Use & End of Life
A fashion artefact comes to life when worn. It is the interaction between body and piece that creates the stories that take place and remain as imprints on shape, texture, colour and patina on a collar, elbow, waist or cuff. As a fashion designer, I am intrigued by the consideration of how a piece sits, moves and interacts with the body, but also by what happens when a wearer takes ownership of a piece to mould, personalise, care for it or discard it. If we include these thoughts into the design process, it opens up the possibility for design that goes beyond aesthetic on the rail or styled catwalk, to consider the ongoing aesthetic and the hand over from designer to wearer in the shaping of the look and feel of a piece. These considerations are more strongly embedded in the consideration of functional products such as active sportswear and performance wear, but have traditionally been scantly considered by most designers and product developers in other areas of fashion.
The research and development process in fashion is often brief due to the short lifespan of a piece, and this lack of interrogation into its full lifestyle can render pieces susceptible to disappointment and discard. The proliferation of fashion as a disposable product has, as we have become increasingly aware, unsustainable impacts during make and use phases, as well as creating mountains of waste. This has been well documented by the media due to the astounding magnitude of the issue, compounded by powerful statistics, for example the average woman in the UK throws away £10,000 worth of clothes bought but never worn.
Consideration of the second, third or even more lives of a piece has ignited work by a variety of individuals and organisations, and whilst there are already some inspiring conceptual as well as business-ready new models for design and production, there remains a huge potential opportunity for more work in this area.
We hope that these thoughts stimulate you to consider the wider dimensions of your product’s success beyond the point at which it leaves your immediate attention – something that is commonly eliminated from the design and production process due to the pressures of price, speed and short term gain. This short termism also disregards the wearer, who in fact plays a critical role in supporting your business and your profitability in the longer term through continued aspiration towards your brand. By thinking about the life or lives of your work, you are reflecting on its cultural, social and ecological impacts, creating opportunities for innovation and difference.
We have selected case studies here as examples of some of the ideas emanating from this way of thinking, including design for reduced impacts during wear and across multiple lives of materials and garments. This is not an exhaustive list but serves to offer a starting point for your own ideas and a reference point for the work that we are involved in here at Centre for Sustainable Fashion.
We hope that they can give you points for reflection and offer insights that are useful in your work.
Dilys Williams and Nina Stevenson, 2011
Lowe-Holder is constantly inspired by hand-crafted details, which are translated in a feminine, unique and modern way. Most of the techniques are historical with a strong craft heritage. For example Michelle Lowe-Holder’s SS10 collection ‘Summer Smock’ looked back at the ‘labourer’s embroidery’ of the Middle Ages. Lowe-Holder has been inspired by the idea of creating treasures from trash and her unique style and love of traditional textile embellishment techniques shines through all of her work.
Using abundant textures and patterns, Lu Flux’s garments greet onlookers with a sense of creativity and pleasure. Humour is combined with beauty to conjure whimsical warmth that fills the wearer with a wonderful silliness. Paying meticulous attention to the methods and materials that create each garment Lu Flux strives to demonstrate the possibility of creating ethical clothing without compromising beauty.
Clean by Design by Emma Rigby, MA Fashion & the Environment 2010
In her MA thesis, Emma investigates the relationship between design, consumer behaviour and laundry, looking at both social and practical impacts. During the course of a garment’s life, the recurrent use and maintenance of the garment emerges as the most resource demanding lifecycle stage, and links to other environmental problems, such as air and water pollution and biodiversity loss. This initial research phase is a longitudinal study of how and why people use and maintain their clothes. Cultural probes were used to explore user behaviour and measure design characteristics that aim to increase garment use and reduce maintenance. Eight garments were designed, reproduced twice and given to participants in London and Bristol for the duration of twelve months, with each participant recording the use and maintenance of the garment in comparison to a similar existing garment.
Emma is now developing this initial research into a PhD at London College of Fashion.