Gary Markle is an Associate Professor of Craft in the Textiles/Fashion Department at NSCAD University. He received his Bachelor of Fine Arts in Fashion Design from Parsons School of Design in New York City and holds a Master of Fine Arts in Textiles from NSCAD University. He is currently pursuing a Doctor of Arts degree at the School of Arts, Design, and Architecture at Aalto University in Helsinki, Finland; in the field of practice-led research in design. His thesis examines the question: Do we make craft or does craft make us? The focus is exploring craft as a form of intelligence. And, investigating novel ways of communicating with craft, from a post human perspective. Believing that this type of speculative exploration can offer insights into how to improve the way humans communicate with each other and the broader world around us. He employs the lens of expanded fashion to address these abstract ideas and more tangible issues such as sustainability in the textiles and fashion system and how the crafts of textiles and clothing design can create a sense of belonging and wellbeing.
He cites the Sow to Sew project as the start of his formal research practice. In 2012 with NSCAD Textile Professors Frances Dorsey and Robin Muller, a multi-year study brought together a diverse group of stakeholders to rethink the textiles and fashion industry. Representatives from agriculture, fibre science, sustainability, crafts, among others; united in the goal of imagining a healthier textile and fashion system, gathered for a three-day colloquium at Taproot Farms in Port Williams, Nova Scotia. The following year an international conference funded by a Social Science and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) Connections Grant, led by Professor Muller, brought together thinkers and innovators challenging themselves and the current unsustainable textiles and fashion industry to do better. This project demonstrates the types of engagement NSCAD Textiles/Fashion Department values, ones where students, educators and communities of concern explore individual and overlapping interests in a rigorous and supportive environment. Experiences like Sow to Sew illustrate how publicly funded research can have long term impacts on knowledge creation, highly qualified personnel, and economies as it creates a space for turning a speculative inward facing ‘hunch’ into meaningful onward facing practice.
In 2013, Gary, and NSCAD colleague, Associate Professor and Product Designer, Glen Hougan, were awarded a multi-year Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) grant to individually investigate design for healthy ageing. With this funding Gary created the “Worn Well” project, a community-based research project in partnership with The Lunenburg Makery, based in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia. He was inspired by his mother, Joan, to rethink and redesign clothing for seniors. Investigating fashion as a way of maintaining independence by designing clothing that maintains dignity and autonomy and by listening to participants’ needs and implementing their ideas, coming to see them as co-designers through the process. An interesting outcome was the discovery that style, and comfort are equally as important as functionality when addressing mental health and well-being through fashion design.
In 2016, with Kim Morgan, Artist and Professor at NSCAD University, Gary was awarded a SSHRC grant to investigate SCOBY (symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast) fibre for future research-creation purposes. SCOBY fibre is commonly found in kombucha products and can be investigated for applications as a more sustainable and eco-friendly material in art, design, and manufacturing processes. This project fueled a pre-science interest in the investigation of alternative material resources and rapid textile and garment manufacture in times of crisis.
Recent grants have focused on social-medical aspects of clothing and textiles. In 2018 Gary and Dalhousie medical student Saif Syed were awarded a SSHRC Partnership Engage Grant to radically re-designed the hospital gown. This grant topic stemmed from (now) Dr. Syed’s Research in Medicine project (RIM), with Gary as an external advisor. The two connected in their individual research interests through an interest in user-focused research methodologies. Their Partnership grant questioned the benefit of an outmoded and culturally insensitive design from a previous century that privileges physicians’ ease of access over modesty and patient comfort. Being in a hospital is a vulnerable place to be, what we wear in this situation should make us feel safer and cared for. Gary explains that there is more than just pride to save, there is a lot of money to conserve in closing the gap on the Edwardian style ‘peekaboo’ hospital gowns. Currently, patients typically use two gowns to solve the “oversharing” issue which results in twice as much laundering per use, squandering precious natural and financial resources. Over two weekends of intensive workshops, held in November 2016, a team of patient advocates, medical, craft and design students and researchers met at NSCAD University to brainstorm better designs for gowns with a patient focus that aimed to be affordable, effective and would product patient dignity. Resulting in three workable prototypes. Gary says we all learn more by participating in interactive research in-design events than we could ever learn from months of lectures. And importantly these brainstorming activities also provide a space for students and public members to learn from each other and share their expert knowledge.
In 2020, Gary and Dr. John Frampton, Associate Professor in the Faculty of Medicine at Dalhousie University were awarded a grant from the Nova Scotia COVID-19 Health Research Coalition funding competition to investigate the prospect of a sustainable personal protective equipment (PPE) fabric that can be is sustainable and locally produced efficiently, safely, and locally on demand. Highlighting that we have the expertise for achieving fibre sovereignty and demonstrating this to be essential for facing adversity, when established supply chains are broken.
Collaboration on rapid manufacture of a sustainable and renewable medical grade fiber was already underway when the Pandemic hit. The pivot that the research teams were able to perform in focusing the emerging research on PPE points to the importance of inter-university and multi-discipline collaboration. Connecting very different branches of knowledge and creation in coming together to share expertise and innovative solutions. Vital to any healthy research ecosystem, these abilities are particularly important in times of urgent need. Gary believes these collaborative approaches – generous funding and institutional support for research are fundamental to maintain the health and wellbeing of communities on local and global levels.