Up-cycling Through User Interaction
In New Zealand, increased availability of cheap imported clothing has encouraged consumers to buy more and resulted in large quantities of clothing being discarded. The New Zealand Ministry for the Environment, estimates textiles account for 4% of landfill waste which was equivalent to 31.5kg per person for 2006. Many of the discarded items are of low quality and unable to be sold, ending up in the landfill.
My research explored opportunities to add value to discarded clothing and textiles, as a way of extending the life of low value textile items and enabling them to re-enter the fashion system. Three main ideas that emerged were up-cycling, user interaction, and creating a narrative for the garment. User participation was investigated as a way to “add value,’ as it was hoped that by enabling the user to interact with the design they would value the item more. Exploring this concept led to the development of a range of garments and garment kits that focused on methods and techniques that could be easily mastered and used materials that would be readily available to the user. A group of research participant’s trialled the garment kits, made their own garments and provided feedback which informed the final phase of the project and the development of revised kits and garments. The participants reported that they felt Inspired to do more sewing and learn new techniques, were able to follow the instructions but adapt aspects to suit themselves, formed an attachment to the garment by being involved in the process and realised the potential for using old clothing and revamping items they already owned. The negative feedback centred around lack of choice over the contents and garments they were given to make, some garments were not completed to their preferred quality standard, the amount of work involved to make the whole garment and a recommendation that practice materials would have been useful. This feedback assisted in the development of two types of kits being created; one that was provided to the consumer when they purchased the up cycled garment and one was a transformation kit that was designed to be sold separately, to extend the life of the users’ existing garments.
My research suggests opportunities to add value to discarded textiles and extend the life of existing clothing may be possible, by focusing on user participation as a design constraint. The designer could become a facilitator of ideas and methods, by creating garments that allow adaptation and individualization and provide opportunities for users to develop skills that enable them to interact with their clothing and transform items that may be worn, stained or no longer desirable into something new and wearable. By encouraging consumers to be involved in extending the life of their own garments, they are able to create clothing that reflect themselves as an individual, and they build skills and confidence so they rely less on mass-produced fashion.