Growing with Garments
In the realm of fashion, individuals are disconnected from the experience of agency to care for more-than-human creatures. Consumers are willing to buy sustainable products but seldom make their behaviour sustainable. Previous research reveals that the product demand in the apparel market keeps increasing even during the COVID-19 crisis. Accordingly, not only the materials in use matter to the environment but also individuals play a crucial role in fashion’s relationship with nature.
How could an individual become an active agent to practise care in fashion? And how could fashion become the medium to bridge the network instead of being the damager? A potential answer emerges from environmental psychology studies stating that the experience of nature leads us to respect and be curious about our surroundings. Above all, it makes us reflect on our actions and possibilities. Co-creating fashion with nature from the individual level is a way to reconnect us with our surroundings, which urges users to pay attention to materials in use and nonhumans’ needs. Based on the theory, the project delved into possible answers by conducting an experiment speculating a scenario for collaborating with nonhuman species to create a wearable garment.
The experiment consulted artist and designer Dasha Tsapenko on material design and developed a detachable living collar with hemp and microgreens. It recruited participants to join the experiment, in which they had to design, grow and wear the collars with plants for 21 days. The researchers provided the materials, including seeds, hemp mats, and tools. Participants’ reflections were recorded in their journals as well as the interviews, which were analysed under the framework of Grounded Theory. The results disclose that when the living nonhuman species engage in fashion, people tend to pay more attention to the materials in use and give more care to both garments and surroundings. Meanwhile, by collaborating with the livingness, individuals have a better chance to examine their behaviours. The changes of the ways of reviewing personal relationships with nature and experiencing fashion show that users’ mindsets can grow with the living garments.
Nowadays, biodesign is at the forefront of textile innovations and future materials. According to Living Artifacts (Karana, Barati and Giaccard, 2020), biodesign aims to integrate living organisms, which serves as means of communication and discovery. But in current fashion-related studies, the research that looks into the communication part of biodesign is missing. It is not clear how individuals would respond to the idea of working with and caring for other species in fashion. Also, ‘for what are we being effective’ and ‘to what end’ (Reed, 2017) stay unknown. The findings from Growing with Garments provide potential insights for both fashion and biodesign. By collaborating with the livingness, a design can serve more than reducing damage to the earth. It can be the medium that encourages users to actively respond to nature’s needs, which facilitates a bottom-up change from an individual level. Biodesign thus can be more than pure material development. The collaborative relationship and its psychological effect on humans are the new directions for material innovation.
The experiment required a tool to carry out a collaborative scene and a method to measure mindset change. A hemp-made collar kit was designed and served as the tool. The procedure for making the kit first includes wet felting that binds fibres tighter without damaging the structure of fibres. Secondly, the dried mats went through silk printing to print the collar patterns. Sewing the mats with beeswax fabric was the last step. The beeswax provides a natural waterproof layer and makes the collar wearable while watering the plants. The left materials of the collar kit can be used to grow other components by the user. The researcher can also recycle and refelt the fibres and make them into another mat.
For measuring behavioural and emotional changes, interviews and journals were the sources for assessments. In the research, participants were interviewed first to understand their fashion practices and growing plants experience before the experiment. Afterwards, they entered the growing and wearing phases which last for 21 days. Participants started designing the collars by cutting their favourite ones out of the hemp mats and sowing the seeds of microgreens on the collars. When microgreens flourished, they could wear collars and combine them with their daily outfits. Within the period, participants had to keep journals to record their growing and wearing practices regularly. After 21 days, post-experiment interviews were conducted to collect participants’ points of view on collaborating with nature and their past fashion practices.
Following the analysis methodology from sociologist Kathy Charmaz’s Constructing Grounded Theory (2006), the interviews were transcribed to text and analysed with line-by-line coding and focused coding. Line-by-line coding summarised each line of participants’ answers; focused coding pinpointed one code from line-by-line coding in each paragraph as the most important message of the paragraph. Each participant’s codes from the focused coding were gathered on an Excel sheet and arranged according to the interview questions. The codes were not only used for comparing each participant's answers before and after the experiment, but also applied to see the similarities and differences among participants.
Hemp, microgreens, cotton, beeswax
Hanka van der Voet, Katharina Siegel, Yi-Jing Chen