back to 1870, when Andrew Muirhead, a Glaswegian leather manufacturer, first purchased the tannery and so began its progress from cottage industry to what it is today.

Way back then, it mainly supplied pigskins and horse hides to the local saddleries. It wasn’t until the early part of the twentieth-century, and with the advent of the car, that it made the transition into producing upholstery – grade leathers to meet the demands of fledging motor trade.

In fact, it was probably the young American entrepreneur, Henry Ford, who really set BoW on its automotive course. In 1911, he gave the firm a commission for leather seat covers for his Model T, and rest, as they say, is history.

BoW still supplies to Ford, along with Volvo, Saab, Mercedes-Benz, Aston Martin, Renault, Honda, McLaren and nearly every other car manufacturer. But what makes this company different from most other leather producers is that it is one of the greenest in the business.

‘The biggest concern a new car buyer will give to a leather interior is deciding on the colour. They really don’t sweat over it much more than that. Not that they should, that’s our job,’ Dale Wallace tells me on a recent visit to the site.

He’s been working for BoW for over twenty years and is a pivotal link between client and company.  ‘Look at that view’, he says pointing to the lush green vista from his office window. ‘Of course we work to EU and government environmental directives but as a company we adopted a zero waste policy many years ago.

‘From a commercial aspect it makes good business sense to recycle as much waste as possible but more importantly it would be criminal if we didn’t strive to do our bit for the environment.

‘Not just here, the local area to us, but through our global partners too (they currently have partners in China and the US). Our level of investment has been immense with our final goal to have 100% self-generated energy by the end of 2015; we’re ninety per-cent there already,’ says Wallace.

Implementing these strong ecological values has been a long and costly exercise – eight years and £6m at the last count. And that self-funding investment is clearly visible. Huge computer-controlled industrial machines stretch the length of the factory floor, making light work of the job that used to take teams of tanners many hours to complete.

Yet, despite the obvious industrialisation the fundamentals of the process – taking abattoir-fresh skins and turning them into supple-soft leather hides – has changed little over the centuries.

Quite literally, the skins arrive in a very raw state with muscle tissue and hair still attached. On average, each of these hide will weigh 40kg, but by the time they have been through the fifteen different stages, which necessitates the need of a whole gamut of rolling machines, dying booths, stretching presses and cutting benches, 90% of that original mass weight is lost as waste, and it is this waste which needs to be disposed of as cleanly and efficiently as possible.

‘When we initially put this program into motion our main objective was to best utilise the hundreds of tonnes of waste we were sending off to landfill sites,’ Wallace imparts. ‘Not only is there the obvious solid waste, there’s also the liquid effluent too.

‘We use over 200 million litres of water per annum and every drop of it is now heavily filtered through our own water treatment plant (one of the most advanced in the UK) to extract all particle matters before it is pumped back to be used again in our thermal energy plant.’

As for the ‘solid’ waste, that’s transported to the aforementioned thermal energy plant which represents the first stage of the BoW sustainability plan. This epic piece of plant has been specifically designed to convert what was once useless waste into recyclable resources, useable within the leather making process.

It creates the heat for the tannery too, plus provides a crude bio-fuel for the on-site generators. Having both these treatment plants working in unison closes the loop to give a zero waste system which, in turn, results in less impact on the environment, lower running costs and an ethically sound product.

Wallace may be correct in his thinking – the majority of the buying public are not necessarily bothered where and how the parts for their new car are sourced. However, it is reassuring to know there are companies like this that show genuine concern for the environment and have gone into such lengths to implement sustainable solutions in their manufacturing process.

Guest blogger Danny Cobbs

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