Designers are often concerned with improving the environmental and ethical performance of the products they create, but the issue of over-production is a difficult point to address when the success of a label traditionally relies on increasing product sales. It is clear that over-production wastes resources during manufacture but impacts also arise from the packaging, transportation, storage and distribution of surplus stock to the point of sale. While all over-production is wasteful, it is the volume of products being moved within the fashion system that raises concern, since production figures are largely based upon predictive sales numbers that may or may not eventuate.
TED’s ‘Design to Minimise Waste’ promotes a call to address the issue of waste in the fashion industry, and a number of companies and labels are exploring a variety of approaches that aim to reduce this impact. Most notably producers are embracing advances in new technology that are shifting the way that garments are both designed and produced. For example, consumers can now place orders directly with a supplier or they can use web-based technologies that allow for product customisation, which ensures garments are produced on demand. Moreover, consumers are now able to engage in the design process itself by using crowd-sourcing Internet sites, which enable the consumer to participate in the innovation process of a range of products from jeans to trainers. Production is also moving away from the industrial environment since open source websites are enabling consumers to download paper patterns so that garments can be produced within the home. The Swedish project, Fashion Freaks, is an online platform dedicated to wheelchair users looking for ideas, knowledge and solutions that support the alteration or construction of fashion garments. While the project developers Meagan Whellans and Susanne Berg are providing support to the community, they also encourage participation and engagement with the website which operates as a portal for the exchanging of ideas, knowledge and personal insight for people who often feel marginalised in mainstream society.
Image 1: Fashion Freaks website
Rather than transporting goods the Fashion Freaks website promotes the notion of transporting information. The project website is filled with downloadable patterns and sewing instructions for specifically designed garments, and tips and advice on how to adapt conventional clothing for wheelchair users. The site supports the user on many levels - they are invited to share ideas, participate in debates, and learn new skills that supports a DIY approach to fashion making. This multifaceted approach highlights the value of the Internet as a tool that can enable small labels and producers to connect with users and consumers. Although companies such as Etsy are extending beyond the marketplace to connect consumers with producers, thinkers, and activists, the Fashion Freaks project clearly intends to further benefit society through the use of the online paradigm and inclusive strategies. This form of ‘Design Activism’ highlights the potential, if not need, for the fashion industry to explore and support smaller, niche labels that are much more responsive to individual needs and requirements.
Image 2: Fashion Freaks body types illustrations
The Fashion Freaks project also serves to remind us that fashion labels could do well to embrace the notion of TED’s ‘Design to Dematerialise and Develop Systems and Services’ tactic. It also illustrates the potential business opportunities for labels to offer products and services that meet todays technologically enabled market needs. In the drive to lead consumers to buy less, the perfect opportunity arises for an increase in new, inventive design services that focus on, for example, repairing, remodelling, and leasing garments, which shifts the fashion industry towards product service systems (PSS). The value-added benefits of such a system provides consumers with a rich mix of personalised and professional services that are responsive to particular requirements, and the Fashion Freaks project shows just how important it is to communicate with users to reveal the specific products and services that are needed.
Image 3: Fashion Freaks sample garment
Image 4: Fashion Freaks jeans adaptation instructions