Wardrobe Methods webinar opens up the field

On 17th April 2024, UCRF (Union of Concerned Researchers in Fashion) hosted a Wardrobe Methods Event in conjunction with the CHANGE research project to explore a way of researching the contents and dynamics of wardrobes.

78 had registered for the event, and 41 attended the webinar on Wardrobe Methods, which is about the use phase in the lives of clothing and the practices that go on there. This has long been seen as a way to break apart the monolithic understanding of ‘use’ and ‘consumption’ that industry and sustainability initiatives often promote. In the attendees at the live meeting, at least 15 different mother tongues spoken: Spanish, Ukrainian, Russian, Dutch, Hungarian, English, Portuguese, Swiss German, Danish, Turkish, Hindi, Italian, German, Polish, Norwegian.

The event hosted by Professor Kate Fletcher and Karishma Kelsey from the UCRF Board was facilitated by a talk from Professor Ingun Grimstad Klepp which gave a round-up of the history of the set of methods, along with current uses, also in policy-work. Here Klepp briefly touched on the new method developed by Consumption Research Norway SIFO called Waste Audit Interviews. This is part of SIFO’s ongoing work on addressing the short-comings of EU’s Textile Strategy, where ‘durability’ and ‘repairability’ are seen as the beacons of a long life for apparel.

The event’s goal was to explore ways to extend wardrobe methods further, including in more diverse ways. The talk was followed by a lively discussion and breakout-sessions. See the whole webinar by clicking here.

The discussions raised many intriguing propositions and development for Wardrobe Methods, a selection from the break-out rooms is summarized here:

  • Using wardrobe methods to help show the variety of understandings about key terminology related to textile qualities and descriptions, e.g. ‘quality’.
  • Potential ethnographic study of indigenous Mayan textile artisans in Guatemala, who traditionally weave their own capsule wardrobe but now supplement it with western clothing items.
  • Using wardrobe studies to investigate ageing and clothing. Look at how the studies can be a guide and pathway to other ways of being. 
  • Taking a lifecycle perspective: look at the wardrobe as history. 
  • Deploying wardrobe methods to investigate identity and identity change: for example, gender, sexuality, everyday life, menopause, pregnancy, biopolitics and non-conforming men.
  • Investigating how digital apps can go beyond quantification of wardrobe – learn about user preferences, emotional durability, reasons for why clothes fall out of use.
  • Exploring the assumption that fit translates into longevity of use.
  • Using wardrobe methods as a way to create behaviour change – increasing engagement and awareness among people for example in power positions and politics.
  • Qualitative and quantitative data are important. Using hybrid wardrobe methods to investigate items sent for repair or taken to clothing swaps at work places, are good ways to follow their story and give valuable data for the use phase. 
  • Awareness raising power of wardrobe studies, how can we use wardrobe studies in developing new business methods that are not growth oriented? 
  • Comparing with post-Soviet countries, specifically in smaller villages in the country-side to open up bigger cultural context.

The participants were encouraged to contribute with their own related research, and we are looking forward to seeing these and adding them to the Wardrobe Studies Library.

Feedback delivered on ESPR 1st milestone

EU’s Joint Research Center (JRC) has asked for contributions to the survey ‘Comments to the working document: Preparatory study on textiles for product policy instruments – 1st milestone‘. During March 18th – 19th, the JRC and registered stakeholders attended the online consultation about the 1st milestone of the preparatory study on textile products.

This is the second contribution related to ESPR (Ecodesign for Sustainable Products Regulation), and our first contribution can be accessed by clicking here.

The consultation process is meant to enable the JRC to improve the work under development and the exchange with registered stakeholders aims to:

–          verify the work done to date, and

–          collect additional evidence on the investigated topics.

Throughout the whole process, registered stakeholders are invited to provide evidence relevant within the framework of the preparatory study for textile products. Consumption Research Norway has therefore risen to the task, and our contribution can be accessed and downloaded here.

As part of the team working on this, Tone Tobiasson also delivered a separate comment via email to JRC directly, which can be accessed by clicking here.

TPR gets some serious airplay

Volumes, policy measures and Targeted Producer Responsibility all fitted into discussions the week before Easter, where some of us jumped back and forth between Webex, Zoom and Teams, recordings and live webinars. The take-aways are that several policy tools are mired in antiquated ideas that seriously need updating from research, and that the conversations around volumes and sufficiency are what actually can drive change.

STICA’s Climate Action Week coincided with intense webinars from EU’s Joint Research Center on ESPR’s stakeholder review and also PEFCR for apparel and footwear’s open hearing, presented by the Technical Secretariate’s lead. Yes, it was dizzying, but most importantly, Targeted Producer Responsibility and questions surrounding how EU actually plans to address the issue of volumes and degrowing the sector did got airplay.

Kerli Kant Hvass, who is one of our Wasted Textiles partners, presented Targeted Producer Responsibility during the session on the obstacles facing new circular business models during STICA’s Climate Action Week, hosted by Michael Schragger from Sustainable Fashion Academy and lead for Scandinavian Textile Initiative for Climate Action (STICA). In the session Circular Business Models Are Critical for Climate Action – So What Is Preventing Them from Becoming Mainstream? she explained the concept, and continued her argument during the panel discussion towards the end:

“Focusing on the product and assuming this will result in sustainability has serious limitations. Instead, collecting data in the waste streams, and establishing if a product has been used for half a year or for ten years, actually establishing its duration of service (DoS), can give the database for modulating fees.”

TPR got nods

We noticed that Maria Rincon-Lievana, from the EU Commission and DG ENV nodded a lot when Kerli repeated this. Sarah Gray from UK’s WRAP, who is wrapping up a PhD on to what degree circular business models actually have climate and environmental impact, wholeheartedly backed Kerli’s call for dating products in order to gain data on the actual DoS of products for comprehensive LCAs.  

Sadly Paola Migliorini, also from DG ENV, did not hear when Luca Boniolo from Environmental Coalition on Standards (ECOS) said the following in the session on The Legislative Race Is On: Legislation & Regulation in the European Union (we can only hope she reheard the entire session later):

“Labelling regulation presents an opportunity (…) for instance introducing the production date on the label (…) we can know how long the product has been circulated at the end of life. If we do waste audits, we can estimate the DoS to understand was it used to 10 years or was it used for two weeks and then it was discarded and it can also support consumers in knowing that they have the right of a legal guarantee from the purchase date of two years during which if the product fails under normal circumstances, they have the right of it being repaired for free.”

He said much of the same during the session on Sufficiency, To Green-growth, Overconsumption & Degrowth: Can Sufficient Emissions Reductions Be Achieved in the Current Paradigm?

“EPR can for instance be based on how long the product was on the market based on waste audits and the date of production, and thus we can modulate who will have to pay a higher fee. We need to incentivize the reduction of the volumes placed on the market.”

This is the whole idea behind TPR, and even if Luca did not specifically mention TPR, he was voicing the principles behind it.

Old-fashioned or not fit for purpose, or both?

So, what is old-fashioned about the approach the policy-makers are taking? What are the tools that are not fit for purpose?

As it was ESPR and PEFCR we were lectured on the same week, the following thoughts arise.

ESPR (Ecodesign for Sustainable Product Regulation) clearly is based on the faulty assumption that 80% of a product’s environmental impact is decided in the design phase. So, it is intertwined with predicting for example durability, repairability, recyclability and thereby assuming DoS. The problem is, as SIFO research shows, only one-third of textile products or apparel go out of use because they are used up, so if ESPR is going to eco-modulate EPR fees (which seems to be the idea) this will be based on pure guess-work, or what could be more diplomatically called predictions.

TPR suggests the opposite, building the eco-modulation on what becomes waste prematurely and modulated ‘against’ what captures value in the new business models, as Kerli so well described in her presentation.

The hen or the egg?

For PEFCR (Product Environmental Category Rules) the problem is that they are meant to underpin ESPR, but JRC have actually not decided if they are fit for purpose, they said as much in their presentation. So, currently PEF seems to be in limbo, perhaps only fit for Green Claims (Baptiste Carriere-Pradal said as much in his presentation, but also hinting that ESPR would have to use PEF).

PEF is not aiming to be a consumer-facing label, only a set of 16 “frankenproducts” (12 for apparel, four for footwear) which you as a company can compare your product to, and say if your product is “greener” than the “frankenproduct” based on very strict LCA parameters. The data-base that these parameters are resting on, have serious data issue, and may be why France when presenting their “amost-PEF-compatible” label, have taken out one of them (physical durability), In addition, France also is not making GHG emissions the most important parameter – counting for 1/4th of the ‘score’, which PEF currently does.

The main problem, though, is understanding. Consumers understanding what and why.

Simply: In ESPR there is a demand for recycled content, and this is heavily stressed. During the sessions, I asked simply “why?” and presented the latest IVL report with a 1.3% climate reduction for large-scale recycling in the EU. What also surfaced during the week was that only 11% of EU’s population want recycled content. So, win-win or lose-lose to demand recycled content?

Apparel for real life or for bureaucratic purposes?

The issue then feeds into PEF, and how the scores of the “frankenproducts” actually have meaning when talking about real life. Why are stockings, socks and leggings the same “frankenproduct”? What are sweaters actually – when we all know they differ enormously and also their function. It seems, in the end, that everything is a desktop solution for real life actualities.

Having good clothes that are fit for purpose, not apparel that fit policy purposes, should be the goal. They will be used the longest and deliver on DoS. Using ESPR, with PEF as the underpinning logic, will not at all help either the environment, climate change or Europe’s consumers.

So, all in all, listening to the STICA webinar, so well organized by Michael Schragger, gives better insight on where we need to go, than both the JRC organized webinar (which sadly is not publicly available even if it was recorded) and the PEFCR webinar (which can actually be accessed), put together. EU still needs to get their heads around that it’s not at the product level, but at the systems level, that change needs to happen. Let’s hope STICA gave them food for thought.

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.


  • 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.


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

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”.

Unravelling neurodivergent sensory experiences with clothing

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


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.


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).


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


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. 


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.


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.

Removing the silk gloves and pulling a (historic) punch

Wardrobe and Climate was the over-arching theme for a CHANGE event at the Norwegian Folk Museum in Oslo: how we can convey historical knowledge about resource thinking, crafts and wardrobe joy in the museum’s costume collections. An academic hybrid conference morphed into a hands-on evening.

“How did they do it?” was the big question posed during the hybrid seminar during the day, where around 25 attended in person and the same number joined us virtually; and where Ingun Grimstad Klepp and Ingrid Haugsrud, both from Consumption Research Norway (SIFO) at Oslo Metropolitan University, spoke about two forthcoming papers. These are: Variety in dress: Norwegian and Swedish clothing 1780-1880, co-authored by Bjørn Sverre Hol Haugen, Marie Ulväng, Pernilla Rasmussen, Ingun Grimstad Klepp and Ingrid Haugsrud, and Towards a closet full of clothes, but nothing to wear: Wardrobe planning regimes in women’s weekly magazines 1908-2023.Here the authors are Ingrid Haugsrud, Ingun Grimstad Klepp and Vilde Haugrønning.

Ingrid Haugsrud presented findings from Norway’s oldest women’s magazine.

The headline was “Unused resources for CHANGE: Fashion, history and sustainability”, and the question was why does history matter? Why do we need to talk about historical practices in the discussion around the environmental impact of textiles and clothing? asked Professor Ingun Grimstad Klepp, before she then went into how dress-practices from Norway and Sweden during the 100-year period spanning from 1780 till 1880, could offer clues to variety without excessive wastefulness. The red thread being that when we have less clothes, we take much better care of them and assign them high value.

This was followed by Ingrid Haugsrud speaking about “A closet full of clothes, but nothing to wear. Wardrobe planning in Norwegian weekly magazines 1908-2023”, where her analysis of three time-periods in the history of Norway’s oldest surviving women’s magazine which is KK (Kvinner og klær), that started out as Nordisk Mønstertidning. The three main themes that emerged for early 1900s, 1970s and 2020s were: Making do with what one had and at the same time creating variety, mix and match wardrobes (creating an illusion of having more than one actually does) and finally “the capsule wardrobe” and cleaning out/ridding oneself of unused things. The latter having led to a waste colonialism issue in the global south as an unforeseen problem.

Else Skjold led the panel, engaging both the physical and the digital audience.

After the two talks speakers were done, they were joined in a panel by Bjørn Sverre Hol Haugen, Marie Ulväng and Pernilla Rasmussen, monitored by Else Skjold. Here Marie Ulväng pointed out that in the 19th century, a household-budget for apparel was as much as 1/4th of the total. Which is a far cry from today’s share.

Later the same day, many of the participants joined others for a hands-on behind-the-scenes deep-diving into old wardrobes and textile know-how. Participants guessed what materials were hidden in jars based only on how they felt to touch, and also the weight of two garments, an old wool skirt which had belonged to Åse Roe from Tinn in Norway and a silk dress woven in the 1750s, with several reincarnations in the 1800 and 1900s.

Hands-on research: Is it silk, viscose or…?

The audience was also invited to talk about their own wardrobes and clothes with Ingun and Ingrid in what evolved as a deep-dive in a theme that was brought forward during the hybrid seminar: a need for a better language about our wardrobes and what makes them sustainable. Watch and listen to the hybrid webinar by clicking here

Engaged participants discussing with Ingun and Ingrid.


The Plastic Elephant tramples into the international conference room

The opening session at the Natural Fiber Connect conference in Biella, Italy at the very end of September, put the increasingly frequently mentioned elephant in the room center stage, namely overproduction and the plasticization that characterizes the textile industry.

The fact that the Italian Minister of the Environment opened the conference with a video greeting testifies to how important the textile industry is to the Italians, and not least how seriously they take the environmental problems that the same industry stands for. But in contrast to the industry as a whole, they have a great understanding that production, and particularly of synthetic materials, must be reduced considerably – which means more expensive textiles and more focus on natural fibres. This is music to the ears of the Italian industry, but also to natural fiber representatives who had gathered in Biella: cashmere, alpaca, wool, cotton and silk producers from farm level up to spinning mills, weaving mills and other industries.

Weighting the environmental burden

The key note speech was given by Veronica Bates-Kassatly. In contrast to Make The Label Count’s approach, which is currently persistently arguing that more parameters must be included in EU’s PEFCR, such as biodegradability, microplastics and renewability; Bates-Kassatly had the opposite approach. She believes that greenhouse gas emissions must be weighted much more (i.e. CO2 emissions in her argument), and that many of the 16 parameters that the EU’s Joint Research Center has decided should be included should be cut out or weighted much less. This includes water use and land use, two things which turns out to be unfortunate for natural fibres, but where the differences are large on a global basis so that average figures make very little sense. For example, a Norwegian sheep on open pasture will use huge areas of land to produce a few kilograms of wool, and this counts negatively.

Stand to increase plastics rather than decrease

A recent report from SIFO, the Plastic Elephant, followed Bates-Kassatly’s key note and the silk industry’s strong criticism of the data base for Higg and PEF (silk comes out as the worst fibre). The main message in the SIFO report is that a review of policy instruments, strategies from the industry and NGOs shows that to a very small extent they consider what can be done to reduce the volumes and not least to reduce the large increase over the last 40 years in synthetic materials and fast fashion. When the EU’s Textile Strategy wants to make “fast fashion out of fashion”, none of the tools in the toolbox are sufficient and, if anything, they will increase plasticisation. The report explains why, and the audience at the conference nodded their heads tellingly when the reasoning was explained.

The fact that the audience laughed out loud and applauded when the actual background for the Plastic Elephant report was presented at the start was, of course, liberating. This meant taking the audience back to the Copenhagen Fashion Summit in 2017, where the first Pulse report postulated that consumers must be persuaded to prefer synthetics to cotton; and where EcoAge’s Livia Firth asked H&M’s Helena Helmersson: “Why do you have to produce so much and constantly push new collections on consumers?” Helmersson replied that they are only doing what consumers want, to which Firth replied: “My children want sugar every single day, but do I give it to them? No.” The laughter resounded and a huge applause followed.

“Sugar” became the word of the day

The rest of the day, “sugar” was the word repeated over again, as equivalent with unhealthy consumption, and related to synthetics. Which means deplastification – also in the textile sector – may finally be on the agenda. To watch the whole morning session, go to this LinkedIn link. The Plastic Elephant report is easy to find here.

Ecodesign position paper: Textiles and footwear

In a position paper from the Change and Wasted Textile projects, authors Kate Fletcher, Irene Maldini, Ingun Grimstad Klepp, Kirsi Laitala, Jens Måge and Tone Skårdal Tobiasson have addressed the background document from EU’s Joint Research Centre on Ecodesign for Sustainable Products Regulation (ESPR).

The main theme in the position paper, is that the JRC document Preliminary study on new product priorities lays the basis to increase environmental burdens rather than reduce these. Therefore, in the paper, the authors ask that the work with the ESPR incorporates more empirical understanding about ecodesign, clothing consumption, and textile and fashion design. This in order that the directive will have the effect of reduced environmental burdens (including on climate) and will minimize inappropriate or unintended side effects.

The aim in writing the paper is to support the ESPR process for textiles and footwear in fostering deep and lasting environmental change.

The authors applaud the efforts of the EU in regulating the textile and footwear sector and agree in the priority that has been assigned to clothing and footwear on the bases of high consumption volumes in the EU, potential environmental improvements, and lack of previous regulation. However, it is the view of the authors that the current work with the Ecodesign Directive is based on some assumptions that are not in line with the knowledge that is there, nor is it targeted towards the main and interconnected challenges in clothing and textiles: overproduction and the increasing plasticization of the material content of products.

These two factors are interconnected due to the fact that an increase in production is not possible without the cheap, easily available fossil fuel-based raw material for fibres, materials, dyes and other processing chemicals.

It is therefore questionable whether textiles and footwear should actually be the initial priority for ESPR. Perhaps starting with cement would be better.

Double whammy for Clothing Research

Two articles from Clothing Research at Consumption Research Norway have been accepted by the journal Fibers and are accessible online. The two articles are entitled Reducing plastic: Opportunities and obstacles for coarser wool in consumer goods and Natural and sustainable? Consumers’ textile fiber preferences.

More than half of the team in the Clothing Research group have contributed to these two chapters: Kirsi Laitala, Anna Schytte Sigaard (author on both articles), Lisbeth Løvbak Berg and Ingun Grimstad Klepp – the article on reducing plastics is co-authored with three from the University of Bielsko-Biala. In the first article, findings are presented that show that on a product level, the many inherent properties of wool create opportunities for product development and sustainability improvements, and that using coarser wool represents an opportunity for replacing plastics in many applications. This was done using a SWOT (Strengths-Weaknesses-Opportunities-Threats) analysis of results from a desktop study and interviews with producers of products made from wool, as well as policy documents relating to wool, waste, textiles, and plastic.

The second article looks at synthetic vs. natural fibers, consumer preferences, their view on sustainability and more importantly, consumers’ willingness to degrow their consumption. Interestingly, not only do Norwegian consumers prefer wool, they also believe that wool is the most sustainable choice of fiber, with polyester being the least. This is the exact opposite of what today’s most common measuring tool, the Higg Material Sustainability Index, tells us.

A snap-shot from the Higg MSI ranking of fibers, the higher the number, the less sustainable.

This article also offers proof that perceptions of high sustainability regarding fibers are negatively correlated with reduced consumption: “Our study suggests that a continued focus on material substitution and other technological measures for reducing climate change will impede the move toward sustainability in the textile sector.” The article raises the very pertinent question of how the perspectives of techno- and eco-centrism impact Norwegian consumers’ fiber preferences and perceptions, and how does this, in turn, affect their clothing consumption?

Technocentric or eco-centric?

On the one hand, green growth aims to de-couple growth in the textile industry from a reliance on virgin materials by keeping already-produced materials in circulation for as long as possible. In contrast to this technocentric perspective, the eco-centric degrowth narrative holds at its core ideas such as scarcity, reduced consumption, and lifestyle sacrifices at a time of shrinking resources for the Global North. “The eco-centric approach does not disregard technology but holds that we cannot rely solely on new and better technology. Instead, it focuses primarily on behavior change and argues that a paradigm shift is necessary to transform conventional fashion production and consumption.”

The respondents showed a high preference for natural fibers, especially wool, which was preferred by 72% of them, followed by cotton (63%), alpaca (38%), organic cotton (34%), linen (30%), silk (23%), bamboo viscose (22%), viscose (10%), and, finally, synthetics at the bottom of the scale, with polyester being preferred by only two percent, followed by recycled polyester (2%) and acrylic (1%). All the natural fibers were more popular than the manmade ones, and out of the manmade fibers, the synthetics were least popular, even recycled polyester. Almost half of the respondents said that they avoided polyester (47%) and acrylic (46%), and 35% avoided even recycled polyester.

Rebound effect?

Fiber preference was positively correlated with reduced clothing consumption, so that those who preferred more natural fibers had reduced their clothing consumption more than those who preferred synthetic fibers, which is interesting. This fits with the eco-centric perspective of degrowth and reduced consumption. However, it seems that believing that a fiber is sustainable, negatively affects consumption reduction. An explanation for this could be that if the fibers used to produce clothing are considered sustainable, reducing consumption is not necessary, which gives a rebound effect that could be seen as counter-productive, from an eco-centric perspective.

Therefore, consumers’ willingness to reduce consumption is important and may be weakened if the focus continues to be on fibers and materials, instead of reduced production and consumption. Read the article here (mdpi.com).

The wool-related article, does, to a certain degree, focus on the raw materials, and replacing one raw material (synthetic) with a natural fiber. To investigate the use of coarse wool, mainly from Polish sheep, product groups that do not require the softness of Merino wool were examined. Many of these products are currently made of plastic, mostly in the form of synthetic fibers. In addition, many of them are single-use, such as sanitary products and plant pots, but also sound-absorbing acoustic panels. The study found that making this switch, is dependent on local infrastructure and working small-scale enterprises. A shift to small-scale and local resource utilization requires systemic change on several levels: Here the findings show that policy can incentivize material usage transitions, but that these tools are little employed currently.

Burial urns in felted wool from a Danish company.

As synthetic textiles are an important, but often forgotten part of the increasing plastic waste problem, this article contributes to lift up innovative ideas to reduce our reliance on fossil-based materials. These textiles contain environmental toxins added during the processing of fiber and fabric, and through microfiber shedding synthetic textiles contribute up to 35% of the released microplastics which have been shown to end up in our lungs, oceans, animals, and even placentas.

SWOT analysis

A common factor is a focus on wool utilization as a waste management process and in non-textile products, rather than using the material in high-value textile products. The different aspects related to the coarse wool, were first placed in the SWOT table, then grouped into themes: Properties and product performance, Price and availability, Sustainability, and Regulations and policy. As common in SWOT analysis, one aspect can be both a positive and a negative aspect, e.g., coarser wool being more labor-intensive to use means that it creates more jobs, but at the same time it makes it more costly, as will be examined in the following.

The findings were divided into internal factors, which define the strengths and weaknesses of the internal environment, in this case, the material itself and its value chain directly, and external factors, defining opportunities and threats, that are determined by the external environment operated in, i.e., the overall market and competition. Efforts to utilize and valorize surplus, coarser wool, range from creating wool powders and keratin, fertilizers, substrates for biogas production, regenerating fibers from waste keratin, slug-repelling wool pellets, insulation, water purification to bio-composites.

The lack of focus on surplus wool

As a by-product, the wool to some extent becomes invisible in that the wool is mainly disposed of on the farms directly and therefore does not enter into any formal waste management system. When the EU Strategy for Sustainable and Circular Textiles does not even mention local wool – or the possibilities that wool and other local EU fibers hold – but discusses local solutions solely as future potential recycling plants, this can be challenged through the results shown in this article.  In order to replace more plastic with wool, different types of wool need to be used where they are best suited. This also raises the question of how much under-utilized or surplus wool is actually out there?

In addition, using the coarse wool represents an opportunity to replace particularly problematic plastic products. The study found that several of the examined products are today mainly made of plastic, including the products where plastic cannot be recycled and therefore represent a waste problem. It is unlikely that all such plastic can be replaced by wool, but it is nevertheless important to develop alternatives and at the same time exploit available natural materials: “It is important to remember that the extensive use of plastic is relatively new in human history and that a range of solutions existed before these products invaded the market.”

To read this article, click here (mdpi.com).