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Apocalypse Project: The Fashion of Climate Change

Artist/scientist/explorer Catherine Sarah Young creates personal conversations around climate change through the medium of fashion.

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Earlier in September, out of curiosity, I attended an event titled Climate Change Couture: Fashion for a Hotter Planet. Expecting to be thrown way out of my comfort zone, I ended up having a wonderful night and a intriguing follow-up conversation with Catherine Young, the artist who designs a line of apocalypse-ready wear to engage people in the climate change conversation. The Apocalypse Project, she named it. 
Like the community here on OpenIDEO, Ms. Young believes in the power of experiences and the impact of sharing them. “If you experience something, it stays with you forever”, she said during Q&A of the speaker panel/fashion show at the swissnex San Francisco. Ms. Young and her collaborators are working on a version of the future where we live sustainably and in harmony with nature.

And her weapon of choice? Art. 

The result was the Apocalypse Project, a ’speculative design research’ on our future environmental problems born out of her 2013 ArtScience Residency Program in Singapore. In one of its manifestations, she listened and distilled insights from her interactions with young kids to create a clothing line based on future climate change scenarios. Fashion was a medium that everyone can relate to, she recalled, which makes it useful for communicating an apocalpyptic future across time and space (and maybe even cultures). Apocalypse, by the way, means the ‘disclosure of knowledge’ or the ‘lifting of the veil - an act she hopes to accomplish through her current project on climate change. The Thermoreflector and the Aquatutu are just a few items from her collection of apocalypse-ready wear - for heat and for water scenarios, respectively - that might get you curious enough to check out her work

In her other sub-projects, she plays on nostalgia and twists the senses to get people to think about climate change. Her Ephemeral Marvels Perfumes capture the scents that are disappearing from the world due to climate change (smells of peanuts, coasts, honey that we easily take for granted) and her Future Feast is an experiential exhibition where she serves food made from insects, a glimpse of an alternate, yet totally possible, reality. Regardless of the medium though, it was her approach on sharing her art as an experience for her audience that is fresh and engaging in our current climate change conversations.

Later on in our conversation, I asked her what she was hoping to achieve with the Apocalypse Project. I was already intrigued that someone was crossing the art and science disciplines in the context of climate change, a conversation dominated by science, policy, and politics. Her response would sound familiar to the design thinkers in this community:

"The project itself is meant to instill empathy, and thus the works are interactive. You can wear the garments and smell the perfumes because I want you to be able to put yourself in the climate change discussion. The idea is for you to create your own personal story with the environment instead of letting it be solely a political one."

It was a wonderful trip outside of my field and into an effort that might just succeed, in its own way, with inspiring climate change action. After all, how would we get people to take action for our climate if we don’t talk about it in the first place?

Check out Catherine Young’s exhibition is at the Institute for the Future’s Future Gallery in Palo Alto until 15th April 2016. More information is available on IFTF website and a photo gallery of the event is available here. For collaboration and information about her work, Catherine Young can be reached at her personal address

(This post is partially adapted from the story on the Climate Change Couture fashion show, published on my personal blog)

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