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A conversation about cities is a bit like a conversation about fashion

Dilys Williams, director of the Centre for Sustainable Fashion at the University of the Arts London, reflects on international collaboration at the UnBox Labs 2014.

As a researcher, fashion designer and city dwelling citizen, I seek each day to navigate a path through our shifting, vibrant, delicate world, to explore ways to interact with others and with nature and to contribute to our shared existence through the things that I make and do. I, as many others, seek to make good things. This means that we need to tread carefully, as what might seem the best next move as an individual, could become the cumulative worst move for everybody, in the words of Gareth Hardin, the tragedy of the commons.

So it is with great delight that I am setting out in a few days time through an AHRC fellowship, to meet 34 other fellows and collaborators from the British Council at UNBOX labs 2014, Ahmadabad, India. We will work together and with some great mentors, from around the world and share insights from our own experiences.

We come together through a shared understanding of some of the challenges and possibilities of our increasingly urbanized world, not simply to look for answers, but to explore the frames of mind that we need to adopt, the boundary crossing relationships that we need to build and the actions that we need to take in sustainable city making.

A conversation about cities is a bit like a conversation about fashion – it evokes strong and mixed feelings about some of the best and worst aspects of our humanity. Each can represent some of the most incredible environments and demonstrations of ingenuity as well as some of the most destructive inequalities between people and lack of regard of nature.

We are rapidly changing location, having already crossed the tipping point of being a predominantly rural based species to one where more of us are living in cities than not and this change in the context of humanity necessitates a deep re-thinking of what we do, how we do it and then a resolve to think and do differently.

In my work, I explore the principles of sustainability as a critical lens through which to expand out the possibilities of what fashion might be when considered as the barometer of time, place and culture. If fashion is to offer relevant manifestations of identity in our times, it needs to deeply explore sustainability and to choose its activities and make its artefacts accordingly. I look forward to sharing with insights from the labs on my return as one of many means to connect one vibrant city with another.