Thursday, 2 August 2012

Bubble-gum, flag-bearers and barcodes

Does anyone else remember collecting picture cards from different types of sweets in the past?  I think some came with that very flat pink, dusty bubble gum that we used to pop and have it stick to our noses and chins. And some may even have been in those packets of white candy mock-cigarettes (how times have changed!).  One set held my childhood attention: it was a series of national costumes from around the world, featuring grass skirts in the Pacific isles, Kaftans, bark cloth from Africa and back to Europe with Dutch girls with triangular pointy hats and clogs.  It was one amongst many unconscious triggers firing me towards the world of textiles I now inhabit.  That trigger was pulled again last Friday as I sat watching the Olympic opening ceremony.

What a textile-fest!  Some of the countries chose only to show off their textile heritage with their flag-bearer, such as the glimpses of beautiful goldwork on the Kazakhstani flag-bearer’s hat and coat.  Others ‘went modern’ with only a hint of their colourful textile heritage to be seen. Yet the one getting my gold medal for textile display was Cameroon. They’d gone the whole way with traditional hats and flowing patterned robes.  

Such occasions used to be a real celebration of costume diversity, but this year few teams ventured as far as  Tuvalu and Kiribati in showing off proudly their national dress.  As ‘globalisation’ spreads its levelling glue, let’s hope traditional textiles and costumes aren’t levelled along with it. It would be a real loss if, like office buildings and hotel rooms, they all began to look the same.  

Our eye for spotting differences and enjoying detail is part of human evolutionary make-up, and enabled me to enjoy the first the mystery then the revelation of Thomas Heatherwick’s magical Cauldron with its copper Petals.  But humankind’s ability to copy is also inbred – and it’s not always used to the good, as I’m sure many designers and makers have found.  Responsible business has come a long way from the bad old days in the 1990s, when pharmaceutical companies were involved in disputes over the ancient herbal intellectual property of local peoples.  Yet protecting intellectual property is still high on the world’s business agenda. 

Protecting ‘design’ IP is felt to be difficult but the Design Council is trying to push things forward with useful tools like its downloadable Guide to Legal Issues & IP.  On their website I also came across a concept new at least to me:  that of the Creative Barcode.  It can be embedded into everything connected with one’s original work of creativity, including presentations, literature etc, and at a surprisingly low-priced entry point.  So perhaps we may all in future have solid ground on which to stand up and defend the differences that make our output unique, amongst the estimated £8.5 billions’ worth of clothing and textile industry products sold each year in Britain. 

Here’s wishing you a positive week of celebrating differences and making your own unique and sustainable mark on the world. 

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