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19th European Roundtable on Sustainable Consumption and Production – Circular Europe for Sustainability: Design, Production and Consumption

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Adapting Soviet Sustainable Fashion Practices for Circular Economy

This paper seeks fresh perspectives on sustainability practices in circular economy. The inspiration could be found in nations and periods of time where resources were scarce and people had to be creative and inventive to maintain human dignity. The Soviet Union as an all-controlling, pervasive totalitarian state focused the national resources on military development, with little regard for everyday needs of the populace as well as invented the planning economy which collectivism approach destroyed the chains of supply even further. As a consequence of its permanent shortages of consumer products, the state was forcing upon its citizens a regime of austerity and championing them to save the limited resources. The legacy of the Soviet period on sustainability practices and its potential contribution to present/future circular economy has not been sufficiently researched. A lot of different research methods were used in the process. Quantitative and qualitative research and oral history methods were used. To generalize the findings as well as develop a detailed view of the concept both qualitative and quantitative methods were used in triangulation. Different survey methods were used: questionnaires, case studies, structured and semi-structured interviews, semiotic analysis of interviews and visual materials. The reason the research relies heavily on interviews and oral histories is because Soviet-era statistics are notoriously biased and untrustworthy. The picture of everyday life painted by the official sources was quite different from the lived experience of the Soviet regime. Therefore, the research confronts the official stories with personal perspectives. This research also analyses the Soviet-period literature and materials for sustainable fashion practices, highlights the various routes for acquiring the necessary apparel. USSR developed a network of ateliers for repairing, reconstructing, resewing and updating old and worn out clothes, providing workshops, talks, books and classes on the subject in educational facilities. This trove of concepts, ideas, practices, advice, templates, even though produced for a different economy and society, is nonetheless quite astonishing in its scope. By researching and analysing struggles and shortages of planning economy, one could repurpose the forgotten sustainable practises and innovate new ones for the circular economy. Soviet-era sustainable practices stretch back to the scarcity of WW2 and WW1 years, and even deeper in history. Further research should look at the forgotten practices of previous generations. Circular economy is developing in our present abundant yet also precarious society. Even though there exists a seeming overflow of consumer goods, the picture is different if we start looking for longevity, durability, adaptability, timelessness – design characteristics discarded by the fast-cycle fashion industry. Today, our motivations for saving resources and transitioning towards a circular economy are different from the survival instincts of the Soviet era, and one must hope based on a genuine concern for the planetary health and well-being. As next steps, the insights gained through research and analysis should be tested as case studies in practical application to create concepts and prototypes of circular economy product-service systems.

Simona Veilande
Art Academy of Latvia


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