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.

New Research Centre in Copenhagen based on wardrobe research

The CHANGE masterclass seminar held at the Royal Danish Academy in Copenhagen September 30th 2022 hosted another interesting occasion. This was the launch of KLOTHING – Centre for Apparel, Textiles & Ecology Research. The first Danish research center on fashion, textiles and sustainability lead by me, Associate Professor, PhD, Else Skjold, who has been central in developing the wardrobe method since the beginning of my PhD study (Skjold, 2014).

Text: Else Skjold/KLOTHING

In CHANGE, I am responsible for the WP5 regarding the continuous recruiting of junior- and senior researchers for further development and consolidation of wardrobe research, and dissemination of new knowledge to both research, industry, and policy makers. With the newly established centre, wardrobe research will have a strong outpost and knowledge hub in Scandinavia to support and strengthen the WP5, the work being conducted at SIFO in Oslo, and the broadening out of wardrobe research altogether. 

The name is a result of the dialogue between myself and professor, PhD Kate Fletcher, who is also part of the CHANGE project, and currently affiliated with the Royal Danish Academy (among others). With the title KLOTHING, the centre is rooted in a Scandinavian context, since the spelling of clothing with a “K” stems from Norse language. The title thereby suggests how research departing from exactly Denmark and Scandinavia might contribute to effecting a CHANGE. Therefore, the founding pillars of the centre are focusing on the core value of the Scandinavian welfare states that everyone should have equal opportunity, which is mirrored in the Scandinavian traditions for user-inclusive and collaborative design that was developed throughout the 20th Century.  

The center is placed at the Royal Danish Academy which covers the Design School, the Architect School and the Conservation School. This implicates that the knowledge production of the center has a basis in the three respective areas of research, artistic development work, and practice. This means that the center will produce knowledge in the shape of both academic writing and research-led design development work at the highest artistic level, thereby testing and validating how a circular and sustainable future might appear in physical design artifacts and prototypes.

KLOTHING is affiliated with the Institute of Architecture and Design that represents the full scale from ceramics to clothing and textiles, and to furniture, interior, and architecture. It is thereby embedded in a research- and education environment strongly affected by the iconic Danish Modern Furniture traditions deriving from the 1950’s and 1960’s, and represented by designers such as Børge Mogensen, Kaare Klint, and Finn Juhl. It is particularly in this modernist movement and its functionalist tradition for investigating user-behavior and -needs and the use properties of design objects for various occasions (i.e. storage for clothing etc.), that there is a strong tie to the CHANGE project and its interest in occasions and categories of clothing designed for specific purposes.

An engaged team studying Danish storage systems with historical roots. From left to right: Irene Maldini, Vilde Haugrønning, Liudmila Aliabeva, Anna Sigaard, Kirsi Laitala, Ingrid Haugsrud, Lisbeth Løvbak Berg and Kerli Kant Hvass. Photo: Tone S. Tobiasson.

These traditions for a sensitivity towards use and use properties of design are interpreted in KLOTHING as an important foundation for restoring the fashion- and textiles sectors’ ability to deliver products of high and long-lasting use value. Going back to the aspirations of the welfare state of providing equal opportunity for everyone, it is obvious that in a current context this will imply a deep sensitivity for various user groups and their needs and aspirations, across gender, race, age and other important parameters that are not recognized in the current fashion system.

It is here that wardrobe research is a key driver for understanding how design creates value in practices of maintenance and use, and in circular services such as resale, rental, re-design, adjustment tailoring and similar. Wardrobe research could be seen as crucial in the years to come, as there is a need for building eco-systems, logistics and new practices for a more circular and sustainable fashion- and textiles sector that is centred on long-time use of resources. Basically, wardrobe research is key because circularity requires skills, practices, understandings, logistics and value systems that are based around use rather than on fashion trends. But the ecosystems political and economic incentives for establishing this do not exist and are complex to build up.

This is why KLOTHING will be tied up to traditions for collaborative design approaches and co-design developed from the 1970’s and onwards in Scandinavia that go well in hand with the cooperative business model represented by large Danish companies such as COOP and Arla. These business models were built on the idea that together we can do more. Typically, they consist of many small enterprises and stakeholders with a shared infrastructure for knowledge-building, know-how and revenue creation. Like a small welfare state within the welfare state. This template for collaborative research means that the center will primarily work action-based and in collaborative settings across sciences and sectors/stakeholders. This work has already started, as KLOTHING is embedded in the politically funded research partnership on circular economy for plastics and textiles affiliated with the Innovation Fund Denmark, TraCE. Here Jesper Richardy is part of the team.

As part of the event-packed day that culminated in the launch of KLOTHING, we also arranged a lunch with NGOs, policy makers, industry organizations and the CHANGE team to discuss issues surrounding the EU’s new textile strategy and greenwashing. Photo: Tone S. Tobiasson.

Ultimately, the ambitions of the CHANGE project of creating an actual impact at more systemic level is also embedded in the ideas behind KLOTHING. This is found in the strong inspiration of the movement propelled by the manifesto of the Nordic Cuisine from 2004. What they basically did was to reject the focus on French cooking tradition that had pushed local produce and culinary practices into almost oblivion. They believed in a much more locally rooted practice that respected natures’ boundaries and seasons. In welfare and balance for both human and non-human species. In elevating local resources and in making them precious through skilled craftmanship at the highest level. All in collaboration between citizens, politicians, researchers, industry, and other stakeholders for the common good.

From the launch. Photo: Johanne Stenstrup

This could seem as a highly protective and inward-looking project. But what happened was that they inspired local craftmanship and resourcefulness – a decentering of what good cuisine was all about – and thereby stimulated tools and supporting philosophy for a more caring and rooted practice together with chefs all around the globe. Just like this movement, KLOTHING seeks to inspire new landscapes of fashion and textiles that are decentered, inclusive and respectful of plural voices and aesthetics, whilst respecting planetary boundaries and principles of biodiversity. This line of thinking was initiated in the master programme that was launched September 2020 at the Royal Danish Academy; Fashion, Clothing & Textiles; New Landscapes for Change.

The hope going forward is to reach out and invite fellow researchers and students from other learning environments, as well as industry partners, policy makers and other stakeholders, in the understanding that no one can make a CHANGE on their own.

Read more here.

Wool you wear it? – woollen garments in Norway and the United Kingdom

Marie Hebrok, Ingun G. Klepp & Joanne Turney

Abstract

This article was developed from the project ‘Valuing Norwegian Wool’ initiated by the Norwegian National Institute for Consumer Research to generate knowledge on how wool can contribute to sustainable textile consumption, and how value creation can be increased in the Norwegian wool industry. The article will compare consumer perceptions, attitudes, practices and knowledge concerning wool as a material and as garments in Norway and in the United Kingdom, through a case study of wardrobes owned by six middle-class families.

The aim is to generate knowledge about the diverse web of aspects that influence consumption of woollen garments. The wardrobe study as a method aims to include the materiality of garments in clothes research in a more direct way. Analysing the materiality in connection with the social and cultural aspects of clothes gives us a better understanding of the relations between materiality and practice.

Click here to read the full article (southampton.ac.uk)

Valuing Norwegian Wool

Marie Hebrok, Ingun Grimstad Klepp, Tone S. Tobiasson, Kirsi Laitala, Marit Vestvik & Madeline Buck

Summary

Wool has been called the white gold and has warmed and brought joy to the Norwegian population throughout history. It is also a textile fibre with many unused features. The starting point of the project Valuing Norwegian Wool is a desire to help Norwegian agriculture, wool based industry, and design to exploit the potential inherent in Norwegian wool as raw material, and in the Norwegian textile tradition. Norway has a thriving textile industry and several strong companies that produce products made of wool. The marketing of the origin of the raw material these products are produced from is however rather inadequate and sometimes misleading. While fewer and fewer of the products are made of Norwegian wool, consumers – not without reason – take it for granted that Norwegian producers use Norwegian wool.

The project is funded by the Norwegian Research Council and led by SIFO. The project partners include representatives from the entire value chain – from agricultural organizations, industry and commerce, and design and consumption. This report is one of many publications in the project and makes visible the challenges that exist in the value chain, but also the great potential that is there.

Click here to read the full report (oda.oslomet.no)