Fashion Archives – Sustainable Future of Fashion

Designing for 1,5 ºC lifestyle change in fashion consumption requires imagination, team work and awareness of complex and systemic challenges. That’s how we developed the idea of “Fashion Archives”.

I took part in a Future Design course as a part of my MA design studies in 2022. Together in a team, for six weeks we studied weak signals and future casting techniques and developed solutions for one of the largest, and most polluting industries in the world: Fashion.

The world faces a difficult challenge in keeping our planet in 1,5 ºC temperature change. Why must we stay below 1.5 degrees? The short answer is that decades of research has shown a direct correlation between global temperature rises and significant environmental and humanitarian crisis frequency. In practice this manifests in virtually everything we consider our normal day life, such as food security, safe city life, infrastructure durability, pandemic frequency, cultural heritage loss and many many other factors. In fact, this is the challenge that perhaps is best described as a wicked problem and as systemic as they get. Unless significant changes are designed and developed globally, we risk the loss of a large part of the world we know and enjoy it.

Fashion industry produces 10% of the carbon emissions that heat up our planet (Omondi 2021), but by 2050 fashion industry will create quarter of all carbon emissions on the planet.

It’s not an overstatement to say that we love fashion as humanity. We want to express ourselves as individuals and visual display and decoration is one of the better ways to show our social circles a little more about outselves. That’s not all, because we also like to be with others and relate to them. We look up to others to form visual sartorial bonds, wear clothes that our admired influencers wear and show up dressed just like the world famous brilliant person we find interesting. To understand why we design it’s important to understand that these are deep human needs of belonging, being on top of your game and being your own person. Human centered design begins with understanding that fast fashion and ultra fast fashion offer an uncanny solution to our needs (Rauturier 2022).

The flip side of fast fashion manifests in masses of clothes ending up in landfills, rising mountains of unusable material and a sky darkening in black smoke of burning last months avant-garde. Fashion is one of the main reasons why the planet is changing and heating up with dangerous and heartbreaking consequences.

Presentation slides on insights into what the world could look like in 2050 and how Fashion Archives is part of it. This project was done in a group of five designers: Me, Kamilla, Kristin, Jihey and Vilis.

The preliminary questions that set us on the journey to understand better the design problem of connecting fast fashion and fashion solutions for 1,5 ºC world are these:

  • Drastic change is needed ultimately. How do we stay sensitive to human needs of self expression, individuality and belonging while cutting down fast fashion waste?
  • Social and economical situations differ drastically between people. What solution would be both inclusive and accessible widely in society, while also offering the flexibility of choice and effort?
  • Our design task was to design for future solutions. What can we imagine the world is like in 2050, in approximately 26 years?

Design thinking, flexible mindset and Design tools to get into motion of creating a playful scenario of future

  • Alternative futures thinking includes understanding possible, probable and plausible futures and selecting which to design upon. Since seeing the future certainly in 2050 is impossible by default, we used scenarios as a tool to envision hypothetical possible future pathways and dynamic processes. Concentrating on explorative, plausible scenarios that ask “what might happen?” we considered the aspects of fashion consumption on:
  1. where the future pulls us
  2. what today pushes towards it and
  3. what development in history supports it

It’s interesting to notice, that mapping visions and weak signals resulted in many possible development paths of which many were wildcards not preferable due to many social, economical and environmental reason. Some of the results (3rd level signals turned into Implication categories) that we saw as preferable for fashion industry, based on exploring current trends, barriers of change and lock-ins of technology were these:

New Lifestyle Attitude

- Fashion becomes fully vegan - Users form tighter emotional bonds with certain cloth items - Cloth owners take steps to preserve cloth value - Homegrowing/gathering long fibres for fabrics - Time capsuling clothes for prolonged use

New Norms and Values

- Clothes collect energy from human motion and perspiration - Underwear collects energy straight from skin - Traditional meat industry is declining

New Practise

- Clothes are treated non-toxicly and naturally, i.e. misting clothes instead of washing - Animal based fibres are grown, not harvested - Cloth harvested energy powers home appliances, phone etc.

New Business Model

- "Keys to hand" style cloth renting services for full attires/season styles - Energy trading fabrics/clothes can be used as currency - Offloading energy from clothes to discharge points for currency - Clothes are catalogued and insured in archives for value deposit

New Technology

- Symbiotic clothes thrive from human touch and use - Energy collecting granules are present in many textiles and materials - Animal based materials are grown in a lab

New Policy/Political Order

- Only waste/recycled products are allowed to be used in new product making industry - Traditional animal products are prohibited by law in fashion industry

Through these visions we started to see a future, where the things you wear have a social, cultural and economical meaning for their carrier. Where clothes today would be discarded as useless items of past season, in future the clothes themselves would hold economical value in material, technology and re-usability. In order to service the new idea of fashion and clothes we developed the idea of Fashion Archives, a service that enables

  • prolonging the life of your clothes by collecting and recycling them in keys-to-hand service
  • sharing the life stories and history of your clothes, creating a kind of social media of clothes.
  • utilizing technological textile possibilities simultaneously, such as energy collecting technology without competing the market
  • individuality and self expression without needing to use extensively money
  • inclusive and accessible infrastructure and usability

In our mind this idea could be possible and preferable, particularly in the light of modern development of second-hand and recycling services. The biggest change would be a cultural one, where clothes are seen as part of their carrier and a person is seen as an important part of the clothes lifecycle chain, forming part of the items final value.

In general this also opens an interesting thought regarding used clothes, one that is opposite to what we tend to think currently regarding used clothes, but more familiar regarding blockchain: If mining a new block into a blockchain ultimately increases the value of the chain, could this be true to the value of clothes if traditional materials become a scarcity?

Envisioning the Scenario with actor, narrative, a day in the future and a Future Souvenir

Based on these plausible and preferable aspects affecting fashion industry, we started defining our moment in the life of someone in 2050 by creating personas and choosing one of them to carry our playful story. Our persona was one we called Iida, a fashion student with low traditional income, such as is common today from a day job. She either cannot afford to use laboratory grown products or she chooses not to, in order to take advantage of good value second-hand fabrics and other technology, such as energy collecting granules to offset her carbon footprint into credits and currency.

As a part of our future scenario, we wanted to develop a tangible and specific souvenir artifact that has a use in how sustainable fashion services are realized in the future. Our souvenir was a bioplastic return bag for clothes, developed in Aalto University’s biomaterial Laboratory. Using recycled Ioncell fibres, nanocellulose and wood pulp our bioplastic was designed with tear durability and long lasting handling in mind.

As this design was presented as a part of an exhibition on 1,5 degree lifestyle, a concrete object also helped the experimental future to become more present for visitors who could touch the bioplastic bag and think about themselves as a user of the service.

Fashion Archives Scenario

A short video of a scenario where a user interacts with Fashion Archives through a lens UI, using hand gestures to send an item into Fashion Archives service. In the video the audience learns about the possible 2050 world where Fashion Archives is an everyday service and technology, such as energy collecting clothes and contact lens UI are a regularity.