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.
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.
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.
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
“Will I have to change my sheep?” was the first question Piotr Kohut had asked when the Center for Regional Produce in Koniaków was asked to be a partner in the Woolum bilateral project financed by Norway grants. The respect for keeping the sheep happy prevailed, and the project has amazing results, including a high-hanging award that recognized this as a ‘project for the future’.
The change from the first time the Woolume-team visited Koniaków, was marked. The products were more varied and more professionally displayed, and the optimism for the future virtually popped out of the walls. “We now know that what we have here for sale, also the wool, is 100% from our sheep. It has been a struggle, but now we are confident that we can deliver on this,” said Maria Kohut, who has been a powerhouse in the project.
It was the Beskid mountains that was the setting for the end-seminar, and through the network of Norway-grant projects (including the Portuguese hiWool project and the Polish craft school from Zamek Cieszyn), the plus-factor of meeting across disciplines and projects was exponential. As an end-exercise for the seminar, the Norwegian partners arranged a workshop on knowledge-transfer and ways forward, which garnered enthusiasm and ideas for further projects and cooperation, also with countries that so far have not – in a wool context – been blessed with Norway grant funding. Slovakia being one and long-overdue.
There were more ‘hands-on’ workshops as well, related to the local lace-tradition that met us in every window in the small town, and even painted in large scale on house-walls. Maria Kohut’s take was to transfer this traditionally very delicate technique to wool and thus other applications.
When it came to applications, though, the whole work around fertilizing the soil with wool, using wool that has no use in other areas as mats and pellets for gardens, pots, city roofs, deserted open sores in the landscape from mining – the list seemed endless and so promising that any urban planner or someone trying to restore landscapes should be inspired. A visit to a local upstart company reinforced the impression: This area for development will be a major force in the future use of problematic wool that is currently burned, including shavings from skin and leather tanning.
Using wool for its best purposes rather than manipulating the market, the breeds or other things that compromise the well-being of the sheep was a recurring theme, and a major learning point from both earlier Norwegian wool projects and Woolume. The detailed testing from the Estonian-Norwegian bilateral project underpinned this (also under Norway grants), and there is now a comprehensive database to back this on all in all six sheep breeds. Much of the research in Woolume has also centered around the ‘best use’, so these two projects have major cross-pollination.
Revisiting the whole backdrop for the Woolume project, but also the local very dense and complicated history which in the past had delivered a rich cultural and economically viable industry that had made marks internationally, brings forward a lot of things to discuss in the light of EU’s textile strategy. The tapestry of history, economy and cultural elements that have shaped this for better or worse, is further described in Local, Slow and Sustainable Fashion: Wool as a Fabric for Change.
With pride, Jan Broda who has led the project successfully for three years, told the conference that Woolume has been awarded a major Laureate prize, more specifically the Polish Smart Development Awardin the category “Project of the Future”, from the Polish Intelligent Development Forum Foundation, Center for Intelligent Development. This is the reason cited for the prize: “for the achievements of the project, which may result in a positive impact on social and economic development. The award is granted for an open approach to promotion and communication with society, in order to present the importance of the benefits resulting from the implemented solution, and an attitude focused on actively maintaining a positive and interesting image of Polish science and research and development works.” Bravo!
The ethical issues are often discussed separate from environmental issues, it is high time they are discussed in the same room. Therefore, a huge thanks to EcoAge who arranged an important roundtable, and in the Parliament in Brussels, with the heading Calling for a fair phase-out of fossil fuels from the fashion industry.
Livia Firth, founder of EcoAge, introduced and moderated the roundtable. The will to find a common solution for the two issues was the most important element in the meeting, namely a just transition and the phasing out of the over-reliance on synthetics or fossil fuels in fashion. This was manifested with an alternation between people who worked in the different fields and with different ways in to the themes on the agenda. The seminar’s first two presentations were both from the Global south, Betterman Simidi Musaia and Yayra Agbofah, from Ghana and Kenya, virtual presentations that so obviously show the necessity of talking about a plastic reduction, and system change towards more global justice as one and the same. It was very clear from their talks that the environmental and health consequences are grotesque in the countries who receive our unwanted clothes and footwear.
While the fashion industry is heavily reliant on fossil fuels for energy and transport, what is less known is that most of the clothes we wear are also made from oil and gas. Synthetic fiber production uses the equivalent amount of oil per year as the entirety of Spain, and polyester production alone produces the equivalent of 180 coal-fired power-stations annually. What is more, synthetic fibers and plastics are emerging as the fossil fuel industry’s cash-cow – accounting for up 95% of future growth in demand for oil.
There is broad agreement and many good perspectives that the change we need is a systemic change and not a change of individual products. The systems perspective combines the need for change with a global equality perspective, and the need for reduction in quantity and plastification.
The presentation from SIFO was the one that most directly included a criticism of the EU strategy. Irene Maldini explained why the durability discourse falls short for clothing, by referring to research on clothing consumption as a system. This is based on Irene’s own work with clothing consumption and the ongoing work in Change. Ingun Klepp took over the baton by presenting the findings in Plastic Elephant (link here), with an emphasis on how the EU strategy’s emphasis on improvements at product level supports plastification and avoids addressing the main problem: Quantity. In conclusion, she explained how it is possible through regulation to target quantity, and used TPR (link to Targeted Producer Responsibility here) as an example of this. For all good regulation, knowledge is needed. It is therefore urgent to understand the problems better and develop methods suitable for this.
Through the EU’s focus on material durability (synthetics are stronger, and durability leads to accumulation if production volumes are not addressed), weight (synthetics are much lighter) and recyclability (plastics are easier to recycle, and recyclability promotes monomaterials, hence more plastics used), among others.
Many of the participants contacted Maldini and Klepp afterwards, saying that the focus they had was something they had not seen before, with the “proof” that focusing on durability, recyclability and other parameters the EU Textile Strategy does, will increase the amount of synthetics rather than reduce the influx. Also, other aspects of EU policy that is very much ignored in the Textile Strategy was also mentioned – how lack of a holistic approach is problematic. If we are to have “good clothes”, policy really needs to address the right issues.
Saskia Bricmont, MEP, who is Member of the Group of the Greens/European Free Alliance and the event sponsor, was clearly very engaged in the theme and it will be interesting to see how this can be brought forward in the EU.
Using waste as a resource for knowledge seems like an important way to go, and at Waste Norway’s seminar on October 23rd (link to event here), the latest we know about waste will be presented, from Svalbard in the north and of course also from other parts of Europe.
The scientific article Sound Absorption of Tufted Carpets Produced from Coarse Wool of Mountain Sheep has been published in Journal of Natural Fibers. The article is co-authored by Jan Broda, Katarzyna Kobiela-Mendrek, Marcin Bączek, Monika Rom and Ingvild Espelien, and is an important contribution to the study of wool’s properties.
As part of the ongoing research in the WOOLUME project, looking at good utilization of coarse Polish mountain wool, is an important exploration. Tufting is a technique with cut and loop piles and to which degree this technique used on coarse wool can contribute to sound absorbing properties is interesting to study.
Some tufting history
Wool from Polish mountain sheep is coarse, highly differentiated both in thickness and length and contains a significant content of medullated fibers and kemp. Despite its poor characteristics, the wool can be used for the production of rag yarns fit for pile carpets with tufting technique. The carpets possess acceptable sound absorbing capacity comparable to other similar products obtained from other wool types, which is dependent on both pile types and their parameters.
The hand tufting technique was invented at the end of the nineteenth century in Dalton (Georgia, USA) where it was first applied for handicraft production of bedspreads, mats, and bathrobes. The technique involves stitching the yarn into the backing fabric to create a loop, cut, or mixed piles. Loop piles are formed when the yarn inserted is caught by loopers and pulled through the backing to a set length. Cut piles are formed by cutting the piles at their maximum length, with blades operating in tandem with the loopers. In the 1930s, a modified single-needle commercial sewing machine was adopted for tufting. The machine enabled tufting of thick yarn into muslin without tearing the fabric and was coupled with a knife to cut the loops.
In the next few years, tufting machines with four, then eight, twenty-four, or more needles enabling the formation of parallel rows were constructed. Machines were introduced to the industrial practice, which soon resulted in the rapid growth of the mechanized tufting industry. After the second world war, in the 1950s, tufting machines were getting more and more common and were equipped with several hundred needles to stitch hundreds of pile yarn rows. In the next years, tufting dominated carpet manufacturing. It is estimated that nowadays, tufting is a common technique widely used for the production of 90% of the carpets available in the market. The introduction of the tufting technique on a large scale coincided with the development of new synthetic fibers. Application of these fibers significantly accelerated the growth of carpet production. The new yarns, continuous filament nylon yarns in particular, provided good quality and high durability of carpets at a relatively low price, out-performing wool as the raw-material with a much cheaper price point.
Wool carpets used as floor coverings and interior decorations offer additional considerable advantages in terms of thermal insulation and heat balance in buildings. Moreover, such carpets are highly effective in controlling indoor noise and reducing the reverberation of sound. Carpets are some of the most versatile sound-absorbing materials which absorb both airwave sounds and reduce surface noise generation. Additionally, carpets reduce the impact of sound transmission between stories in multi-storied buildings.
In our previous studies, the acoustic performance of felt and fabrics manufactured from Polish mountain sheep wool was analyzed. The investigations showed that the wool of mountain sheep, which is often disregarded and treated as a waste product of sheep husbandry, is a valuable raw material that can be used to produce carpets and panels with good sound-absorbing properties. The paper presents the results of further studies on the utilization of coarse wool obtained from mountain sheep to produce rag yarns suitable for the production of pile carpets with the tufting technique. During this investigation, the raw wool and yarns were characterized in detail, and the possibility of using yarns in the tufting technique was explored. Then, the sound absorption capacity and transmission loss of the obtained materials in relation to the type of piles, pile height, and density were analyzed.
Conclusion: Apart from their decorative function, carpets produced from Polish mountain sheep wool with the tufting technique can serve as valuable sound absorbing material to lessen noise, reduce reverberation, and improve the acoustic comfort of the room.
Access to the full article is provided in this link.
This research was funded by the Norway Grant titled “Polish sheep wool for improved resource utilisation and value creation.” NOR/POLNOR/WOOLUME/0007/2019
It turns out that Polish mountain sheep wool can be successfully used as a nitrogen-rich, organic fertilizer in organic farming. This enables utilization of coarse wool, which is not suitable for textile processing, to be used and lead to zero-waste from wool shearing.
“Utilisation of waste wool from mountain sheep as fertiliser in winter wheat cultivation” is the title of an study from the University of Bielsko-Biala published in the Journal of Natural Fibers, Volume 20 Issue 2. Authors are all part of the WOOLUME project, Jan Broda, Monika Rom, Andrzej Gawlowski and Katarzyna Kobiela-Mendrek.
Coarse wool obtained from mountain sheep has low economic value and is treated as a troublesome by-product of sheep farming. To find ways to utilize it, wool deemed as waste was separated from the better-quality wool during sheep shearing, and used in experiments as a fertilizer in winter wheat cultivation.
During the preliminary tests, it was found that un-scoured wool did not contain excessive amounts of heavy metals or environmentally problematic contaminations, and could therefor safely be used as fertilizer. After this was established, the raw wool was cut into shorter segments and mixed with the soil, and how this influenced winter wheat growth was examined during two seasons.
Simultaneously, the progress of wool biodegradation and the nitrogen content in the soil were analyzed. It was found that, during the growth period, nitrogen compounds are slowly released into the ground, and the content of nitrogen in the soil was closely correlated with the progress of wool biodegradation.
Released nitrogen thus positively impacts wheat growth in various stages, which is manifested by higher tillering degree, more intense leaf color, higher stems and finally, greater yield. Wool added into the soil reveals its positive influence on wheat development up to two harvests. Mountain sheep wool can be successfully used as a nitrogen-rich, organic fertilizer in organic farming. This enables utilization of coarse wool, which is not suitable for textile processing, according to the zero-waste strategy.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
Lisbeth Løvbak Berg, Ingun Grimstad Klepp, Anna Schytte Sigaard, Jan Broda, Monika Rom and Katarzyna Kobiela-Mendrek.
Production and use of plastic products have drastically increased during the past decades and their environmental impacts are increasingly spotlighted. At the same time, coarse wool, a by-product of meat and dairy production, goes largely unexploited in the EU. This paper asks why more coarse wool is not used in consumer goods, such as acoustic and sound-absorbing products, garden products, and sanitary products. This is answered through a SWOT analysis of results from a desktop study and interviews with producers of these products made from wool, as well as policy documents relating to wool, waste, textiles, and plastic. Findings show that on a product level, the many inherent properties of wool create opportunities for product development and sustainability improvements and that using the coarser wool represents an opportunity for replacing plastics in many applications as well as for innovation. This is, however, dependent on local infrastructure and small-scale enterprises, but as such, it creates opportunities for local value chains, value creation, and safeguarding of local heritage. The 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.
Fashion met cultural history in the project VikingGold, and the two were woven together into a beautiful wool fabric, that found its way to museum exhibits and Norwegian national tv as the most sustainable fabric of the future.
During the annual event Oslo Runway, the Norwegian actress Iselin Shumba debuted as a catwalk model on a runway set up in a factory deep in the Norwegian forests close to the Swedish border. By chance I was at the event. By chance I was wearing the Oleana jacket I had worn on Norwegian national TV for the episode of Norway’s Sewing Bee (Symesterskapet) when Iselin Shumba was the “client” who wanted a jacket or coat she could wear on chilly days when she does her weekly “sit in for the climate” in front of the Parliament building in Oslo. She wanted the fabric to be “the most sustainable possible”, which was why the Norwegian national TV had called me. I’ll come back to that.
Let’s unravel the threads back in time and explore what fascinates people with the fabric.
The story starts with the project Valuing Norwegian Wool, led by Consumption Research Norway, before they became part of Oslo Metropolitan University, and financed by the Norwegian Research Council. One of the aims of the project was to explore a label of origin for Norwegian wool. “Norwool” had been trademarked by a Swedish company, an American outerwear company had done the same with “Norwegian Wool”. In addition, a Norwegian yarn company selling cheap Chinese-spun wool of uncertain origin called their product Viking Yarn.
To our big surprise, we discovered that one of the sponsors of the British-based Campaign for Wool was “Viking Wool of Norway.” The label was even owned by a subsidiary of the Norwegian farmers’ coop, Nortura. Why hadn’t they as project-partners informed us? The truth was rather obvious. The label was ugly as sin. It had been developed in the UK to sell carpet-wool, and as such, worked well. But for wool textiles and fashion? Curtis Wool Direct, who had developed the “Viking Wool of Norway” label, did everything in their power to launch it in Norway, including enlisting now King Charles, then the Prince of Wales, but Nortura put their foot down. Luckily.
However, this resulted in an idea, when the opportunity arose to apply for funding from KreaNord, a fund under the auspices of the Nordic Council of Ministers for cultural projects. What if we lifted up the cultural textile heritage from the Vikings, looking at the Viking women’s role in this trader and explorer culture, later explored by Michele Hayeur Smith in “The Valkyries’ Loom: The Archeology of Cloth Production and Female Power in the Atlantic”? Read more about this book here. This was the historic beauty and heritage we highlighted in the application, and which won the funding. We decided to call the project VikingGold.
In the project there were several partners: Consumption Research Norway (Oslo Metropolitan University), the Museum of Cultural History (University of Oslo), Nordic Initiative Clean & Ethical Fashion, and the Norwegian Fashion Institute, who took the lead. The project lasted from the autumn of 2013 until the autumn of 2015. However, VikingGold had long-term impact that was hard to envision from the outset.
Important for the project was to create meeting points for historical expertise, raw material suppliers, and the finished goods industry and designers. These represented people and groups who had not earlier cooperated. Representatives from the industry and designers got access to historical archives and got to see preserved textiles from the Viking age, and gain knowledge about the Vikings’ clothing and textile production. Marianne Vedeler, the archaeologist in the project, was simultaneously working on a reconstruction of the tunic from Lendbreen, Norway’s oldest garment from around year 300 AD, and we chose this as a starting-point. The tunic is about 500 years older than the Viking age, but diamond twill, the weaving-pattern, was widely used in the Viking age as well. The selected tunic was thoroughly examined and well documented, and this made it possible for us to be able to show both a reconstruction (described here) and our industrially produced fabric at the same time. Our collaborators, from sheep farmers to designers, were involved in the decision-making process and the discussions themselves, and were important for enhancing competence and understanding of what compromises must be made when a historical material is to be produced in a modern way.
We had to choose a breed living in Norway today. For the reconstruction, Old Norwegian (Gammelnorsk) sheep wool were used, while the VikingGold project used Old Norse Spæl and Modern Spæl (short-tailed) to get two different shades. Ingvild Espelien at Selbu Spinning Mill took responsibility for the collection of the 200 kilos of wool from two local herds and it was also she who sorted the wool into two shades and cleaned it, and also separated some of the coarser guard hairs out of the fleeces.
Half of the wool was sent to Hillesvåg Woolen Mill, to spin the weft yarn. Selbu Spinning Mill spun the warp yarn, and both were spun with a z twist, though the warp was a little looser spun. The thickness of the yarn corresponded to 6 nm, as 7 nm was on the border of what the machines could spin. This may appear as a minor detail, however the trade-off between being closest to the original yarn in the tunic, and getting a good raw-material with the wool and the technology we have today, was important.
Ingvild sent the warp yarn first to Krivi Vev, and in order for the yarn in the weft to be as compatible as possible, it was weighed before Hillesvåg started their spinning. No one at Krivi Vev had seen the original fabric, and worked from drawings and pictures in order to set up the pattern and density. A characteristic of older textiles is often a lack of symmetry in the patterns. Krivi Vev chose to clean up the pattern a little, and also chose to distribute darker and lighter portions evenly in the weave to counteract clear stripe patterns. The yarn initially seemed more difficult to weave than it actually was. The actual weaving of the 200 meters therefore went quickly and easily. See how it went here.
Krivi Vev has no finishing facilities at Tingvoll, and usually sends their fabrics to Sweden for these types of processes. However, Sjølingstad Woolen Mill museum (which is part of the Vest-Agder museum) assumed responsibility for the last finishing, and although the fabric was a bit too wide for their machine, this went well. We chose a very simple and easy finish, although some of the designers had requested a felted, waulked or fulled fabric (see below for how this will now be resolved). For anyone who had seen the fabric before and after treatment, it was striking how much softer and smoother the finished fabric was than when it was newly woven.
Parallel to the actual fabric production, a design competition was announced for a select group of Norwegian and Icelandic designers – and the invited sketches were then exhibited as part of Ta det personlig (Take it personally) exhibition at the Historical Museum in Oslo, where both the original Lendbre tunics, the reconstruction of the tunic and VikingGold were presented with sketches from five Norwegian and two Icelandic designers.
Among these, we picked out three who got several meters of fabric and sewed outfits that were shown during the Oslo Wool Day in 2015 (Sissel Strand, Connie Riiser Berger and Elisabeth Stray Pedersen). These were also shown at an exhibition at the Coastal Museum in Florø (Exhibit Tradition and trend: Norwegian wool in all times).
In addition, two designers have designed specific items, using the fabric: Malin Håvarstein and Rebeca Herlung, alongside Kim Holte, who received the material and has dyed it blue for her Viking re-enactment, and both Ingun Klepp and Ingvild Espelien have sewn dresses using the fabric.
Krivi Vev has woven a similar fabric afterwards with ordinary crossbred wool, and designer Marianne Mørck made a collection using this material. Also, the furniture producer Nuen has made a series of chairs with this same fabric. They have adopted a fibershed approach, which means they source their materials within a given radius. Read more about Fibershed here.
After the project ended, there was still rolls of the fabric left over. The question remained what to do with these. During 2020, I was contacted by the Norwegian national broadcaster, NRK, who had the production rights for the British reality-concept Sewing Bee. They had decided that the focus for the up-coming season would be sustainability, and one of the episodes would look at the ‘most sustainable fabric of the future’. They clearly envisioned a ‘new-gen’ material, and wondered if perhaps fungi or waste from agriculture could be the feed-stock for such a material. They had already tried to get hold of materials, but had failed miserably. My suggestion was to use the VikingGold left-overs. And to turn the story-telling around into a new discourse that said “how the most sustainable fabric is not science-fiction, but rather reinventing the past”.
NRK loved the twist.
So, a few months later, I found myself on the set, explaining to the contestants, the three celebrities hosting the show and ‘the client’ Iselin Shumba about the sheep, the wool, the process and the fabric – and why it is the epitome of sustainability. All the contestants received a material-piece in order to trial sewing, as some of the designers we had worked with the material, said it did take some getting used to and offered some resistance. When the show aired a year later, the fantastic results rolled across the tv-screen and the winning coat/jacket was chosen by the Shumba, who posted pictures of her wearing it over and over again on Instagram. Which, of course, made it even more sustainable. However, how happy she was with the result I didn’t hear before much later, when she debuted as a catwalk-model a year later.
During a conference at Selbu Spinning mill in October 2022, an American student from Rauland Academy for Traditonal Art and Folk Music, presented work with fulling (or waulking) textiles with old techniques. We decided rather on a whim, to send him 10 meters of the VikingGold material to experiment with. He will be doing both “foot-fulling” and a trial with a wooden box he has reconstructed from old instructions, and document this for further research. So far he has reported that the VikingGold material offered much resistance to be fulled.
As we round up this story, how Iselin Shumba has chosen to use social media to promote climate change, to make a cultural sustainability aspect the main story – is stellar.
In the middle of Advent 2022, Vilde, Kirsi and Ingun traveled to Uruguay. Irene was already there with her family, and the trip was well planned in collaboration with Irene, who lives in Portugal, but is from Uruguay, and Lucrecia who works in Montevideo. Part of the background for the trip was the testing of the wardrobe method that had been carried out in Norway, Portugal and Uruguay. This was with good help from students there who also actively participated in a seminar. Text Ingun Grimstad Klepp
Warm reception in a warm country
We spent the first weekend planning the seminar on clothing and the environment which was to take place on Monday and Tuesday, as a collaboration between CHANGE and the local university. On Sunday we went for a long walk in the city where large parts of the streets were filled with a market. Here, most things were for sale, from pets such as rabbits, hamsters and tropical fish, to objects that we would hardly have found a market for in Norway, such as remote controls, parts for electronics, eye glasses, etc. There were some new clothes, mostly of a simpler nature and many used clothes. There was very little textile craftsmanship to be seen with a couple of exceptions of crocheted stuffed animals and toddler clothes.
We also visited various shops for used clothes, both permanent and pop-up shops. The system for reselling clothes was quite different from Norway, where humanitarian organizations’ collection stations are everywhere. There is no public collection of textiles, nor “textile towers” by private humanitarian organizations. In contrast, used clothes are sold in the markets. Some of the clothes that were sold in the second-hand shops were bought at the market and then they were resold somewhat more expensive.
The extensive reuse of most things that we experienced on this first day was confirmed again and again in everything from interiors and buildings to bicycles. We were given various explanations that ranged from a mentality among most people, to politics and economics. Being content with what you have and not always wanting something else and more, was central. Uruguayans are, in their own and others’ eyes, a pragmatic people who are satisfied without a lot, as long as they have their “matte”, the local green tea that is drunk hot everywhere, most carry a thermos under the arm.
Another explanation was that the political investment in sustainability, for example in the form of large-scale conversion to renewable energy, was so central. The last explanation has to do with economics and economic differences. More poverty, and also more difficult economic conditions for the middle class, was repeated by several. That lower costs for labor compared to new products affects the amount that is reused and repaired is almost self-evident, but it was interesting to have several and more complex explanations for the same phenomenon.
CHANGE Seminar at The Faculty of Architecture, Design and Urbanisme FADO
On December 5th and 6th, the Uruguayan partners in the CHANGE project organized a seminar in Montevideo. Prácticas de diseño y consumo de indumentaria: Miradas y acciones hacia un desarrollo sustentable. (Read more in Spanish here.) Some of the project’s researchers from Norway and Portugal exchanged experiences with the local community. The seminar took place at the beautiful building of the Faculty of Architecture, UdelaR, and was organized by Lucrecia de León and Lucía Lopez from the local Industrial Design School.
Just coming to this building was an experience in itself. FADO is one of the sixteen faculties that make up the University of the Republic. The building is from 1948, its headquarters were inaugurated on Artigas Boulevard, in the Rodó Park of the city, it is one of the most characteristic buildings of the city of Montevideo, designed by the architects Román Fresnedo Siri and Mario Muccinelli. They had just completed an extension and we were in a newer part of the faculty. Among other things, apparel was taught – and therefore not fashion as in many design schools. This probably also contributed to the fact that professionally it was easy for us to “find the tone” with teachers and students there.
During the first day, speakers shared local experiences and efforts to reduce the environmental impact of the sector. These included perspectives from the academic, public, and private sector. There were both teachers, students and entrepreneurs among the approx. 50 the audience.
Federico Baráibar from the Ministry of the Environment talked about local data and policies and the lack thereof. As many other places, there is actually not much focus on clothing in environmental politics. He spoke mostly about textile waste in the management and policy of waste in Uruguay. He presented what they know about different types of textile waste. An estimate is 20-30 000 tons of textiles household waste in Uruguay per year. Not surprising, there is more focus on plastic packaging. Compared to other waste streams, textiles as a product group, is small and does not receive particular attention, policies usually emerge based on actual problems. In his opinion, it is difficult for a country in development to let a government interfere in private consumption to reduce consumption and waste production.
In 2019, they had a new policy where they wanted to apply 1000% tax on certain disposable objects, but it was not passed, so they there will be added 180% tax in a law (not yet applied). Tax was also the way import of second-hand textiles was regulated. It is not banned to import second-hand clothes to Uruguay, but just that the taxes paid are the same as for new clothes. We did hear from others several times that only Chile allowed import of used clothing, but it is possible that this was import without tax they then meant. There is doubtless a lot we do not know about the policy for used apparel in Uruguay, South America (and other places), and very interesting that ban is not the only way to restrict and reduce.
Lucía López, EUCD (Institute of Design, University of the Republic Uruguay,) presented her Project #textourgente, which uses textile upcycling and print as a way to activate social change and attitudes towards clothing. Her focus is upcycling as a way to activate the user as opposed to the passive user. She used text printed on clothes as a means to upcycle and generate reflection, in order to help people to wear a previously owned garment with pride. She explained how emotional design depends on the personal approach of the designer and the target group, what is emotional cannot be standards, but must emerge from the community that is engaged.
Sofía Dinello presented her thesis about active life of clothing and emotional design and Gabriela Pintos (FCEA) shared her view about consumer behavior in a circular economy from the perspective of economic theory.
In a second session focused on action, Renata Casanova presented the circular economy program of Ceprodih, an NGO dedicated to support women in a vulnerable social position. They use donated textile in teaching sewing and entrepreneurship. Much of what they work with is reutilization of PVC plastics. This was done in textile workshops, making accessories that they sell through the workshop and collaborate with a network of entrepreneur women in circular economy programs. They work with businesses and hospitals, and the waste they generate. What their partners could not themselves use, was transformed. In this way logos and colors could be kept and used. We visited this company a few days later and had the opportunity to discuss with her. More under Day 2.
Josefina García and Laura Moreira shared their efforts towards circular design in the local denim brand Rotunda, This was ambitious work with creating guidelines for circularity in design with jeans. Based on design and circularity principles from Ellen MacArthur. They emphasize durability: first guideline of denim is to be in perfect condition after 30 washes. Screen print washing instructions on the pockets instead of tags to not lose the information. 80 % of fibres are organic cotton and 20 % is recycled cotton. They emphasize trims, not using the processes that requires chemicals, raw colors of the metals, the latter is hard without changing the look of the jeans. Trying to overcome the things that are associated with jeans, but not necessary. This includes buttons and other things that can be taken off. They had a pilot project with a RFID label with a QR code for information for the consumer stage and forward. Aim is for each item to have a personal code.
Alejando Esperanza presented their rapidly growing resale business VOPERO, an app used for resale of second-hand clothes that look like new. The most surprising with this concept is how it differs from other reuse-apps. Here there is little «ideology», rather an emphasis on volume. VOPERO employs 140 people. They approve about 50% of garments that are sent to them. The remainder is either returned to the owner or donated to local companies, if the owner does not want it back. They add about 1500 new garments to the app each day. Everything they sell must go through a quality check, but the inspection of each item must take less than 30 seconds to be cost-effective. The company does not wash or have time for significant repairs. One of the reasons for not accepting garments is related to smell. He explained that many customers are people that do not normally buy second-hand items but can save a bit of money by selecting things that still look like new. Quality photos of the accepted items is important and the price is about 20-30% lower than a similar new item, so they prefer brands that are recognized.
After his presentation, there was a lively discussion. Many people thought a lot about whether it was right or not to sell only clothes that looked new – as used. There was a great deal of what they received that they did not want to sell and which they then donated further internally in Uruguay. The discussion and the temperature in it were interesting in themselves. Why does this arouse so much opposition? Why must used clothes also be part of a “used” style? It is also a question of whether similar concepts exist elsewhere and whether this will eventually be exported.
During the second day, focused on wardrobe studies as a tool to understand clothing consumption in the context of the environmental crisis, international and local CHANGE researchers shared their past and current research supported by wardrobe methods. These included:
Lucrecia de León (Wardrobe metabolism) presented her Master’s thesis work that was started by analysis of the wardrobe metabolism of two women, herself and another student. Later, the analysis was continued to a larger sample of similar women. 20 women started but only 8 finished. Some findings were that the new clothes were used more frequently and about 10% of items were unused. During the second week, wearing the clothes was planned, and inactive garments from the “RAM memory” were tried to be taken into use. Some garments were not possible to get activated, for example due to size.
Ingun Klepp (Wardrobe studies: History and variations) talked about the history of wardrobe studies as a method and gave examples of different methods that had been used at SIFO.
Kirsi Laitala (Wardrobe audits: Asking people what they don’t know) presented a method for the quantitative version of wardrobe studies, often called wardrobe audit. She introduced some advantages and disadvantages of the method and presented suggestions for improving the quality of collected data. Some examples from the international wardrobe audit were given to illustrate some of the points.
Vilde Haugrønning (Wardrobes in Change: Counting garments based on occasions) gave an overview of the field work she is doing in her PhD.
Irene Maldini (Assessing the impact of sustainable design strategies through wardrobe methods) held a lecture that many design school would find highly useful.
The next session was dedicated to Wardrobe methods in Uruguay, which included both already carried out studies, and plans.
Micaela Cazot, Lucrecia de León and Valentina Viñoles talked about the work with the pilot for CHANGE in Uruguay. Micaela Cazot and Lía Fernández (Identifying good practices of use: Reflections on the consumption of Slow Fashion in Uruguay) explored the plan for field work among people who themselves define their consumption as sustainable. The two were concerned with the wardrobe method’s possibilities also for self-reflection. Finally, Valentina Viñoles spoke about plus-size women’s wardrobe (Analysis of the coexistence between functional requirements, personal identity and social expectations).
The rest of the day was organized as a workshop with tables set up, where we could all choose different topics for discussion. This worked very well, despite the fact that talking together took time due to the different language skills we possessed. Spanish and English had to be translated back and forth constantly. But with a good mood and will, important topics such as politics and clothing for deviant bodies, and the development of wardrobe studies in Uruguay, were lively discussed.
This event contributes to the professionalization of wardrobe methods internationally, a central objective of the project, more specifically its work package 4. Students and junior researchers shared their experiences and initiatives using wardrobe methods, and more experienced researchers reflected on recent developments in methodological approaches and opportunities for future studies in the context of the growing social relevance of clothing consumption’s environmental impact.
Book presentation in an artisanal market
In the evening we participated in a book presentation at “Ideas +” a popular artisanal market that takes place every December in Montevideo. It also has a book launch every day, and some local music. There was a presentation of one of our colleagues’ work “Atinando al ojo del ciclope. La remanufactura y otros modos de accionar nuestras prácticas del vestir”. A well-organized market with books, arts and crafts and much more in one, of the city’s central parks. On the outskirts, there were also more unorganized markets. After the presentation, we got to see a bit of everything, and again the lack of textile craftsmanship struck us.
Locally produced textiles from many Latin American countries are dominated by indigenous woven and embroidered colorful clothing. In Uruguay, there is no knowledge of, or traces of, those who lived there before European colonization. It was said that they all died of disease.
Visit to Manos de Uruguay
Wednesday 7th: Manos del Uruguay is a non-profit social organization that since 1968 has given work to women artisans in rural areas of Uruguay. In Manos garments are designed and woven, mainly from wool yarns, for the local market and for prestigious international clothing brands.
Their premises are located in Montevideo, where they have workshops and offices. A lot of work is put into developing new products, as well as controlling the quality of their products, training and administration. There was a large number of different products, both yarn types and woven textiles. The yarn was mainly Merino. It was seen as a problem that there was no major spinning mill in Uruguay. Much of the yarn was hand spun, and some imported. A part of it had a curled-up look almost like unraveled yarns. This produced soft and airy woven textiles. Much of the yarn was hand dyed. We were told that they wanted to produce yarns from coarser, local breeds. The market, especially for hand knitting yarn, was very good, according to our tour guide.
The main product is a simple poncho and the most sold is undyed white. The market for this was both in Uruguay through the companies, but also for export. In addition, they sold to luxury brands as part of their profile. This market was growing and had also changed a bit. Today, companies were more interested in making it clear to customers who was behind the production. Manus de Uruguay added not only to the craft itself, but also confidence in the product.
The market for the products is good. What was a problem, however, was knowledge of crafts in younger generations and also access to suitable looms and yarns. After the tour, we visited one of the shops in the center of town where there was both a sale of leftovers, etc. and a more ordinary shop.
CEPRODIH is a non-profit civil association, founded in Montevideo in 1998, with the mission of assisting and promoting the most vulnerable families, especially women with children in situations of high social risk: unemployment, domestic violence, helplessness during pregnancy. The main objective is to generate concrete alternatives for socio-economic inclusion, so that women who are going through situations of risk can overcome them and manage to effectively join the labor market; managing to be able to support their families with dignity and autonomy.
Here we again met Renata Casanova Sanchez, who had given a lecture on upcycling at the seminar two days before. She gave us a nice tour of large, nice premises with lots of people and resources. There were courses in everything from sewing to running a business; kitchens, childcare and premises for various types of recycling of glass, paper, textiles and plastics. They had their own shop, or “showroom”, which displayed a selection of the products. They mostly worked with gifts and profile products for various companies and often with recycling of materials from the companies themselves. As the materials were constantly changing – and also the end product – a great deal of work was put into product development and utilization of materials. It was rarely possible to make many similar products.
The company’s finances were supported by non-profit organizations, and thus only part of the income came from the sale of the products. Nevertheless, the competitive situation for these, very time-consuming products, against mass-produced versions of the same products, was difficult. It was impressive to see how much beauty they were able to get out of waste that we don’t normally think of as valuable: Synthetic textiles, plastic and cardboard packaging, and much more. Part of the material consisted of donated clothes, they were also sold partly as resale and partly directly. When we were there, there had been a fire in a warehouse and large quantities of underwear with soot had come in. A group of women went through the goods to check for the possibility of laundering and reselling the underwear. Some of the items had tags cut off, as a way to protect the brand. This also meant that information about fiber and care of the clothes was missing.
Visit to Wool Mill: Engraw
We were given a tour by Frederico Raquet, who runs the family business. He started by explaining investments that have been made to make the factory climate neutral and self-sufficient in everything from energy to water purification. He also talked about all the various environmental certificates that he uses, everything from C2C to Climate Accounting. The water was purified in a separate facility and the remains of lanolin and dirt that could not be used in agriculture nearby were used as water/fertilizer for a planted forest that served as a final purification. Outside at the back of the factory, we saw the various water baths for purification, windmills for energy, all within their own property. Frederico strongly believes in long-term planning and leaving the company – and nature – in better condition for future generations. He also emphasized the well-being of the slightly over 100 employees.
Frederico explained that a large number of different types of grass grew in Uruguay, and that most of the country consisted of grazing land (natural pasture), i.e. not cultivated meadow or plowed land. The large areas were primarily used for cattle, i.e. meat production, but the cattle could not utilize all the grasses. In order to maintain good pastures, the farmers therefore released sheep onto the areas after the cattle had “had their share”. Trees were also an important part of this system. Trees provided shade for the animals and helped bind CO2. In this way, meat and wool production in Uruguay will fare well in terms of climate calculations. The animals graze outside all year round, there is no need for buildings or feed-production. Very little of the country’s vast plains has been cultivated. With this in mind, it was not surprising that one of the questions he had for us was why land-use is so important – and comes out so badly – in LCA/PEF comparisons. He wanted to know why it was not positive to use the area in a good way, and what would possibly be an environmentally better alternative for using the areas. Good questions.
Things were in good shape in the factory. The building itself was impressive with an incredible brick roof structure, neat and clean. He explained the various processes, from the wool entering in large trucks. Much is Uruguayan, both Merino and other breeds with coarser wool, but they also scour wool from other countries, mostly from South Africa. The Uruguayan wool was classified according to a separate wool classification system. Which he himself had learned well and thoroughly before he could move up the ranks in the company. The production itself was always based on specifications from the customer, and could consist of various mixtures. We got to see wool from many countries, and work plans where all customers figured only in codes. But… on this particular day, wool for carpet production in the Middle East whizzed through the machines. What we got to see of Uruguay’s own Merino was impressive. Fine, long fibers with good crimp. He believed that there was poor provision for the coarser qualities and that farmers were generally paid too little for wool. He was concerned with new market opportunities for the part of the wool with the worst prices.
We saw how the wool was mixed, scoured, carded and combed to tops. Some were also super-wash treated. When we got there, he said he would answer ALL questions about super-wash when we sat down afterwards. He thus assumed that we had a lot of questions about exactly this. When we actually sat down afterwards, we talked about this through Ingun rather saying what she usually answers to questions about this treatment. He himself thought it funny that a treatment with inputs that are both well-known and not unusual (chlorine, salt, resin (the same that makes paper glossy) arouses so much attention and resistance.
We used the rest of the time in Uruguay to see the country and talk about the further work in CHANGE. We allowed ourselves to be enthralled by the vast plains, endless beaches and the people’s pleasant and relaxed demeanor. The temperature quickly rose to well over 30 – so clothes… well there was a lot of bare skin to be seen and not just on the beach, but also the use of clothes as protection from the sun – a function we rarely have use for here at home.
Drums, often in large groups of men, are one of the country’s prides, and here too textiles are included in the form of huge flags which are preferably kept flying in time with the music. Another good use for textiles was mosquito netting around the beds. Paradise for mosquitoes, dogs and grass-eaters. Cattle, sheep and shiny, slender horses walked slowly around in large herds and could choose between open, warm plains, some shade from trees, or drinking from ponds of rainwater. We also experienced playful seals, walruses, people and not least waves at the beaches. Something for every taste, in other words.
Casual and formal on a trajectory to merge? This question is emerging both in research and when looking at consumer trends for clothing and fashion.
As part of the CHANGE project, one trajectory being explored is a return to clothing that is more versatile and less defined by occasion. In this exploration, a “mix and match” approach is being explored, which seems to resonate with a market in transition post-Covid.
Hugo Boss recently launched the knitted suit in cooperation with Woolmark, a new knitting technology with four-way stretch that makes the suit extremely versatile and enables the wearer a freedom of movement that most certainly allows for some leisure activity. At the same time leisure wear is becoming more formalized and an outdoor windbreaker now even has a place in a city setting, we heard during the recent IWTO Roundtable in Nuremberg in Germany, where Francesco Magri, Woolmark, talked about “the new suit”. He spoke about the “post streetwear” and affirmation of a “new” formal, and the return of conviviality and the “weekly” eveningwear.
We also saw an “urban hiking boot” being launched by Norwegian brand Alfa – which finds a place both to and from work, and hiking (click here to see the shoes). One could say athleisure (the merging of leisure and athletics) is further leaching into other aspects of our lives, which is echoed by the recently released State of Fashion report 2023, from Business of Fashion and McKinsey & Company, which alludes to this same change in mode of dress:
«Even before the pandemic and the hybrid-working paradigm of today, office attire was relaxing. Hoodies, jeans and sneakers became increasingly acceptable in many offices. Even banks and professional services firms — with entrenched suit and tie cultures — have acknowledged that office dress codes need modernizing. In 2019, Goldman Sachs announced a firm-wide flexible dress code, encouraging employees to use their judgment when deciding whether they should, or should not, ditch their suits for a more casual look.”
After the IWTO’s Round Table, the Secretary General, Dalena White, commented that this was a function of how people commute: On bikes and scooters, rather than in cars or over-crowded public transport. This means work-clothes need to adapt. But what then about women? Let’s return to the State of Fashion Report 2023, which highlights a new gender-fluidity as well:
“In women’s wardrobes, where dresses have long ruled both office and evening wear, a new take on the pant suit emerged in 2022. Labels such as J.Crew and The Frankie Shop showcased oversized suits and trousers in soft materials for customers looking for polished, fashionable but comfortable styles. Workwear label M.M. LaFleur has honed its ‘power casual’ category of structured knit tops and washable twill trousers. The brand said FORMALWEAR REINVENTED in early 2022 that its power casual styles were generating triple the sales of dresses that used to drive about a third of the company’s sales prior to the pandemic details that bridge formal and casual attire — such as formal cuts in comfortable materials that often incorporate performance fabrics, like sweat wicking or stretch — are also in high demand. For example, cashmere joggers from Burberry and Loro Piana or linen and crochet shirts from Jil Sander and Jigsaw can be dressed up or down depending on the occasion.”
Where does the shift in workwear leave formal wear? And how is the shift in more formalization of casual wear leave the whole idea of the need for very different clothes for different occasions, perhaps one of the main drivers in the current over-production of clothing? If your outdoor sports jacket also can be worn to work, if your work suit can be acceptable for leisure – why on earth would you need clothes that clearly signal formal or casual?
This opens up a whole new possibility to mix and match, combine a classic, formal jacket with jeans, or a wool sweater with a suit. Trends that have been emerging for quite some time – but are now taking hold.