Future Economies: a Café Conversation with architect, lecturer and writer, Carolyn Steel


Tuesday 10 January 2017, 7-9 pm, Hot Numbers, Cambridge

Zoe Svendsen  talked food, architecture and distribution systems with Carolyn Steel  author of The Hungry City, and creator of the concept of sitopia, asking the question ‘What is the best possible economic structure for responding to climate change?& what would it be like to live in this future system?’




World Factory: The Politics

World Factory: The Politics

Friday 21 October: 4:00pm – 5:30pm

Main Dining Hall, University Centre, Granta Place Mill Lane

World Factory: The Politics is free to attend but booking is recommended.

An interdisciplinary discussion engaging with the real-world issues explored by the interactive theatre show World Factory. Featuring a panel of Cambridge experts, this discussion interlinks questions of ethics, fashion, environmental impacts, working conditions, migration and globalisation.

Short provocations will be given by the following speakers:


  • Dr Shana Cohen (Deputy Director of Woolf Institute; Stone Ashdown Director; Senior Research Associate in the Department of Sociology, University of Cambridge)
  • Professor Joe Smith (Professor of Environment and Society; Faculty of Social Sciences, The Open University)
  • Dr Bhaskar Vira ( Director, University of Cambridge Conservation Research Institute Reader in the Political Economy of Environment and Development, and Fellow of Fitzwilliam College)
  • Dr Brendan Burchell (Reader in the Social Sciences, Department of Sociology, University of Cambridge, Director of Cambridge Undergraduate Quantitative Methods Centre)
  • Anne Lally (Independent consultant, specializing in ethical global garment manufacturing)

This will then be followed by a Q&A session chaired by World Factory Director/ Designer Zoë Svendsen.


Speakers’ biogs:

Dr Shana Cohen

Dr Cohen has been engaged in both academic research and community-based work in Morocco, India, Egypt, Israel, England, and the US. Her research has focused on the transformation of the middle class and the politics of social action under neoliberalism, exploring how the constitution of identity intersects with economic insecurity and ideologies of human potential and social value. Shana’s current writing and research projects reflect her practitioner and academic trajectories – the first project involves rethinking local management of resources to improve frontline service effectiveness and the second, how grassroots social action indicates the emergence of a new political consciousness controverting management models and allocation of resources based on commodification of human potential and vulnerability. She is also the PI (with Ed Kessler, Founder Director of the Woolf Institute) on a comparative study of how the recession in Europe has affected trust between religious minorities in London, Paris, Berlin, and Rome.

Professor Joe Smith

All of Dr Smith’s research seeks to enhance understanding and action on global environmental change issues, and draws on work from across the social and political sciences. This breaks down into two main areas of research and commentary: 1. Global environmental change and culture, largely focused on broadcasting and digital media; 2. Contemporary environmental history and politics, including the politics of consumption.
His research tends to be collaborative, interdisciplinary and experimental. Throughout my career he has sought to combine ‘thinking’ and ‘doing’, and impact and engagement has been integral to my varied projects. I am Principle Investigator on two major AHRC funded projects: Earth in Vision and Stories of Change, and also convene the Mediating Change group which seeks to support research and practice at the intersection of culture and climate change. My other current area of research relates to the politics of food in post-socialist societies. These investigations are currently summarised by the title Quiet Sustainability. Past projects include Interdependence Day, which tested reframings and provocations around themes of globalisation and sustainability with a series of events and publications.

Dr Bhaskar Vira 

Dr Vira’s research interests centre on the changing political economy of development, especially in India; and on political ecology, focusing on forests, wildlife and landuse change and the social and political context for biodiversity conservation. His work on incentives for natural resource use and management deals with trade-offs and discourses relating to the concept of ecosystem services, and how this overlaps with poverty and human well-being, as well as values for biodiversity conservation. Research into the policy process in this sphere has included work as a Coordinating Lead Author with the Responses Working Group of the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment and the UK National Ecosystem Assessment. His research on the political economy of development in India focuses on the distributional consequences of changes in the Indian urban and rural economy since the 1990s, with a particular interest in labour relations, as well as alternative strategies for land-use and the management of resources.

Anne Lally

Anne Lally is an independent consultant specializing in ethical supply chains and multi-stakeholder regulatory frameworks.  She works on strategy and policy issues pertaining to the garment industry – with groups such as Fair Wear Foundation, Fair Labor Association, Global Reporting Initiative, and Clean Clothes Campaign. In her previous life, Anne headed a national-level fair trade organisation in the US and spent time monitoring human rights issues at the UN in Geneva and New York.  She holds a Masters in International and Public Affairs from Columbia University.


Dr Brendan Burchell

Dr Burchell’s research interests include the effects of labour market experiences (e.g. job insecurity, work intensification, bankruptcy, unemployment) on psychological well-being. The social psychological effects of precarious employment and unemployment; Analysis of complex work and life histories data; Gender segregation, men’s and women’s life cycle and career; Emotional reactions to personal finances: “Financial Phobia”; Member of the Sociological Research Group and Individual in the Labour Market Reading group.




The Canteen will serve a Chinese buffet following the World Factory: The Politics, with prices starting from £3.40 before the evening performance of World Factory at Cambridge Junction.


World Factory will show at Cambridge Junction from 18-21 October, 7.30 pm, as part of Cambridge Festival of ideas. Book tickets here


The research and process behind World Factory – Rotterdam 31 March 2016

The research and process behind World Factory – Rotterdam  31 March 2016

On 31st March 2016 Simon Daw, Lucy Wray and Kate O’Connor were welcomed to Rotterdam by the Het Nieuwe Institut. We gave a talk about the research and process behind the World Factory show, culminating in a Q+A and open discussion of the themes raised by the project. Our visit coincided with a major exhibition, in which the Institute re-imagined itself as a fashion museum  for a period of 8 months, September 2015 – May 2016. We explored the exhibition the following day, witnessing a magnificent collection 20th century haute couture, the launch of a sustainable brand who make clothes from recycled waste, and a Documentary floor which tracked the creation of a T-shirt from start to finish. In experiencing this display, we were struck by how much its explorations overlapped with our own – examining the origins of our clothes, their extraordinary hold over us as consumers, and ways in which we might move beyond the current exploitative system of global production.


During the evening, the audience were asked to consider individual questions on some of the game cards used in the World Factory show, sparking a wide range of discussion about the pressures currently faced by the industry. Many people in the audience had been following a series of talks run by the Institute on similar themes, whilst others worked in the fashion sector themselves. We were joined by Sophie Koers from the Fairwear Foundation, who provided great insights through her experience of visiting factories worldwide and seeking sustainable alternatives. It was a great opportunity for the World Factory team to engage in conversation with those undertaking similar investigations.

We’d like to thank Flora van Gaalen and Myrthe Terpstra for welcoming us so kindly, and for such fascinating discussions.

Arts and Humanities Research Council Workshop – 20 February 2016

Arts and Humanities Research Council Workshop – 20 February 2016

On 20th February 2016, World Factory ran a workshop for current AHRC-funded (Arts and Humanities Research Council) PhD students at Cambridge University. Each group played the game in a custom-designed space, adapted for a smaller number of participants, while keeping the flavour and experience of the full show. The group members knew different amounts about the issues raised by World Factory – some were working on labour laws and the global garment trade, but others worked in disciplines such as literature or history.


Afterwards, there was plenty of time for everyone to discuss how they had found the experience, and what they had got from it. People commented on the ‘incredibly stimulating’ atmosphere and the ‘very engaging and fun’ format, while others saw it as a ‘good opportunity to learn about agency and structure in the global economy.’

When thinking about what World Factory had led them to consider, one participant had gained perspective on their daily choices, saying: ‘Sometimes we make important decisions without realising how important they are.’ For another, their reflection was wider, saying that ‘as a human being this is a very welcome wake-up call regarding our world’.

IAA Workshop – 15 February 2016

IAA Workshop  – 15 February 2016

On 15 February, METIS met with social science researchers from Cambridge University and the Open University to talk about the future of World Factory. Participants included:

Dr Ha-Joon Chang, an economist and author specializing in development economics.

Dr Brendan Burchell, a sociologist who studies the social and psychological effects of precarious employment and unemployment.

Dr Shana Cohen, a sociologist and political activist interested in the politics of social action under neoliberalism and how grassroots social action indicates the emergence of a new political consciousness.

Prof. Joe Smith, a geographer who writes mostly about environmental history, policy, and politics.

The discussion ranged from labour laws to climate change, from workers’ rights to the politics of public space. We thought through how the performance and research could work together to resonate in the public consciousness, and how to integrate these concerns into the World Factory project.

The concerns of World Factory exist in a wider web of global issues, from South-South outsourcing to the UK housing crisis, so we talked about creating more information about these issues through videos and online resources. We also considered creating a book version of World Factory that could be used in schools, universities, and businesses. Key to all of these initiatives was including the people who come to see World Factory in the long-term future of the project, allowing them to keep thinking about these issues and engaging with one another.


Centre for Chinese Contemporary Arts, Manchester

Wednesday 25 February 2015 , 6.30 – 8.30 pm
Jasmine Suite

This informal evening offered  an introduction to the World Factory project – an investigation of global consumer capitalism through the lens of the textile industry, from the heart of the industrial revolution in nineteenth-century Manchester to the world behind the ‘Made-in-China’ labels on our clothes today.

Three expert speakers with different perspectives on the global textile industry  discussed the relationship between production and consumption patterns in China today, and Manchester’s clothing and textile history, before the conversation was opened up to the wider audience. There was also a live demo of the digital World Factory shirt – where we trialled our phone app by scaning the barcodes on the shirt – this revealed the people and processes behind how each shirt was made.

Our speakers included:

Sara Li-Chou Han –  PhD Candidate and guest lecturer in sustainable fashion at Manchester Metropolitan University, upcycling designer and formerly a co-founder of the Stitched Up sustainable fashion collective

Amanda Langdown – Senior Lecturer, Fashion, Illustration with Animation at Manchester Metropolitan University with an interest in sustainable development

Lena Simic– performance practitioner, co-organiser of the Institute for the Art and Practice of Dissent at Home and Senior Lecturer in Drama at Liverpool Hope University


For a taste of the topics covered please click on the following text Thoughts from the Cafe Conversation at the Centre for Chinese Contemporary Art, Manchester




World Factory: considering consumption symposium, 13 January 2015

World Factory:  considering consumption on Tuesday 13 January 2015 2 pm at  Free Word Hall, London At Free Word we engaged with speakers and audience in a conversation about what alternatives to consumer capitalism already exist, and what we might dream of. The speakers included:

Julian Kirby   Friends of the Earth, Make It Better Campaign
Stella Hall   founder and programmer of the the Festival of Thrift
Lyla Patel   – head of education at TRAID, a charity that works to stop clothes being thrown away
Jenny Chan –  Sociologist and expert on labour conditions in China
Kate Fletcher –  London School of Sustainable Fashion, Craft of Use project

To listen to our speakers presentations simply click on their names below:

This symposium formed part of a residency at Free Word supporting the writing of the World Factory theatre production. The idea behind METIS’s World Factory discussion events: We have committed from the start of the project to the idea of ‘research in public’ – creating a series of public events in different kinds of spaces, where we investigate a particular aspect of the topic. Through inviting experts to share their views in an intimate, but public, forum, we aim to both share our process and catalyse a wider conversation. Previous events include cafe conversations at both the University of Cambridge and The Junction in Cambridge. As part of their commitment to researching the project ‘in public’ METIS collaborate with other organisations to host events in which invited speakers share their perspective on the World Factory phenomenon.

Pulse: the shirt and the shop

Following on from a week in residence at Tower Ramparts in April, METIS returned to the shopping centre as part of Pulse Ipswich.

METIS occupied a unit at Tower Ramparts through the day on Saturday 7th June 2014. A visit to the shop, as well as including a cup of tea, offered a range of material to consider:

  • A wall of opinions, that visitors were invited to contribute to, about what matters to people about what they wear. These thoughts, opinions and stories have been collected since Pulse 2013, and some can be found on pinterest

  • A rail of clothing, made (and bought) in many different places, but repaired in Ipswich, illustrating a strong culture of make do and mend that was uncovered in Ipswich during the April residency, accompanied by a video of interviews with Ipswich makers and menders

  • A presentation of the World Factory Shirt and Digital Quilt, allowing visitors to try out the scanning technology and view prototype footage from the first factory visit, see the video telling the story of the shirt and learn about the Digital Quilt, METIS’ public research platform

World Factory – Makers and Menders from Zoe Svendsen on Vimeo

Alongside the artefacts presented in the shop, visitors also had the opportunity to be involved in events. Lucille Acevedo-Jones wowed visitors with her ‘minimal sewing’ re-purposing of four shirts into a beautiful statement dress that made use of shirt features like buttons and collars. METIS conducted a game of chance that had been created in response to research uncovered about factory management practices that allowed players to enact a factory management scenario. Jill Carson of the Wedding Dress Agency, and Danuta Tabard of New Wolsey Theatre’s costume department, gave a masterclass in how to sew a shirt, in conversation with Simon Cantrill, of Great British Sewing Bee fame.

Later that afternoon, the team repaired to New Wolsey Theatre to host another cafe event. Simon and Zoe spoke of their journey so far with World Factory, and Bianca introduced the Digital Quilt to an Ipswich audience. Expressing the team’s growing interest in not just where clothing comes from, but what happens to it once it’s been made and sold, Lucille was invited to demonstrate her re-purposing skills again, demonstrating just how simple construction can be when you use the building blocks provided in existing clothing.

Embracing the premise of doing research in public, Zoe started a discussion with Simon Cantrill about Bradford’s industrial heritage, with particular reference to his family history. Simon explained that an abundance of water in Bradford meant it was an ideal place for the textile industry to thrive both from rivers providing power to drive machinery, and from the prevalence of rain providing the ideal damp atmosphere for wool to be processed and made into yarn. Simon, who works at Bradford’s industrial museum, talked about the impact of industrialisation, and the gradual de-skilling this initiated, to the present day, now that Mill workers are much less knowledgeable, essentially servicing machinery rather than understanding how cloth is constructed. On a lighter note, Simon kept apologising for a lot of jargon introducing the audience to job titles that were largely unfamiliar: his birth certificate has his Dad identified as a Warp Twister, and Simon’s very first job at the Mill was as Greasy Percher.

The audience again proved themselves a font of knowledge, with information about clothing factories that were once sited in the East, the recycling of fabrics of different compositions, and speculating about gender politics in the fact that de-skilling in factories threatened jobs and industry on a much greater scale than pit closures in the 1980s, but was much less a public concern as the industry was mostly populated by women.


To call World Factory: The Shirt a steep learning curve is no exaggeration. Zoe and Simon had to learn what was in a ‘technical pack’, and have had to hone their negotiation skills to start to understand the cost of manufacturing the shirts (and the factors might surprise you). Most recently, whilst in residence in Ipswich, plans to gather measurements of men passing Tower Ramparts shopping centre took an unexpected direction.

Zoe and Simon quickly decided that the shirt would have to be one size, to keep the minimum run as low as possible, and in recognition of the fact that the shirt is more art object than fashion garment. But determining this single size is a complex matter: sizing is a closely guarded secret across the global textile industry. So they decided to create their own, and consulted Ipswich tailor Coes about what measurements to gather.

shirt measurements

All that was then needed was willing participants – a group of men happy to be sized up by METIS’ tailor-for-the-day. Surprisingly, though Ipswich residents have, over the last year, been very generous in sharing their opinions about their clothes, their buying habits, and their understanding of manufacturing conditions, there was a great deal of reticence about being measured.

Having a few weeks to reflect on this apparent reluctance has prompted some interesting speculations in the METIS camp. None of the team, we realised, are used to being measured – and we suspect that this unfamiliarity is common. We no longer expect our clothes to be fitted to us, but instead conform to the range of sizes that are available to us. Being out of the practise of being measured makes the act strangely intimate, to say nothing of the association that measuring has with self-improvement – the pursuit of a more shapely body – which is an industry that is intricately linked to that of the textile industry.

At the risk of romanticising the past, it’s interesting to wonder about the impact that a shift to mass manufacture has had on our attitude to clothing. Is fast fashion – an inclination toward disposal, and a regular renewal of the contents of a wardrobe – a symptom of owning garments that weren’t made especially for us? Would active involvement in the creation of our clothing, ensuring just the right combination of colour, fabric and fit, mean that we kept hold of things for longer? If our measurements were viewed as something to fit things to, rather than something to change, would we ultimately be happier?

We’d love to know your thoughts, about being measured and about your experience of made-to-measure clothing. Please leave a comment below, tweet using the hashtag #measureme or email us worldfactorymetis@gmail.com

The Digital Quilt in a Pop-Up Shop, Cambridge

28 Hands Make Light Work: Café Conversations 15 May 2014, at 6.30pm

Everything OK with your Starter?

A conversation about clothes, capitalism, and creative responses opened with a welcome from live art duo Hunt and Darton, our hosts at their POP-UP café, 36 Bridge Street, Cambridge, CB2 1UW http://huntanddartoncafe.com. Hunt and Darton fed us a (quick) three-course ‘meal’ of live art. We could choose the dishes, but when it came to the Mains we were told that Thoughts were off and were given Laughs instead. However, as the evening ensued our Guest Speakers: Mark Sumner – Sustainability; Retail & Fashion, University of Leeds (biography here); Katelyn Toth-Fejel – Centre for Sustainable Fashion, London College of Fashion (biography here); and Lucy Walker – Archaeology and Anthropology, University of Cambridge (biography here), brought thoughts back centre stage.

Sharing what we’re learning as we’re learning it

METIS’ co-directors Zoë Svendsen and Simon Daw kicked off the conversation by contextualising the World Factory project and communicating the METIS team’s desire to do and share its research in public.

LAUNCH of the Digital Quilt

Bianca Winter, METIS’ digital producer, and David Russell, Director of Cambridge design and technology company The Fusion Works, followed this with the launch of the World Factory Digital Quilt. The Digital Quilt makes the project’s research available in bite-sized chunks. Bianca explained that information is not indexed, so can’t be searched, but instead a journey is taken through it, panel by panel and explicit links encountered. In a world full of choice, the digital quilt presents just four options to help the user to move between panels – up, down, left or right – manifesting the research as spatial patchwork. David noted that typically people might employ a Wiki technology to present research information, but METIS wanted to avoid a text heavy format and opted for a more visually led framework.

Drilling Down

Lucy Walker responded to the presentation of the Digital Quilt by drawing parallels between the METIS research and the work of archaeology – the shared ‘drilling down’ and excavation-like exploration. Following Simon’s presentation of the World Factory Shirt at the beginning of the evening, Lucy suggested that technology such as that of the Digital Quilt and the Scan facility of The Shirt could be employed to great effect in many museums, enhancing visitor experiences.

Do you know where your clothes come from?

Mark Sumner who recently joined the School of Design at the University of Leeds as a Lecturer in Sustainability, Retail and Textiles, following a period as Sustainable Raw Materials Specialist for Marks & Spencer, began by asking us all whether we knew where our clothes came from and whether we took a real interest in their origination? He spoke about the textile industry as a fragmented industry where many businesses are linked together in soft ways and where if the consumer neglected to take an interest the process of manufacture would remain abstract. However, he acknowledged that pressure was increasing on businesses around the world and though a large number were still not looking beyond the next season, many were looking at ways of doing things in a more sustainable way. He also noted that some of the best factories he’d seen were in China and some of the worst in Europe, suggesting that problems in the industry were not necessarily as geographically far removed as we might like to think.

What happens to your clothes after point of purchase?

Katelyn Toth-Fejel, artist, designer, natural dye specialist and research assistant for the Local Wisdom Network at the Centre for Sustainable Fashion, University of the Arts London spoke about what happens to clothes after they’ve been bought, how we care or fail to care for them, and where they end up. She noted that the things that stay in people’s wardrobes are not always those that are best made or the most durable, but rather the garments that people feel most emotionally attached to. Mark spoke about how he spent the first 10 years of his career at M&S looking at how to make products that would last longer, but how he realised that there was no point to the potential longevity of an item if people were to wear it for a bit and then throw it away – the full life cycle of a piece of clothing, however long or short, needed to become more sustainable.

Opening the conversation up, the group discussed the fact that one million tonnes of textile waste is produced each year in the UK. Some of this ‘waste’ is given over to re-use and sent, for example, to countries in Africa. But, it was asked, what impact does this action have on local industry in those African countries? Local production is undermined, while some in the UK are made wealthy.

Mark raised the point that we tend to think of Cotton as a ‘good’ material and yet it takes 10,000 litres of water to grow a kilo of cotton. For those living a life of subsistence, just 10 litres of water will sustain them in all of their activities for a day.

The rising cost of cotton and wool was discussed and the question that businesses in supply chains face of whether to raise prices or look for savings elsewhere. It was acknowledged that it was difficult for retailers to raise prices knowing that if they did, consumers would go elsewhere.

Katelyn noted that whichever direction we looked in, the industry appeared complex and that single most helpful thing we could do was to simply use less, emphasising that global consumption is currently far outstripping any eco-efficiencies we are achieving.

While someone in the audience said they felt they couldn’t compete with the industry of mass manufacture when it came to making a jumper, another ended the night by suggesting on a rather more positive note that instructional videos and information on the internet were in fact making it easier for people to pick up and employ making skills.


Dr. Mark Sumner
Mark has recently joined the School of Design at the University of Leeds as a Lecturer in Sustainability, Retail and Textiles. He is currently developing research themes for reducing waste and the circular economy for clothing; mapping the environmental impacts within textile supply chains; consumer interaction with sustainable apparel; the role of design in delivering sustainability for clothing and textiles.

Prior to joining the university Mark was the Sustainable Raw Materials Specialist at Marks & Spencer for over 6 years. Mark led the development of strategies & policies to identify how M&S could reduce the impact of its products and supply chains across the full M&S product portfolio including clothing and homeware. Supply chain projects included improving transparency and traceability, dyehouse efficiencies and improved chemical compliance, and the creation of innovative and sustainable products.

During his time at M&S he delivered M&S’s first closed loop cashmere & wool coat, their most sustainable suit, chinos and overcoat as well as the ground breaking ‘shwopped’ coat. His first 10 years at M&S was as a Technologist in various buying teams and was responsible for product development, supply chain management, innovation and quality management.

Before joining M&S Mark completed a BSc Hons in Applied Physics from the University of Leeds, which was followed by an Engineering Doctorate from UMIST for Textile Engineering where he developed a new process for colour application to wool and cotton yarns.

Katelyn Toth-Fejel
Katelyn Toth-Fejel is an artist, designer, natural dye specialist and research assistant for the Local Wisdom Network at the Centre for Sustainable Fashion, University of the Arts London. This international research project, originated by Kate Fletcher, explores the ‘craft of use’: the skilful, cultivated and ingenious practices employed in our use of garments as a potent tool for the redefinition of our experience of fashion beyond the thrill of purchase.

Katelyn is also a director of the brand Here Today Here Tomorrow with a studio and shop in East London. HTHT showcases a complexity of approaches to sustainability of fashion and accessories, encompassing handmade craftsmanship, skills sharing, durability, use of waste and organic materials, natural dye, fair trade production, localism, and user behaviour.

Katelyn is from Portland, Oregon in the Cascade Range of North America.

Lucy Walker
Lucy Walker is an archaeologist and landscape historian, with a background in fieldwork research in Britain and Italy, adult education, and historic landscape tourism. She is currently a visiting scholar at the McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research, University of Cambridge, and part of the Troina Project – the study of changing cultural landscapes through time in a mountain zone in the north-east part of Sicily.
Lucy is also developing a practice using archaeology and museum collections as prisms to explore contemporary issues. As Associate with the Pacitti Company Think Tank, she is working with community groups, artists, writers and scientists on the Colchester and Ipswich Museums Service ‘Unlocked’ programme. She is a member of ArchaeoLink, an organisation set up to enable communities to benefit from their archaeology and historic landscapes, and a founder member and chair of the Steering Group of the HLF funded Mill Road History Project in Cambridge.

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