So I’ve been thinking a lot about environmental sustainability, namely because of the Business Plan Competition I’m entering with Britta, Rebecca and Knowles (we’ve been kicking around various ideas for the social entrepreneurship track, and they all seem to involve some ultimate goal of making environmentally-friendly products that are made using sustainable production techniques more readily available on the open market. Also, I’m reading Cradle to Cradle. More on both of these points to come.
But then last week the idea of sustainabilty arose in Despina’s class, the intentionally vaguely-named “Softness of Things.” (Is it just me or does every single one of my classes have some silly name this semester? Seriously, like, embrassingly silly.)
To me sustainability is about considering, maybe even expanding the life cycle of objects, and for this class, specifically, I turned my attention to clothing. It’s important to consider the manufacturing and business practices behind the clothing you wear, for sure that’s a start, but what about it’s very function? What about the fact that your clothing is only really working when you are wearing it, and only really accomplishing a narrow task? Is there some way we use the clothing’s “downtime” so to speak to accomplish things that may even be integral to the item itself, or perhaps that will expand its purpose?
My first thoughts turned to the fashion show, where clothes are first brought into the world, and the ways that these clothes are worn and presented in a beautiful and unique way, probably that they will never enjoy again. In fact, many of them are doomed to live out the rest of their days in some warehouse, or donated to some enthusiastic press or helpful friend of the designer who can’t even fit into or logistically sport the clothes themselves anyway (I have a dress that came off the runway, and I have to get my sister stitch up the back everytime I wear it). And even if the pieces are still functional after the show, the lights are down, the music is off and no ordinary woman can breathe life into the articles themselves the way that a model can.
So why not harness the energy of a fashion show, using the clothes and the models who wear them, to make the show self sustaining? The kinetic movement of the models, and the clothes themselves as they are being worn down the runway, could be harnassed, collected and stored, then fed back into the electricity needed to run the show itself. The idea is to work kinetic energy collectors into the clothing itself and to creatively store energy storage units, most likely in the form of batteries, so that when the model makes her way backstage and takes the clothing off, it is put back on an energy-converting hanger and clothing rack that can feed this energy back into the venue, powering the stage lights, the dj’s turntable or a video screen.
But harnassing the kinetic energy of small movements (the wind through a skirt for example) is still an abstraction, from my limited research, even the experts haven’t fully been able to flesh out yet. Solar energy, however, is something I thought I could maybe grasp a little better. I sat down to talk to Mike Bukhin about this, to limited success, as materials are extremely scarce, expensive and limiting. But that’s not to say that the idea isn’t there. In fact it was very important to us, as we discussed clothing as having a renewable cycle, that the means and the methods, first and foremost, fit the articles themselves.
So what better way to harnass solar energy than through a bathing suit? And what better use of that energy than to convert it into heat, for use as a space heater in the winter?
Well, as it turns out, there are many limiting factors to consider. Our first obstacle was the solar-collecting material itself, which would have to be flexible and waterproof. Both of these things are possible, but not in one week. The real limiting factor here was the storage of the energy that is collected. Most often, this can be seen in the form of a battery, but who wants to wear a battery in their bathing suit? How can we stay true to the initial design of the bathing suit?
That’s when it came to me. Dr. No. Ursula Anders. THE James Bond bathing suit. That beautiful belt that held her “shelling” knife. From there we realized that the belt could store both the batteries and the solar panels. The batteries themselves could then be put to any number of uses.
But what are those uses exactly? I mean, it’s great to think that you can cut down on your electric bill, not have to buy disposable batteries, never have to plug your cell phone into the wall, etc, but what if we could collect extra energy, not just through solar panels, but through any number of the involuntary movements that we make (fidgeting, toe-tapping, breathing in your sleep) and use them not just to cut down our own energy consumption, but to contribute to the greater good. Perhaps credits or micro-payments or could be exchanged for contributing to a larger power grid, that way that refunds are given to recyclers.
It’s all a bit far fetched at this point, but fortunately more capable people than me are working on it. For now, the energy collecting bathing suit will just have to wait.