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Otto Von Busch: Fashion Hacktivism

The Swedish fashion artist, theorist and designer wants us to have fun with fashion and own it again by becoming a "fashion hactivist."

Saying ‘no’ to the fashion industry will not work. Playing around within it just might do the trick. According to Otto von Busch – Swedish, Hacktivist and Engaged Fashion Designer, actively having fun with fashion will not only bring about change within the industry itself but will ultimately transform our wardrobes into things of creative individual beauty. What is needed are new  connections between high fashion and DIY craft.

He has just finished his PhD entitled Fashion-able, Hactivism and Engaged Fashion Design at the University of Gothenburg, School of Design and Crafts, and participated in the Beyond Green Sustainability Week at the Amsterdam Fashion Institute. He is not a fashion designer by ‘trade’ coming rather from an academic background, however as he points out, over the years he’s done many a night class in sewing and craft techniques. Mixing fashion theory and philosophy with fashion craftsmanship and activism has resulted in an invigorating viewpoint with a welcome dash of political clarity.

But this political activism, this "Hacktivism", is not about smashing the fashion system. It is about us – the fashion lovers of the world – taking it back. Von Busch is not advocating the end of the fashion industry but more of an active participation in it – we who only have its best interests at heart. He compared his approach during his lecture at Beyond Green (Amsterdam, November 12) to the culture of slash fiction where fans of particular TV-series like Star Trek rewrite and re-interpret particular episodes that they have watched thousands of times. It is a form of co-authorship based on total engagement with narratives and their possibilities.

“Hacking is something you do because you love fashion whereas people normally associate hacking with people who stand outside a system – anti-fashion if you like. However I believe it is better to make change from within the system, by not destroying it but building on it,” elaborates von Busch.

And from creatives within the fashion industry who are at once lovers of the magic but also critical of the destructive path that the industry has been taking within the past 10 years – and who isn’t these days - then von Busch’s irreverence is spot on. We have stuffed our wardrobes to the brim and still there are only a few pieces in our closets that really speak to us. That convey that almost spiritual ‘fashion moment’ quality of clothing, craftsmanship, enchantment, memory, I-did-it-myself kind of pleasure. What if every item, could do that? What if we banned meaningless shit, wouldn’t we all just have the best wardrobes ever? Perhaps, if we follow von Busch’s train of thought, it simply comes back to putting the ‘I’ or ‘we’ back in our clothing identities.

Cutting a rather striking figure himself in crushed velvet men’s tights, designer mid-Swedish-winter hoodie looks, oversized printed t-shirts, fantastically tailored jackets and Trippen shoes Von Busch wears his opinion clearly emphasizing the importance of design and the handcrafted. He has organized workshops as a type of fashion cooking lesson where you learn to create and up-skill just as we do when we follow recipes. Participants analyse a particular style of design, for example Vivienne Westwood, and at the end of the day, whole new creations out of discarded clothing are Ready-to-Wear. Perhaps we can follow instructions from an Ikea assembly guide without fault but there is no up-skilling or co-creation as there is when we practice cooking from cookbooks. Or as he says, “this is about feeling pride in our work as we did when at five years old we would come home from school and show our beautiful day’s work. Somehow we lose that along the way and perhaps one of the few domains where people still feel that simple pride of craftsmanship is at a fashion school, for example.”

While there is a lot of buzz around craftsmanship these days, von Busch’s perspective is about actively claiming access to the fashion industry through the creation or reinterpretation of clothing, as opposed to a kind of Luddite’s resistance stance. It is about transforming ourselves from passive celebrity following consumers to co-creatives connected with our own style.

There is not one solution to inviting a broader base of creativity into the fashion industry but a multitude. And Hactivism can take the forms of Craftivism (craft meets political activism), Shopdropping (the art of reverse shoplifting), or Wendy Tremayne’s Swap-o-Rama-Rama workshops. All feel like rebellious fashion academy student stunts or grass roots art-activists performance pieces. Bold and unrepentant without the blood and guts.

His PhD thesis is a series of individual projects and theory including a project he instigated called the Dale Sko Hack. Here six established fashion designers ‘hacked’ the industrial production at a small shoe factory in rural Norway and transformed it. The factory itself had gradually dwindled in worker numbers from around 200 to 10. The designers set out their design ‘styles’ for the shoes. But this time the skilled workers could either choose to follow the protocols that were designed or divert from them if they saw fit thus changing the running order of industrial production. It was co-creation on an industrial level.

“There is room in fashion for questioning,” states von Busch simply and for people who like to engage with the ‘cathedrals and bazaars’ of fashion then
a diet rich in Hactivism is recommended.

Download Otto von Busch’s PhD Thesis here.