Our students were recently given a project relating to the word ‘Disobey’. It was quite interesting to hear their discussions about this subject and the research that they have collected. It also made me think about this subject and how I would approach it. This got me thinking about regenerative design. I recently attended a seminar about this subject and how the term ‘sustainable design’ is out of date because the damage to the environment is done. It is now a climate emergency because if no action is taken, it will be too late to rectify any problems. Instead, we should be thinking about ways to heal the problem, hence the term ‘regenerative design’. This seminar also talked about how fashion can contribute to the cause while being relevant.
I won’t dwell on fast fashion as we all know it’s a major contributor to environmental problem. Instead, I thought about the emphasis of bespoke, limited and thoughtful design. The term ‘Disobey’ made me question why garments are made to be disposable even when the damage is minimal or most of the time no damage at all. Why does the industry dictate that we should replace an otherwise perfectly usable piece of clothing? My idea was to go against this thinking and actual hark back to how it was before we got stuck in this mess. There was a time when garments were loved, patched when worn and handed down the family. If you have ever seen an antique dress or even a handkerchief, you will notice the care and effort put into creating these items. Some of them were even recycled from garments that had small damage. Garments were also regularly taken apart and made into something new. In fact, this was a very normal trend during the war when rationing forced people to be inventive. My aunt even took apart old sweaters she knitted years ago and re-knitted them to fit someone else.
This got me thinking, what if elements of a garments could be changed when they are worn or when the shape is out of fashion. Instead of disposing of the whole garment, you will only need to swap out a part. We do that with machines and indeed our bodies so why not garments? I guess the answer tends to be profit so I challenged that notion.
With my experiment, I decided to make make my trusted work jacket while applying my ideas of regenerative design and disobeying current social conventions of how garments should be treated. The wool fabric that I used was second hand (donated as it had marks on the material) and the buttons were left over from another project. The only thing I bought was the bias binding as I needed one with an exact measurement to ensure the idea worked. The use of bias binding is also a great option as the whole binding is used and no waste is created. Ribbons and tape works well too.
The original pattern was altered to ensure that my idea worked. The buttons had to fasten where the original seam line would have been and the inside of the garment had to be beautifully finished. After all, when the garment is disassembled, everything is laid bare to see. Re-drafting the patterns did not take long but sewing and finishing it to a professional standard took me a while. I nevertheless took it in my stride and relished sewing again after a short hiatus.
The only part I kept permanently sewn on was the pockets. After all, I still wanted the pockets to be fully functional. The most tricky part to sew was the collar. I had to ensure that the fold and shape of the collar will still be there after it has been fasten to the neckline.
Some will question the suitability of the use of buttons as fastening. I did entertain the thought of magnets but I understand that the misuse of magnets can be dangerous. I didn’t want to use zips because it is not only a pain to assemble but I didn’t like the setting it has been used in similar situations. There is also the whole point of challenging social convention and if there is one thing I learnt from my pattern cutting course, it is to see things in a different perspective.
When I wore it to work, my colleagues were kept entertained as they asked me to unbutton bits and pieces of the jacket. This created whole new looks that got them excited. They called it a modular design because I can create new elements and swap it when I want to. The piece will keep on evolving with interchangeable parts and eventually, morph into something completely different but at the same time, have the option of returning to the original. In theory, I will never wear the same garment as it can always change by an unfastening of a button and in essence, never be out of trend.
I know this may be farfetched for some people but could this be the IKEA of garments? I could have an e-store where customers pick the different colours, print, shape and material to assemble garments that are unique to them. If they get bored with their style, all they need is take the whole thing apart, get some new parts and put it together again to create something new. This garment can also be changed to keep up with the changes of their body and parties can be held where certain parts of the garment swapped with their friends. Right, I am going to submit a patent for this idea but until then, I am happy not to sew another button for a while. There were so many I lost count.