Telling people there’s a problem isn’t the same as showing people there’s a problem – the latter is way more effective in driving home an important message.
And it’s exactly the strategy that social impact designer Laura Francois and visual engineer/photographer Benjamin Von Wong employed as they set about to communicate the scale of the first world’s fashion consumption problem.
In “five long twenty hour days”, the creative duo and their team of volunteers built the “World’s Tallest Closet” a three-storey art installation filled with a lifetime of clothing which the team, after analysing different statistics and graphs, estimated was about 3,000 pieces worn by an average consumer in the developed world.
The nearly nine-metre-tall art installation which features a 6,000 kg closet frame made from recycled steel, aluminium, wood and includes 180 metres of wire and two large entrance doors with a sign that reads, “This is the tallest closet in the world. Inside is what you will wear in one lifetime,” is currently on display at the Mall of Arabia in Cairo, Egypt.
According to Greenpeace, the average person buys 60% more items of clothing and keeps them for about half as long as 15 years ago with the average person consuming 11.4 kg of apparel each year. North Americans are the largest consumers of new textiles, consuming 37 kgs each.
“Telling people to “not buy more stuff” is a relatively impossible mission, after all, there’s a $550 billion industry telling you to do the opposite, so I came up with a slightly different approach,” writes Von Wong on his website.
“Why not try to tackle the problem through emotions by simply showing people how many clothes they probably will accumulate over the course of their lifetime?”
After erecting the thought-provoking artwork, they placed a clothing donation box located at the centre of the installation offers onlookers and visitors a chance to donate their unwanted and used clothing – all going to people in need.
“We were thrilled to partner with Refuge Egypt, which takes care of refugees and asylum seekers,” Francois tells Forbes.
“Most of the refugees are literally walking across the deserts of Egypt on their way from other parts of Africa, and they desperately need clothing. When we went to the office of Refuge Egypt, they had about 20 shirts left for hundreds of refugees. They are eagerly awaiting our clothes. In the meantime, we’ve set up a donation box in the middle of the structure that’s getting filled with pre-loved clothing that the organization is collecting.”
Von Wong is no stranger to large-scale installation projects. He is also the brains behind the viral “Mermaids Hate Plastic” art installation featuring a mermaid with 10,000 plastic bottles strewn around her. Earlier in the year, he and a team of volunteers also erected an e-waste art installation featuring 4100 lbs (1,859 kgs) of laptops and other donated Dell components to raise awareness of the growing electronic waste crisis.
Asked what message he hopes to deliver with the World’s Tallest Closet, Von Wong answers:
“We buy more than we need, and we can be more generous with what we have. Connecting with clothes in this way is disruptive. We’re fighting against the tide of a $550 billion industry. But if we can get one person to buy less because of this, then there’s one less item going into their closet.”
The installation will be on display at the Mall of Arabia until January 8.
For more information about this art project, visit TallestCloset.com.
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All images courtesy of Benjamin Von Wong.