During her last visit in Bangladesh, Prof Selmer explored the crafts sector to source collaboration partners for the 2020 edition called LOCAL INTERNATIONAL IV social design + crafts. She shared with us why she saw the need for a bilateral sustainability graduate programme for emerging fashion designers.

“The label "Made in Bangladesh" can be found everywhere on western clothing. Almost all western fashion companies – whether officially or unofficially – produce clothes in Bangladesh."

Prof Selmer continues: “Although the fashion industry deals with beauty, fashion is the second largest industrial polluter worldwide. This is not only due to the chemical waste of textile production or the high consumption of fertilisers, pesticides, and water in the cultivation and production of cotton, it is above all due to the enormous production volumes. Around 80 billion items of clothing are produced annually worldwide.”

Parallel to the rapidly advancing industrial development, crafts and their manual knowledge that has been created over centuries are currently dying out everywhere. Artisans are faced with the decision to abandon their traditional trade or to industrialize their production. Since handicrafts are directly linked to cultural identity and tradition, it is in the interest of many institutions to secure a livelihood for village communities, especially when global changes have eliminated previous sources of income such as agriculture.

Development aid organisations and NGOs in Bangladesh have recognized handicraft textile production as a way of providing employment and reaching markets for people in need. Yet despite all their efforts to do good, there is rarely an awareness regarding design. Cheap, textile products are produced in NGO projects, but the planning often takes place without an understanding of good design or market needs. The time-consuming handcrafted products often end up as low priced mass products in Europe.

The majority of all decisions that influence the product life cycle -from production, choice of materials, use, disposal of a product, and recyclability of the remaining material- are made during the design process.

Prof Selmer, on why the program is critical for both countries and the young fashion designers, said, “Designers are able to design longer lasting, higher quality products, they can provide good planning based on customer and market needs and fair production possibilities, designers can develop new markets and create added value in order to secure a real financial improvement for these social projects. To be able to do this, designers must be appropriately trained.”

The aspiration of LOCAL INTERNATIONAL is to establish awareness of sustainability and fair trade in the fashion industry and initiate an international knowledge exchange, networking, and participation with local crafts and industry.

LOCAL INTERNATIONAL is an academic exchange programme focusing on sustainable fashion design strategies, founded by Prof Heike Selmer and Prof Valeska Schmidt-Thomsen – both professors at the most renowned art universities in Berlin and is funded by the German Federal Foreign Office.

The Weissensee Academy of Arts Berlin combines disciplines of art and design with a strong artistic Bauhaus tradition.

The BUFT is training professionals in the RMG and textile sectors, founded by BGMEA, the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association.