What could cause greater upheaval in any system of trade than the consumer becoming the producer?
The Life of a Dress is an ongoing traveling project and installation aiming to learn more about collaborative approaches that could contribute to reducing the growing mountain of second-hand garments created by overproduction.
The project has been running since 2010 when the first small exhibition was set up in a cultural centre in Gothenburg, Sweden. It then started its journey in time by visting different countries such as Mozambique, Hong Kong, Mexico and Singapore. It is continuously developing and can take on different shapes depending on its context and people involved. From small group activities to larger gatherings The Life of a Dress is a platform offering a workshop space in the midst of an exhibition.
Workshop to share and develop knowledge through making
Learning and in particular to relearn old patterns of skills, behaviours and mindsets, are a central theme in the search for new contributions that may contribute to sustainable development. As fashion and clothing is one of many areas which has a enormous environmental impact it could be interesting to see how we can changethe way people relate to fashion. Could we for example relearn and reappropriate current roles and structures within fashion?
Workshops to relearn roles: designer, producer and consumer
Even though there is a vast amount of information concerning the negative environmental and social impact that the overproduction of fashion contributes to, the industry still manages to attract and make more people into consumers as they are playing on the human need and desire for renewal.
Every act of consumption requires a degree of participation and this participation could perhaps be used as a force for change of the way fashion is created, used and shared. This to possibly cultivate a delay in the way consumption is made. Do-It-Yourself (DIY), Do-It-Together (DIT), open design, participatory design, co-design, redesign, customisation and the emerging maker culture are all approaches challenging relationships between the designer, producer and the consumer as the user is more active in the making process. In the long run this creative activity could replace the need to consume products with the speed it is done today.
These scenarios do however demand a change in attitudes and mindset amongst all involved in order to find ways to imagine new ways to enjoy fashion with new skills, mindsets and systems.The different kinds of users and makers of fashion thus need to relearn new skills – or recall skills that used to be inherited from person to person. The Life of a Dress installation proposes a space for this, a place to experiment a learn from one another. Not with the intention that everyone should become designer but with the belief that everyone has to share and that could contribute to improving our common bigger picture.
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Based on the two premises that (1) everyone can be a designer at times, and (2) reutilisation is a viable sustainable approach to deal with problems of waste, a third premise (3) an installation matters was put into practice as an installation containing an exhibition and a crafting workshop was organised in Mozambique, Mexico, Sweden and Singapore. Taking support from the two theoretical frameworks of community of practice and activity theory the participants’ activities and responses during the redesign of second-hand garments were analysed. The resulting installations can be said to have facilitated four different temporary communities of practice in which learning and artefacts were socially produced.
The project shows that people were attracted to and then inclined to participate in the proposed activities as they voluntarily chose to engage and find their own role in the process of reusing and redesigning materials that they previously had not considered using. Their resulting artefacts confirm the initial assumption that everyone can be a designer at times if given the opportunity. The project also shows that it is possible to use the concept of reutilisation and redesign to gather people from different socio economic backgrounds with different motivations, ages, cultures and pre-skills into a collaborative learning experience that also becomes a means of production.
To place the production process closer to consumers in this way changes people’s relationship towards the materials and processes needed for the production of fashion. They become closer to their personalised garment and their perception of waste materials changes. This revaluation of roles and materials could have an impact on the way people choose to continue to engage in fashion as they may either move away from the habit of buying new materials or begin to create affordable fashion from what already exists. If this initiative can become recurring within communities then significant difference could be achieved as people choose to turn waste into resource, satisfying their need for renewal and urge to be creative together whilst coming up with their own everyday approaches to sustainable fashion.
Redesigning Together, The Swedish School of Textiles, University of Borås, Sweden, 2018
Re/defining Fashion Through Cultural Craftivism, BIBAC International Conference; Building Interdisciplinary Bridges Across Cultures, 2014, Cambridge, UK
The Life of a Dress as Research- sharing session, Integrated Design Class, Parsons, 2013, New York, US
The Life of a Dress, Mexico, International Non-Western Fashion Conference; Constructing National Identity Through Fashion, London College of Fashion, 2013, London, UK
Moda Reciclada & Sustentabilidad, Universidad Iberoamericana, 2012, Mexico City, Mexico
Re-Disenando nuevas Prendas de Ropas Usadas, 2012, Chiapas, Mexico
The Life of a Dress, Furb Universidade, 2012, Blumenau, Brazil
The Process behind dreamandawake, Lee Shau Kee School of Creativity, 2009, Hong Kong, China
Community of Practice, Do-It-Yourself, Do-It-Together, Participatory Design, Social Production, Sustainable Fashion, Value Creation