Consumption of Heritage
Consumption of Heritage explores the interactions in fashion from the viewpoint of the producers and consumers. What are we wearing? What clothes do we make? How and why are we making them? As a Korean designer, Sun Lee tackles these questions through her own heritage.
Since the 1960s, industrialisation and modernisation of the Korean fashion industry drove traditional textiles and crafts out of their regional place. Due to the diminishing number of local artisans, the few master craftsmen became highly regarded artists. Craft became a fine art, instead of being a part of everyday life. She is interested in bringing back this culture of craft to our consumer society and making it relevant in our modern lifestyle.
The clothes in this collection are made mainly from traditional Korean Hansan Mosi fabric and Hanji paper. They are designed for specific situations and purposes based on the relationship between the wearer and clothing, consumption and disposability. They also propose alternative methods of production through an analysis of the respective characteristics and qualities of Mosi and Hanji.
To bring this collection to life Sun Lee decided to go to Korea and meet the craftsmen who are still preserving the heritage. This led her to Yeon-ok Bang, a Mosi craftswoman recognised by the UNESCO as an important Intangible Cultural Property. She truly believes in the importance of meeting and understanding the craftsman behind the material, the knowledge and the time it takes to bring the Mosi fabric to life.
Derived from plants, both Mosi and Hanji represent the philosophy of ephemerality—life and death. Like a tree with roots deeply anchored in the soil that bring delicate leaves and beautiful flowers above the ground, Mosi and Hanji also embody consciousness and harmony. This natural balance is realised in the clothing through a layering process, in which the combinations of and interactions between the two materials create a higher level of appreciation for quality, adaptability, and context. It is a dialogue between two principles of materials, and the whole becomes greater than the sum of its parts, revealing a latent dimensionality in the clothing’s form and function.
The Mosi fabric is used to create a full-length Transforming Coat. Round buttons of Hanji covered in Hansan-Mosi are used as connecting elements to go from a waist-length jacket, a skirt, to a longer coat. Embracing its modularity, it also behaves as a canvas for the Hanji garments to be connected and layered over one another. The Transforming Coat can also be combined with a long vest called Hanji Feather – made with ripped Hanji paper to mimic a bird's plumage, this technique celebrates the paper's inner fibres and texture. In addition, a geometric floral pattern is cut into a collarless paper jacket. Only the outer trim, sleeves and round neckline are left uncut. This garment is inspired by the traditional Korean pattern called dancheong. The fragile pieces behave as more delicate and ephemeral pieces and act as disposable garments. Reinterpreting traditional craft, and combining different techniques, the collection is also composed of a vest using the Ji-seung craft which consists of rolling strips of Hanji paper into cords, and then woven together combined with her own tapestry technique. The collection's outerwear piece is the Padding jacket. Designed for a boxy fit, the quilted shell is made from Hanji while using the leftover Hanji paper as a filler material bringing volume and keeping heat due to its material properties. Lee also created a detachable sleeve and collar called Najeonchilgi and named after a Korean decorative lacquerware technique, which involves inlaying pearl or seashells into intricately cut pieces of wood.
Consumption of Heritage is an invitation to reflect on the current state of fashion and to imagine solutions for sustainable materials. By taking inspiration from Korean craft, she proposes a new paradigm in production and consumption. Just as Mosi and Hanji represent the cycle of ephemerality, fashion is a material cycle of use and reuse that passes on tradition to a new generation.
From harvest, transportation, producing, selling, using and discarding, every step has a negative impact on the environment. And due to fast fashion, we feel guilty, denied, and desperate, but nonetheless, we never stop to consume clothing. From this conclusion, Sun Lee decided to tackle the subject through her own heritage. Korea has more than 5000 years of history and plenty of craft culture. But through the 35 years of Japanese colonisation and 3 years of the Korean War, the country was in severe poverty. In the 60s to 70s, the Korean government pushed forward the textile and fashion industry to develop the Korean economy. As time passed, industrialisation and modernisation drove traditional crafts out of their regional place. The number of local artisans decreased and the few master craftsmen became artists. Craft became an art, instead of being a part of everyday life. Lee believes this applies to many other countries and cultures as well.
Interested in bringing back this culture of craft to our consumer society, she created a collection called Consumption of heritage which is made from traditional Korean Hansan Mosi fabric and Hanji paper. By analysing the respective characteristics and qualities of Mosi fabric and Hanji paper, the collection is designed for different purposes based on the relationship between the wearer and clothing, consumption and disposability. The Hanji paper for instance is known for its durability, insulation and ventilation properties. In the past, it was not only used for books but also as wallpapers, on the floor or over doors and windows to help control the temperature inside traditional wooden homes.
This collection is based on three principles of ephemerality, disposability and sustainability. Made from Hanji paper and Hansan Mosi fabric, the modular pieces can be layered over one another and are designed to be fully disposable and biodegradable. Hanji paper is sustainable, disposable and easily recyclable. This means each garment can be thrown away in a more sustainable way than fast fashion. Lee knows it's probably impossible to live without harming nature, however she believes in making less adverse impacts and leading more sustainable lives.
As a contemporary alternative to the serious environmental pollution and social problems caused by capitalism and mass production, crafts are playing an important role as a compass that indicates the direction we should go in the future through the past. This is an exploration of the cyclical and eco-friendly values needed in the present age.
Hanji paper, Hansan Mosi (Korean ramie), Ott, Mother of pearl
[making process] Hansan-mosi and Consumption of Heritage (Video)
Sun Lee reworks traditional Korean craft into clothes made from paper (Article)
Ronald Smits, Shen Yichen, Sang Hyeon Lee