Artists take on evils of Fast Fashion

The San Luis Obispo Museum of Art presented “Dirty Laundry,” a group exhibition delving into the vast problems of “fast fashion” through a series of multimedia and site-specific works. Fast fashion refers to the growing industry that mass produces cheap clothes to meet an insatiable global demand, a manufacturing model in which clothes are designed, fabricated, and sold quickly to keep up with the ever-changing trends.

The model is not only wasteful – with the average American throwing away 70 pounds of clothing a year – but detrimental to human rights and the preservation of our environment.

“Fast fashion” has increasingly come under fire for its labor practices, waste and unsustainability. A 2020 report by Princeton University states that the fashion industry is responsible for more annual carbon emissions than international air travel and maritime shipping combined and consumes one tenth of the world’s water used for industry.

Beginning in the early 2000s, “fast fashion’s” churn and burn strategy of producing increasingly more and cheaper styles, hooking consumers into shopping for clothes like shopping for groceries, proved massively effective and equally disastrous to workers and the environment. “Fast fashion” has resulted in a 400% increase in the global consumption of clothing in just the last 20 years.

The exhibition brought together work by California-based artists to advance the conversation about this pressing issue and offers sustainable practices and solutions. “Dirty Laundry” was on view December 2, 2022 through February 27, 2023.

Through mixed-media work, artists Carole Frances Lung, Aditi Mayer, Minga Opazo, Alicia Piller, and Sommer Roman seek to engage, educate, and enlighten visitors through works that are inspired by fast fashion and its implications.

Exhibition highlights included:

Large-scale, woven, basket-like sculptures by Minga Opazo. Made with mycelium, a root-like fungus, these sculptures are part of the artist’s ongoing research exploring a variety of mushrooms that can breakdown synthetic fibers and decompose clothing made from plastics and chemicals. Opazo will also install a site-specific installation made of layered earth and clothing that visitors will be invited to lay upon.

A selection of photojournalism works by Aditi Mayer that focus on the garment worker industry in LA and India, touching on protests by garment workers and potential solutions for sustainable fashion manufacturing. 

A monumental, site-specific installation by Alicia Piller responding to the architecture of the gallery. The work looks at global and historical issues tied to fast fashion, using found objects from the fashion industry. Piller’s sculptures take the form of cellular structures, playing with the idea of looking at these issues through a microscopic lens to create better practices and outcomes.

The third volume of Carole Frances Lung’s Pins & Needles newspaper that explores the fashion industry’s pitfalls. Visitors can take editions and learn about issues tied to fast fashion and consumerism.

San Luis Obispo-based artist Sommer Ronan’s biomorphic sculptures. Made from post-consumer textiles, they explore humans’ relationship with the natural world.

The exhibition looks at the way that while on the surface fast fashion may seem contained, it has implications that are in fact far-reaching. The industry contributes to racial and gender inequality by exporting its production overseas to factories that disproportionately employ underpaid women. Environmentally, fast fashion leads to the consumption of 10% of all water used industrially and 20% of wastewater created globally.

Once the clothes are made, they are largely consumed by the global north – notably the US, Europe, and Australia – and they are then returned to the global south – countries like Ghana and Chile – and buried in landfills, where they will take thousands of years to biodegrade.

The exhibition brought together artists who are both deeply engaged with this industry, and committed to proposing solutions through their practice. Through this exhibition, visitors will be invited to turn an eye to their own practices, and to think about the ways in which we can all contribute to a healthier and more sustainable world.

About San Luis Obispo Museum of Art

The San Luis Obispo Museum of Art (SLOMA) is an innovative and accessible museum located on California’s Central Coast. The museum presents an outstanding exhibitions program that features artists from California and around the world, as well as an ongoing series of dynamic events that engage visitors of all ages.

SLOMA is located in downtown San Luis Obispo on the west end of Mission Plaza, at the heart of the city’s cultural corridor. A destination for art lovers, and those just beginning to experience art alike, the museum provides a welcoming space and offers free admission to all.

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