1 Mar 2019

Research Manifesto



At the end of the 19th century, after the second industrial revolution, mass production became the standard way to produce goods. Back then this transformation was seen by many (including the modernists) with idealist eyes. The possibilities provided by increasing efficiency of production inspired a positivist discourse regarding the benefits that “the modern way” would bring to humanity, including democratization of consumption due to lower costs, comfort, etc. Although many of these expectations where actually met, today we know that the model of mass production brought other problems that at the moment were not considered. The social, environmental and economic issues that abundance brought along lead us to see mass production today as a system that “doesn’t work anymore”. 

According to many analysts a new model of production and consumption is currently emerging; a model that can, once again, revolutionize the way we get and make things. This new model involves flexible infrastructure of production to manufacture products on demand in order to respond to personalized needs and desires. Once again technology promises to solve many of the current problems of humanity generated by the “old system”; and if this time we want to see the actual results that this “revolution” may bring, we should approach it with as much objectivity as we can, critically and employing multidisciplinary resources.  

This time we should ask ourselves how can emerging models of flexible production and personalized products have a positive impact on sustainability without assuming that they are inherent to technology and will come along. If we look forward to improve our world the focus should be in finding the way to do it, building it based on knowledge, on trial and error, critical analysis and assessment, with the right goal in mind. No digitalization only for the sake of de-materializing, not flexibilization only for the sake of freedom of choice, no participation only for the sake of involving more people. The question should be: when do de-materialization, freedom of choice and involvement lead to a better reality for humanity and the planet? I certainly don’t know the answer, but I do suspect it is not “always”.

22 Nov 2018

Assessing the impact of design strategies on clothing lifetimes, usage and volumes: The case of product personalisation

This article, co-authored with my PhD supervisors, has been recently published at the Journal of Cleaner Production.

Abstract

Product lifetimes and obsolescence have been central points of discussion in the fashion field. In this context, design researchers and practitioners have proposed a variety of strategies to enable slower cycles of product replacement, leading to smaller volumes of clothing production and consumption. A previous review of these strategies, however, revealed that there is no empirical evidence of their efficacy in terms of lifetime extension or environmental sustainability. Therefore, this research takes a first step in covering this knowledge gap. It proposes methods to assess the impact of such approaches and applies them to the specific case of “product personalisation”, the strategy most frequently mentioned in literature.

Clothing has characteristics that are not present in other product categories common in lifetimes studies. These characteristics enable comparative analysis of products, diachronic studies over relatively short periods of time, and estimations of the environmental benefits of lifetime extension. Taking advantage of such particularities, the article evaluates the environmental gains of personalised products by comparing their performance with ready-made garments in terms of age, usage, influence on new product demand, and waste. The research is based on a series of wardrobe studies and company interviews.

The outcomes of these studies question the environmental benefits of product personalisation. When compared with ready-made garments, personalised garments were not kept for longer time, nor were they used more frequently. Moreover, no evidence of their contribution to reductions in new product demand and waste was found.

These findings confirm the need for more empirical research to understand the effect of this and other design strategies aimed at delaying clothing obsolescence and reducing production volumes and waste. Such enquiries can provide relevant feedback to practitioners developing creative solutions. In that way, empirical research and creative practice can benefit from each other's input and build iterative cycles that ensure effective actions. The methods advanced in this study aim at supporting this valuable line of research, leading to a more environmentally-sound apparel sector.

4 May 2018

Measuring the Dutch Clothing Mountain featured in the news

Our research featured in Dutch news!  Last Tuesday Nieuwsuur discussed the issue of textile waste, I was interviewed about clothing volumes based on data from the Dutch Clothing Mountain report (AUAS, MVO Nederland, MODINT, Circle Economy, Saxion, Sympany).  WATCH THE VIDEO HERE


20 Nov 2017

Three events on fashion, design and sustainability

Busy times this semester! I've been attending some events related to this research.

On the 9th and 10th of October I traveled to Aalto University in Helsinki to attend the Seminar Sustainable Fashion in a Circular Economy and the Doctoral Colloquium in Sustainable Fashion organised by Kirsi Niinimaki. The colloquium was a great opportunity to meet international peers and understand different research approaches in sustainable fashion at a doctoral level. There were practice-based design researchers, anthropologists, economists, etc. Great chance to comment on and be aware of each other's work. I shared and overview of my PhD with doctoral candidates and professors and got good feedback. Some participants found my findings important and surprising.

The seminar hosted interesting talks. Sarah Han's insights on UK's textile waste management and Ruari Mahon's branding and retail cases focusing on sustainable values were particularly relevant and new to me. From a design perspective, Ulla Ræbild's insights on How to Design Garments for a Subscription Service were also refreshing. The activity of the Sustainable Fashion research group, led by Kirsi Niinimaki is impressive. Finland is definitely in front of the Netherlands in terms of research in sustainable fashion. Probably due to the institutional context of fashion design education (University rather than Applied Sciences University level, with a longer tradition in research).




On the 20th October Amsterdam Fashion Institute and Circle Economy organised a new edition of their Beyond Green event. This time it took place at the headquarters of the company HEMA in Amsterdam Noord. The most interesting part of this event is that students work on actual sustainability challenges proposed by industry. Moreover, the morning hosted speakers (mainly from industry) on fashion and sustainability. Good event for the general public. My researcher head sometimes misses more in-depth content is this kind of events, but it's a great inspiration for those with a hands-on approach. The organisation and storytelling skills of Gwen Cunningham surprise me over and over again.

















Finally, on the 8th, 9th and 10th of November I participated in the Product Lifetimes and the Environment (PLATE) in Delft. This was one of the best conferences I've attended. With around 150 attendees, it really felt like a community of like-minded people doing relevant research work. Surprisingly, there was a lot of research on clothing. The event included a PhD-only session for networking (photo), keynote speakers including the inaugural talk of Prof. Ruud Balkenende at TU Delft and dozens of article presentations. I presented the article "Reducing clothing production volumes by design: a critical review of sustainable fashion strategies", co-authored with Balkenende. I got great comments on the article and the results of the clothing mountain project, which I sneaked briefly in the presentation.



19 Sep 2017

How big is the Dutch clothing mountain?



The HvA, MODINT, Saxion, MVO Nederland, Circle Economy and Sympany have collaborated to measure the Dutch clothing mountain and compare it with that of other countries in the region. 

The research indicates that Dutch consumers buy approximately 46 items of clothing and footwear per year. We keep approximately 173 items in our wardrobe, of which 50 have not been worn in the last year and 7 are second-hand. 3 garments per person are discarded in the supply chain (before arriving to consumers). We throw away approximately 40 clothes per year, 24 of these are incinerated. 5 are collected separately but they are not suitable for reuse, so they can be recycled, 2 are rewearable according to consumers, but not by international second-hand standards; finally, 9 of these garments are suitable for the international second-hand market. 

Based on these and other facts, we provide recommendations to reduce the size of the Dutch clothing mountain for consumers, companies, designers, fashion schools, textile collectors and sorters, municipalities, and public policy. Moreover, we suggest promising directions for further research.