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Words Sofie Weinell
Illustration Alicja Biala

How can it be that sustainable fashion is still limited to being associated with organic cotton, while the fashion industry is continuously expanding? The collections are appearing faster, and some High Street chains claim that they are able to have new trends in stores within 2 weeks, as a result of the ever growing demands from costumers - for new products.

Today, the range of knowledge concerning sustainable fashion is still narrow compared to other cultural concepts. Sustainability in the context of food culture has developed beyond organic production and is now also characterized by local production and seasonal menus. An alternative strategy in the domain of fashion could be to turn the concept upside down. Instead of focusing on producing more garments made from sustainable materials, we could focus on how fewer products can meet all our needs over a longer period of time. A way to challenge today’s fascination of quantity above quality could very well be for designers to prioritize what affects the design experience and how the design experience affects the lifetime of garments. Design experience is about creating value for the recipient and it may be through this kind of value that we can affect the lifetime of a garment. It is definitely a subject with many possible solutions which might be exactly what the fashion industry is missing: Different solutions that provide experiences of value.

It may seem as if the clothing that is available in stores today is missing the value of sensory experience. If a design does not comprise an experience, there will be no interaction. We do not feel the need to touch the product, because the surface of the materials do not appear intriguing to the eye. We do not feel the need to smell a leather jacket, when it is not real leather - fake leather does not only yield a cheaper product, but also a cheaper experience. An item may contain different elements to create an expression. When we experience these elements; we do it through our senses. Most people are able to identify with this notion when it comes to food: We eat with our eyes first, and then we cannot help but to want to taste it. It is natural that we feel the need to look, then touch and sometimes even smell an item in order to properly understand it. The first thing you notice about an item is whether it’s aesthetically appealing to you. Secondary you will notice if you feel the need to touch the materials, and if a material like leather is used, you can even enjoy the smell. - The experience has begun.

A solution for creating products with more value for the user could be to challenge the receiver’s senses by means of tactility, materials of real quality, and craftsmanship. We build our understanding of items around the experiences we get through the 5 senses: Sight, hearing, smell, taste, and touch. In the context of design, taste is probably the only sense which cannot be activated. At least traditionally.

We see an expression and can be satisfied through its aesthetic appearance. The visual aspect is important because our experience often starts with the sight of something, which then generates a curiosity to go further into exploring.

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Our hearing may not be the first sense we think of when discussing fashion design, but it can still be activated by the use of materials, or different trims that provide sounds when we are interacting with them.

Our smell is probably activated mostly by natural materials; we might especially know it from the leather scent, however, wool can also contribute with a very distinct fragrance.

Our sense of touch is perhaps the most essential in order to obtain a complete design experience. It will be activated the moment we touch something, and both materials, trims, and the craft can add to the experience.

Many of these sensory experiences are highly connected to each other. My own personal experience is that the most exhilarating aesthetic experiences are often the ones that satisfy your senses at several levels, i.e. when several senses are activated at the same time. Somehow the experience then remains relevant and rewarding.

That being said, the concept of ‘the five senses’ has been challenged by anthropologists since the 1980’s. The argument is that the five senses is a product of our history and therefore not natural or universal. By focusing exclusively on the five senses, other ways of experiencing might be overlooked, .e.g. we also use our intuition and predictability to sense and form experiences. The list of "alternative senses" is long, amongst the most interesting when it comes to creating design experiences is the sensation of coldness and warmth, as well as how we compare pressure and the sense of colour.

Besides the experiences we get from the traditional and alternative senses, another relevant questions to ask is if we are also able to experience great craftsmanship? Think about a sweater your grandmother knitted in comparison to one you bought from a high- street brand. Over the years, great craftsmanship has been associated with economic value, however, it can also to some degree contain emotional value - possibly because we can relate or even feel that there is a human being behind it. Providing great craftsmanship can therefore also be a way to create a value. This can be cultivated by nurturing the small details that handmade products naturally contain. And by welcoming the little mistakes - or rather the unevenness which handmade products might have. Another way to create a valuable experience could be through personal influence. Personally I believe that the one wearing it connects with designs at a more profound level when they are granted the opportunity to make things more personal and based on experience. Therefore, one can find inspiration in contemporary art and ‘relational aesthetics’, which generally focuses on shaping a relationship in the meeting between the viewer and the object. What makes ‘relational aesthetics’ interesting as a design concept is the degree of closeness it can create. The meeting between a piece of art and a subject becomes aesthetics, and this is where value can emerge!

By creating flexibility in garments, that require a user’s involvement to take shape, designs will create an experience in our interaction with them. This could mean the possibility of personification of an item. For instance, the user could have influence on the form, overall expression, or perhaps even the colour. In other words the user will have the possibility to create an individualistic expression. Another element, which can create experiences, can be surprises. The great thing about surprises is that they can challenge our expectations of how a product is supposed to be. We are being dragged out of our comfort zone and in a moment of recognition, we might be able to change our idea. Surprises are by nature an experience and can be a gift that keeps on giving, because you can revert to it over and over again. It may be difficult to imagine fashion containing surprises. After all, it is not a living thing, however, it may be the surprise of crafted details or materials that feel different from what you expected. It may also be secret pockets, extra features or how a design changes with your body - to name a few of the possibilities. I guess they are endless.

Focusing on aesthetic experiences is about challenging the culture of fashion. Not just for the purpose of reaching a goal of less fascination with quantity, but also to create more awareness, more durability and functionality. In other words it’s about creating a culture with more quality - for everybody!

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