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Durability, Fashion, Sustainability: The Processes and Practices of Use


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Longer-lasting materials and products are often promoted as a strategy to increase resourcefulness and sustainability across product groups including fashion. Yet these gains depend on changed user behavior and consumption patterns, which in fashion in particular are influenced by social and experiential dimensions, not just material products. Obsolescence of fashion products, driven by aesthetic change and tied to changing social preferences underscores the psycho-social nature of factors which affect fashion garment lifespans. This is reflected by ethnographic evidence that shows that garments which defy obsolescence do so in informal or unintentional ways, rarely as a result of design planning or material or product qualities. This article suggests a point of departure for design for durability that shifts away from a familiar focus on materials, products, and user‐object relationships to instead explore material durability as emerging from strategies of human action. It suggests that durability, while facilitated by materials, design, and construction, is determined by an ideology of use.
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Fashion Practice
The Journal of Design, Creative Process & the Fashion Industry
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Durability, Fashion, Sustainability: The Processes
and Practices of Use
Kate Fletcher
To cite this article: Kate Fletcher (2012) Durability, Fashion, Sustainability: The Processes and
Practices of Use, Fashion Practice, 4:2, 221-238
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Fashion Practice, Volume 4, Issue 2, pp. 221–238
DOI: 10.2752/175693812X13403765252389
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Sustainability: The
Processes and
Practices of Use
Kate Fletcher
Kate Fletcher is a researcher,
writer, and design activist, whose
work over the past fifteen years
has shaped the field of fashion
and sustainability. She works with
fashion businesses, non-profits,
and government. She authored
Sustainable Fashion and Textiles:
Design Journeys (2008) and co-
authored Fashion and Sustainability:
Design for Change (2012).
Longer-lasting materials and products are often promoted as a strategy
to increase resourcefulness and sustainability across product groups in-
cluding fashion. Yet these gains depend on changed user behavior and
consumption patterns, which in fashion in particular are influenced by
social and experiential dimensions, not just material products. Obsoles-
cence of fashion products, driven by aesthetic change and tied to chang-
ing social preferences underscores the psycho-social nature of factors
which affect fashion garment lifespans. This is reflected by ethnographic
222 Kate Fletcher
evidence that shows that garments which defy obsolescence do so in
informal or unintentional ways, rarely as a result of design planning
or material or product qualities. This article suggests a point of depar-
ture for design for durability that shifts away from a familiar focus on
materials, products, and user–object relationships to instead explore
material durability as emerging from strategies of human action. It
suggests that durability, while facilitated by materials, design, and con-
struction, is determined by an ideology of use.
KEYWORDS: fashion, durability, design, sustainability, use, social practice.
Durability enjoys an easy relationship with sustainability. Resilient
materials and products have potential to lengthen product lifetimes.
Longer lifetimes in turn provide us with more opportunities to access a
product’s utility. By extending the potential for satisfaction with existing
pieces, no additional ones are required. New consumption is forestalled,
resources are saved, waste is reduced, needs are met.
It is perhaps unsurprising therefore that durability is a foundational
idea of the area of study known as design for sustainability, a discipline
that has enlarged its scope and field of action over the last two decades
and which aims to envision and give form to alternative ways of living
(Manzini 1994; Walker 2006). Much of the development work of the
theories and practice of design for durability, such as those pioneered
by the organization Eternally Yours (van Hinte 1997, 2004), have been
developed in product design. Over the last decade many of these ideas
have migrated to fashion where they have been appropriated both at a
materials-level and to influence product–user relationships. Experienced
practitioners of design for durability have long recognized the limita-
tions of many of these approaches. Many of the same issues that dog the
success of durability as a strategy to influence consumption patterns in
product design also influence the outcomes of the fashion design process;
most notably, user behavior. Expending resources and effort to extend
the life of products pays few dividends unless, as users, we make use of
the utility provided by longer-life products, and subsequently change
our patterns of consumption. Despite the user-dependent nature of the
factors that affect on-the-ground lifespans of products, most work in
this area focuses on durability as originating from a product itself and
that product’s potential for robustness and enchantment, not from the
“lifeworld” and social actions of the user. Yet the incongruity of relying
on things to influence people’s behavior to in turn foster longevity of
those things is amplified in the context of garments by the deeply social
nature of fashion: what one person chooses to wear, and to wear for a
long time, is also affected by the decisions and actions of others.
Durability, Fashion, Sustainability: The Processes and Practices of Use 223
In this article, I engage with a “dialogue of evidence” and draw on
extensive knowledge of design for sustainability in fashion, and on pri-
mary ethnographic research conducted in six locations in Europe and
North America to explore durability and its relationship to fashion in
practice. I first offer an introduction to obsolescence and then review
durability within the familiar frameworks of materials, fashion prod-
ucts, and emotional engagement with garments. I then shift the focus
away from products to instead explore durability as emerging from
social relations and human action, and what Karen Tranberg Hansen
has called “clothing competencies” (2003: 306). I conclude by sug-
gesting that fashion as a system of dress can act to promote longevity
of garments by viewing durability as an outcome of activities linked
to satis fying use of clothing. I propose that durability in fashion can-
not only be promoted as a product-based phenomenon, but rather it
emerges from an individual and collective practice with dynamic impli-
cations for our use of materials.
It should be acknowledged that for some, the notion of pursuing
durability in fashion at all is problematic, not least because durability,
and the associated ideas of resilience and constancy, would seem to deny
fashion its essential, ever-changing nature. Moreover, as an economic
and cultural process, fashion is challenged by the idea of a more dura-
ble material culture. For as, “a market-driven cycle of consumer desire
and demand; and...a modern mechanism for the fabrication of the self”
(Breward and Evans 2005: 2), fashion and associated ideas have come
to be almost exclusively organized around industrial capitalism and con-
sumerism based on rapid product obsolescence and continually increas-
ing throughput of resources. As Joanne Finkelstein states, “if we are
relying upon the properties of procured goods for our sense of identity,
then we are compelled to procure again and again” (1991: 145). Here
the dominant, consumerist story and imagery of fashion is reinforced by
business, cultural preferences, and views on what is both desirable and
practicable (Fletcher 2012) with well-recorded serious environmental
implications (Allwood et al. 2006). Within this dominant story, alterna-
tives, including those that promote longer-lasting products as part of
a bigger strategy of paced consumption, resourcefulness, and human
well-being are rejected. Yet this was not always the case. As Gronow
(1997: 79) notes, “originally fashion was not consciously created; it was
born as a side-product of purposive social action.” And if fashion, by
definition, is always relevant to its time and context, then social action,
including that supporting durability will also shape fashion.
Obsolescence and Fashion
Since the publication of Vance Packard’s The Waste Makers in 1960,
knowledge of obsolescence has been building as a key way to influence
224 Kate Fletcher
both supply and demand of products by influencing users’ perceptions of
their products continued usefulness. As Burns (2010: 43) states, “Plan-
ning for durability was no longer a priority. Obsolescence in its earliest
form, meaning to wear out, had evolved into the newly discovered
use of psychological a means to influence consumer
spending.” This change, which coincided with the growing capacity of
factory production of clothing and increasing supply of materials after
the restrictions of the war years, marked a shift in the perception of
clothes from a durable consumer good with an intrinsic material value,
to a non-durable consumer good with novelty and brand value (Fine
and Leopold 1993, cited by Skov 2011: n.p.). Indeed particularly in the
saturated fashion markets of industrialized economies where most new
purchases of clothing are additional or replacement acquisitions rather
than sales to new customers, a tendency towards a short “service life”
and low intrinsic material value is an inevitable effect of the market-
based system of mass consumption and production of fashion (Stahel
2010: 160). For the prevailing business model’s bottom line to keep
showing growth, garments have to become obsolete, at least in psy-
chological terms. Yet irrespective of their waning psychological appeal,
the vast majority of garments endure physically. When these pieces are
confined to the back of the wardrobe, they do not dematerialize.
The legacy of psychological obsolescence associated with the fashion
industry is found both in growing levels of discarded clothing (Allwood
et al. 2006: 16) and, where they are not disposed of and additional
ones bought, in the increasing numbers of rarely used garments stock-
piled in homes. Statistics for the UK reveal that the volume of clothes
bought each year is nearly double that which is discarded, suggesting
rising rates of ownership and storage (Textile Outlook International
2009: 100). At least some of this consumption of clothing can be seen as
essential to meet the fundamental human need of protection—insulating
and shielding the body—though this physical need is quickly satisfied
with minimal resource use. In the economic period of satiation cur-
rently enjoyed by those of us in the rich North, it is using materials and
marshaling resources for development of our physic life that is the chief
challenge for sustainability. In the context of fashion, the resource inten-
sity of our need for identity formation, communication, and creativity
as expressed through our dressed bodies is also the chief challenge for
durability, though few have explored its implications.
A process of analyzing and categorizing the different mechanisms of
product obsolescence has been underway for the last fifty years. Burns
(2010: 45) synthesizes this debate into four modes relevant across prod-
uct groups. They are: aesthetic (where changing appearance renders
existing products obsolete); social (shifting societal preferences and
norms lead to retirement); technological (changing technology renders
functioning product obsolete); and economic (cost structures promote
disuse and replacement rather than maintenance). In the fashion sector
Durability, Fashion, Sustainability: The Processes and Practices of Use 225
the primary, though not exclusive, tools of obsolescence are aesthetics
closely connected to social preferences and cultural conditions. Here a
cycle of invention, acceptance, and discard of a continually changing
series of temporary modes of appearance is disseminated across social
groups. Stewart Brand describes obsolescence another way; “fashion
can only advance by punishing the no longer fashionable” (1994: 54).
Indeed perhaps no industry has better perfected the cycle of invention-
acceptance-dissatisfaction-invention than fashion; and has so success-
fully de-linked it from physical need or function. In the fashion sector
each new circuit of this cycle offers little in the way of material develop-
ment or progression. Rarely does a new item better protect our bodies
physically or offer enhanced functionality; rather we buy afresh to make
visible our identity both as an individual and part of larger social groups
within a particular place and time.
There is a substantial body of work exploring the relationship
between products and modes of obsolescence in order to attempt to
lessen their effect (see for example Cooper 2010), yet little of this is
specific to fashion and clothing. While many of these ideas are por-
table between product types, garments differ from other products such
as electronic devices, domestic appliances, and furniture in a number
of key ways that act to change the relevance and application of con-
cepts and strategies. For instance, an item of clothing has a softer, more
mutable surface as compared with the hard surface of many consumer
products. As such, strategies to extend the durability of clothing or tex-
tile materials become almost always expressed as a change in surface
quality. By contrast, in a product with a hard surface, an unchanging
visual and material quality is possible that allows for a more predictable
aesthetic over time, with different implications for design for durability.
Further, while garments can be seen as having much in common with
other domestic objects, items worn on the body have an intimate quality
that confers upon them a personal, sometimes private, status different
to other household products. Inevitably such intimacy changes the rela-
tionships that influence longevity and the relevance of strategies, such as
sharing, which may be both bolstered or undermined depending on the
piece. Other differences reflect the significant role played by garments in
identity formation as compared with other products, as an aide to nego-
tiating the space between the inner self and the outside world; and the
dominance of the aesthetic and social modes of obsolescence in fashion
compared with the influence of other modes such as technology in the
retiring of many other products. Taken together such differences warn
against the wholesale transposition of generic durability approaches be-
tween product areas. This being said, as we work to lessen or even break
up the accelerators of obsolescence, there is little doubt that while being
mindful of the factors that govern a specific product’s longevity, shar-
ing knowledge and practice across product groups is likely to generate
226 Kate Fletcher
In this article, I now explore two groups of design for sustainability
strategies for durability in the fashion context, starting with material-
and product-level durability.
Material- and Product-level Durability
While ideas of design for durability at a conceptual level challenge con-
sumerist culture and the contemporary fashion system; long-lasting and
robust materials are easily assimilated into existing garments and prod-
uct optimization methodologies and are often aspired to as a feature of
“good design.” Actioning durability as a materials-level strategy is both
practical and palatable and over the last twenty years, the benefits of
pursuing long-life materials as an aid to enhance durability of clothing
has been recommended as supportive of sustainability goals (see, for
example, Mackenzie 1997). Seemingly this idea still has currency. In
2012, the organization WRAP, which now facilitates the “Sustainable
Clothing Action Plan” for the UK recently commissioned research into
durability in the fashion and clothing sector that emphasizes garment
durability as contingent of such specific material phenomena (WRAP
While it is true that garments are material things, potential physical
longevity of the garment depends less on the fabric itself than on the
piece as a whole—the constructed material object. For a garment will
last only as long as its least durable component. A product (as distinct
to a material) strategy of durability attempts to balance a piece’s lifespan
across component parts to build a shared, similar longevity of seam,
fabric, fastening, facing, etc. It allows for workmanship to be as durable
as the hardworking fabric on a garment’s cuffs, hems, and knees. It
matches a fabric with poor dimensional stability or wash fastness with
low-grade seam construction. Such tactics build an internally consistent
product strategy for durability that prevents squandering resources by
over-specifying resource-intensive long-lasting components in conjunc-
tion with others that only have the potential for a short life.
For garments that physically wear out and no longer function and for
those that are made obsolete by economics—that is where it is cheaper
to buy a new piece rather than mend an existing one—material- and
product-level durability delivers benefits. Indeed more broadly, knowl-
edge about the strength and wearability properties of materials and the
methods of garment construction that are the most long-lasting is valu-
able. Yet the tangible sustainability benefit of enhancing the material
durability of clothing is contingent on two key assumptions. The first,
that if you make garments physically robust, then people will continue
to use them. And the second linked notion, that that this extra utility
afforded to the product by designing for physical resilience, translates
into lower levels of consumption: i.e. fewer pieces are bought because
Durability, Fashion, Sustainability: The Processes and Practices of Use 227
the existing one lasts longer. However, these suppositions are shaky
at best. Anecdotal evidence suggests that for certain garments, such
as workwear, it may be the case that durable fabrics and construction
enable overalls and protective gear to be worn longer and delay re-
placement consumption. But for fashion clothes, which already endure
physically long past their period of use, putting resources and effort into
enhancing the physical durability of seams and fabrics is worth little if
it is aesthetics or social preferences—or even changing waistlines—not
material robustness that determines a piece’s lifespan. Making a gar-
ment last is very different to making a long-lasting garment.
Emotionally Durable Design
A substantial body of work, most notably by Jonathan Chapman in
his book Emotionally Durable Design (2005), has shaped ideas around
psychological mechanisms to construct meaning in material culture that
attempt to foster sustained use of products by consumers. Ideas of emo-
tional durability contend that products are discarded when they display
an absence of meaning. And by cultivating an emotional and experiential
connection between person and object, we can disrupt our dependency
on consumption of new goods to construct meaning and our sense of
self. As part of his doctoral research in which he surveyed the product
relationships of over 2,000 users of domestic electronic products, Chap-
man (2009: 33) developed a six point experiential framework to initiate
engagement with emotional durability and design, specifying points of
intervention and pathways which offer starting points and lend struc-
ture to investigations:
• Narrative:usersshareauniquepersonalhistorywiththeproduct;
• Detachment:usersfeelnoemotionalconnectiontotheproduct,
have low expectations of it, and thus view it favorably because it
makes few demands;
• Surface:theproductageswellphysicallyand developsatangible
character through this process;
• Attachment: users feel a strong emotional connection to the
• Enchantment:usersaredelightedbyaproductandtheprocessof
discovery of it;
• Consciousness: the product is perceived to have free will. It is
temperamental and users need to acquire skills to interact with it
Other thinkers have also developed categorized approaches to emotionally
durable design. Batterbee and Mattelmäki (2004) for example classify
three groups of objects with meaningful associations: meaningful tool
(the object enables satisfying activity), meaningful association (the
228 Kate Fletcher
object acts as carrier of cultural or individual meaning), and living ob-
ject (the object fosters an emotional bond). Alistair Fuad-Luke (2010:
147) collates a number of different approaches to extending product–
user relations. A summary is offered here:
• Extended durability via high quality, good design, reliable,
upgradable, maintainable products;
• Sharingproducts;
• Co-operatively designing and producing products together with
• Retentionofnarrativeandaestheticappealthroughusepersonal-
ization and aging with dignity;
• Creating personal narratives through customization, personal-
ization, and memory
• Increasingsensorialvariety;
• Makingsocialconnections.
Notwithstanding the challenges of transposing these ideas between
design sectors, there has been a groundswell of work in this area in
fashion in both commercial and research contexts. This work includes,
among others, the garments created co-operatively with users such as
by Antiform (antiform 2012), which has resulted in the production of
an eight-piece collection with sixty-four local people (beaders, knitters,
artists, seamstresses, and volunteers); those designed to be shared such
as by the small knitwear brand, Keep and Share (keepandshare 2012),
which creates unisize pieces with few fastenings to aid the possibility
of collaborative consumption and the creating a rich use history and
personal narrative; the London-based studio and shop Here Today
Here Tomorrow (heretoday-heretomorrow 2012) that through its
workshop and training courses erodes the social and practical distance
between the making and using of fashion; the modular garments of
DePLOY (Deploy 2012), which can be used in different configurations
to increase variety without consumption; and the garments in the final
collection of MA student Saida Bruce designed to promote enchant-
ment by incorporating hidden details that become revealed over time
(saidabruce 2012).
Critiquing the Efficacy of Durability Strategies
Yet irrespective of the originality and value of this work to animate a
product in order to foster engagement and delay disposal, the findings
of consumer studies research reveal that consumption patterns are not
necessarily impacted by emotionally durable design. Sian Evans and Tim
Cooper note, “attachment doesn’t necessarily lead to lifespan optimis-
ing behaviour” (2010: 334). Simply because users have formed a bond
with a piece, does not mean it will be used or replacement consumption
Durability, Fashion, Sustainability: The Processes and Practices of Use 229
prevented. They go on, “In cases where such attachment was identified,
new products were no less likely to be purchased; attachment merely led
to accumulation and storage of seldom-used items” (2010: 334).
Chapman (2010: 65) himself recognizes the limitations of designing
for attachment and engagement:
Although a designer can certainly elicit within users an emotional
response to a given object, the explicit nature of the response
is beyond the designer’s control; the unique assemblage of past
experiences that is particular to each user, their cultural back-
ground and life journey determines this. Designers cannot craft
an experience but only the conditions or levers that might lead
to an intended experience. What those required conditions are,
however, is still unclear to design.
This is corroborated by research that reveals that those products that
defy obsolescence do so in informal or unintentional ways, rarely as
a result of design planning (Park 2010: 81), and which shows that
consumers often behave in a way so as to reduce the lifespan of prod-
ucts, with an idiosyncratic approach to maintaining quality (Evans and
Cooper 2010: 321). It is also reinforced by the findings of my ongo-
ing ethnographic research project, Local Wisdom (localwisdom 2012),
which show that satisfying, resourceful practices of use of garments
are rarely motivated by durability. Such insight acts to downplay the
potential of the traditional design process to influence the way in which
a product is used and durability promoted and it instead emphasizes
durability as contingent on user behavior. It suggests that design for
durability requires a different approach.
Here I am indebted to the work of anthropologist Karen Tranberg
Hansen (2003), who in her research exploring secondhand dress
in Zambia is confronted with a similar inadequacy in the dominant
approach to understanding her field. For Tranberg Hansen, the prob-
lem is that material culture, with its emphasis on socially constructed
things or commodities, falls short in explaining the fashion practices
she observed in Zambia which are dominated by social exchanges and
relationships. In her analysis she overcomes this by, “shifting the focus
from things to social relations and interactions. With this shift, the point
of departure is not the things themselves but rather the strategies within
which they are embedded” (Tranberg Hansen 2003: 301). She takes
Jonathan Friedman’s suggestion to approach objects and relations from
a different perspective, turning around Appadurai’s (1986) now founda-
tional idea of material culture that things have social lives, arguing that
her evidence from the streets of Lusaka reveal instead that, “things do
not have social lives. Rather social lives have things” (Friedman 1991,
cited in Tranberg Hansen 2003: 301). In so doing her point of departure
becomes people.
230 Kate Fletcher
In the remainder of this article I, like Tranberg Hansen, affect a
changed point of departure to develop a more expansive and accurate
understanding of the relationship between fashion and durability. Such
a shift changes the focus of investigation of durability from the object
(with or without its qualities of enchantment and attachment) to the
behaviors, habits, and material expression of the person using it. Dura-
bility becomes embedded in the techniques and processes of use.
Local Wisdom
Since 2009, I have been conducting social practice research through an
ongoing project, Local Wisdom, that explores the tending, fixing, and
satisfying use of clothing—described as the “craft of use” (localwisdom
2012). This project draws on ethnographic methods alongside design
process to open up the “deep inner space of the wardrobe” and amplify
its insights so as to drive change towards practices of sustainability in
fashion. The project attempts to connect the world of material relation-
ships, so often the preserve of industrial activity, with that of social rela-
tionships, the majority of which, “belong to the consumer’s life world”
(Skov 2011: n.p.). Thus it seeks to explore sustainability in fashion not
just as a material phenomenon but also as a broader and more dynamic
process of human actions, relationships, and their associated material
effects (Lifkin 2010: 118). The project’s aim is to generate knowledge,
insight, and inspiration from social practices that are often ignored by
industrial interests. These individual, material, and social actions and
processes associated with garments are recorded using portrait photog-
raphy and object histories and so far have been gathered in eight loca-
tions in Europe and North America. The process begins with the setting
up of a “community photo shoot,” typically in a public building, in a
varied selection of rural towns and cities. The shoot is widely advertised
in the vicinity; signs are put up in newsagents’ windows, in local librar-
ies, and sports centers. Advertisements are placed in local newspapers
and interviews given on community radio networks. The project con-
nects with local networks as varied as the climate change campaigning
group Cape Farewell (capefarewell 2011), local fashion weeks (e.g. in
Berlin and Dublin), and the Transition Towns movement (transitionnet-
work 2011). An open invitation is extended to the public to attend the
shoot and share the stories of how garments are used. The project aims
to pay special attention to use-related garment practices, as distinct to
production-related ones. That is, to uncover the behaviors that go on
around, with, and to clothes during their period of use, rather than their
production (either industrially or hand- and homemade). On the day of
the shoot, a photographer and audio equipment to record the garment’s
history is set up and the team waits to see who turns up and which
garment practices emerge.
Durability, Fashion, Sustainability: The Processes and Practices of Use 231
The qualitative data generated by Local Wisdom is limited, personal,
and specific. It is not generalizable to the wider population nor does it
allow us to make predictions about the behavior of individuals other
than the members of the public who volunteered to their share garment
use practices with the project. Yet what it does do is offer tentative
insight into the post-purchase use practices of garments, which have
been shown to be both the source of most customer satisfaction and
environmental impact (Peattie 2010: 254) but about which relatively
little is known. It is often reported, for example, that mechanisms for
collecting and feeding back the experiences of users seldom exist (Nor-
man 1998: 142).
The everyday garment use practices explored in Local Wisdom are
not focused on durability in particular, yet many of the qualitative object
histories gathered reveal evidence of long-lasting garments. Practices as
varied as dressing to reflect a personal history, to support self-reliant
communities, to defy the contested values of a garment producer, and
to resist cultural pressure to launder are often played out with garments
that are established parts of our wardrobes, though not only those that
are physically robust (these range from a silk dress, to a denim jacket;
a cotton jersey top to woolen knitwear). Such evidence tentatively rein-
forces the view that durability is not fostered through resilient materials
and design intention, but through the practices of use. Other practices
uncovered by Local Wisdom explicitly articulate use over the long term,
such as those that mark evolving life stories on and through our clothes
and those with three or more owners. In these practices, while mending
and altering were common, the physical durability of the garment per se
appears less critical to the piece’s durability than a user’s habit of mind
fostering long-term use. It seems that durability in fashion is mainly a
product of nurture not nature. Its potential, present within most pieces,
is uncovered as garments are used.
The use practices that foster durability are social practices that
facilitate and emerge around the extended iterative use of those gar-
ments through time. Rarely, if at all, do these “craft of use” practices
need much in the way of extra material consumption or money to make
them possible. Rather they are contingent on individuals finding creative
opportunity in routinized types of behavior with existing clothes. That
is, in honing the skills of use and investigating the informal pathways
of influence in fashion that spring from wardrobes, to start the process
of recognizing where widespread action can take place. Wardrobes have
been described as representing “a ‘philosophy of having’...both liter-
ally and figuratively” (Skov 2011: n.p.), yet in the case of the “craft of
use,” a different representation emerges, the wardrobe as a philosophy
of being.
The “craft of use” also provides a challenge for those engaging with
change, involving a transition from “the certainties of controllable things
in space to the self-organising complexities of an endlessly ravelling and
232 Kate Fletcher
unravelling skein of relationships over time” (Brand 1994: 71). In order
to cultivate a process of tending and use of garments, the one-off act of
creating a piece within knowable, fixed parameters becomes subsumed
by an infinitely more complex task of engaging with the social context
of garment use. In the hands of users, garments have a life of their own.
And it is this life of action, relationships, and material effects that influ-
ences how long these pieces last. The “craft of use” is thus an expression
of the potential for satisfaction and individual agency with garments
and a celebration of already existing extended use practices.
Three Vignettes from the Local Wisdom Project
A Life of Action
“I call this my three stage jacket. It began about forty years ago as
a very slim waistcoat that was given to me. I knitted a panel and
put it into the back just to be able to fasten it together at the front,
you see. And then about fifteen years ago I added sleeves and a
collar and some trimmings. And then, only about five years ago, I
became a bit too big to button it up so I added latchets across to
the front so that I can fasten it.” (Figure 1)
Wear to Wear out
“This is a dress that I’ve had for 25 years and share with my sister.
We sort of have it for 5 years each and then post it back to each
other and it’s like fancy dress for me... it brings out a different
Figure 1
A life of action. Image courtesy of
Local Wisdom. Photograph: Fiona
Durability, Fashion, Sustainability: The Processes and Practices of Use 233
part of me. At the moment I just wear it for special occasions but
I once met a woman who was in her 80s and who wore evenin-
gwear all the time. She’d made a decision years before not to buy
any new clothes and to wear everything until it wore out. She’d
worn her way through her wardrobe and had got to her evening-
wear. So when I’m in my 80s I’m going to wear this dress...”
(Figure 2)
Sulphuric Denim
“This was my Dad’s jeans jacket when he was a teenager and he
was a chemistry student in the early seventies and he wore this in
the lab and he got sulphuric acid all down the front so it’s got acid
burns through it... I kind of like the fact that he was wearing this
when he was, sort of, nineteen, twenty, in a lab and burning holes
in it... Plus it’s just a shoddy jacket... The fabric’s pretty horrible...
the waistband’s just been cut off and folded over. I like, I guess,
honestly bad workmanship if you know what I mean. I’ve never
been one for washed products and rips and tears and destruction
artificially so generally that means you get stuff that reflects how
you wear things, what you do...” (Figure 3)
Such empirical evidence supports the view that durability is an outcome
and not an aim of using products. A point underscored by durability’s
Figure 2
Wear to wear out. Image courtesy
of Local Wisdom. Photograph:
Fiona Bailey.
234 Kate Fletcher
nonlinear relationship with user satisfaction. Mackenzie et al. (2010:
307) suggest that while lack of durability of products is a source of
dissatisfaction to consumers, neither is perpetual durability valued: “a
lifespan considered reasonable is a prerequisite for satisfaction, but
does not ensure it.” Thus product life extension becomes a nested sys-
tem within broader discussions about satisfying fashion practices that
recognize the importance to durability of a garment’s materiality—its
fabrics, construction, and design—and the overriding influence of these
practices on a product’s eventual length of life.
Figure 3
Sulphuric denim. Image courtesy of
Local Wisdom. Photograph: Kerry
Durability, Fashion, Sustainability: The Processes and Practices of Use 235
Walter Stahel describes this expanded view of durability as “user-
ship” (2010: 175), that is something that emanates from performance
rather than products. Evoking ideas of user-ship as distinct to owner-
ship moves the durability debate away from product-centric business
language that has largely dominated product lifetimes’ discussions to
date and back to a debate of wider society; reflecting the reality of du-
rability as a behavioral issue related to material objects. This is not an
insubstantial task, for we are largely ‘locked in” to fashion conventions,
habits, social norms, and industry structures that reflect a vision of our-
selves as consumptive individuals, not as users, and where many of the
practices of satisfying use are little valued and driven underground. Not
only are such practices personal, variable, and slow to enact, they also
fall outside the narrow spectrum of fashion activity that is valued by
consumer society.
In this space a different role for design practices for durability
emerges. Here the aim is to foster and amplify the skills, habits of mind,
and abilities of users to create and engage with fashion from within a
context of satisfaction and resourcefulness. This fashion-ability, “craft
of use,” or “clothing competence” (Tranberg Hansen 2003: 306) is a set
of skills, ideas, and identifiable practices that are conducive to promot-
ing the satisfying use of garments and to the creation of fluid appearance
in dress appropriate to both time and place that is expressed in a fashion
“moment.” Here fashion is contingent on clothes worn in ways that
requires people’s (user’s) active collaboration. Other authors call this
competence “task knowledge” (Evans and Cooper 2010: 334), some-
times framed as an extension of practical household management skills
and perhaps has similarities to early experiences of fashion as a practice
of “making,” often in groups. Evidence from the Local Wisdom project
suggests that such competencies promote the extended use of garments.
It is here that fashion as a process can be seen to bolster durability and
begin to offer an alternative to the throwaway society.
As in other product sectors, strategies that attempt to foster durability
in fashion are limited by the behavior and consumption practices of
users. Despite this, most activities that promote durability start from
materials and products, not users. The ability of a traditional design
process to reach into the life world of the user and influence behavior
appears to be weak, and in the context of fashion clothes, weakened
further by fashion’s social nature, which sees it influenced by human
exchanges and actions and not just material objects.
In this article I have articulated a new point of departure for ex-
ploring durability in fashion, supported by evidence from ethnographic
research into satisfying practices of garment use as well as research in
236 Kate Fletcher
other product areas. It reveals that long-life garments exist, but that
their extended lives are determined more by an ideology of use than
by a garment’s physical robustness or the strength of the user–object
relationship. In short, durability is user-based rather than product-
based, though played out in material form. This suggests that in order
to promote greater resourcefulness and longevity of products in fashion,
it is to clothing competency and the “craft of use” that we must turn
our attention. For such processes recognize the social and experiential
dimensions to fashion, which, facilitated by a garment’s materials,
design, and construction, influence how long clothing lasts.
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... The "New Textiles Economy" strategy by the EMF considers "transform [ing] Sustainability 2023, 15, 11993 4 of 16 the way clothes are designed, sold, and used" to be a key pillar to help break garments and textiles free from their increasingly disposable nature [2,15]. A growing number of research projects are contributing to our understanding of how garments are appropriately durable [48]. This includes a previous article by the authors that defined durability as the ability of a product to withstand changes caused by the environment in both intrinsic and extrinsic dimensions [49]. ...
... Throughout history, clothes have been regularly thrashed, unpicked, resewn, rejuvenated, reconditioned, cut, repurposed, revived, worn, and remade [77]. Care and repair of clothing often fall on women as a domestic responsibility, who commonly share this durability knowledge among females across different generations [48]. Unfortunately, rather than celebrating the creativity and craft of maintenance, there has always been a focus on the shame of poverty and need [77], a belief that has only strengthened with the growing desirability and taste of tailored Western-style clothing [1,24,78]. ...
... While the above-mentioned practices strongly differ based on the local practices of different communities, this brief introduction highlights that they all share the common goal of extending the lives of garments and textiles. They emerge from the culturally embedded wisdom of thrift, domestic provisioning, and care for loved ones [48], generating employment mainly across the informal sector [53]. This "tacit knowledge" refers to the wisdom, skills, and abilities an individual gains through experience and is often difficult to put into words or communicate otherwise [103]. ...
Full-text available
Large quantities of second-hand clothing have been exported from the Global North to the Global South in recent decades, placing a heavy social and environmental burden on local communities. Consequently, countries in the Global South are leveraging indigenous craftsmanship through various practices, such as care, repair, and upcycling, to enable durability and extend product life, saving millions of garments from landfills. However, this knowledge is not included in global narratives on durability and the circular economy. Moreover, the Global North dominates the conversation, often leaving out the social dimension and risking a circular transition from achieving important goals such as decent jobs to reducing the unequal distribution of negative environmental and social impacts. This study examines the trinary interrelationship between circularity, garment durability, and just transition through an integrative literature review. The review revealed several key findings. Firstly, the authors posit that garment durability is an ongoing interaction between the garment and its changing environment(s) and user(s), enabling it to move through different life cycles via the practices of care, mending, and repair. Secondly, all three concepts must place people at the heart of the fashion industry to ensure a just and circular transition.
... While considerable efforts have been devoted to improving the production stage, little attention has been paid to improving consumption behavior, especially in the use phase [4]. With the growing number of purchased, used, and discarded clothes, the current clothing consumption pattern negatively affects the clothing lifespan, becoming a primary environmental challenge [5][6][7][8][9][10][11]. A particular concern is the rapid development of fast fashion in the last decade, which advocates for high-volume, lowcost consumption, and has hence continuously accelerated environmental impact through consumption [6,9,12,13]. ...
... A particular concern is the rapid development of fast fashion in the last decade, which advocates for high-volume, lowcost consumption, and has hence continuously accelerated environmental impact through consumption [6,9,12,13]. However, consumer awareness and knowledge of sustainable consumption behavior is limited, resulting in a large number of clothing items being purchased with inefficient use, and irrational disposal [5,9,10,14,15]. Such a consumption pattern urgently needs to be transformed through behavioral change interventions; in turn, this first requires a comprehensive understanding of consumer behavior [16]. 2 of 18 As the middle phase of consumption, clothing use not only influences purchase behavior, but also directly affects disposal behavior [17,18]. With a large number of clothing items owned and a low wearing frequency, decisions made during the use phase result in a large volume of items that are worn out or no longer desired, and a large quantity of new purchases, leading to environmental impact through waste, production, and transport [3,4,9,15,18]. ...
... As the middle phase of clothing consumption, clothing use behavior plays an important role and connects with other phases of consumption [3,17,18]. Since consumers' number of clothing items is determined by the number of items they own, their inflow through purchases, and outflow through disposal [11], the lifespan of owned clothing is determined by the number of times a garment has been worn (usage frequency), resulting in a division into active, passive, and unused items [5,9,11,26] (see Figure 1). Positive use behavior is associated with frequent wear (active use) and owning clothing items in numbers that correspond to the demand, which improves the clothing lifespan [5,9,26]. ...
Full-text available
Consumers’ current clothing consumption behavior patterns have become the primary challenge to environmental sustainability within the clothing industry. In order to ensure any behavioral change intervention is successful, a thorough understanding of consumers’ current consumption behavior is required. Accordingly, we aimed to identify factors related to sustainable clothing consumption by categorizing the actual clothing consumption behaviors of Chinese consumers. Specifically, the study aims to answer two sub-questions: (1) how can we categorize clothing consumption behaviors? and (2) what factors influence different types of clothing consumption behaviors? Data were collected through a two-phase survey that included observations and a questionnaire. The consumer behavior was divided into three categories based on the actual total number of clothing items and clothing usage frequency during a designated period. Among these categories, demographics and clothing consumption behavior variables were examined in the purchase, use, and disposal phases, using Chi-square analysis, Fisher’s exact test, and variance analysis. The findings show that gender, age, brand preference, annual expenditure, number of new items, purchase priorities, reason for disposal, disposal channels, disposal quantity, repair experience, duration of use, price, and clothing type were the main factors related to sustainable clothing consumption. Finally, we discuss the implications of our findings and define the issues to be addressed in order to move towards sustainable clothing consumption behavior changes.
... Chon et al. (2020) argumenta que o conceito de sustentabilidade de estende para lá das atividades conscientes relacionadas com o ambiente, referindo antes que este conceito se interliga com a complexidade das relações humanas face à ecologia, à economia, à política e a outras dimensões sociais globais e locais. Então, a moda produz um mundo no qual o corpo, quando vestido, apresenta uma série de práticas que podem ser situadas através de diferentes graus de interação social, ou seja, o corpo no punk tal como o corpo na slow fashion é influenciado por valores sociais e por dimensões sensitivas, que originam espaços de convívio e de comunicação, através dos quais a resiliência e a resistência são feitas através de significados emocionais (Fletcher, 2012). O corpo vestido e a moda podem (e devem) ser vistos como uma prática social que transparece uma adoção coletiva ou individual de moedas de trocas culturais. ...
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Fashion, in the field of recent and contemporary academic studies, still remains as an incipient topic. Thus, our work is situated in this gap, in the sense that it intends to offer the reader a theoretical and historical view on punk fashion since the 1970s to the present time, being that at the present time the focus will be on the growing relevance of slow fashion. Indeed, this article intends to emphasize an approach that has as background an analysis that aims to interconnect fashion with an activist practice, in historical terms, in Portugal, as well as to account for the importance of the adoption of an ethos and a DIY praxis among young Portuguese punk. In parallel, it should be noted that this work is the result of a long field research that lasted between the years 2012 and 2017, in Portugal, in which had been carried out, 240 semi-structured interviews to key actors of the punk movement in Portugal. However, given the limitations imposed, we will only focus on a visual analysis, i.e., we will focus on the presentation of photographs by some of these key players and that, in our view, portray these changes in terms of fashion, activism and DIY in Portugal.
... Da slow fashion ao punk como meio de resistência juvenil Chon et al. (2020) argumenta que o conceito de sustentabilidade de estende para lá das atividades conscientes relacionadas com o ambiente, referindo antes que este conceito se interliga com a complexidade das relações humanas face à ecologia, à economia, à política e a outras dimensões sociais globais e locais. Então, a moda produz um mundo no qual o corpo, quando vestido, apresenta uma série de práticas que podem ser situadas através de diferentes graus de interação social, ou seja, o corpo no punk tal como o corpo na slow fashion é influenciado por valores sociais e por dimensões sensitivas, que originam espaços de convívio e de comunicação, através dos quais a resiliência e a resistência são feitas através de significados emocionais (Fletcher, 2012). O corpo vestido e a moda podem (e devem) ser vistos como uma prática social que transparece uma adoção coletiva ou individual de moedas de trocas culturais. ...
Full-text available
This paper seeks to reflect the various interpretations of the ways of seeing the empty spaces in the artwork, through a theoretical discussion on perception and visual culture, the hermeneutic methodology of the image is implemented in photographs of two exhibitions where visual silences are manifested as an aesthetic and political experience in social protest: the Art-Less initiative and the work Take the Money and Run. It is important to recognize within the composition of an artwork, the saturation of noise that allows visual silences to be acts of insurrection, and consequently, to contribute with elements that reflects of the understanding of the processes and contexts where aesthetic silences as a political action are manifested, whether in the streets or in private spaces, such as museums, where individuals or creative authors have the opportunity to recreate them and, the spectators, to re-signify them.
... Collaborative consumption encourages consumers to concentrate on temporarily using instead of permanently owning clothes (Bardhi and Eckhardt, 2010). A consumer trend that is leading from ownership toward user-ship (Fletcher, 2012;Petersen and Riisberg, 2017). ...
Purpose This study aims to explore young German consumer perspectives of rental fashion platforms by studying their perceived benefits, potential barriers as well as preferred clothing categories to rent from. This “new” kind of shopping has not yet found great success among young German adults, although there is a substantial margin of growth for this generation. Design/methodology/approach This qualitative study was conducted through 24 in-depth semi-structured interviews with young female and male German consumers out of Gen Y and Z. The analysis of the data was supported by the software NVivo. Findings Results indicate that young German consumers value renting clothes for occasions, to frequently change up their wardrobe, out of sustainability aspects and because of efficiency and convenience reasons. However, an entry barrier to the use of rental platforms still persists through a lack of awareness and information, as well as price and high demand issues. Research limitations/implications As the interview’s focus group was set to young German consumers, a generalization of the findings to consumers from other countries or out of other generations might be limited. Practical implications Managers first need to lower the currently existing entry barrier that prevents many consumers from renting fashion online by raising their awareness and providing them with sufficient information about the platform’s processes as well as their terms and conditions. Originality/value This research intends to better understand young German consumers’ attitude toward rental fashion platforms and why renting fashion has not yet achieved more success among them.The results first give managers helpful insights for implementing successful marketing strategies by focusing on spreading awareness among young German adults to stem current entry barriers. Second, these results serve as a basis for future quantitative research that deepens the understanding of the correlation of current findings with other variables (e.g. age, the importance of material possessions in consumers’ lives).
... To improve the product's life and maintain its time of use [2], researchers developed the emotionally durable design to enhance the emotional connection between the user and the product, thus promoting a resilient relationship [3]. There is a need to explore sustainability through emotional durability because the lifespan of fashion products is determined by aesthetics, meanings, user behaviours, and the ideology of use [4]. In particular, the user's psychological and emotional responses towards the design of a product need to be investigated due to their dominating role in the user's decision-making [5]. ...
Full-text available
To promote a resilient user-product relationship for sustainable fashion, design methods for emotional durability are required. Digitally transformable fashion design can be seen as a practical approach that enables dynamic, sensory, experiential, and emotional interaction. Literature shows that features of transformable fashion and textiles, such as versatility, perceived quality, biomorphic forms, and aesthetics, can induce emotional durability in users. However, mainstream works are conducted from function-oriented and technology-led perspectives, neglecting the significance of fashion design as a creative and affective role. To fill the gap, we present exhaustive accounts of two autobiographical design projects as case studies: Pneum-Muscle, a body-worn pneumatic wearable, and E-coral, an artistic interactive textile installation. We utilised the first-person soma design method to facilitate the iterative design and unfold the emotional connection between the user and the materials. We contribute technology-embedded fashion design strategies to inspire novice fashion designers, which involve dynamic draping, ambiguous cutting, and sewing technique-based pneumatic systems. Design guidelines generated can shed new light on the artistic use of technologies, somatic design, and the emotionally durable design approach.
Purpose Researchers have paid little attention to elucidating how customer-perceived innovative apparel attributes are linked to brand reputation and consumer buying behaviors. This study intends to bridge that gap by providing empirical evidence on the effects of product novelty, product difference and product inimitability on brand reputation and behavioral intentions in the context of garment purchasing. We also investigate the moderating effects of self-congruity and value consciousness on the attribute‒brand reputation linkages, as well as their immediate influence on the domain variables. Design/methodology/approach The proposed model was estimated using data from a web-based survey of 299 female apparel customers. Structural equation modeling was employed to test the relationships between variables. Findings The results indicate that product novelty, product inimitability, self-congruity and value consciousness significantly influence brand reputation. The results also demonstrate that self-congruity, value consciousness and brand reputation have direct effects on behavioral intention, while self-congruity and value consciousness appear to moderate the relationship between innovative product attributes and brand reputation. Originality/value This study is the first to present a conceptual model that systematically encompasses product innovation, brand perceptions and behavioral links in the field of women's clothing. The findings have important implications for both academics and practitioners in the field of fashion marketing.
The ecological transition requires the transformation of consumers’ practices. However, for this transformation to occur, consumers must first be aware of the impacts of their practices. This article aims to understand how such awareness is achieved, through the study of textile materials in clothing. The analysis of 21 interviews conducted twice reveals the stages of the awareness process of textile materials. Reflection (moving from lived experience to representations) and then disadaptation (events creating a discrepancy between reality and representations) lead to conceptualization, from which the ethical issues involved gradually emerge. The first level of awareness concerns the impacts of textile materials on the durability of clothing. The second level concerns their impacts on the living world. These results, which fall within the scope of Transformative Consumer Research, provide guidelines to support changes in consumers’ practices toward a more ethical consumption.
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The fashion industry has been driven by limitless consumption-led growth spearheaded by companies in the fast fashion segment, with a dominant business model based on massive accelerated demand, production, consumption, and disposal. Despite companies’ efforts to decouple the pursuit of growth from its negative impacts, a more sufficiency-driven approach seems imperative to curb consumerism and contribute more effectively to sustainability. This study draws on the literature to build a three-pillar framework of potential strategies to enable fashion companies to foster sufficient consumption and reduce dependence on the sale of new items, with benefits expected for both consumers and companies. Subsequently, it uses multiple case study to examine qualitatively the annual reports issued during 2013–2014 and 2020–2021 by a sample of ten top companies in this segment. The goal is to assess whether these companies are embracing such strategies, what (if any) evolution occurs between these two periods, whether the 2030 Agenda with its SDG12 ‘Responsible consumption and production’ plays a mediating role in their adoption, and what is the logic behind such evolution. The results show that, although such adoption is gaining momentum, companies tend first to embrace strategies with less impact on their traditional modus operandi. Further, the laxity of SDG12 enables companies to profess commitment even when not addressing any of the strategies to foster sufficient consumption. This study aims to give actors critical awareness of this issue and provide practical guidance for managers to adopt and combine these strategies decisively to fully embrace the principles of circular economy and a more holistic approach to sustainability. It also advises companies to avoid the risk of ‘anti-consumerist washing’—a newly identified variant of greenwashing—and proposes to study a ‘hierarchical pyramid of business strategies to rationalize consumption’.
In today's unsustainable world of goods, where products are desired, purchased, briefly used and then promptly landfilled to make way for more, consumption and waste are rapidly spiralling out of control with truly devastating ecological consequences. Why do we, as a consumer society, have such short-lived and under-stimulating relationships with the objects that we invest such time, thought and money in acquiring, but that will soon be thoughtlessly discarded? Emotionally Durable Design is a call to arms for professionals, students and academic creatives; proposing the emergence of a new genre of sustainable design that reduces consumption and waste by increasing the durability of relationships established between users and products. In this provocative text, Jonathan Chapman pioneers a radical design about-face to reduce the impact of modern consumption without compromising commercial viability or creative edge. The author explores the essential question, why do users discard products that still work? It transports the reader beyond symptom-focused approaches to sustainable design such as design for recycling, biodegradeability and disassembly, to address the actual causes that underpin the environmental crisis we face. The result is a revealing exploration of consumer psychology and the deep motivations that fuel the human condition, and a rich resource of creative strategies and practical tools that will enable designers from a range of disciplines to explore new ways of thinking and of designing objects capable of supporting deeper and more meaningful relationships with their users. This is fresh thinking for a brave new world of creative, durable and sustainable products, buildings, spaces and designed experiences.
Focusing on dress practices that involve both new and secondhand clothing in Zambia, this article discusses the 'social death' of things. The ephemeral and fleeting qualities are revealed in the social relations and interactions in which dress is embedded. Different contextual evaluations of the involvement of dress with their wearers' changing lives illustrate how demonstrative display of the dressed body produces experiences of dress that vanish almost as soon as they have been created.
The unsustainable consumption and waste of natural resources is a legacy of modern times, born largely from the inappropriate marriage of excessive material durability with fleeting product lifespans. Waste management facilities throughout the European Union (EU) are overloaded with fully functioning domestic electronic products (DEPs). In many cases, waste of this nature can be seen as nothing more than a symptom of a failed relationship between the user and the product. This is because consumer desire is unstable; it continually evolves and adapts, whilst the DEPs deployed to both mediate and satisfy those desires remain relatively frozen in time. It is this incapacity for evolution and growth that renders most products incapable of both establishing and sustaining relationships with users. The waste this inconsistency generates is substantial, coming at increasing cost to manufacturers facing the policy-driven demands of the EU Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) Directive and, perhaps more importantly, the natural world. We must therefore begin to consider the emergent paradigm of emotionally durable design to propose new and alternative genres of DEPs that reduce the consumption and waste of resources by increasing the resilience of relationships established between consumers and their products; presenting a more expansive, holistic approach to design for durability, and more broadly, the lived experience of sustainability.