Wardrobe Hack as an Educational Prompt

Author: Ana Neto, Lisbon, CIAUD, Research Centre for Architecture, Urbanism and Design, Lisbon School of Architecture, Universidade de Lisboa, Portugal

Aim of study

The use of wardrobe studies came up during my PhD project, which aimed to understand the relationships between wearers and their clothes, and how these can last for longer. Previous stages of the project pointed to the need of fashion designers to expand their design practice space to the territory of clothes in use, and therefore the goal of this study was to explore how fashion design students responded to the challenge of mediating wearer-clothing relationships, as an alternative role to the development of new products.

While the main aim of this exploratory study was educational, it prompted practical potential for behaviour-change, and qualitative insights that add to scientific knowledge on clothing use.

Photo of student work

Design as for long been pulled into the industrial machine of massification, losing sight of the particularities of each person’s needs. This study was developed as a way for students to understand how wearer-clothing relationships are idiosyncratic, raising their awareness to the importance of being attentive to the issues wearers are facing and which require tailored approaches. This counters the usual process where designers get a sense of generic design situations (or problems) and devise a one-size-fits-many solution, which in practice is often not that fitting (becoming, therefore, wasteful).

Influence on approach and use of the method

The main method is an adaptation of Whitty and McQuillan’s (2017) original Wardrobe Hack, here used as an assignment for students in their 1st year of the Fashion Design Master’s Degree at the Lisbon School of Architecture. Before launching the assignment, other methods were used as small in-class exercises to prompt discussions on wearer-clothing relationships and to raise students’ awareness on aspects that undermine or nurture these relationships.

Firstly, drawing from Martin and Hanington (2012) Love Letter/Breakup Letter method, students were asked to write a love letter to the last garment they acquired, and a break-up letter to the last garment they discarded from their wardrobe. Letters were then passed around so that everyone could get to know others’ experiences. Secondly, students answered a small questionnaire on their oldest garment still in use (adapted from Neto and Ferreira, 2021), and answers were discussed in class. By using these exercises to introduce my previous research, students’ tacit knowledge on being in a relationship with clothes was brought to the foreground and, collectively, the group increased their theoretical sensitivity on the topic.

Photo of student work

Finally, students were challenged to recruit a participant and conduct a wardrobe study (based on the original Wardrobe Hack), in order to identify issues their participant could be facing with any item or items in the wardrobe, and to develop an intervention (the hack) that could potentially improve one or more relationships between the participant and their clothes.

Data collected included notes from observations in class, project follow-up conversations with students, their presentations and the assignment outcomes handed in (a presentation poster + a report). Through thematic analysis, it was possible to distinguish the students’ findings on their participant’s issues, the kinds of hacks they came up with and the difficulties they faced, both in understanding their participant’s relationship with clothes, and implementing the hack.

Use of the results

Results were presented at a symposium on Fashion Design Education and will be published as a book chapter, and included in my PhD thesis. They can be useful for other educators seeking to introduce their students to wardrobe studies and a fashion design practice beyond product development. Even though the findings were written from an educational perspective, the examples it shares can also be useful for students just to increase their sensitivity to wearer-clothing relationships.

Insights generated by the method

Because this is a study that involves to levels of participation (students and their project participants), it generates different levels of insights, both theoretical and practical.

Photo of student work

Theoretically, the data generated relating to students (their journeys, struggles and achievements) is relevant to help educators devise future strategies to support and nurture the skills needed for this kind of design activity. Additionally, there is data related to participants (their relationship with clothes) as reported by the students. Through project presentations, each student contributes to the “pool” of empirical knowledge the class shares on the topic, and through other dissemination channels it can reach the wider research community.

From a more practical perspective, the exercise provides a different, hands-on experience for students as they learn to design for relationships (attentive to wearer, garments, their relationship and context), and an often positive experience for their participants who are challenged to think and articulate their relationship with their clothes, and who become aware of their power to improve their well-being as it relates to clothing.

References:

Martin, B. and Hanington, B.M. (2012) Universal Methods of Design: 100 Ways to Research Complex problems, Develop Innovative ideas, and Design Effective Solutions. Beverly, Ma: Rockport Publishers.

Neto, A. and Ferreira, J. (2021) ‘“I Still Love Them and Wear Them”—Conflict Occurrence and Management in Wearer-Clothing Relationships’, Sustainability, 13(23), p. 13054. Available at: https://doi.org/10.3390/su132313054

Neto, A. and Ferreira, J. (2023) ‘Lasting Bonds: Understanding Wearer-Clothing Relationships through Interpersonal Love-Theory’, Fashion Theory, 27(5), pp. 677–707. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1080/1362704x.2023.2170706

Whitty, J. and McQuillan, H. (2017) ‘Wardrobe Hack’, in K. Fletcher and I.G. Klepp (eds) Opening up the Wardrobe: A Methods Book. Oslo: Novus Press, pp.128-130. Available at: https://omp.novus.no/index.php/novus/catalog/book/26

Link to work demonstrating the method:

Neto, A. and Forman, G. (forthcoming) ‘Mediating wearer-clothing relationships: a case study in Fashion Design Education’, in K. Scott, B. Curtis and C. Pajaczkowska (eds) The Future of Fashion Education: Speculation, Experiences and Collaboration, Routledge.

Wardrobe Size (Volume of Clothing) and Shopping Practices in India  

Author: Richa Jha, India, Ambassador @RemakeOurWorld, Member @UCRF

Aim of the study

It was a fact-finding study to create awareness and behavioural change.

The objective of the study

The objective of the study was to find the shopping preferences and volume of clothes owned by an average Indian woman and a man.

What has influenced or inspired your approach?

I was influenced by the Wardrobe studies on this blog and particularly influenced by The Plastic Elephant Report, which said that poor fit and quality leads to wardrobe surplus and in-turn to over-consumption and over-production. Hence, I was curious to find similar statistics for India.

Method

  • An online questionnaire was circulated to individuals from different cities and professions. The questionnaire was sent to over 400 individuals out of which 105 chose to answer voluntarily.
  • There were questions such as – How many clothing items they buy? How many times a year? How many clothing items they own by category such as t-shirts, trousers, sarees, etc.? How many items they discard? Do they opt for repair, why not?
  • The income class of the respondents was middle class and above, i.e. Rs 500,000 per year
  • 70% of the respondents were women and balance were men.
  • More than 56% were Gen X, another 31% millennials, and 12% Gen Z. More than 56% were from Metros, 36% from Non-metros and the balance 9% were living outside of India.
  • Calculation of average wardrobe size – In the questionnaire, respondents were asked to tick mark the count for each clothing type such as Trousers, Shirts, T-shirts, Coats, Indian Wears, among others. The ranges were 0-5, 6-10, and so on till more than 30. The wardrobe volume is calculated by adding the average numbers for each clothing type for each individual.

Link to questionnaire here.

Key findings of study

The majority of the respondents shop up to 10 items annually and the average discard rate is also 10 items per person per year.

The volume of clothing owned (by this group) ranges from 30 to 308 in case of women and 27 to 162 in case of men. The mean is 120 for women and 80 for men.  For millennial women, average is 110, on the other hand for Gen X it is 130.  This suggests that women’s collection grow as they age, over time, they tend to accumulate Indian traditional wear such as sarees.

1 in 4 respondents do not use more than 40% of their wardrobe. The reasons for not utilising the wardrobe fully were occasional wears, woollens, fit issues, out of fashion and lifestyle changes in that order.

Only 20% of the respondents do not opt for repairing their clothes, on the contrary only 13% opt for upcycling. Among those who do not repair or do not opt for professional repair, majority do not see any value in repair or feel that new clothes are available at affordable rates.

The utilisation of the garment is optimum as most people said that they wear the garment till it fades or is worn out. Only for occasional wear or in some cases for formal wears, the number of wears is less. Some respondents mention they prefer to give to charity rather than repairing or upcycling.

But 80% of the respondents are willing to get their clothes repaired through a professional service and are willing to pay 15-20% of the original cost of the dress.

What happened after the study/exercise? What did you do with the results? Did you meet your objectives? How? How were the data used?

The report was shared with all the respondents. It gives them an idea as to where they are as compared to the average and hence may lead to self-induced behavioural change. Link to the report here.

A discussion was held with Sustainable Fashion Advocates from RemakeOurWorld. It further brought out the “whys” from the data such as cultural reasons.

The findings are also used to create awareness campaign through social media.

How could this specific method be used by others (or is it used already)? What are other insights/results that this method can generate?

Quantitative surveys are the most commonly used data collection method in Market Research.

How could the results of your study/experience be used by others (or are they used already)? What is the most important experience you want to share with those who are new to wardrobe studies?

  • Need for bigger and scientifically chosen sample if conducting a quantitative study
  • In the count, have zero/none separately from lower counts, i.e. instead of having 0-5, have none, and 1-5

What insights does this method generate?

It gives quantitative data on the total volume of clothes owned and clothing type. Filling this survey itself was an eye-opener for many and for them to realise their ownership, usage and surplus. The questions on repair and upcycling will also lead to plausible solutions, such as repair, alter, resale, lend or rent to increase wardrobe utilisation.

References

The Plastic Elephant – access here.
How clothing affects climate change? – access here.
Nielsen Woolmark Study  – access here.

Appendix: Definitions of some terms

Metro – Metropolitan areas – Such as National Capital Region of Delhi, Mumbai, Bangaluru, Hyderabad, Ahmedabad, Pune and Jaipur

Non – Metro – All other Tier-2 and 3 Towns such as Indore, Dehradun, Rajkot, Bharuch, Coimbatore, Trivandrum, Ludhiana etc.

Saree – a garment consisting of a length of cotton or silk elaborately draped around the body, traditionally worn by women from South Asia.

Lehenga – Lehenga is a three-piece ensemble consists of the actual lehenga, a long ankle-length skirt, a well-fitted blouse top known as the choli, and a scarf to drape around the outfit, known as the dupatta.

Gen X – 43 to 58 Years I Millennials – 27 to 42 Years I Gen Z – 18 to 26 Years

Identifying Good Practices of Use: Insights on the Consumption of Sustainable Fashion in Uruguay

Authors: Micaela Cazot and Lía Fernández, Montevideo, Uruguay. Bachelor’s degree in Industrial Design (Textile/Clothing Profile)

Original title: Identificando buenas prácticas de uso: reflexiones sobre el consumo de la moda sustentable en Uruguay.

Aim of the study/exercise: Educational, as the Final Degree Project for a Bachelor ‘s degree in Industrial Design – Textile/Clothing Profile, Universidad de la República (Montevideo, Uruguay).

What was the objective of the study?

To understand and analyze the clothing usage practices of a group of Uruguayan women who consider themselves sustainable in their way of dressing. The focus is on the users’ characteristics, circumstances, and life situations, seeking to identify good consumption practices based on the connection formed between individuals and their garments, as well as between garment and garment.

Context: Influence or inspiration

The choice of this topic arises from the motivation to visualize the role that design plays in generating good consumption practices. It is valuable to analyze the connection between consumers and their garments to recognize various factors in the purchase and use of clothing, aiming to raise awareness and contribute to the future of fashion by promoting more sustainable consumption.

An overview of every item that we analyzed with the participants during the method.

How was the method used?

This method consists of two parts:

  • an interview, with questions aiming to understand the participant’s relationship with sustainability and practices of acquisition, use and disposal of clothing.
  • a wardrobe visit, where they are asked to select an item of clothing for each of the following categories: the newest, the oldest, the most used, and the least used. We then proceed to take pictures of the items and ask questions related to each of these categories.

To carry out this method a characterization of the Uruguayan sustainable fashion consumer is made to search for participants, who ideally have different ways in which they experience sustainability. This search resulted in a selection of five women from five different generations residing in Montevideo which includes: leaders of sustainable fashion in Uruguay, design professors, a person from our close circle and a person involved in the second hand business.

After the method is carried out, the information is evaluated and reviewed by comparing the answer for each question and the garments in each category, looking for similarities and differences.

What happened after the study/exercise? What about the results and objectives?

As this study was produced for a final degree project, it was recorded thoroughly in a document that can be found in the institutional repository of the University.

How could this specific method be used by others? What are other insights/results that this method can generate?

As this method was only introduced to a small number of people in Montevideo, we believe it could be adapted to be used in other parts of Uruguay or in other parts of the world, and even with more people involved. Depending on the region where this method is applied, it will yield conclusions that reflect the culture and society that inhabits that place, from a sustainable point of view.

A collage of two items that were documented in the interviews and old analog photos the participants had of them wearing the items.

We believe that what matters the most is that, as designers, we must recognize the importance of understanding the complexities of clothing and feelings by addressing them in our creative work. Creating awareness about the emotional bonds and individual circumstances that influence consumption habits, and how these can be channels for fostering more sustainable practices in fashion.

What insights does this method generate?

Regarding the data provided by both parts, we can observe certain recurring patterns across interviews. For instance, all the garments we visualized with the users in their homes have stories beyond their materiality; they are not mere pieces of clothing but rather reflect nuanced aspects of the person who wears them and their emotional attachment with each item. Furthermore, we found that all of the participants have a relationship with sustainability that goes beyond responsible consumption of clothing and also encompasses other areas of their life such as their profession, their hobbies, their eating habits and their life experiences. All of them admit that they do not consume clothing in large quantities and no more than ten items of clothing a year enter their wardrobes. This indicates a strong inclination to consume less when one has a sustainable philosophy.

The habit of holding onto clothes that they do not wear for a long time is very present in these participants, because they believe that there is the possibility of using them again later on. They see the future potential of their clothing, rather than discarding it by not wearing it for a while. This generates an emotional connection with the garment, since it is seen as an opportunity instead of waste.

On the other hand, users who engaged in second-hand consumption expressed that accessing this market requires time and accessibility that not everyone possesses. There is a process behind the choice of second-hand garments, which sometimes becomes a matter of privilege. Similarly, garment repair as a tool to extend the lifespan of clothing is not available to all consumers due to lack of knowledge.

Conversely, some participants opt to make adjustments to their garments through modifications, repairs, or redesigns. Others enhance their wardrobe creativity by borrowing clothes from friends and family, finding enjoyment in mixing their own clothing with others’, thereby strengthening their individual fashion perception by exploring new dressing styles.

This more conscious approach to dressing reflects a trend towards sustainable fashion and a deeper connection with personal expression through clothing. Consequently, these users discard clothing less frequently.

In summary, the diversity in the responses obtained highlights the complexity and richness of the experiences, providing a profound and contextualized insight.

References:

  1. Armstrong, C., Lang, C. (2018) “The Clothing Style Confidence Mindset in a Circular Economy” Aalto University, DOI: 10.1002/cb.1739.
  2. Bjerck, M., Klepp, I. (2014) “A methodological approach to the materiality of clothing: Wardrobe studies”, International Journal of Social Research Methodology, 17:4, 373-386, DOI:  10.1080/13645579.2012.737148.
  3. De León, L., Haugrønning, V., Maldini, I. (2023) “Studying clothing consumption volumes through wardrobe studies: a methodological reflection” The 5th Product Lifetimes and the Environment (PLATE) Conference, Espoo: Aalto University, pp. 610-616.
  4. Fletcher, K., Klepp, G. (2017) “Opening up the Wardrobe: a methods book”. Novus Press, Oslo: Noruega.

The Impact of Modes of Acquisition on Clothing Lifetimes

Authors: Kirsi Laitela, Ingun Grimstad Klepp and Lisbeth Løvbak Berg

Abstract

Reducing the environmental impact of clothing is dependent on a reduction of the produced volume. This chapter discusses how mode and volumes of acquisition impact the lifetimes of clothing. Based on our scoping review and reanalysis of international wardrobe audit data, we find that the number of garments that are acquired has most impact, making clothing utilization an important concept. Secondhand garments are used fewer times than new items, and gifts less than self-chosen items. Self-made clothing was worn less than tailored garments, showing that product personalisation can both shorten and increase lifetimes. Slowing down the rate of acquisition and increasing the lifetime with the first
user should be the focus of policy development.

In K. Niinimäki (Ed.), Recycling and Lifetime Management in the Textile and Fashion Sector

Contact publisher to access the whole article, or email kirsil@oslomet.no.

Ethnographic Wearing

Author: Joshua M. Bluteau, UK, Coventry University, Social Anthropologist, @anthrodandy

Aim of study

This method was developed as part of a broader research project catalogued in the book ‘Dressing Up’ (Bluteau, 2022). During this period, I conducted ethnographic fieldwork with bespoke tailors in London and the network of Instagram sartorialists that grew up around them. As part of this process, I developed a digital ethnographic method termed ‘immersive cohabitation’ (Bluteau, 2021) that centred around doing as my digital interlocutors did, dressing up, taking selfies and posting them to Instagram as part of a reciprocal social and sartorial practice. To take part in this I had to acquire similar garments to wear and photograph, which were mostly purchased from online auction websites and grew into a considerable collection.

These garments were not merely ethnographic artefacts but became part of my everyday wardrobe as I sought to foreground participation, over observation (following Wacquant, 2004) as part of my research praxis. ‘Ethnographic Wearing’, as part of this broader study became a way of engaging with the acquired garments themselves and using the wearing of them as a research process to learn more about them. 

The objective of the study

To answer what it is like to wear certain clothes. Incorporating both the process of acquiring, storing, and living with them to gain insight into the lived experience of their owner/wearer, and to understand what impact these garments had on them.

The method

Simply, this method began by purchasing garments akin to those that my interlocutors were wearing and then using them to dress myself to take self-portrait style images which were uploaded to Instagram to construct a digital self that could be used for digital ethnographic research. However, this metamorphosed into an everyday practice of wearing these garments as they became part of how I dressed habitually on and offline during this period of fieldwork.

As a result I began to reflect on the process of wearing, taking thickly descriptive fieldnotes and digital photographs to catalogue the sensorial, haptic, emotional and phenomenological aspects of wearing these clothes. This in itself became a kind of thick wearing and became central to my ethnographic engagement with garments as an object of anthropological study.

Then what?

After the study, the wardrobe remained. The fieldwork which allowed the inception of this method of Wearing Ethnography was over, but the wardrobe remained dynamic. The doors to this personal collection were not closed although some rails became less visited – gathering dust – while others had new garments added to them and were still frequently worn. In this sense, the study is still ongoing and this longitudinal engagement with Wearing Ethnography promises to generate further research data for future analysis.

How this specific method could be used by others

This method is not bound by geographical location, garment type or research focus and can be either the primary mode of study or a supplementary line on enquiry. As such it has the potential to be utilized by a large number of researchers both in the field of fashion/garment studies, as well as a wide range of qualitative researchers in the social sciences and beyond. It may be of interest to those who wish to investigate garments in isolation, or those who wish to engage with garments that have a specific bearing on their research site. It also offers a starting point for discussions about collecting garments from the field and wearing not only to reflect on the process but as a mode of access to and rapport building with new informants. The primary limitation is whether garments fit or not, which may present a substantial barrier in some cases.

How the results could be used by others

The results of this study form part of an emerging subdiscipline of anthropology which could be termed fashion anthropology or the anthropology of clothing and adornment. Specific anthropological investigations of clothing are disparate and fragmented, with much of the prior scholarship collated by Luvaas and Eicher (2019) in their fantastic reader. However, methodological tools for engaging with specific garments are less well defined, with research often focusing on the relationship between informant and garment (see for example, Miller and Woodward, 2012) rather than the garment and researcher. As a result, this method of ‘ethnographic wearing’ challenges the current narrative, and offers a way for researchers to engage with clothing that can provide rich ethnographic data.

All photos by the author.

What insight does this method generate?

Whilst a range of methods have been used by other scholars to engage with garments held in collections, this method offers the researcher the opportunity to wear the garments in and out of the wardrobe. This allows considerable insight into how the garments feels on the body, how it moves and shapes the experience of the wearer and how differing notions of expense and quality can be tactilely experienced. This method joins artefact to researcher slipping one inside the other like two jigsaw pieces to give a bigger picture. These insights can be small from how a particular maker cuts a garment through to practical considerations of movement, temperature control, and how a garment performs in different environments, as well as how the garment shapes other’s perception of the wearer. All the qualitative insights can help to produce a more holistic and rigorous depiction of the garment.

References

Bluteau, J.M. (2021). Legitimising digital anthropology through immersive cohabitation: Becoming an observing participant in a blended digital landscape. Ethnography 22(2): 267-285.

Bluteau, J.M. (2022). Dressing Up: Menswear in the age of Social Media. New York: Berghahn.

Luvaas, B., and Eicher, J.B. (2019). The Anthropology of Dress and Fashion: A Reader. London: Bloomsbury.

Miller, D., and Woodward, S. (2012) Blue Jeans: The Art of the Ordinary. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Wacquant, L. (2004). Body and Soul: Notebooks of an Apprentice Boxer. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Fashion and the City

Panel discussion on the role of municipalities in promoting circularity and more sustainable consumption patterns in the fashion sector.

Sustainable fashion is often regarded as an issue of international trade and global issues, disregarding the role of local municipalities in the phenomena of overproduction and overconsumption and their trickle-down effects. Yet many cities around the world have started to think of this challenge and develop innovative mechanisms to reduce the volume of production and overconsumption and support their city’s fashion sector’s transition to sustainability. How can municipalities reduce waste, induce sustainable consumption behaviours in their citizens and promote sustainable choices, and circular business services? Do municipalities that are at the receiving end of fast fashion initiate policies and initiatives to re-address the phenomenon? Can cities impact the fashion industry by changing consumption patterns of their citizens?

UN ALLIANCE WEBINAR February 5th, 2024 14:00 – 17:00 CET

Here in the link to register to the event.

Programme and speakers

Opening remarks Simone Cipriani, Chairperson, UN Alliance for Sustainable Fashion & Chief Technical Advisor, Ethical Fashion Initiative (EFI/ITC)

Introduction Katia Dayan Vladimirova, PhD, Senior lecturer and researcher, University of Geneva

City Cases (10 min each) AMSTERDAM: Dieuwertje de Wagenaar, Senior Policy Officer Circular Textiles, City of Amsterdam. Fashion and textiles in the “Amsterdam Doughnut”: How policy can boost local circular ecosystems. OSLO: Kirsi Laitala, Senior researcher, Oslo Metropolitan University. Key challenges of textile waste and city-level solutions: Case of Oslo. ACCRA: Elizabeth Rickett, Co-founder, The Or Foundation. Textile overwhelm: How Accra City is managing the growing volumes of imported second hand garments and the resulting textile waste through circular practices. GENEVA: Katia Dayan Vladimirova, PhD, Senior lecturer and researcher, University of Geneva. Opportunities to support responsible local fashion consumption: Case of the City of Geneva. CAPE TOWN: Alison Evans, Head: Waste Markets, City of Cape Town. Moving towards circular textiles through Cape Town partnerships. The case of the city of NEW YORK will also be featured.

Discussants (5 min each) Felicity Lammas, Sustainability Manager, Global Fashion Agenda Mohammad Awale, Founder, Rummage Josephine Philips, Founder and CEO, Sojo Matt Dwyer, Product Impact and Innovation Leader, Patagonia Enrica Arena, CEO, Orange Fiber Åsa Degerman, Manager, Once More Q&A

Conclusions ● Gulnara Roll, Head of the Cities Unit, UNEP
Moderation ● Paola Deda, Director, Forests, Land and Housing Division, UNECE

This is an event of the UN Alliance for Sustainable Fashion; organized by ITC Ethical Fashion Initiative, UNECE, UNEP, ICLEI and the University of Geneva.

An Arts Practice Approach to Wardrobe Audits

Author: Wendy Ward, PhD Candidate, Sheffield Hallam University, UK.

Aim & Research Questions

My practice-based PhD titled “Enduring Fashion: Building Sustainable Clothing Practices Through Wearer-Garment Relationships”, uses art and design practice to explore people’s relationships with their clothes. The aim of the study is to investigate how these wearer-garment relationships might be leveraged to reduce the mass over-consumption and under-use that are currently prevalent in fashion.

The work is being guided by the following research questions:

  1. How often do people acquire and discard clothes, how many clothes do they own and how frequently are they used?
  2. What existing relationships do people have with their clothes?
  3. Can people be encouraged to develop an enduring relationship with their clothes?
  4. How do wearer-garment relationships impact clothing longevity and consumption?

Context

Fashion’s impact on people and planet has been known for the last three decades, but we seem to have become immune to the scale of our actions even when presented with the evidence and if anything things are getting worse, not better (Coscieme et al., 2022). It is clear that a change in approach is needed towards something more hopeful, relatable and empowering (UNEP, 2023).

Sustainability in fashion is reliant on individual behaviour and there is little point in designing a low impact, durable, recyclable garment if nobody wants to wear, keep and love it. This connection and relationship between people and clothes, which motivates the want to wear, keep and love is at the core of my work and I believe could be key to driving sustainable clothing practices.

I am inspired by the work of Richardson et al. (2015) on Nature Connectedness to inform my ideas about interactions with, and connections to, clothing and am using data visualization techniques to incorporate this into my creative practice.  My work is grounded in a grass-roots approach to sustainability in fashion described by Alice Payne as “rewilding” (Payne, 2019), and a particular influence on my approach is Amy Twigger Holroyd’s Fashion Fictions research project that offered participants the chance to speculate on new social and cultural norms in clothing practices through deep material engagements with clothes.

Method

I am at the start of my research: one third into a part-time programme of study so the ‘method-in-progress’ I will describe has so far only been practiced on myself.

The Wardrobe Audit has been used successfully in academic research and described in detail in the original Opening Up the Wardrobe book. This practice is beginning to be adopted by the wider public, perhaps thanks to recent developments in AI and the growing use of self-tracking in all aspects of our lives leading to a growing interest in wardrobe logging and tracking apps. In my work I explore the possibilities of using a more analogue and creative approach to the Wardrobe Audit.

Wardrobe Audit Visualisation. Photo: Wendy Ward

I began by auditing my own wardrobe and recording the results on a spreadsheet.

I found that the Information on a spreadsheet was too easy to ignore (especially when involved in daily clothing rituals of getting dressed and acquiring/disposing of clothes).  I decided to represent the data in my spreadsheet in a more visual, but abstract way using needle and thread directly onto a garment. The resulting data visualization is a surface decoration which appears abstract to viewers and whose true meaning is known only to me.

I update my original audit at the end of each season and create a fresh visualization of the data.  This led me to develop a similar method for logging and tracking my ongoing daily wearing habits. This method involves adding a stitch to garments from my wardrobe on each day that they are worn. Over time stitches gather on well-worn garments and are absent or minimal on less or never worn garments, resulting in a very visible and tangible way for me to confront my daily wearing habits over time.

Analogue Wear Tracking – Stitched direct onto garment. Photo: Wendy Ward

My study has been ethically approved and I am currently recruiting participants for the collaborative phase.  Informed by recent reports from WRAP and the Hot or Cool Institute identifying which demographic has the biggest impact on the planet in terms of fashion consumption, I am targeting the top 20% of earners in the UK who shop for clothes more than once a month.

As my study is practice-based and qualitative in nature, all data produced will be analysed using reflexive thematic analysis.

Early Insights

A strong sense of ritual and mindfulness is emerging from these tracking and auditing practices that I have now incorporated into my daily life. I am more aware of the extent of my wardrobe and how I use it (or not) and I am much more mindful of acquiring new clothes and how to discard those I no longer want to keep.

Analogue Wear Tracking – Stitched onto separate label. Photo: Wendy Ward

In early experimental workshops with volunteers while developing my method it emerged that experiential/sensory ways of researching clothing can expose gaps in existing knowledge.  One such example is knowing what to do with clothing considered unfit for donation to charity; some of the volunteers I worked with had resorted to putting these clothes into the general waste bin (which in the UK is destined only for either landfill or incineration).

I hope that the results from my PhD can contribute towards improving the communication of the need for behaviour change around fashion consumption and clothing use, and ultimately provide some new tools for citizens to reassess the value of their clothing. 

References:

Coscieme, L., Akenji, L., Latva-Hakuni, E., Vladimirova, K., Niinimäki, K., Henninger, C., Joyner-Martinez, C., Nielsen, K., Iran, S. and D ́Itria, E. (2022). Unfit, Unfair, Unfashionable: Resizing Fashion for a Fair Consumption Space. Hot or Cool Institute, Berlin.

Payne, A. (2019). Fashion Futuring in the Anthropocene: Sustainable Fashion as “Taming” and “Rewilding”. Fashion Theory, 23:1. 5-23.

Richardson, M., Hallam, J. & Lumber, R. (2015). One Thousand Good Things in Nature: Aspects of Nearby Nature Associated with Improved Connection to Nature. Environmental Values, 24(5), 603–619.

Twigger Holroyd, A. (n.d.). About. Retrieved January 10, 2024, from https://fashionfictions.org/about/

United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), & United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (2023). The Sustainable Fashion Communication Playbook – Shifting the narrative: A Guide to Aligning Fashion Communication to the 1.5-Degree Climate Target and Wider Sustainability Goals. https://wedocs.unep.org/20.500.11822/42819.

Fashionscapes for Transformation: EU addresses plastification and a just transition

The main point made during EcoAge and MEP Alessandra Moretti’s joint event in the EU Parliament was to link the increased plastification in the fashion sector with social injustice upstream and downstream in the value-chain.

Livia Firth, founder of EcoAge and moderator of Fashionscapes for Transformation, has relentlessly these last months hammered in the point that these are two sides of the same problem at several high-profile events, namely the massive overproduction of apparel. No less for the second time in the EU Parliament.

The mix of speakers and participants was impressive, with representatives both old and young, from industry and research, as well as political heavy-weights, and voices both from the Global South and North. The voices heard during the event were diverse, but unison in their messaging: The massive overproduction, based on cheap synthetics, cannot continue. This has even sunk in with the policy-makers, who echoed the same concerns in well-prepared speeches, in line with Commissioner Virginijus Sinkevičius key-note, stating “fast fashion must become past fashion”.

SIFO’s Ingun Grimstad Klepp, who had been – together with Irene Maldini – a speaker at the last EcoAge event in the Parliament, had no official role in Fashionscapes; however, Livia Firth asked her intervention after the panel had presented and discussed multiple aspects related to social issues missing from the Textile Strategy, and what instruments could encourage deplastifying. The much-repeated idea that quality or durability are the silver-bullet that will instantly degrow the sector was, however, debunked by Klepp. But before getting to this, let us dive into the proceedings.

MEP Beatrice Covassi in the foreground. Right before Ingun Klepp (seated to her right behind) was asked to intervene.

It was to be sure, an intense two-hour wake-up call, related to EU’s Textile strategy and Green Transition. MEP Alessandra Moretti, as hostess of the event and key note speaker Commissioner Virginijus Sinkevičius both high-lighted how ambitious these plans are, and had many good points in what they brought forward. Where disagreement surfaced, was around fiber-to-fiber recycling of synthetics – presented as a potential for a thriving new European industrial bonanza. As several pointed out, this will only increase the use of synthetics, continue to bring down prices and result in even more microplastics. As China produces 95% of today’s synthetics, why should they sit back and see Europe take over the market? That is not how market economics work. This is a blind alley, or as we say in Norwegian ‘believing in Santa Claus’, as several in the audience reiterated.

The main theme was divesting the fashion industry of its fossil fuel reliance, of course also in the fiber area, with waste colonialism and degradation of nature in the global south to satisfy the constant craving for newness in the global north, resulting in massive overproduction. This is of course based on fossil fuel input, but as just pointed at, recycling the same material is not the answer.

Livia Firth, MEP Alessandra Moretti, Commisioner Virginijus Sinkevičius, Simon Giuliani from Candiani Denim and CEO Laurence Tubiana, European Climate Foundation (ECF).

“This shows how the issues cannot be dealt with in isolation, but we need to look at them more holistically than is currently done in the 16 (or more) legislative pieces forthcoming from the EU,” was echoed by several participants after the meeting.

Laurence Tubiana, CEO of European Climate Foundation, who was the last speaker on the panel, claimed she was rather shocked that social issues are not better integrated into the Textile strategy where 80% of the work-force, we were told, is female and does not receive a living wage. However, these workers are also the ones facing the brunt of climate change, toxic chemicals in the soils and waterways, alongside being at the receiving end of our textile waste.

“Children in Ghana grow up not knowing what the ground looks like, as it covered with a permanent layer of textile waste,” Matteo Ward, Co-Founder of Wrad Living, told the audience. He was echoed by Yayra Aghofah, Founder of The Revival in Ghana who pointed out that they have to pay for this same waste that pollutes their environment and that will eventually end up as microplastics. This sad fate, several came back to.

MEP Beatrice Covassi immediately followed up Ingun Klepp’s intervention, requested by Livia Firth, Yayra Aghofah, founder of The Revival, online, in the background.

Black Friday was also a theme, as Yayra Aghofah suggested that they would be inundated with the results of this frenzy very soon, so action is needed now, not in 2026 or 2030. This, of course, underpins the need of immediately labelling season and year products go to market, so that Duration of Service can be captured when the items go into the diverse waste streams. Panelist Paola Migliorini from DG Environment claimed the EU “is helpless in regulating Black Friday”; ignoring that there are ways to legislate or counter-act such market forces with so obviously devastating outcomes. However, it was positive that overproduction had such a central place in the proceedings, both related to how they tie in with the plastification of fashion and with waste colonialism.

During the panel discussion, Livia Firth used the phrase “the Plastic Elephant in the Room” referring to the very back-bone of the fast fashion industry, synthetic fibers and their exponential growth, giving a nod to Consumption Research Norway’s recent report The Plastic Elephant: Overproduction and synthetic fibres in sustainable textile strategies.

Three from the audience were asked to intervene at the end, the first was Urska Trunk from Changing Markets Foundation, talking about the source for polyester for several fashion companies is still Russian oil.

Ingun Klepp, MEP Alessandra Moretti, and to the far right MEP Beatrice Covassi. The woman in the middle of th MEP-bouquet we haven’t yet identified…

Then Ingun Klepp was asked to comment on ‘quality’, and she explained how the only information consumers receive is price, and this isn’t necessarily directly related to quality. She then went on to say that with the EU’s strategy focusing on durability, plastics will win. This in light of the reality that people do not discard textiles because they are ‘used up’, and this is the problem facing the Global South and receivers such as The Revival. Especially as there is more and more polyester, and will be more, and these materials, when exported to the Global South rather than incinerated, will eventually end up as microplastics.

This was immediately picked up by MEP Beatrice Covassi, who clearly was frustrated with the fact that the consumer has so little information about the products available and thus struggles to make good choices, and wanted to applaud professor Klepp’s input.

The last person, who was asked to comment, was Nicholas Rochat, Founder of the plastic-free sportsbrand Mover, who said that with more recycled polyester – even fiber to fiber – will only contribute to more microplastics. He described being in the mountains at 2000 meters, and still encountering microplastics, and no longer being able to eat fish, as they are contaminated.

But the main take-away was that the Commission seems to have a belief that all the 16 plus different policy instruments will ‘even everything out’, but the reality is that they are in danger of making things worse in tandem, actually promoting synthetics, if the focus on durability continues alongside eco-modulating fees based on weight.

As the participants filed out, one of them sidled over to Klepp and said, simply: “Norway, douze points”.

Wardrobe study of clothing and other textiles going out of use from Norwegian households

Author: Anna Schytte Sigaard, PhD Student, Consumption Research Norway (SIFO), Oslo Metropolitan University.

Aims and objectives

The wardrobe studies method has been a central part of my PhD project entitled “Want Not, Waste Not: A wardrobe study approach to minimizing textile waste from Norwegian households”. The aim of the project is to create knowledge about the disposal part of the consumption phase of textiles in Norwegian households by collecting and analyzing textiles going out of use to find out how and why people get rid of clothing and other textiles and what they get rid of. A comprehensive mapping of disposed textiles has been carried out to gain knowledge about the technical composition and history of the individual textile. The topic has been explored through the following research questions:

  • What do discarded textiles from Norwegian households consist of?
  • How and why are textiles disposed of from the households?
  • What value do people attach to their used textiles, and how does this affect disposal?

The theoretical framework is based on practice theory which has been used as a point of departure for carrying out wardrobe studies as a research method, and for understanding and analyzing data from fieldwork.

Context

The issue of textile disposal holds significant environmental implications, as waste creation poses a major challenge within the textile and clothing industry. Existing perspectives commonly attribute waste creation to production inefficiencies or place responsibility solely on the consumer. However, these perspectives fail to acknowledge the interconnectedness of the various processes and practices that constitute everyday life. Disposal should not be regarded as an undesirable byproduct, but rather as a crucial and integral part of the consumption process, encompassing social, ethical, and performative aspects. In the context of textiles, understanding consumers’ disposal behavior becomes essential, as they hold the power to determine how and when textiles are discarded. This directly impacts the lifespan of textiles, the amount of waste generated, as well as the potential for reuse and recycling. In my project, disposal refers to the act of getting rid of something regardless of whether it is discarded as waste, delivered to recycling, donated to clothing collectors, given to friends or family, etc. An important contribution of this project is to deepen the understanding of an important, yet neglected area of consumption research, namely why we get rid of the things we no longer want.

Method

The data material in this project consists of wardrobe interviews, fieldnotes and textile registrations. In total, 82 interviews were carried out with 28 households from three parts of Norway: Oslo (11), Vestfold (9) and Salten (8). A total of 73 people of different ages participated in the project. The households were recruited strategically with the intention of obtaining a diverse group of participants to cover as wide a range of perspectives as possible. Therefore, participants of different ages and genders living in both urban and rural areas have been included as well as different types of dwellings. Residing in a bigger or smaller residence affects how much can be stored which may decrease or increase the number of textiles leaving the household. Data collection was carried out during one year starting from October 2021 and ending in October 2022 and comprised a six month participation period for each participant.

A start-up interview lasting maximum one hour was carried out with each household at the beginning of the participation period. The following six months, participants collected all textile items that would have otherwise left the households. Textile items included everything made of fabric such as clothing and shoes, household textiles such as linen, towels, cloths, and equipment such as bags, packaging, and toys. Larger furniture and textile installations, such as fixed carpets, were excluded. After three and six months, at-home wardrobe studies interviews were carried out. The duration of these interviews depended on how much had been collected by the participants and lasted anywhere between 20 minutes and up to three hours. Interviews were centered around the textile items collected by the participants and usually took place in the living room, kitchen, or on the porch in the participants home. We would look at, touch, and sometimes smell each item individually and lay them out on a table or the ground in front of us while the participants answered questions about how long they had had the item, how much they had used it, how they had used it, if they had made any repairs or alterations, how they acquired it, and why they were disposing of it.

A total of 3556 pieces were collected. The textile items were tagged with a letter reference to the household it came from and number (for example A1, A2, A3 etc.) during the interviews in the order in which they were brought up by the participant. After the interview, all textile items were brought back for analysis and information about each piece was registered in Excel together with information from the interviews. The following information was registered for each piece individually (when available): type of textile, weight, brand, color, print, fiber content, number of fibers, construction, recommended wash temperature, ecolabelling, general condition, holes, broken seam, color change, shrinkage/shape change, pilling, felting, and repairs/alterations. In addition, each textile item was photographed after registration.

Stories from wardrobe interviews

Wardrobe interviews were based on what the participants had collected and differed therefore in length as well as content. Below are three examples from interviews of how centering the conversation around the physical items provide meaningful and interesting narratives and insights. Quotes have been translated from Norwegian.

Maria, 38
Item: kitchen towel and microfiber cloth (see image)

“I can’t get rid of the smell on them. This is an old kitchen towel from my grandmother. I took it when she passed away 15 years ago but it has become a little worn. I have used it a lot before, but I got some new ones for Christmas. [The cloth] doesn’t work so well anymore. It doesn’t absorb anything. I have had it a long time, probably for many years, so it’s old. I have used it quite a bit. Now I just want to get rid of it. It smells!”

Maria insisted that I did not bring the cloth back with me for registrations since it was so dirty and smelly. Instead, she threw it into the bin in her kitchen before we continued the interview.

The dirty kitchen rag. Photo: Anna Schytte Sigaard

Freda, 65
Item: sweatpants

“And then the cozy pants go. They have been used quite a bit, but I hate them. I think it’s absolutely terrible to walk around in them and I just don’t want them anymore. I broke my back 13 years ago and I had problems moving and putting on clothes so I asked my husband to go buy a pair of sweatpants because I didn’t have any, I’m not a sweatpants person, but I had to have something that I could just pull up, so he bought them for me. It’s nice to wear something like that to relax, so I have used it but not that much. It has been [visibly] washed and used after all. They were bought for medical reasons and I’m getting rid of them for medical reasons. I have to have pants where I can feel if I’m getting fat and you don’t in those kinds.”

Kasper, 33
Item: pants

“They are all worn out. You can almost see through them, so I’m not allowed to use them anymore. They have simply expired. And they have also ripped in the bottom. I have used them a lot, I managed to use them for at least two years, but they have been lying around for a while now. But I used them almost daily. They are very comfortable. I have really worn it to pieces. It was my gaming pants so it has been sat in a lot. I also used it for working out in the beginning. That was okay as well, just a little warm.»

Results

The project is still ongoing, but some preliminary results based on the quantitative data material have already been identified:

  • Most of the collected textiles were clothing and shoes (see graph below).
  • The largest category of collected clothing in percentage of number was children’s clothing followed by sock. When looking at percentage of weight, however, the largest category was bottoms (jeans, shorts, skirts etc.) and thin tops.
  • Almost a third (32%) of the collected were in very good condition (like new or with only minor changes) (see graph).
  • The most common damage was pilling followed by holes, color change, stains and shrinkage. The least common were broken seams and broken parts.

More results are available in the report “Want not, waste not: Preliminary findings” (see link below). Moving forward, the qualitative interview data will be analyzed. I will be looking into why clothing and textiles that are not broken or damages have been disposed of by focusing on the practices were consumption of clothing and textiles form an integral part.

Percentages for clothing and shoes (81%), household textiles (11%), other (8%)
Condition of items analyzed, from not usable (15%) up to “like new” (8%).

Insights

The contribution of wardrobe studies in the effort to minimize textile waste, is to create an understanding of the relationship between the individual textile item and the larger material context. As it includes the technical characteristics of the textiles along with knowledge about the owner’s social life including the practices involved, the method creates an understanding with a specific focus on the material element of social practices. In this way, it deals with the interconnectedness between how something is talked about and the material item itself. The purpose of including the physical element into the interview situation is to tap into the participants’ sensory relationship with the items. The aim of having participants engage physically with the items was to elicit memories about acquisition and use through the sensory elements which is difficult to obtain through the typical conversational interviews.  

Publications from project

Sigaard, A. S. (2023). Want Not, Waste Not: Preliminary findings. Retrieve here.
Sigaard, A. S., & Laitala, K. (2023). Natural and sustainable? Consumers’ textile fiber preferences. Fibers, 11(2). Retrieve here.

Unravelling neurodivergent sensory experiences with clothing

Author: Maureen Selina Laverty, PhD Candidate, NTNU, Trondheim, Norway.

Aim

Wardrobe studies have formed an integral part of my PhD research entitled Sensory Nourishment. I collaborate with people who are neurodivergent: people on the autism spectrum, people with ADHD, people who experience the sensations in our environments at amplified, and often unbearable levels. This can have a profound impact on their well-being, disabling their interactions with the world around them. As a fashion designer I am concerned with the sensory inputs from our closest environment, our clothing. My objective with the wardrobe studies has been to identify neurodivergent individuals’ clothing triggers and glimmers.

Background

One participant described her body as “being too porous so too many of the wrong sensations get through. This leads to sensory overwhelm which is exhausting to process and very distressing for my body” (Anna, 36). The author Katherine May, who herself is on the autism spectrum, writes about sensations “that scream so loud that you want to retreat”. And how she “inhabit(s) a body that simply stops responding when it reaches its point of overwhelm.” (May, 2018) On the flipside, another informant explained that “with heightened sensitivities, the reward is high. When the sensory input is right, it is wonderful!” (Eva, 55).

Context

My adoption of a wardrobe methodology was inspired by an encounter I had with Herman, an autistic teenage boy. When visiting his home, I laid out the early prototypes for a knitted textile I was developing. He screwed up his face and pushed them away. He left the room. Sometime later Herman returned with his mother’s cashmere sweater. His eyes lit up as he pressed it against his cheek. He placed the sweater in my hands and said, “I want it to feel like this”. I visited Herman several times and we developed a very fluid dialogue through tangible objects that he would collect for me to feel. This encounter completely shifted my way of working as a designer. Rather than projecting my solutions onto a user, I saw the importance of being guided by their lived experiences and learning through the objects they surround themselves with in order to live well.

Wardrobe study in a home Photographer: Anders Myklebust

Recruitment

Over the last two years I have interviewed a further 70 neurodivergent informants. For some it is simply a quick chat. For others it has been a series of intensive meetings spanning a couple of years; our collaborative dialogue and articulation of sensory experiences sharpening with each rendezvous. The informants range from non-verbal children to active teenagers, to young professionals, to a factory worker and a diplomat in their 60s. They are all in mainstream education or full-time employment. The wardrobes I examine are situated mainly in Northern Europe: physically, culturally, and climatically.

Adaptation of methodology

I use the term wardrobe both literally and metaphorically (Klepp & Bjerck, 2014). My intention was to visit each participant’s physical wardrobe in their home. For most participants that has been the case. However, for some it felt too intimate. So, they packed up the contents of their wardrobes into shopping bags and brought them to nearby cafes. For a few, the loud background sounds of a cafe were too overwhelming, so they let me rummage through their drawers in the privacy of their work offices. I embraced every opportunity for a wardrobe study, even unpacking the contents of someone’s suitcase at a conference. Covid-19 restrictions meant that sometimes there was a computer screen partitioning me from the wardrobe. The adaptability of the wardrobe methodology was key, in particular with participants who are non-verbal or have communication challenges. The red thread through each adaptation was a sensory ethnographic approach that was “not so much to study other people’s sensory values and behaviours, but to collaborate with them to explore and identify these.” (Pink, 2009)

Stories from meetings with wardrobes

Stine, 26, Researcher 
Study Location: Community project & her home

Stine anticipated some knee and hip flexing as we shovelled the ground so some stretch in the trousers was essential. She also anticipated that the ground might be abrasive. Toughness was therefore an equally important characteristic to ease of movement. She had settled on a pair of jeans with a little elastic content. However, she now regretted that decision as the hardware from the waistband was digging into her abdomen as she loaded stones from the ground into a wheelbarrow. Her trousers restricted this bending action by tightening the fabric across her obliques. This particular sensation is a daily obstacle for Stine. It can become so overwhelming that she cannot concentrate on anything else. Over several meet-ups, in Stine’s home, we refined the description of this sensation as akin to that of a stranger slowly sliding their hand around your waist. The sensation approaches from behind. You can’t quite process it until it’s too late. Physically you feel restricted. Emotionally you feel violated. Socially you don’t want to cause a scene.

Left: Stine climbing trees in her jeans
Right: Laila choreographing with her snowsuit
Photographer: Anders Myklebust

Laila, 4, Barnehagebarn (Kindergarten-kid)
Study Location: Her parent’s apartment

As Laila’s mother led me inside, Laila started to scream and cry. She lay down on the floor, clinging on with determination. Growing tired, Laila wandered off. Her mother nudged my gaze towards the porch. Laila pulled the snowsuit up over her legs and let it rest at her waist. She put her right arm inside a padded sleeve, and then her left. She shrugged it up over her shoulders. Ever so slowly and with great attention she pulled up the zipper with her tiny hands. She then pulled the hood over her head and sighed. As she blocked out the room the crying stopped, the incessant movement subsided, the screaming ceased. Then Laila reversed these actions. The snowsuit was around her ankles once again. She repeated the dressing actions. Then the undressing. Again, again and again.

Tom, 38, Innovation Manager
Study Location: Many cafés

Given the snowstorm outside, it was quite peculiar to be greeted by a bottle of sunscreen placed in the middle of our table. Tom explained that he thought it would be helpful to begin with an abstract of sorts, an executive summary of his sensory dislikes. These were embodied in the bottle of sunscreen: perfumed smell, coldness, slimy texture, someone else must touch you to put it on your back. From under the table, Tom pulled out his comfort shirt from a shopping bag. He let me take it home so I could live with it. Its synthetic fibres and overlocked seams contradicted every other participant’s preference so far. The others exclusively wore natural fibres, covered up thick seams and cut out every label.

Some weeks later, Tom and I met so I could return the shirt. He had kept notes on a new tweed blazer he had bought. Standing in front of the mirror in the store, he had concluded that it fitted his body perfectly. Across the back there was an ease of movement, and the cut was flattering. It projected the confidence of the character he wanted to inhabit at Monday’s presentation. However, on Monday morning, the blazer inhabited him. Tom is very animated with his arms as he presents. The blazer was catching on the top of his inner arm. A catching that restricted him physically and distracted him mentally. This catching made a sound. The longer he wore the jacket the smell of the fabric became more potent. “I couldn’t find a way to decode the experience, it was eating me up, it was almost animalistic, like an animal on my back with the sound and the smell and the restriction to my arms.”

Tom’s sunscreen and comfort shirt Photographer: Anders Myklebust

Examples of insights

  • Cheap construction, as a result of fast fashion, is one of the main culprits for sensory overwhelm: synthetic fibres, roughly overlocked seams, careless labelling, restrictive cuts.
  • Natural fibres are overwhelmingly preferred because of tactility, smell, sound, and thermal regulation. However, tactile perception, preferences and vernacular vary between participants. For some cashmere is a “soft” fabric. For others cashmere has small hairy fibres that cling to the skin. Such participants describe a smooth shirting cotton as “soft”.
  • Dominant fashion design practices are traditionally visual and static in their conception of clothing (Skjold, 2018). The wardrobe studies allowed me to see clothing as an act of dressing, a practice of wearing, a series of dynamic actions. This has shifted the moving body to the forefront of my design process.
  • The potential for movement facilitates a physical freedom that is inextricably linked to emotional freedom: freedom of choice, freedom from judgement, freedom to move through the day free from distractions and restrictions.
  • Comfort is more than simply soft materials or a lack of constraint. It is being able to comfort yourself at times of great discomfort. It is being comfortable with how you are socially presented: “the embedded meanings so implied, can be a source of ease and calm – or its reverse.” (Twigg, 2010)
  • Clothing has the potential to activate pleasant sensory stimulation that overrides or dampens problematic sensory inputs from other sources. 

Outcomes

The analysis of these wardrobe studies will be published in my PhD monograph (anticipated in 2024). A second component to my PhD is the translation of this analysis into my design practice. Currently I am working with three participants to create a garment each by designing out the depleting sensory inputs and indulging the sensations that nourish. The anticipated result is a series of iterative prototypes whose contribution is less about the final product and more about a way of working. Ethnography is no longer confined to defining design needs. I am now integrating applied ethnography within my design process.

The project has also received innovation funding from NTNU Discovery with the ambition of embedding the wardrobe study insights within the fashion industry by advising companies on more considered approaches to how we craft sensory experiences in terms of design, manufacturing, and shopping.

References

Klepp, I.G. and Bjerck, M. (2014) A Methodological Approach to the Materiality of Clothing: Wardrobe Studies. International Journal of Social Research Methodology, 17(4), pp. 373-386.

May, K. (2018) The Electricity of Every Living Thing. London: Trapeze.

Pink, S. (2009) Doing Sensory Ethnography. 1st edn. London: SAGE Publications Inc.

Skjold, E. (2018) Making sense of dress: On sensory perspectives of wardrobe research. Artifact: Journal of Design Practice, 5(1), pp. 4.1-4.15.

Twigg, J. (2010) Clothing and dementia: A neglected dimension? Journal of Aging Studies, 24(4), pp. 223-230.