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VOL. 7, NO. 1 | FALL 2014



Guest Editors Pascale Gatzen and Otto von Busch Executive Editor Matthew Robb


2 West 13th Street, 9th floor New York, NY 10011

Managing Editor Emily Culliton

Parsons focuses on creating engaged citizens and outstanding artists, designers, scholars, and business leaders through a design-based professional and liberal arts education.

Copy Editor Ellen Keelan Template Design Pure+Applied

Parsons students learn to rise to the challenges of living, working, and creative decisionmaking in a world where human experience is increasingly designed.

Graphic Design HvADesign Henk van Assen Mariah Xu Illustrations 12-na Fiona Bailey Jennifer Ballie Suzanne Bocanegra BurdaStyle.com Petter Cohen Jorge Colombo Emmeline de Mooij Miriam Dym Marco Garofalo Giana Pilar González Paige Green Marc Herbst Amy Twigger Holroyd Klädoteket Simon Edgar Lord

The Journal of Design Strategies is published by The New School in association with the School of Design Strategies at Parsons The New School for Design.

The school embraces curricular innovation, pioneering uses of technology, collaborative methods, and global perspectives on the future of design. Marks and Spenser OpenWear Painted Lauren Downing Peters Joke Robaard Nacho Rojas Serpica Naro Bert Stern Stephanie Syjuco Louise te Poele Bianca Thoyer Rozat Simon Upton Hannah van Grimbergen Robin Vogel Pieter Wackers

Volume 8 of the Journal, to be published Spring 2015, will address the theme of “New Public Goods.” © The New School 2014. All rights reserved. ISSN: 1935-0112. ISSN: 1935-0120 (online).










Pascale Gatzen and Otto von Busch




In the Hands of the User: The Local Wisdom Project and the Search for an Alternative Fashion System Kate Fletcher


From Open-Source Branding to Collaborative Clothing




A Winning Fabric, A Broken Text Joke Robaard

Zoe Romano

J. Morgan Puett

— — 45



Wardrobe, Recycling, Consequence: Interview with Mariano Breccia and Mechi Martinez of 12-na Elizabeth Oria


Logo Removal Service


Fashion Codes Hacked, Indexed, and Shared Giana Pilar González


Laundry Habits


Golden Joinery: On Imperfect Beauty


Fashion 2012


The Counterfeit Crochet Project (Critique of a Political Economy Stephanie Syjuco


Unpick and Remix: Textile Design Services for Fashion

Miriam Dym

Jade Whitson-Smith

I am pleased to present Volume 7 of The Journal of Design Strategies, on “Alternative Fashion Systems.” Fashion today plays a bigger role in more people’s lives than at any previous time in history. New designs move from catwalk to retail outlet with unprecedented rapidity, even as prices have fallen sharply. But this “democratization of style” can also impose its own costs, replacing a thoughtful and enduring relationship to one’s clothing with a regime of relentless consumption for its own sake. The artists, designers, and thinkers whose work is collected in this volume share a commitment to exploring new types of fashionability, beyond those recommended by the mainstream fashion system. The various projects span an exceptionally wide range, some operating squarely within the parameters of commercial enterprise, others independent of the marketplace and its demands, still others sharply critical of the current system. Notably, none of the projects exhibited here represents an “anti-fashion” sensibility: on the contrary, all of the artists, designers, and theorists showcased in these pages have a serious and abiding interest in clothing and in the many meanings that clothing style can convey. Collectively, they reaffirm fashion as something worth reflecting on. I want to thank the Karan-Weiss Foundation for its continued sponsorship of the Stephan Weiss Lecture Series as well as this Journal—support that allows us to continue to explore emerging developments at the intersection of design, business, and the wider culture we share.

Margreet Sweerts

Marc Herbst

Jennifer Ballie

— — — 93



The Brooklyn Flea: A Model for Counter-Consumption? Lauren Downing Peters


Disruption Through Download: Burdastyle.com and The Home Sewing Community Rachel Kinnard


Check Out Some Fashion: Clothing Libraries in Sweden Alessandro Esculapio


Re-Knitting: The Emotional Experience of Opening Knitted Garments Amy Twigger Holroyd

Joel Towers Dean





Each year, Parsons’ School of Design Strategies hosts the Stephan Weiss Lecture Series on Business Strategy, Negotiation, and Innovation. This lectureship was launched in 2002 to commemorate the life of the late artist and sculptor Stephan Weiss, husband and business partner of the fashion designer Donna Karan. Weiss co-founded Donna Karan International in 1984, and was instrumental in every significant venture the company undertook: launching and structuring new brands, most notably the Donna Karan Beauty Company; signing new licenses; establishing in-house legal and creative departments; devising its computer design technology; orchestrating the company’s initial public offering in 1996; and negotiating its sale to the current owner, LV MH Moët Hennessy – Louis Vuitton. In Spring 2009, the School of Design Strategies became the formal host of the Stephan Weiss Lecture Series, inaugurating a new format for the lectures, the Design Strategies Dialogue. Weiss lectures have since been conducted as interviews and as larger panel discussions, in addition to traditional lectures. Recent Weiss lecturers and Dialogue participants have included Natalie Jeremijenko, director of the Environmental Health Clinic at New York University; Yochai Benkler, Berkman Professor of Entrepreneurial Legal Studies at Harvard University and co-director of the Berkman Center for Internet and Society; Sonia Manchanda, co-founder of IDIOM Design Consulting in Bangalore, India; and João Tezza Neto, Director of Science and Technology at the Brazilian nonprofit organization Amazonas Sustainable Foundation.



Over the last decade, under the banner of a “democratized” consumption driven by ever-cheaper and more rapid production methods, fashion has become a phenomenon saturating the everyday life of most western societies. The dominant discourse and practice of fashion, which tend to support core values of the market economy, have made the fashion industry more ubiquitous and influential than ever before, but have also transformed it into an unsustainable behemoth in serious need of change. Can we identify other fashion systems and narratives, currently subsisting in the shadow of the dominant one: everyday practices of dress; alternative modes of exchange; deviant historical and cultural modes of production, consumption and dress; participatory, “do-it-yourself” (DI Y ), and other practices at the fringes of the mainstream fashion system? Could these parallel systems be nurtured and organized, creating visibility and proposing socially sustainable alternatives to the dominant models of clothing provision and the dissemination of style?

The dominant discourse and practice of fashion have made the fashion industry more ubiquitous and influential than ever before, but have also transformed it into an unsustainable behemoth in serious need of change. This issue of The Journal of Design Strategies examines alternative fashion systems now developing in the margins and interstices of the dominant market model, collecting cases, examples, and proposals from across the world and providing access points for the advancement of new practices and educational models in fashion.


OVERVIEW OF THIS VOLUME This issue of the Journal is divided into three sections. The first contains articles provided by the invited Stephan Weiss Lecturers of 2012-13. Sustainable fashion theorist Kate Fletcher shares examples of some of her work intended to promote more thoughtful and resourceful ways of maintaining and relating to one’s clothes, and a more general conception of prosperity that goes beyond mere purchasing power. Political activist and open-source pioneer Zoe Romano details her role in an elaborate hoax carried out during the 2005 Milan Fashion Week, and her more recent efforts to develop an open-source fashion brand. Artist J. Morgan Puett surveys some of her many art projects and installations that have explored various aspects of attire, particularly in their social implications. Artist and fashion theorist Joke Robaard offers a meditation on textile-based metaphors, and their power to illuminate aspects of social and political life more generally. Section 2 comprises a series of short “vignettes,” each exploring a practice that in some way represents an alternative to the mainstream fashion system. In an interview, textile artists 12-na discuss their practice of using recycled clothing both as means of exploratory self-expression and in the creation of unique, high-value garments. Artist Miriam Dym shares her practice of removing commercial logos from garments, replacing them with randomly-shaped patches in contrasting colors. Branding consultant Giana Pilar González describes her method for “hacking” the brand codes of luxury fashion lines, extracting elements and motifs that can be incorporated into other clothing items by the “craftivist” fashion lovers who attend her workshops. Textile expert Jade Whitson-Smith discusses her experiment in giving up the use of her washing machine for a year. Fashion and theater designer Margreet Sweerts describes the work of Painted, the artist collective she helped found, in particular their workshops providing instruction and support in old or almost-forgotten craft and repair methods for garments. Artist and publisher Marc Herbst shares a speculative proposal for a “post-capitalist” fashion style. Installation artist Stephanie Syjuco discusses her web- and workshop-based project


in which participants use crochet to “counterfeit” handbags based on recognizable designer styles. And sustainable fashion researcher Jennifer Ballie details a clothing “swap” initiative sponsored by the British retailer Marks and Spencer in conjunction with the UN agency Oxfam, and a correlated workshop she conducted in which participants were encouraged to redesign and repurpose existing garments using simple dressmaking techniques, taught on the spot.

A true “democratization of style” must go beyond increasing the number of available consumption choices, engaging people more directly in the active and intentional development of their personal style, and of the clothing they choose to express it.

The range and diversity of these various initiatives hint at the amount of creative and reflective energy being devoted to some of the challenges associated with mainstream fashion. But they also attest to the abiding importance of fashion itself, as a vehicle for self-definition and differentiation. In the end, these projects suggest that a true “democratization of style” must go beyond increasing the number of available consumption choices, engaging people more directly in the active and intentional development of their personal style, and of the clothing they choose to express it.

Pascale Gatzen and Otto von Busch Guest Editors, The Journal of Design Strategies Volume 7

Section 3 includes four “case studies,” each exploring a current initiative that in some way complicates the standard top-down and consumption-driven structure of the contemporary fashion industry. Fashion studies doctoral candidate Lauren Downing Peters exposes the inner workings of the Brooklyn Flea, a thriving series of flea markets that are helping stimulate, while also profiting from, an increasing interest in pre-owned and vintage clothing. Journalist, curator, and fashion designer Rachael Kinnard investigates the robust culture that has sprung up on the BurdaStyle.com website, a commercial outlet for downloadable sewing patterns which has also become a large repository of reviews, advice, and general support, created by and for home sewing enthusiasts. Fashion studies researcher Alessandro Esculapio discusses the emergence of clothing libraries in Sweden. Finally, fashion designer and researcher Amy Twigger Holroyd shares some materials from her doctoral studies focused on the practice of “re-knitting”—unraveling part of a knitted garment in order to repair or refashion it—and the emotional resonances connected with this practice.





IN THE HANDS OF THE USER: The Local Wisdom Project and the Search for an Alternative Fashion System Kate Fletcher

These consumption patterns have altered the High Street, changing the face of the market for clothes as well as our ideas about what fashion is. Combined with the decline in real prices, the need for ceaseless market growth and positive return on investment has changed the way people consume clothes— primarily by greatly accelerating their rate of consumption. In the UK alone, 2 million tons of new clothing are bought each year, and 1.1 million tons discarded.2 Besides suggesting a hoarding problem among many British consumers, this figure testifies to fashion’s enormous contribution to the waste stream.

In the UK alone, 2 million tons of new clothing are bought each year, and 1.1 million tons discarded.

Over the past 50 years, our civilization has become a consumerization. The prevailing consumerist style, in particular the expression of consumer society through the clothes we buy and wear, is so natural to our way of thinking and acting that we hardly notice it. It has become normal for us to access and engage with fashion primarily by exchanging money for products. It has also become normal to us that these same products will be out of date, stylistically incongruous, within about six months. We discard rather than repair. In fashion as in most other areas of contemporary society, our ideas of progress have become so tied to a societal narrative of growth through continuous buying that the accelerating purchase and disposal of garments is now seen as a necessary component of modern living. The market domination of clothing production and consumption has changed the fashion industry: fashion is now structured to suit the demands of consumption as an independent value. Cheaper


It has become normal for us to access and engage with fashion primarily by exchanging money for products. It has also become normal to us that these same products will be out of date, stylistically incongruous, within about six months. We discard rather than repair.

garments have likewise changed consumption patterns. In the first decade of the 21st century, clothing prices in Europe fell by over 26 percent in real terms, and in the US by 17 percent.1

Shopping is presented as a democratic choice, a political triumph that conjoins economic and personal freedoms. But we measure fashion success in terms of retail sales figures, and this in turn shapes the way we dress, as people are channeled into specific ways of dressing—calling into question how “free” our consumption choices really are. Businesses provide garments at specific price points for specific target markets; as a corollary the quality and quantity of other options often declines. Especially since the 1960s, a new hierarchy of fashion provision, driven by top designers and brands, has helped to displace nearly all other experiences of fashion. Shared public expectations of creating fashion are largely forgotten, with solutions now framed entirely within the shopping mall. Choices that don’t fit into this paradigm are made to appear undesirable, impractical, or too expensive. Contemporary fashion is also linked to structures that reinforce the socioeconomic status quo: instead of reflecting fashion’s wider potentials, the industry reflects the dominant mode of production and the interests of the dominant market players. In this way, fashion is implicated in modern systems of power and control—indeed the industry has been

described as “a velvet glove of seductive surface covering the hard fist of economic expediency.”3 Thus, if we are to begin to envision alternative fashion systems, we must be prepared to think and engage with existing patterns of power, economic logic, and social conditions. We must be prepared to ask and answer questions that speak to society’s most important themes, and to do so with a focused mind and heart. Granted, consumerism and the ceaseless pursuit of economic growth may not be at the root of all the problems we face, but they make many of those problems much, much worse. Therefore, in order to even begin to think about alternative fashion systems, we must first understand fashion’s relationship to consumerist materialism. As an engine both of rapid consumption and of the ideology of consumerism, fashion is bound up in systems of economic growth: it rewards individualization, commodification, and the speeding up of instant solutions. All this has major consequences. The UN estimates that by 2050, we as a global society will be facing a tripling of annual resource extraction and consumption rates.4 In order to maintain relative climate stability, it projects, affluent countries must reduce their resource use by about a factor of five, or 80 percent.5 The impact of the fashion sector on the global environment began receiving specific recognition in the early 1990s. In response, the industry has developed alternative fibers, new chemical processes, technical improvements in water and energy use, and supply chain efficiency improvements. Many of these changes are positive in themselves. Yet the welcome decline in impact per garment that these eco-efficiencies have delivered has been completely overshadowed by an increase in overall consumption. In other words, efforts to lessen the impact of

1 Robin Anson. “Editorial: End of the Line for Cheap Clothing?” Textile Outlook International 147 (2010): 5. 2 “Textiles and Clothing: Opportunities for Recycling,” Textile Outlook International 139 (2009): 94-113. 3 Jeremy Till, Architecture Depends (Cambridge: The MIT Press, 2009), 123.

4 “Decoupling Natural Resource Use and Environmental Impacts from Economic Growth, A Report of the Working Group on Decoupling to the International Resource Panel,” United Nations Environmental Programme (2010): 30, www.unep.org/ resourcepanel/decoupling/ files/pdf/decoupling_report_ english.pdf. 5 “Decoupling Natural Resource Use,” 30.


the fashion sector at the level of individual garments have been eclipsed by the vastly increased total number of garments that we now buy. Contemporary fashion’s dependence on the consumerist ideal lends to the idea of “sustainable fashion” an air of paradox. After all, even if we buy organic cotton children’s pajamas or recycled polyester fleece for weekends in the country, we nevertheless maintain our dependency on market exchange. We reduce our ability to be self-reliant and mark our own path, not just in acquiring clothing but in life more generally. An increasingly narrow spectrum of activity is valued, and what we demand today is more and more conditioned by prior experiences of individualistic consumption. Alternatives are forced out of the mainstream and into the shadows, and ultimately suppressed.

The UN estimates that by 2050, we as a global society will be facing a tripling of annual resource extraction and consumption rates. In order to maintain relative climate stability, it projects, affluent countries must reduce their resource use by about 80 percent. The challenges we face are more political than technical; indeed, we have most of the technologies we need to transform our economy. At the 2012 R I T E (Reducing the Impact of Textiles on the Environment) Conference, participants discussed waterless dying, super-critical carbon dioxide dying, and a range of other readily available technical initiatives that reduce the amount of resources used per garment produced.6 What we lack are the skills to apply these techniques within a larger bank of alternatives. We need new types of action, and structures that allow cultural conditions, customs and routines to change, to create new kinds of demand. Essentially, we need to adopt a much broader view. We need big thinking, political vision,


and shared public discourse that sees consumerist fashion alongside credible, viable, beautiful, exciting alternatives. If we are to think about fashion in a new way, we must not only reduce the amount we buy, but also and importantly engage with the processes and infrastructure of consumption.

If we are to think about fashion in a new way, we must not only reduce the amount we buy, but also engage with the processes and infrastructure of consumption. In her book Architecture and Design versus Consumerism: How Design Activism Confronts Growth, author Ann Thorpe explores the idea that we must confront the values of consumerism and endless growth head-on in order to foster change. She surveys research on the pleasure that attends the purchase of something one wants. If we have a fairly low overall level of consumption, we experience pleasure from buying more. However, as we begin to accumulate more, we experience diminishing emotional returns of novelty and stimulation. We become locked in a cycle of needing ever more stuff to regain the satisfaction and the stimulation experienced with earlier consumption.7 Similarly, in The Challenge of Affluence, author Avner Offer speaks eloquently about the benefits that increasing affluence has afforded over the last 50 years, in the US and the UK especially. He writes that, while affluence has indeed increased our standard of living, more moderate increases in affluence would nev6 See ritegroup.org. ertheless have sufficed Ann Thorpe, Architecture and because beyond a certain 7Design versus Consumerism: threshold, additional How Design Activism Confronts Growth (London: Routledge, wealth contributes little, 2012). nothing or even nega8 Avner Offer, The Challenge tively to well-being.8 of Affluence: Self-Control and Well-Being in the United States The struggle between Britain since 1950 (Oxford: long-term and short-term and Oxford University Press, 2006), 356. reward is at the heart of

many of the conflicts around consumption. Our sense of responsibility and concern for others draws our gaze to the longer term, but prevailing social norms and infrastructure urge, “Buy it now! You need it! You deserve it! You want it!” Individualized advertising made possible by Internet marketing strategies only reinforces this focus on ourselves.

We need prudence, self-control and willpower. We need fashion systems that promote these traits, by evoking an idea of commitment to long-term security as a counterweight to the call of the individual, immediate moment. What strategies will help us balance our desire for immediate rewards with our long-term interests and commitments? Offer suggests that we need prudence, self-control and willpower—but these are qualities that are very difficult to maintain against a backdrop of cheap, instant gratification, and that can only be cultivated through time, training and a process of social learning and education. Perhaps, then, what we need are fashion systems that promote precisely these traits, by evoking an idea of commitment to long-term security as a counterweight to the call of the individual, immediate moment. We need to change the social narrative, so that the idea of progress is no longer tied to economic growth through increasing the number of market transactions alone, and old patterns can begin to shift. We need to build a more integrated picture of social and material assets and connections, using fashion as a medium. This more integrated picture requires us to open up the life of the user. Consumerism promotes a view of us as autonomous individuals who are not part of an ethical, social world. Part of what we need from a new social narrative is a renewed sense of responsibility to others. And to create such a new social narrative, we need to enter the everyday 9 Till, Architecture Depends, 79.

experience of the user again and again. The value of sustainability is not imposed by the intrinsic physical properties of a garment but given by the social systems that surround it, by the interrelationships that happen on an ongoing basis in people’s lives. Fashion is frequently created and put on display in ways that have nothing to do with real life; instead, fashion posits an idealized moment before time enters, before the garment has been on the body of an actual person. Such an approach to design is almost an attempt to control time, or to look away from it.9 When time and the real user are ignored, fashion becomes an object for which you have no responsibility, one that isn’t about having social experiences and relationships at all, but about making money. By freezing time, you distance yourself from the garment as a potential site of social and cultural engagement and value. However, we can no longer pretend that our interest in garments stops at the point of sale. Without a sense of real life and time, garments are empty. We need to enter the complex, messy, unpredictable lives of other people and tap into them as a resource. When we operate within a broader time frame, we move away from the certainty that we can control everything—this fabric, in this style, at that cost— and instead embrace a dynamic relationship that is open to change. We should provide a frame for life to unfold in, that enables people to reach their full potential and capabilities. In other words, the new garments we create should be judged not for what they are at the point of sale, but for what they are capable of becoming. Resourcefulness is another especially crucial component of any alternative to the mainstream fashion system, particularly at a time when we are reaching the environmental limits even to continued existence on our planet. In a genuinely alternative

The new garments we create should be judged not for what they are at the point of sale, but for what they are capable of becoming.


FIGURE 1 (LEFT): Self-mended jeans. San Francisco, July 2012. Photo: Paige Green.

fashion system, design and use would comprise a single whole: what actually happens in the lives of people who use garments would provide inputs for fashion design and production. Therefore, an important part of altering the fashion system must involve fostering skills and practices that are conducive to promoting a satisfying use of garments. These components—time, resourcefulness, usership—are central to the Local Wisdom research project, an initiative to capture and record innovative practices of garment use by gathering everyday individual stories and photographs. We advertise a photo shoot in a local community, inviting members of the public to take part. People come to the shoot to share the craft of use: the subtle, clever, and satisfying things they do with their clothes as they use them. The project’s goal is to find ways to amplify the ingenious fixes, alterations, and modifications

that people have come up with in connection with their clothes (SEE FIGURES 1-3).10 Among the project’s benefits are the opportunities it provides to look elsewhere than the fashion world itself for ideas. One such idea comes from the Dutch town of Drachten, where traffic engineer Hans Monderman introduced an innovative type of street layout designed to reduce the number of accidents between pedestrians, cyclists, and vehicles.11 In a radical move, Monderman took away all the street signs and street furniture, and flattened the sidewalks to road level. He then installed a 10 See localwisdom.info. single sign declaring 11 Tom McNichol, “Roads that nobody had priorGone Wild,” Wired, December ity—in this area, called 12, 2004, wired.com/ wired/archive/12.12/traffic. a shared space, all users html?pg=1&topic=raffic&topic had to be respectful _set=.

FIGURE 2: Altered vest. Bollington, Cheshire, UK, July 2009. Photo: Fiona Bailey.



and aware of all others. The goal was not to curtail freedom and mobility but to encourage it, and to do so in a whole new way. Both traffic efficiency and pedestrian safety improved measurably after the Monderman re-design of the intersection. How was this possible? Monderman reasoned that at a road junction, if there is a sign saying who has priority, or a light that indicates who should stop, then we cease to watch out for one another. We don’t take responsibility, because the system is doing it for us. In a shared space, on the other hand, we have to take over the responsibility of watching out for each other and begin to care for everybody.

A new, alternative fashion system must be based on an ethos of care, on attentiveness to one another and concern for the future, on continuous tending.

Each of the images from Local Wisdom represents an alternative that has been suppressed because it is not part of the fashion status quo. The new fashion system must breathe life into these alternatives. It must enable our society to develop in quality without necessarily growing in quantity, that is, without producing yet more stuff. Well-being is about more than having more things. Pacing our consumption is actually better for us. We needn’t start from scratch: the stories collected in the Local Wisdom archive provide numerous examples of people who effectively regulate their consumption of fashion without in any way diminishing their joy in experiencing it. But it is up to us to foster and nourish these alternatives. These stories are seeds of hope, and they must be told many times if they are to take root and change lives. We are beginning to develop a system with alternative values, perhaps chief among them a sense of responsibility and an ethos of care. As in a shared space where no one has priority, and in particular where industry doesn’t have priority, we are allowing the absence of hierarchy. We are allowing everyone to develop opportunities in their own way.

The situation is similar in the case of consumerist fashion. Here too, it is easy to rely on government to introduce a new law that tells us what to do, or a labeling service that says, “This one is good for the planet. That one was made under fair labor conditions.” But we have to begin to take responsibility for ourselves. A new, alternative fashion system must accordingly be based on an ethos of care, on attentiveness to one another and concern for the future, on continuous tending. It’s about fostering an economy of community alongside the economy of freedom. This new system must be holistic, interdependent, dynamic, creative, responsible, resourceful, and satisfying. It must lead toward an alternative that permits us to imagine a way of living and being together not predicated on constant economic growth, that builds prosperity through channels other than the market, and that values a broad spectrum of activity, not only those that can be most readily monetized. FIGURE 3: Found sweater. San Francisco, April 2010. Photo: Paige Green.




In the mid-1990s, changes in Italian labor laws brought about a fundamental shift in the way people worked.1 These changes particularly affected young people entering the workforce, who were no longer being offered the type of long-term contracts familiar to their parents, many of whom had stayed in the same job for 30 years or more. Instead, increasing numbers of young Italians were starting their careers under reduced contracts, the details of which were often difficult to understand. I became involved in a social movement that arose to address this situation. Our Milan-based group, known as the Chainworkers, began coordinating with workers in France and England, seeking to publicize the concept of “precarity” as a way of highlighting the circumstances of young Europeans, and in particular the consequence of the new working conditions

on Italy’s youth: insecurity caused by chronic underemployment.2 The market was no longer providing 1 Rachel Donadio, “Stuck in Recession, Italy Takes on Labor Laws That Divide the Generations,” The New York Times, March 19, 2013, nytimes. com/2012/03/19/world/ europe/italy-tackles-laborlaws-that-divide-young-and-old. html?pagewanted=all. Stephan Faris, “Italy’s Labor Pains,” Bloomberg Businessweek Magazine, November 16, 2011, businessweek.com/magazine/ italys-labor-pains-11162011. html.

2 “Precarity” may refer to any condition of existence without predictability or security, affecting material and psychological welfare, but is commonly associated with the condition of underemployment. To some degree, the condition of precarity affects all of service labor, but the phenomenon is historically concentrated among youth, women, and immigrants. See Merijn Oudenampsen and Gavin Sullivan, “Precarity and N/ European Identity: (An Interview with Alex Foti [Chainworkers]),” Mute, October 6, 2004, www. metamute.org/editorial/articles/precarity-and-neuropeanidentity-interview-alex-fotichainworkers.

FIGURE 1 (SEE PREVIOUS PAGE): Logo for San Precario, developed by the Chainworkers.



adequate full-time jobs, a state of affairs very familiar to freelance, temporary, and “flex” workers in the United States, but previously unknown in Italy. Our group held weekly planning and strategy meetings in squatters’ buildings around Milan.3 With all our actions and activities self-organized and self-financed, we chose to focus our initial efforts on the two industrial sectors that employ the most young Italians: the service sector, which includes call centers, chain stores, and restaurants; and the creative sector. Both of these sectors are characterized by high levels of precarity within their labor forces. Workers in the service sector generally don’t see their job as their “real” work, and they therefore tend to avoid confronting poor conditions. We began organizing call center and supermarket workers, who were able to talk, plan, and strategize over the course of the many hours they spent working together. Working with freelancers and temporary workers proved more difficult, since they could be let go once they showed signs of organizing. Partly to address this problem, the Chainworkers drew upon the country’s tradition of patron saints in “canonizing” a new saint, an Italian worker we dubbed “San Precario,” the saint of precarious workers everywhere. We also developed an associated logo for our new saint (SEE FIGURE 1).4 The image of San Precario soon became widespread throughout Italy and Europe, largely as a result of the EuroMayDay Parades, an annual event that focuses on precarity, which originated in Milan in the early 2000’s and by 2005 were being held in 15 cities and drawing some 100,000 participants.5 Thousands of pins bearing the logo of San 3 Chainworkers interviewed by Precario were distribMaría Cecilia Fernández, “From Labor Precarity to Social Precaruted at these and similar ity: Interview,” Chainworkers events, and these pins 3.0, March 2005, www.chainworkers.org/node/82.

4 Marcello Tarì and Ilaria Vanni, “On the Life and Deeds of San Precario, Patron Saint of Precarious Workers and Lives,” The Fibreculture Journal 5 (2005): 23, five.fibreculturejournal.org/ fcj-023-on-the-life-and-deedsof-san-precario-patron-saintof-precarious-workers-andlives/.


5 Alice Mattoni, “Serpica Naro and the Others. The Media Sociali Experience in Italian Struggles Against Precarity,” Portal Journal of Multidisciplinary International Studies 5, no. 2 (2008): 4-9, epress.lib. uts.edu.au/journals/index.php/ portal/article/view/706/920.

afforded a way for service workers to identify one another without their employers’ knowledge. The other sector in Milan that my group focused on was the creative sector, comprising the intersecting worlds of fashion design, advertising, event planning, and media. In contrast to those working in the service sector, people in these fields see their career not as a job, but as an expression of their personality. As a result, many young people are willing to work for little or no pay, in the hope that they will eventually be recognized and rewarded for their creative work. These factors combine in frequentlyoverheard comments such as, “I’m a designer, but I pay my rent by working in a call center,” or, “I’m a journalist, but I work at a bar to pay the bills.” Many live with their parents until well into their thirties, staying at low-paying jobs in the anticipation of promotion and independence. However, that rarely happens: a 2009 survey by Chainworkers of fashion workers in Milan found that 60 percent had been working for more than five years, and 60

A 2009 survey of fashion workers in Milan found that 60 percent had been working for more than five years, and 60 percent depended on their parents’ financial support. 65 percent believed that they would never earn enough to support a family. percent depended at least partially on their parents’ continuing financial support. Almost 65 percent believed that they would never earn enough to support a family.6 We wanted to help stimulate a conversation around the fact that millions of Italy’s young people now work for years without proper pay, and to find ways to confront the situation. We wanted to activate a network of otherwise atomized workers, to make them more visible in the mainstream media, and to challenge the fashion companies and other institutional actors that were employing these

people—above all the National Chamber for Italian Fashion, the industry group that organizes the Milan fashion shows.7

To increase the realism around our fictitious fashion designer, we developed branding and a communication campaign, and we mobilized San Precario as an antagonist. Fashion Week in Milan is a crazy, compressed week full of events. Knowing that journalists would have no interest in talking to activists then, we invented a way to be heard. Using people who worked in the fashion system—as freelancers, temp workers, and catwalk interns—we created a fake fashion designer to enter into the official schedule for Milan Fashion Week 2005. It was the one-year anniversary of the “birth” of San Precario, so we used an anagram of that name: Serpica Naro. This “Anglo-Japanese” name served both to capitalize on the current Italian infatuation with Asian design, and to obscure Serpica Naro’s origins by making her headquarters in Japan (SEE FIGURE 2). To increase the realism around our fictitious fashion designer, we worked on multiple levels: we developed branding and a communication campaign, and we mobilized San Precario as an antagonist. The first step involved creating a fake fashion magazine, Settimana della Moda, which purported to focus on promising young designers in Milan. Soon, young fashion designers began writing to us asking to be interviewed and expressing their appreciation that Fashion Week was finally think6 Adam Arvidsson, Giannino ing and talking about Malossi and Serpica Naro, them. But our main “Passionate Work? Labour Conditions in the Milan Fashion purpose was to have Industry,” Journal for Cultural a vehicle for publishResearch 14, no. 2 (2010): 295-309, accessed January 2, ing an interview with 2014, doi: 10.1080/ Serpica Naro. 14797581003791503. The interview was 7 See cameramoda.it/en/asdesigned to make the sociazione/cosa-e-la-cnmi/.

fictitious designer seem obscure and controversial. For example, the interviewer asked, “You’ve said that you design the design. What does that mean?”—to which Serpica Naro answered, “I design everything, from when I wake up to when I go to sleep. Even the people who work for me have to let themselves be designed. Design is no longer just the making of clothes or products. Today we create our own universe.” Essentially, we were imitating the senseless art-speak and design-speak typical of the industry. Concurrently with the interview, one of our group’s members contacted the National Chamber for Italian Fashion posing as Serpica Naro’s agent, explaining that we were a new brand just entering the Italian market from Japan, and asking how we could be part of the event. They told us to send them a book of the collection, our trademark registration, a list of buyers, and other materials, all of which we could easily fabricate. They didn’t ask to see the collection itself, so we didn’t need to show any actual products. To make the book, we altered stock photos from the web (SEE FIGURE 3). We didn’t have funds for printing, so I designed the book “industrial style,” enlarging the photos at a copy shop and binding them

FIGURE 2: Image from the press release for Serpica Naro


with metal hardware from which the book could hang. Three days after they received our materials, the Chamber for Fashion called to tell us that we were accepted. Some of our friends who worked in fashion agencies and press offices couldn’t believe it: they thought we must have known someone on the inside in order to be included in the official Fashion Week schedule. Designers typically hire graphic artists and incur enormous expenses to get into the Milan shows. But the truth is, we were just doing our jobs—as workers in the fashion system, we knew how to make things look good. However, we were now doing our jobs for a different reason: activism. Meanwhile, for the catwalk show we created a collection of ten garments, each an allegory of our work experiences. In one, called “60 Days,” the model wore 60 T-shirts numbered 1 to 60, the idea being that you take one off every day for two months as you wait obediently to be paid, a situation that occurs often in Italy. Another, called “Bisex Tenderness,” allows you to dress either as a man or a woman, depending on the employer’s requirements. The “Mouse Trap” is a shirt and skirt designed to fend off an inappropriately touchy boss. The “Pregnant Lady” is designed to help precarious and temp workers hide a pregnancy for as long as possible, so they are not laid off. The “Mobbing Style” is a pair of trousers with anti-stress puppets. When you are really stressed out, you just squeeze the puppets to relieve stress. Finally, the “Wedding Dress” is designed for migrant workers who need to marry an Italian man in order to get a work permit (SEE FIGURE 4).

How could we have a brand that didn’t just accumulate value, but redistributed it; how could we find an alternative to the overproduction of creative workers, itself a major cause of the low wages and chronic underemployment typical of the sector?


Shortly before the event, we circulated the rumor that Serpica Naro had offered 15,000 euros to San Precario for the use of his Milan squat for her catwalk show—siting shows in squats and unusual alternative venues being a common practice among designers at the time. We had San Precario reply that he would not allow Serpica Naro to bring gentrification to his neighborhood, and that he now planned to come to her show with protesters. This fabricated controversy began to attract the attention of journalists. Even the police called us, to warn Serpica Naro’s “agent” that protestors were planning to invade her catwalk and ask if she needed protection. The agent said no, that the designer wanted direct contact with the activists, but the police came anyway, and eventually we had to reveal the truth—that there was no new fashion brand, that we were behind both Serpica Naro and San Precario, and that we were actually a group of precarious workers, determined to have our say.8 CREATION OF THE METABRAND As soon as the Milan Fashion Week hoax became known, we sold out of our Chainworker and San Precario T-shirts, and people were clamoring for more. That’s when we realized that we had had actually created a brand, something with independent value. Indeed, people began contacting us offering to buy the brand and turn it into a real fashion label, but by then we had higher ambitions for leveraging our newfound cultural notoriety. Like all mainstream fashion brands, Serpica Naro had been built to appeal by expressing values—only the values we actually wanted to promote included sharing, social innovation, security over precarity, and alternative economies, not just endless consumption for its own sake. Our conversations accordingly began to coalesce around two main questions: how could we have a brand that didn’t just accumulate value, but redistributed it; and how could we find an alternative to the overproduction of creative workers, itself a major cause of the low wages and chronic un8 Ben, February 27, 2005 deremployment typical (22:08), “Milan Fashion Week of the sector? Anti-precarity Action,” www. nettime.org/Lists-Archives/netAs we studied time-l-0502/msg00066.html. the fashion system

FIGURE 3: Images from Serpica Naro’s “collection”


the Serpica Naro hoax, a subgroup formed within the Chainworkers, focused on the fashion sector. In 2006, the group created a non-profit organization, also called Serpica Naro, with the goal of supporting “craftivists,” artisans, and makers in collaborating to create shared e-commerce platforms, businesses, and online communities.

Our aim is to optimize the ability of small producers to compete in the marketplace through collaboration and networking. We believe that economic sustainability can come from manufacturing garments in a way that is highly creative and that keeps prices low without exploitation.

FIGURE 4: Photos from the Serpica Naro catwalk show

Both luxury and fast fashion brands accumulate wealth by exploiting their creative, production, and sales segments. They control the brand, but outsource the actual work. We wanted to develop an alternative: an open-source brand in fashion—a metabrand. further, we came to realize that it is characterized by an increasing polarization: on the one hand big luxury brands; on the other fast fashion. Because it was so hard for small producers to survive, there was nothing in the middle. Both luxury and fast


fashion brands accumulate wealth by exploiting their creative, production, and sales segments. They control the brand, but outsource the actual work. We wanted to develop an alternative scheme, and this desire led us to develop the concept of an opensource brand in fashion—a metabrand. Recent years have seen a resurgence in DI Y trends and maker movements.9 More and more people are wanting to learn how to do things with their hands, and to know more about the origins of what they buy. Along with this, a new approach to design, called open design, is taking inspiration from open-source movements and trying to change the way design is conceived. Open design focuses on 9 Betram Niessen, “A Path Toproject sharing as both wards Networked Artisans,” in Openwear. Sustainability, Opena catalyst to innovation ness and P2P Production in the and a way to expand World of Fashion. Research Report of the EDUfashion project, access to products and (e-book: Creative Commons, self-production. After 2010), 13-17.

We began with the concept of intellectual property. Realizing that there were no extant examples of liberated trademarks, we worked with lawyers from Creative Commons to write a license for the use of the Serpica Naro metabrand. This would permit individuals, small producers, and small factories to use the brand on their own clothing. We hoped this model would help fill the gap between big luxury brands and fast fashion while also expressing, in a sophisticated manner, the values, images, and desires of a grassroots movement that loves fashion but wants to produce it in a way that is based on collaboration and sharing rather than exploitation. Questions arose as to how we could guarantee that the people who made use of the Serpica Naro metabrand practiced good ethics. But a metabrand doesn’t function as a certification, in the way that names such as Parmesan or Prosecco, for instance, 10 See poper.si/en/main.php.

13 See cbs.dk.

11 Company now defunct; see youtube.com/watch?v=_onPJdnlaGA.

14 See www.ntf.uni-lj.si/ot/ index.php?page=news&target= novice&item=255.

12 See www.unimi.it/ENG.

15 See openwear.org/lookmap.

indicate specific means of production and quality control. It’s not a top-down designation, but rather a way to build a bottom-up value system through a peer network of small-scale creators and consumers, all of whom both produce value for, and benefit directly from, the collective brand. With the help of Adam Arvidsson, a sociology professor at the University of Milan, I began to develop relationships with European companies and universities. We wanted not only to see if we could build a new brand that would be economically sustainable, but also to bring the ideas that the Serpica Naro experience had engendered into a more institutional setting. These efforts resulted in EDU fashion, a consortium of two companies and three universities: the Slovenian design studio Poper,10 Ethical Economy from the UK,11 and the University of Milan,12 the Copenhagen Business School,13 and the Department of Fashion and Textiles at University of Ljubljana, Slovenia.14 As we researched open design and peer-to-peer fashion, we began prototyping the community that was to become OpenWear in 2010. THE OPENWEAR MODEL Three shared resources form the core of OpenWear’s activities. The first is an online platform where people can present their personal or collaborative work and connect with others. The online platform has allowed us to bring the barter system, already common among small producers in Milan, to a larger community. The second resource is an annual series of prototype collections: garments plus plans and instructions for producing them, all created collaboratively and in response to a brief that our group provides.15 The result is a common resource for members of the online community, who can download the patterns and instructions for free. Members can then produce the garments as presented or modify them, changing the patterns and re-sharing these with the community. They can also sell finished garments directly on the platform, with the community receiving a percentage of the profits (SEE FIGURE 5). The third resource is the Serpica Naro metabrand. Every item of the collection can be trademarked with the Serpica Naro logo as well as with members’


personal brands, if any. This enables individual members, while remaining part of the community, to create unique garments and lines, for example by choosing inexpensive or luxurious fabrics depending on their own resources, tastes, or customer base. Our aim, in short, is to optimize the ability of small producers to compete in the marketplace through collaboration and networking. We believe that economic sustainability can come from manufacturing garments in a way that is highly creative and that keeps prices low without exploitation. This vision is described in the OpenWear license: OpenWear is an open brand … a type of collective trademark that recognizes the productive role of co-production, engages in strategies that aim at redistributing the values thus produced, and seeks organizational solutions that give co-producers a say in determining the overall governance of the brand [as well as] the overall social values toward which the brand should contribute.16 The OpenWear project is an experiment with two key objectives. First, we are attempting to define a new type of worker, occupying a middle ground between fashion designer and crafter-artisan. We use the term “network artisan,” meaning a worker who is a maker but also capable of setting up a small business. Second, our experiment involves opensourcing the brand and distributing the manufacturing process. Our aim is to make social goals primary and business a means of achieving those goals. THE FUTURE OF COLLABORATION

FIGURE 5: Designs from OpenWear’s collaborative collection


A number of new technologies are now available that can help small producers succeed outside of a factory setting. For fashion, this means that small batches of garments can be produced almost on demand. The Fab Lab, housed within the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Center for Bits and Atoms, for example, is a laboratory with computer-controlled machines that enable people to make almost anything.17 The aim of the lab is to explore how community can be empowered by technology at a grassroots level.

As this concept evolves, similar hubs are opening in cities everywhere. These “maker spaces,” where infrastructure is shared, also serve as co-working labs where people can informally share industryspecific innovations in a non-competitive context.

We are attempting to define a new type of worker, occupying a middle ground between fashion designer and crafter-artisan. We use the term “network artisan,” meaning a worker who is a maker but also capable of setting up a small business. In fashion and beyond, new business models need to be developed so that small local producers and freelancers can operate outside of the mainstream system in ways that are socially, economically, and environmentally sustainable. Collective laboratories promote this development by enabling small producers to invest in themselves instead of expensive machinery or software. Instead of paying for their own facility, small producers can pay a monthly fee to access high-tech machines such as professional 3D printers, large sewing machines, photography studios, or printers that print directly on textile. One model for this type of space has been developed in Australia, where the Council of Textile and Fashion Industries has created a hub for access to technology, training, and production in order to promote business development and the “Made in Australia” brand.18 Co-working in a lab can also help small producers by allowing them to purchase supplies as a group rather than individually. Fast fashion companies pay less for their fabric because they buy in bulk. Small producers could benefit similarly by joining with 16 See openwear.org/info/ license. OpenWear or similar local hubs in purchasing 17 See cba.mit.edu/about/ index.html. fabric for hundreds of producers at a time. 18 See tfia.com.au/textilefashion-hub.


Today, people are also exploring new, mixed business models in fashion, in which they not only produce but also teach and work in collaborative projects. For instance, a carpet-maker in Milan who was having difficulty selling her high-priced products is now earning money leading carpet-making workshops in her home. Rather than spending 1,000 euros on a carpet, people can spend 250 euros learning how to make their own. Expensive goods can thus be sold in different ways: small producers can avoid retail mark-ups by selling directly, creating events that feature their products, or opening an online shop.

approaches to the production and consumption of clothing. We believe that making things is better than consuming them through the mainstream economy; and that making things collaboratively is better than making them alone. Finally, we believe that experimental efforts like these represent the beginnings of a new way of understanding and participating in fashion itself.

WORKSTYLES J. Morgan Puett

Making open-source machines available to grassroots local hubs could revolutionize the way fashion is produced, just as 3D printing is revolutionizing product design. Open-source hardware is another, increasingly available way to create a large local space at low peruse cost. A project called OSLOOM (open-source loom) was begun two years ago as a Kickstarter proposal to produce a more affordable jacquard loom.19 The loom is computer controlled and modular, with modifiable open-source software, making it adaptable to different needs. Making open-source machines available to grassroots local hubs could revolutionize the way fashion is produced, just as 3D printing is revolutionizing product design. Other collectives are working on open-source parametric software to make patterns. Software like this could potentially be used to digitize patterns and alter them to fit different bodies by entering measurements online. With the Serpica Naro hoax as its background and inspiration, OpenWear is working to foster new 19 See kickstarter.com/ projects/mbenitez/osloom-anopen-source-jacquard-loom-diyelectrom; osloom.org.


I am interested in new modes of being in the world, particularly in the context of our relations to the environment, to each other, to forms of dwelling, to inventive domesticating, and to clothing apparatuses. Altogether, these relations compose an ethics of comportment, and ethical comportment is a main theme of all my work, Mildred’s Lane and The Mildred Complexity in particular. These projects encompass a working, living, researching, making strategy that develops rigorous engagement with every aspect of life—something that I call “workstyles.” Being is the practice.

Ethical comportment is a main theme of all my work.

EARLY PROJECTS I have been engaged in the conceptually and materially complex field of installation art my whole life. Even as a child, I dug holes and lined them with aluminum foil to create swimming pools, and glittered the leaves around my bedroom windows so I could gaze onto a fairy world. Before I began working on my most recent project, Mildred’s Lane, I created a series of large-scale museum research projects and art installations, primarily investigations into the histories of the needle trades. These works reflected my experiences in the fashion industry through autobiographical stories intersected with the histories that emerged in the form of live, performative installation. Earlier in my career, I designed and created a series of experimental storefront projects in Manhattan that stemmed from undergraduate and


graduate art and filmmaking projects at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. I held dinners, salons, and performances in these storefront shops. From there, my research projects morphed from living-clothing-dwelling installations to a small, international clothing label, the retail and wholesale business J. Morgan Puett Incorporated.

I initially sought to circumvent the rarified field of experience of the art world, so overcoded by exclusionary conditions that, as a young rebel, I found extremely frustrating. Somehow, though, I found myself entangled in the fashion world, yet another exclusionary system. During this period, I divided my time between Pennsylvania, where I lived in a small chicken coop, and New York City. Even then, I was drawn to both organic and metallic materials. Having come from four generations of beekeepers in the Deep South, I drenched my clothing and eventually the entire archive of my corporation in beeswax. My entire fashion experience was petrified, preserving what was and simultaneously transforming into new forms of being, a concept I am continually fascinated with in all of my practices. I fell into the fashion arena quite by accident. During graduate school, I initially sought to circumvent the rarified field of experience of the art world, so overcoded by exclusionary conditions that, as a young rebel, I found extremely frustrating. Somehow, though, I found myself entangled in the fashion world, yet another exclusionary system. I understand fashion as a symbolic system used and negotiated by every person on this planet. There’s no more universal system than clothing, and fashion involves our very being, so debates regarding the proper place of style, art, and commerce, as these bear on fashion, are not insignificant. Part of


my practice is to try to let go of preconceived ideas about fashion in order to expand our notions of what it could mean. I tried to develop an interstitial way of operating, exploiting the apparent gaps of the disciplines within which I worked, using my conceptual toolbox. I’ve spent the last 17 years disentangling those experiences in a string of transhistorical fashion-related installation projects. These have been an attempt to slow down the research and making process in order to investigate the intersections of fashion, architecture, fine art, science, history, environmental activism, and other fields. I try to use the binding ingredients of contemporary culture to create a more accessible public sphere. I’ve always been interested in the collective. In my storefront projects and installations, I learned to collaborate and to attract and engage the public in an immediate way, which triggered this long series of projects and exchanges. The concept of exchange for me is the transferring of an idea or object from one person to another and the subsequent transformation in thinking, feeling, and understanding that takes place. Exchange evolves from collaboration, and in these projects, varieties of collaboration unfold in complex ways, fundamentally influencing my being.

FIGURE 1: Manhattan Tartan Project: Phase 1 & 2: Financial Tartan, Ethnic Tartan and installation view, J. Morgan Puett and Suzanne Bocanegro 1996-2001.

Part of my practice is to try to let go of preconceived ideas about fashion in order to expand our notions of what it could mean. The Manhattan Tartan project, a collaboration with my friend Suzanne Bocanegra, focused on how textiles convey meaning through conceptually complex semiotic systems. Tartans in particular were designed to reflect kinship relations and regional distinctions, and later emerged as sophisticated expressions of colonial resistance (SEE FIGURE 1). For Cottage Industry, a project in Charleston, South Carolina, I drew from a deep-rooted local history to explore women’s work and roles through tales of women’s pursuits at home, and to

FIGURE 2: Cottage Industry, installation and performance view. Curator: Mary Jane Jacob.


FIGURE 3: RN: The Past Present and Future of the Nurse’s Uniform, J. Morgan Puett and Mark Dion with the Fabric Workshop and Museum of Philadelphia 2003-2004.


evoke industrial sites of exploitation by following garment-making through its history, from the 17th century to the present, from design to dying to sewing to marketing. The project involved extensive research and extended collaborations with artists and artisans from the area. Piecing together missing social histories based on local sources, architectural details, and everyday textiles, it centered on the creation of a multipart garment (SEE FIGURE 2). My collaborators were part of a daily performative installation housed in a small building that we had brought back to life. Every room had multiple experiences for viewers to engage with, becoming themselves part of the production. The project “RN: The Past Present and Future of the Nurse’s Uniform” (a collaboration with artist Mark Dion), investigated the subtle ways in which the uniform, by design, informs notions of identity, professional hierarchy, and labor within any given field. As we know, the uniform is a distinctive form of attire worn to communicate the particularity of a given group, as well as the specific role of an individual within a network. Its goal is immediate, universal identification, registered in specific behavioral patterns in both the un-uniformed person and the uniformed subject. The RN exhibition specifically considered the past, present, and future of uniforms worn by American nurses. Throughout the space, we attempted to chart the evolution of nursing apparel in order to explore how changes in design shadowed broader transitions within the social sphere and the field of medicine. In particular, the exhibition examined changes in the symbolic role of nurses and the redefinition of the profession’s conceptualization through its uniforms. It consequently explored the function of style in the production of knowledge. The exhibit also addressed temporality by combining historical artifacts with the collaborative creation of the ideal uniform for the contemporary nurse, and by projecting tropes of knowledge into the future to create uniforms intended for, among others, the “Bioterrorist Nurse,” the “Diagnostic Nurse,” the “Post-Apocalyptic Nurse,” and the “Intergalactic Nurse” (SEE FIGURE 3). My next project, “That Word Which Means Smuggling Across Borders Incorporated,” was a form of business practice directed toward emergent

and responsive forms of sartorial composure. For the project, my collaborators and I formed an actual company, based at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art (Mass MoCA), and proceeded to entangle ourselves with the museum’s management. The complex garments that were the products of this corporation were at once multiple, multiplied, and multi-pieced. Ostensibly, the company existed to create tailored suits for clients. But these suits did not exist as a set of complete-unto-themselves pieces—a jacket, vest, and pair of pants, for example—but rather as a suite

FIGURE 4: That Word Which Means Smuggling Across Borders, Incorporated: The Multipled Suit, J. Morgan Puett in collaboration with Mass MoCA, Iain Kerr, Jamie Grace and others.


of quasi-pieces that constantly drifted in form and composition, shifting and slipping through identities from jacket to skirt to pants to unrecognizable attire. In wandering across our bodies and desires, these pieces would wander across a larger terrain of possible futures: hopeful futures encompassing corporate and noncorporate identities, new gender associations, and alternative forms of engagement. The three-piece suit became a 36-disparate-piece suit complexity. When customers placed an order through the company, we collaborated with them in an elaborate fitting process, during which they would hear the history of the three-piece suit beginning with its origin in 1666, when Charles II proclaimed that men’s suits would henceforth include a vest. In actuality, all of the projects I’ve described are about collaborating with the customer in some sense, and moving through an experience together.

All my work is about collaborating with the customer in some sense, and moving through an experience together. MILDRED’S LANE My current focus is on a vernacular architecture and landscape project called Mildred’s Lane, which embraces site-sensitive, event-based, and collaboratively emergent practices in experimental living. Mildred’s Lane is a 96-acre site deep in the woods of rural northeastern Pennsylvania. Besides me, this ongoing collaboration involves the artist Mark Dion, our son, Grey Rabbit Puett, and friends and colleagues. It’s also a home—my home. This experiment in living has developed as a rigorous pedagogical strategy: a working, living, researching environment that fosters engagement with every aspect of life. The entire site has become a living museum or, rather, a new contemporary art complex(ity). The place itself is inspired by a remarkable woman, Mildred Steffens, who grew up and lived there her entire life, from 1902 to 1987. For much of that time, she was alone. Her old homestead, which


and educational philosophy of Mildred’s Lane involves the collective creation of new modes of being in the world: comportment as commons. All this is embodied in what we call “workstyles.” Workstyles are the result of any practitioner’s autobiographical and experiential making, doing, and thinking process, both interrelational and intrarelational. This requires active systems thinking, a highly intuitive aesthetic sense, and understanding of how things influence one another within a whole through cyclical, as opposed to linear, ways of thinking and doing.

FIGURE 5: Mildred’s Lane.

we’ve made into the Mildred’s Lane Historical Society and Museum, now encompasses dozens of 19th-century outbuildings, site-sensitive projects, experimental landscape interventions, and public events scattered across portions of this magical acreage. Mildred’s Lane as a place is a future preserve that is in the process of becoming. It’s where the creative practitioner, the student, and the institution have collapsed roles as we seek to coevolve a new strategy toward an emergent curriculum. In conversations among friends and colleagues who teach theory and practice in a variety of institutions, the limitations of conventional visual arts programs become apparent. There is an excitement in exploring alternatives that offer a new way to live, work, and research collectively. Mildred’s Lane welcomes a new age of curiosity, activating connections situated at the nexus of science, life experience, and critical artistic practices. This unusual situation affords participants the opportunity to collaborate on the production of large-scale, research-driven art projects within a truly transdisciplinary environment. These collaborations are designed as shared experiences that may have transformative, lifelong effects on how we think of ourselves as creative practitioners in the social and political sphere. The core of the practice

We try to make each gesture a sensitive and sustainable one that makes way for the next gesture. This requires generosity at all times. Workstyles are activated through creative engagement with the surrounding environment of things, and especially by working with others. Such collaborative relationships grow out of the complex material discipline of installation art, which is my base, but remain theoretically grounded in quotidian tactics of getting by. Adaptive reuse, re-assembling, recycling—all are ways to rethink what we have and what is useful about what is at hand. There is an emphasis on caring for each other and for the topics that drive us, and our comportment brings us closer together in all areas of our lives. Thus commons is conceptualized as being or affecting a whole community, and comportment as commons offers us a way to navigate everyday experience—at least at the Mildred’s Lane site. Comportment here also refers to considering one’s behavior as a constant negotiation with the environment of things and space, and in rethinking our involvement with everyday habits such as shopping, making, eating, cleaning, sleeping, reading, thinking, and doing—in short, everything. Through cultivating our attention to what came before and what comes after, we try to make each gesture a sensitive and sustainable one that makes

way for the next gesture. This requires generosity at all times. These turbulent multiplicities of deportment, ethics, etiquette, and above all, hospitality, allow for comfort and freedom, opening up possibilities for new types of exchange. Such workstyles have no beginning and no end—they make up our lives. The participants at Mildred’s Lane, who come from many different nations and disciplinary backgrounds, are constantly learning and sharing workstyles centered around highly charged topics that are addressed collectively throughout the year. These topics are prompted not only by those of us at Mildred’s Lane, but also by visiting artists’ own projects. Many topics involve expanding notions of dwelling and sustainability, and transhistorical and philosophical musings; we usually have a theorist in residence. Short and dense discursive intensives, called sessions, usually feature small groups of students from the most outstanding institutions in the world. These students, referred to as fellows, coevolve workstyles with faculty and guests throughout the sessions. A day at Mildred’s Lane requires negotiating a leave-no-trace policy, similar to that of the National Park Service, while at the same time encouraging interaction with all of life. The requisite sensitivity applies not only to the landscape, but also to people, animals, outbuildings, and objects. The ongoing activation of workstyles, therefore, asks one to seek new balance and relationships. Food and dining are central to these exchanges and, food being a collective event, involve constantly emerging collaborations. Our food projects have been highly memorable for participants and guests. Making meals at Mildred’s Lane often involves an algorithmic process consisting of a set of steps or instructions that create new problems, forcing participants to allow for dinner surprises. This process enables an emergent, energetic, socially engaged event based on a democratic arrangement rather than a singularly authored or predetermined outcome. No two meals are ever quite alike—never in exactly the same place or set up in exactly the same way—and they’re only as good as the people who come to them. Through a series of sessions called Retail 21st Century, we collectively decided to establish an off-site space in order to promote a broader community conversation and experiment on the future


of exchange. The resulting project, The Mildred Complexity, now comprises a retail storefront, project space, production studio, and office in the hamlet of Narrowsburg, New York, about 100 miles northwest of New York City. The Mildred Complexity focuses on the dynamics of people and the production of the spirit of exchange, challenging preconceived notions of what the retail store can do. It’s about attempting to recondition consumers to retain their critical faculties when they cross the threshold of a storefront, rather than dropping them. Projects with resident artists at the retail space may manifest in installations, dinners, workshops, music—always with community collaborations in mind and particular attention on locally sourced food. In this small town, our colleagues are building a renewable sociality, charged with environmental activism. Driven by concern for the future, we’re exploring new ways to conceive, produce, make, and do things systemically and interpersonally, while seeking democratic, collaborative, coevolving responses not only to the economy but to the environment. We’re interested in the possibilities of where to situate these practices and actions—not only in galleries or institutions, but also in factories, domestic spaces, or deep in the middle of the woods. All in all, we remain ambassadors of entanglement and seekers of new modalities of exchange that aspire to a hopeful modernity, seeking new tropes of knowledge and keeping in mind that persistence overcomes most obstacles. In the midst of all this flux, at Mildred’s Lane being is itself the practice. Having been at Mildred’s Lane and having grown beautiful friendships out of my visit, I feel that the power of the work you’re doing there involves bringing people together who have amazing energy and want to do something in the world. Something magical happens, some chemistry happens, and many projects have come from people who met there.


J. MORGAN PUETT (JMP) Yes, it is really magical—so many intense people coming together with like minds around topics we’re all interested in. It’s a bit like a book club, but on an amplified scale.


It’s also doing things together, like making meals, arranging the table, and so forth.


Right. There are no servants; we all serve each other. The staff is there to fill in the gaps, training others, watching over the flow of people, and explaining the system of workstyles and how it’s accomplished. Some people come expecting a bed and breakfast, where somebody makes their bed for them. Then they’re given a set of sheets and a lovely note saying, “Kindly spruce up your building for the next person.” It’s the way we need to start thinking in the world—thinking of the person who came before you and the one who will come after.



AUDIENCE MEMBER I’m curious about the entering and exiting process. How do you choose like-minded individuals to collaborate with?

It’s a wonderful, self-organizing system, which is the best of all worlds. It started out with our friends doing projects, then we began bringing students in to work on projects. Realizing that we were all in major museums and teaching at major institutions around the world, I reached out and asked my friends to support having students come to Mildred’s Lane. In 2007, we formalized the visiting student program.


JUST WORDS The sentences in Figure 1, from a 1983 issue of American Vogue, accompany a series of photographs of the innovative work of Comme des GarÇons’ design team, Issey Miyake and Yohji Yamamoto.1 As Roland Barthes argued in his book, The Fashion System, garments may be “read” through the details of their design, disclosing facts and norms pertaining to the sociocultural context that created them.2 How, then, are we to read this “written” garment? The only direct textual information offered by Vogue are the words “slit” and “irregular cut-ups.” There is no use of typical fashion rhetoric, and almost no description of the character of these revolutionary clothes. Still, the words are significant, since “in effect, language allows the source of meaning to be attached quite precisely to a small, finite element (represented by a single word).”3 The descriptions exist to direct the eye of the viewer: describing

the garment encourages the purchase of the dress. During the early 1960s, when Barthes was researching the rhetorics of popular and commercial culture, fashion was developing gradually into a highly structured industry fueled by the mass distribution of images. Fashion images needed to provoke fascination, fashion texts an appropriation of specific garments and trends. American Vogue projected a cool, almost distant message in 1983, trusting its somewhat educated public to understand. That same year, the Dutch lifestyle magazine Viva 2 Roland Barthes, The Fashion reacted to the high System, trans. Matthew Ward production costs of the and Richard Howard (Berkeley: of California Press, so-called “poverty” look University 1983 [1967]), 4. 1 “Fashion: Steel Yourself!” American Vogue, March 1983, 352. Photo: Bert Stern.

3 Barthes, The Fashion System, 14.


FIGURE 1: Comme des Garçons advertisement, American Vogue, March 1983. Text: More of this season’s changes-”one-step-further” fashion-from Comme des Garçons: a big black squared-off cotton top, matching asymmetric skirt, both slit with irregular cut-ups ... new shapes, new ideas.


FIGURE 2: Front page of the Dutch newspaper NRC Next, May 10, 2012. Headline reads: “The Euro Knitwork is Tearing Apart.”


with an article under the headline “Paris: From Chic to Seedy.”4 Manufacturing holes in a piece of fabric was immensely expensive in the context of mass production. Yet the post-punk Japanese style revolution epitomized by Miyake and Yamamoto explored all properties of textiles, celebrating them in all their possible material expressions-transparency, vulnerability, unfinishedness. This was in strong reaction to the glamorous post-war fashion surfaces as well as the earlier release of mass produced, deconstructed surfaces. Vogue characterized this phenomenon in terms of a distinction between two different appearances: “One represents a sleek polished point of view ... the other is freer, more experimental from head to toe.”5 Viva instead employed a vocabulary familiar to many of its readers, expressing distrust of new appearances in almost gossipy terms. Whether they appear in fashion, politics, or architecture, words are able to encourage or break down, much the same way that textiles can be constructed and deconstructed.

Fashion images needed to provoke fascination, fashion texts an appropriation of specific garments and trends. BREAKING, UNTHREADING Wagner’s 1876 opera Götterdämmerung (The Twilight of the Gods) begins with three goddesses, the Norns, sitting on a rock and weaving the rope of the world’s destiny. As they pull and stretch the cord, it suddenly breaks. “Our eternal knowledge is at an end,” they lament. “The world will know nothing more of our wisdom.”6 In Wagner’s opera, the world is projected onto a piece of woven fabric and its history determined through the act of weaving. I recalled this desperate scene and its animating metaphor upon viewing an issue of the Dutch newspaper NRC Next from 2012. The cover illustration shows a man and a woman struggling to hold onto the last threads of a shredded piece of fabric, alongside the headline, “The Euro Knitwork is Tearing Apart.” In the accompanying article, writer Caroline de


Gruyter explains that the French have developed a specific word for the decline of financial integration in Europe: détricoter, or unknitting.7 The slow unknitting or unraveling of the EU system’s structure is occurring, she suggests, not through wear and tear but through a process of unwinding, as when a sweater is carefully unknitted in order to create a new one. But what are the repercussions of “unknitting” such a complex set of relationships? Textiles appeared in many fashion magazine advertisements in the 1960s and 70s; in fact, textile brands helped fuel the fashion industry. After the 1970s, textile production almost disappeared in Europe and the US, as textiles and clothes increasingly came to be mass-produced in Asia. Accordingly, advertisements related to textiles began to disappear from fashion magazines (manuals for textile production had already disappeared as people stopped producing their own garments). Traditionally close relationships among designer, producer, and user were coming unraveled.

produced by Donald John MacKay of Luskentyre on the Isle of Harris; his tweed samples were chosen by Nike in 2003 for a limited edition of trainer shoes. The company approached MacKay in an effort to update their Terminator, a basketball shoe from the 1980s, and made an initial order of nearly 10,000 meters of cloth. Because MacKay could not produce enough in the loom shed behind his house, weavers throughout the Outer Hebrides were called into action to meet the demand. His tweed fabric absorbs all the colors of his surroundings, even the turquoise dots exactly matching the color of the sunlit seawater next to his house. The collaboration between Nike and McKay received a lot of media attention and helped establish the specific connotations associated with this fabric. Although you can perceive a textile simply as compressed matter, a textile’s full meaning always incorporates collective and narrative elements, such as Dribbling fabric’s connection to the physical qualities and fame of a soccer star, or the tweed fabric’s association with the Scottish countryside.

A “WINNING FABRIC” In 1993, ten years after the construction of Comme des Garçons’ torn and cut-up clothing collection, a “winning” fabric called Dribbling was introduced by the Italian fashion designer Nino Cerruti, who borrowed the term dribbling from soccer to name a new material that could somehow absorb the qualities of a famous soccer player (Jean Pierre Papin, star of the Milan team, who endorsed the fabric).8 “In order to produce a mere meter of the new fabric it takes 86 kilometers of wool thread. Then, an 18-step finishing process guarantees impeccability and pure comfort.”9 Cerruti explained that Papin embodied the spirit of the times and the fashion and lifestyle trends of the 1990s, enhancing the value of his endorsement. Another historical “one-man” fabric was 4 “Parijs. Van sjiek tot sjofel,” Viva Magazine, March 1983, 27.

7 Caroline de Gruyter, “Het eurobreiwerk gaat scheuren,” NRC Next, May 10, 2012, 4-5.

5 “Fashion: The Contrast,” American Vogue, July 1983, 156.

8 An. Ma., “A winning fabric,” Mondo Uomo 1993, 98; article derived from information insert in the magazine (author’s archive).

6 Richard Wagner, Götterdämmerung (Boston: Oliver Ditson Company, 1926).

9 An. Ma., 98.

Manufacturing holes in a piece of fabric was immensely expensive, yet the post-punk Japanese style revolution explored all properties of textiles, celebrating transparency, vulnerability, and unfinishedness. SOCIAL FABRIC The term “social fabric” is commonly used to refer to the composition and coherence of society. Writers, intellectuals, and politicians frequently make use of this textile-derived metaphor to describe social conditions, including whether a community is strong and resilient or “torn” and disintegrating. Where does this expression come from, and what exactly does it mean? What is the relation between the “fabric” of a society, resilient or torn as it may be, and public discussion making use of such rhetoric?

A textile’s full meaning always incorporates collective and narrative elements, such as Dribbling fabric’s connection to a soccer star, or the tweed fabric’s association with the Scottish countryside. Plato studied the technique of weaving carefully before he used it as a metaphor for the organization of an ideal state as part of a discussion about leadership and statecraft in the dialogue Statesman.10 In this work, the character known as the Stranger explains that the statesman acts like a weaver, creating a perfect fabric. This conversion of technological thinking carries implications for the possible political and social organization of a state. The loom not only serves as a tool for weaving, but also imposes restrictions on the weaver: the warp is able to expand, while the weft is trapped within the boundaries of the loom. “Warp” people are leaders; “weft” people followers. The use of the term “fabric” as a metaphor for society has continued in modern times. In the US, for instance, the writer and urban planning critic Jane Jacobs famously observed that “frequent streets and short blocks are valuable because of the fabric of intricate cross-use that they permit among the users of a city neighborhood.”11 In Europe too, the notion has gained currency that the “fabric” of various communities has been “torn,” a phenomenon illustrated by the NRC Next article mentioned previously. The bearing of textile metaphors on modern life coincides with the recent evolution of fashion. Since World War Two, fashion has become a huge industry, with its strict ritual of “seasons” and Plato, Statesman, Philebus, accompanying consumer 10 Ion, trans. Harold North Fowler, behaviors. The idea of W.R.M. Lamb (Cambridge: Loeb Classical Library, 1925). illusion attached to garments, along with the 11 Jane Jacobs, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, power of branding, is (New York: Vintage, 1992 now mainstream. Today [1961]), 186.


the process of developing a real, sustainable material, of knowing how to create a proper surface, is gaining new significance. Many artists have started to learn weaving again, designers are exploring and combining old and new weaving techniques, architects are expanding knotting and related techniques, and collective knowledge is shared. Indeed, the construction of textiles is itself based on collective knowledge: almost anyone can understand how to construct a piece of fabric by observing others and following their example. By studying the structure and binding of a material you immediately encounter the philosophical and metaphysical concepts that are involved. Suddenly, a piece of fabric

Textiles create an ongoing exchange between different cultural and social fields such as architecture, fashion, sociology, philosophy, and literature—not merely through words or images, but through the character of textile techniques, which can be constructed and deconstructed at any moment. seems infused with paradigms of expansion, contraction, infill, repair, fraying. Textiles, both as pure matter and as language, create an ongoing exchange between different cultural and social fields such as architecture, fashion, sociology, philosophy, and literature—not merely through words or images, but through the open but programmed character



of textile techniques, which can be constructed and deconstructed at any moment. In 1983, when Comme des Garçons initiated a series of new proposals for fashion clothing made of “disrupted” fabric, they created a contradiction in meaning: devotees of punk culture were literally ripping the fabric of their clothes, a symbol of their general rejection of consumer society, even as Comme des Garçons was proposing ripped material as a radical new form of elegance aimed at a broader public of consumers. As noted previously, American Vogue had a hard time finding appropriate words for describing these disrupted materials, and opted for a neutral sartorial language instead. In daily life, the word “fabric” generates the same dualities. On the one hand, we have an almost archaic belief in a “woven fabric”: an endless dependence on the solidity and strength of a fabric. On the other hand, there’s a common experience of the decay or unraveling of this fabric, in actuality as well as in language. In its common use the term offers connotations of binding, cohesion, solidity; the cognate term “social fabric,” operating on a much larger scale, is used as an acknowledgement of the binding of a society. It is hard to describe how it looks when it is “torn.” Is there a fault in the weave or is it just wear and tear?


WARDROBE, RECYCLING, AND CONSEQUENCE Interview with Mariano Breccia and Mechi Martinez of 12-na

contemporary interpretation of the kusillos, using the look and design of 12-na.2 The characters—some of them half bicycle, half cyclist—generate change and awareness, raising in a new context the possibility of the body as a legitimate means of transportation (SEE FIGURE 1).

For Breccia and Martinez, remaking a garment involves more than assembling a collage of fabrics; it requires the ability to design a garment that meets the same expectations of a new piece of clothing created by a designer, including high quality, a good finish, and the ingredient of creativity.

Interviewed by Elizabeth Oria1

MARIANO BRECCIA AND MECHI MARTINEZ (MB/MM): Our process always originates from the material we are using: used clothing. The material available is very important to us, as it directly affects the type of piece we develop. It limits us and also gives us the opportunity to develop a certain acuity when the time comes to leverage the resource. In this process we have two routes. In the first, everything revolves around the deconstruction of a garment, which allows us to take full advantage of existing, ready-to-wear resources to make clothing and give it new meaning. The second route involves traditional molding: in a more conventional way, we cut a vintage piece and use the parts in combination with sometimes untraditional materials, thus creating a new piece of clothing. EO: Where does the inspiration for your creations come from? MB/MM: It

12-na is a creative platform designed in 2004 by textile artists Mariano Breccia and Mechi Martinez, an Argentine couple based in Chile. Breccia and Martinez work in diverse formats ranging from costume design to installations, films, workshops, and interventions on public streets. Their complex body of work uses recycling as a means of expression, raising questions about sustainability and the experience of dressing and eating in more conscious ways. Remaking clothes usually involves a process of recycling an outfit with a “green” objective, a task rarely successful from the standpoint of fashion design. For Breccia and Martinez, remaking a garment involves more than assembling a collage of fabrics; rather, it requires the ability to design a garment that meets the same expectations of a new piece of clothing created by a designer, including high quality, a good finish, and the ingredient of creativity—a stamp and a unique feel that Breccia


and Martinez achieve in their work. For this reason, they have gained a following, particularly among Japanese consumers, long known for their design sophistication. “In Japan, consumers appreciate the exclusivity that a brand like ours generates,” say Breccia and Martinez. “They know that no one else has what they are wearing. The garment also has another value: it is a recycled piece. Japan is among the countries with the most developed recycling systems and culture, and therefore its citizens have an awareness of the value of what we do.” The couple found inspiration for their 2012 collection, “Kusiclos y el Cóndor,” from Bolivian mythological characters called kusillos. To create the collection, Breccia and Martinez traveled to La Paz, where they filmed a fashion piece based on a 1 Translated by Ubiqus. 2 See www.12-na.com/videos/ kusiclos.

Collaboration is another important aspect of Breccia and Martinez’s practice. In YOMONS T RO , “monster” masks and costumes are created in interactive workshops from recycled materials, creating a vehicle for people to explore and expand the boundaries of the self and reveal their complete identity in a social environment.3 This process, termed demonsterate, from “monster” and “demonstrate,” serves as a creative action that is open to the integration of polarities—one that does not attempt to separate or divide what is from what is not, good from bad, or beautiful from ugly, but simply to explore and recognize the contradictions that dwell within each of us. YOMONS T RO operates as a collective experiment involving artists from other areas, with 70 artists from four countries—Argentina, Chile, Germany, and Brazil—currently “demonsterating” (SEE FIGURE 2). ELIZABETH ORIA (EO): What is your daily creative process like? Do you begin with a drawing, a “drape”?

comes from our environment, our roots, music, and from the materials we use, out of which we tell a story or generate a feeling. Our creative developments are very playful and free. Our design and creative work moves between the worlds of fashion and art, aiming at a customer who is respectful of his or her environment and conscious of the way consumption works today. The negotiation of that fine line between fashion and art is clearly visible in our workshops and in the research methods that give rise to the collections.

EO: How do you see your own work in fashion: as work or lifestyle?

Our work is based on a strong creative urge, and our lifestyle responds to that urge. We are in the fashion world as well as the art world. We do things with love, which is reflected in our work and in our lifestyle.


3 See www.12-na.com/ workshop-y-festivales. FIGURE 1 (SEE FOLLOWING PAGE): From the Kusiclos Collection, Bolivia.




FIGURE 2: Mask-making workshop at Lollapalooza, Chile.


FIGURE 3: Piece for a Japanese client. Photo: Nacho Rojas.


EO: Why

is Chile a good home base for 12-na?

Of all the countries in the region, Chile receives perhaps the best used clothing from Europe and the United States. Additionally, Chile has a free trade agreement with Japan, whose stores and consumers are our best customers.4


EO: You refer to the Japanese consumer as respectful. What exactly do you mean by this?

We construct highly complex pieces of clothing using sumptuous materials, some so costly that the fashion industry no longer uses them. In Japan, we find consumers who value items made the traditional way, with skill. The Japanese value the craft that goes into our products’ design and tailoring, and are willing to pay what they are worth (SEE FIGURE 3).


EO: What

through different channels. Besides clothing, we make installations, videos, textile sculptures, and life-size dolls, among other things. Our work is diverse; it is a place to unload our creativity and to promote the use of recycling as a channel of creative and personal transformation. Just as we use a t-shirt to make

“Used clothing gives us another world in which to work. We are in the middle: we make clothing, but more than interposing a system, we interpose the consumer. We believe in responsible consumption and in working from there. It is impossible otherwise.”

is the philosophy and aesthetic of 12-na?

“Our design and creative work moves between the worlds of fashion and art, aiming at a customer who is respectful of his or her environment and conscious of the way consumption works today.” MB/MM: We

like to think of 12-na as a multidisciplinary creative platform but with a very defined aesthetic perspective. Our philosophy is to use recycling as a means of expression, 4 See www.mofa.go.jp/policy/ economy/fta/chile.html. and from this to create

a mask, we also invite reflection. We are extremely attentive to what is happening. We want to do many things, and we are ambitious. Our desire is to make larger and larger things, and complex things, a desire reflected in all aspects of our work. We do not compete with the big fashion conglomerates: our work is something different, with different results—namely unique, one-of-a-kind pieces. The basis of our work is not the insane production of money; it is a project that meets a creative need. We work hard to provide clothes that are understood as products made in a sustainable way. Our pieces have an added value that classifies our work in the craft rather than the industrial category (SEE FIGURE 4). EO: How

is it possible to interpose the system of fashion with a practice like yours?

FIGURE 4: From the Free Guilli Collection.




don’t think very much about fashion, or style. At the moment of making, we don’t have our sights on leaders of the fashion circuit. Our material, used clothing, gives us another world in which to work. We are in the middle: we make clothing, but more than interposing a system, we interpose the consumer. We believe in responsible consumption and in working from there. It is impossible otherwise.


EO: What

advice would you give to young designers looking for an alternative route within fashion? MB/MM: To

implement recycling, relating to the environment and understanding their place in it, while still enjoying their profession. To produce while having a good time.

EO: To

close, a dream: what sort of fashion would you like never to see again? MB/MM: We

would love to witness the disappearance of “fast fashion”: fashion that generates misinformed consumers who need to follow trends, fashion that is nothing but a fancy name. Today’s mainstream fashion industry leads to irresponsible consumption, without awareness of the deterioration of the environment through industrial processes and disposable products, and all too often profits from abusive and cheap labor. To never see this again—that would be our utopia.


I am an artist seeking to engage and transform extant systems of production and consumption. I launched Logo Removal Service in 2009, after replacing two commercial logos on a t-shirt with colored shapes. Logo Removal Service assists people who, for whatever reason, prefer to see something other than a logo, brand, or stain on their clothing and other possessions. With most garments, I use a reverse appliqué method, cutting out and replacing the logos with other fabric, often in a contrasting color. The shapes that emerge as I remove the logos are each unique. While frequently riffing on the form of the logo being removed, I am careful to leave behind no trace that might allow brand recognition. Even when removing a series of identical logos or other marks from several garments, Logo Removal Service produces each one individually, guaranteeing an original new look for each item. In this way, I am able to use the removal practice in order to make

deliberate, visually formal experiments, emphasizing color relationships, shape and line. An apparent commentary on commercialism and consumer habits also inserts fine art values into quotidian and often-overlooked artifacts (SEE FIGURES 1-6). Through Logo Removal Service, I hope to keep fabric items in circulation for longer periods, so they may be repaired and improved instead of simply discarded. The ultimate goal is to help bring about less intensive and more deliberate patterns of consumption, while also exploring possibilities for beauty and originality in everyday life.











I use the Logo Removal Service to make deliberate, visually formal experiments, emphasizing color relationships, shape and line. An apparent commentary on commercialism and consumer habits also inserts fine art values into quotidian and oftenoverlooked artifacts. FIGURE 5




Hacking Couture is an open-source online atelier and workshop series that I started in 2006, focused on identifying fashion patterns from luxury brands, the media, and the street. Hacking Couture seeks to empower individuals to “hack” the dominant fashion system by making something unique, using the codes embedded within high-fashion clothing design. These original codes (or “DNA”) of a brand are interwoven with current trends, cultural movements and other brands’ codes. The constant re-mixing of the original DNA with other codes allows a brand to have ongoing aesthetic relevance and commercial success. Another inspiration of Hacking Couture is to facilitate the creation of an open-source library in which visual patterns connected to high-fashion brands are indexed and shared. Through an analysis of the patterns (using style magazines, runway shows, and the streets as data sources) as well as the


legacy of the brand, workshop participants identify and articulate the code of a fashion brand, style, or subculture. Looking at a brand such as Burberry, for example, reveals some of the notions that make up this company’s brand code: rain, trench coat, tan color, tartan pattern, gabardine, and being “very British.” This is what Burberry stands for: their unique code. There are other components of the Burberry code as well, from cuts to colors to how the garments are “performed” in the company’s advertising campaigns. Through visual indexing, we can clearly identify and define these codes, analyze them, and make comparisons. A comparison of the Burberry code with that of the American leather crafter Coach, for instance, reveals some common elements as well as differences: motifs which can be extracted and recontextualized or repurposed. This is the essence of “hacking couture” (SEE FIGURE 1).



Hacking Couture seeks to empower individuals to “hack” the dominant fashion system by using the codes embedded within highfashion clothing design to make something unique.

LAUNDRY HABITS Jade Whitson-Smith

My hope is that through technology we can create venues to discuss and share fashion codes, in ways that do not violate fair rules of trade and that promote making and a general DI Y sensibility. Audiences want to engage creatively with fashion codes, and we are finding digital and non-digital ways to optimize and document these exchanges through new practices.

In 2013, I decided to give up the use of my washing machine for one year. I wanted to challenge myself to question each act of laundering clothes. Figure 1 shows my previous “normal” process, and Figure 2 my current “experimental” process. The experimental model has two process pathways, fast and slow. I have a laundry basket of underwear and basic items that I need on a fast rotation. Fast items come into the shower with me on a daily basis. They are washed in my shower water, wrung out and then hung up to dry. Slow items are separated from my fast items in a second laundry basket. When I have a free day, or the weather is good enough, I wash my slow items in the bathtub, squeeze out excess water with a mangle, and hang the clothes out to dry. Fast items are continually in my consciousness; I see, touch and clean them very often. I am aware of them. Slow items can disappear for months into my washing basket, only to reappear as if to fresh eyes. I remember why I love wearing a particular


garment, and the laborious process of laundering it makes me value the wearing even more. Since starting to wash garments by hand, I’ve noticed that I now question whether, for example, a once-worn blouse really does need a full wash, or whether it could just be “freshened up” by hanging it on the clothesline. It has never been my goal to discard technological advances. Time-saving devices such as washing machines have allowed many people to enjoy leisure time that would otherwise be taken up by domestic drudgery. I merely wanted to open up the laundering process, experiment with it, and challenge myself by removing some of the tools on which I had become reliant. My year without a washing machine has enabled me to develop both new attitudes and new skills in regard to this universal domestic task. My hope is that this experiment may encourage others to challenge themselves, and lead to other alternative practices in the use and maintenance of garments.


FIGURE 2: Experimental Laundry Process.

I wanted to open up the laundering process, experiment with it, and challenge myself by removing some of the tools on which I had become reliant. FIGURE 1: Normal Laundry Process.



GOLDEN JOINERY: On Imperfect Beauty Margreet Sweerts



There’s a crack in everything, that’s where the light gets in. LEONARD COHEN

Golden Joinery is a non-commercial, collaboratively-developed clothing brand, the outcome of a series of workshops conducted under the same name by the Dutch fashion collective Painted. Started in 2006 by fashion designer Saskia van Drimmelen, embroidery artist Desiree Hammen, fashion student Jarwo Gibson and myself (a theater director by training), Painted works together with masters in nearly-forgotten crafts like needlepoint lace from Bulgaria and the complex beadwork of the Assiniboine tribe of North America. In addition to preserving old craft techniques, Painted explores new and alternative ways of making, presenting and distributing fashion. We seek to develop a praxis that enables people to (re)connect with their natural physical capabilities, and to (re)use everything that is present and given, materials as well as skills and talents. In the Golden Joinery workshops, for example, we invite participants to repair their beloved but damaged clothing items with golden thread. The garments emerge with unique, beautiful golden “scars” at the points of repair. “Golden Joinery” translates the term for the 15th-century Japanese repair technique kintsugi, by which broken pottery was fixed with molten gold. Not only could the repaired pottery continue to be used, but its aesthetic value was often actually enhanced by the repair work. Our practice takes its initial inspiration from the kind of imperfect beauty exemplified by the kintsugi technique, reinterpreting it in the context of contemporary fashion. At the workshops, in addition to showing examples of previous Golden Joineries, we offer instruction in old and new methods of repair. Some participants want to learn specific techniques; others wish to liberate their imaginations, often developing elaborate, jewel-like repairs in the process (SEE FIGURES 1-7, 11). We have developed not only an increasing number of Golden Joinery garments that can inspire workshop participants, but also a scenario for conducting the workshops themselves. We use a series

of “invitations,” as we call the various prompts and suggestions we deploy to move ourselves and our fellow creators. The ensuing interactions, spontaneous and playful, imbue the workshops with their own rhythm and lightness. Spending a few hours in a Golden Joinery workshop affords an opportunity to slow down and give attention to something the participant treasures—an opportunity otherwise rarely found in modern life. All participants highly value the atmosphere of relaxed focus that characterizes the Golden Joinery gatherings (SEE FIGURES 8-10). In part, Golden Joinery evokes the question, What’s new? Adding a second, “new” layer to a garment puts into question the monopoly of fashion labels over the parameters of personal style, calling out the expressive capacity of end users and giving them an empowering sense of their own creativity. The question of newness is of course fundamental to fashion as such, but it need not be driven exclusively by commercial considerations. Indeed, Golden Joinery demonstrates the potential for an informal, non-commercial collective to start and develop a “brand” collaboratively. The future of the brand is literally in everyone’s hands (SEE FIGURE 12).

We seek to develop a praxis that enables people to (re)connect with their natural physical capabilities, and to (re)use everything that is present and given, materials as well as skills and talents.










Adding a second, “new” layer to a garment puts into question the monopoly of fashion labels over the parameters of personal style, calling out the expressive capacity of end users and giving them an empowering sense of their own creativity.














FASHION 2012 Marc Herbst

Fashion has a capacity to create self-generating forms of solidarity that can translate specific cultural positions. This capacity has another word: style. “Fashion 2012” is a proposal for a potential social project: the design of a recognizable style to facilitate the identification and development of a post-economic (i.e. post-capitalist) subjectivity. The style would address the emotional needs of individuals and communities left behind by capitalist economic development. Instead of answering these needs with wan affect (the pout of a model, the empty gestures of “punk” fashion), this style would suggest solidarity in action, and consist of clothing to be worn and shared in recognition of our common subjection to modern economic pressures. This style must be distinct from previous fashion regimes, because it would signify a clear departure from the limited, consumerist identity made available by capitalism.


The “Fashion 2012” project would also reduce the great discrepancy between the American political and cultural Left’s respective capacities to reach large and diverse audiences. While the political Left remains hemmed into a few major metropolitan areas, the cultural Left—represented for instance by tolerant ideas around race, sexuality and gender, and support for environmental protections—is a dominant force on the cultural landscape. The new fashion style would recognize culture’s success based on its ability to motivate, distribute and multiply attractive cultural forms (SEE FIGURES 1-2).

“Fashion 2012” is a proposal for a potential social project: the design of a recognizable style to facilitate the identification and development of a post-economic (i.e. post-capitalist) subjectivity.






THE COUNTERFEIT CROCHET PROJECT (Critique of a Political Economy) Stephanie Syjuco



In 2006, as an outgrowth of my interest in the politics of production and consumption, I started The Counterfeit Crochet Project (Critique of a Political Economy), a participatory artwork that invites crochet crafters all over the world to create a handmade replica of a designer handbag that they wished they owned but can’t afford—and to use their own improvised skillsets and techniques in its production. There are no formal patterns provided, just a downloadable “tip sheet.” Makers choose the item they wish to produce; because of variations in taste, skill level, and available time, the final “product,” while always bearing some resemblance to the original, is at the same time an obviously “wrong” or counterfeit representation of the original. Indeed these handbags are difficult objects to classify. That each one is a self-professed and blatant copy is anathema to a fashion system that depends on never-ending cycles of newness and the cult of originality. At the same time, the irreproducibility of the objects, stemming from the lack of a proper production pattern and from differences among participants, also departs from the serial standardization that typifies mass-produced goods. The fact that these are in an obvious way “designer” handbags pulls them in the direction of haute couture. Yet the traditionally “common” and hence somewhat lowly status of crochet as a craft betrays the bags’ remoteness from the rarefied world of high fashion (SEE FIGURE 1). Initially located online, with a website serving both to distribute the call for collaborators and as a repository for images of finished works, the project has grown over the past seven years to encompass physical gallery installations, displays of completed crocheted works lent by their makers, and a series of international workshops in which I lead how-to classes in basic crochet technique in conjunction with informal discussions on ways to reclaim individual agency within the larger capitalist world. Counterfeit Crochet workshop participants commit to several hours of working with me to create their own small product: in most cases a simple crocheted wristband upon which they embroider a logo to “brand” it as a high-end item. The participants, alFor more information about most always beginners to 1this project, see www.countercrochet, inevitably make feitcrochet.org.

mistakes in their stitching, thereby corrupting the purity of the logo or brand that they have chosen to represent. The workshops are free, with all materials and tools provided; as such, they are a friendly and engaging way to learn skills and participate in a group activity, much like other popular DI Y workshops or a convivial knitting circle. In exchange for this volunteered “free” time I create an ongoing, dispersed and international collection of fashion “goods,” a de facto product line consisting entirely of prototypes, with no centralized design direction and no defined, “correct” manner of production (SEE FIGURES 2-3). The participants further disseminate their “counterfeit” products by displaying, wearing, or sharing their finished items within their respective circles.1


PRODUCTION FLOW SCHEMATIC: Traditional model of fashion production and consumption

ideas and choices self-styled photo shoots self-determined take place

advertising and marketing campaigns developed designs generated and directives sent to factories for production

PRODUCTION FLOW SCHEMATIC: The Counterfeit Crochet Project (Critique of a Political Economy)

unique pattern developed and handmade item produced




nd d


, sk


ga arin


project information and feedback sent out via internet or physical workshop CRAFTER






serialized massproduction CRAFTER


profit generated and returned back to top


other crafters learn about project by visiting exhibitions or via online networks and join up


products sent to stores and purchased by consumers




some items loaned for exhibition displays

visitors attend workshops and view participant contributions at exhibition spaces



nothing is bought or sold; participants volunteer out of interest and labor is compensated in exhibition acknowledgements




FIGURE 1: Marks and Spencer Shwopping, 2012.

Unpick and Remix is a workshop I designed and delivered for a design lab as part of an interactive 2012 exhibition organized by the Centre for Sustainable Fashion at the University of the Arts London. The project was commissioned for the UK fashion retailer Marks and Spencer in collaboration with Oxfam.1 As part of the exhibition, a Marks and Spencer campaign entitled “Shwopping” sought to encourage consumers to donate an existing garment from their own wardrobe to offset every new purchase, thereby counterbalancing the environmental impact of their consumption.2 This campaign thus explored an aspect of a possible “alternative fashion system,” with a focus on reclaiming consumer waste. The system that Marks and Spencer devised to take back unwanted or discarded clothing has encouraged the donation of over four million items; as a consequence 1,300 tons of clothing have not ended up in landfills. The program has also generated $3.7 million dollars for Oxfam.3


At the workshop, the metaphors of “unpicking” and “remixing” were employed to encourage the participants to develop their own personal style through the creative adaptation of existing garments. Pinterest-based mood boards were created for each participant before dissecting each look to “unpick” their garments. Methods of draping, folding, and smocking were then identified and demonstrated as textile design techniques to support the “remix” of each garment, enabling participants to rework their clothing items with their own hands. The success of the design lab experiment suggests that such service ideas could be expanded to include a range of bespoke offerings through further consultation and co-design with customers.

FIGURE 2: Marks and Spencer Shwop Lab, 2012.

1 Marks and Spencer Shwop Lab Exhibition, curated by The Centre for Sustainable Fashion in collaboration with Oxfam, May 2012: see www.social. marksandspencer.com/fashion-2/ms-to-launch-sustainablefashion-lab. 2 Marks and Spencer Shwop Lab Exhibition. 3 Leon Kaye, “Marks & Spencer’s Shwopping One Year Later: Progress and Potential,” TriplePundit, May 9, 2013, www.triplepundit. com/2013/05/marks-andspencer-shwopping.

A Marks and Spencer campaign entitled “Shwopping” encouraged consumers to donate an existing garment from their own wardrobe to offset every new purchase, counterbalancing the environmental impact of their consumption.


FUTURE DIRECTIONS In many contexts, the most sustainable solution involves dematerialization: simply using less stuff. The Unpick and Remix workshop suggested the potential for exploring ways that textile design might begin to replace the need for constant consumption by offering viable alternatives. We must begin to view a product as something that will forever need completion, and the designer’s role as one of facilitation of this process as opposed to the finalization of a product.

At the workshop, the metaphors of “unpicking” and “remixing” were employed to encourage the participants to develop their own personal style through the creative adaptation of existing garments.

NOT E: the author would like to thank the Centre for Sustainable Fashion, Marks and Spencer, and Oxfam for the opportunity to conduct the workshop within the Shwop Lab. Additional thanks to Hannah van Grimbergen and Bianca Thoyer Rozat for supporting the workshop.

FIGURE 3: Unpick and Remix 2012, Photos: Jen Ballie.






THE BROOKLYN FLEA: A Model for Counter-Consumption? Lauren Downing Peters

The rhetoric of “slow fashion” has acquired a new sense of urgency in the wake of the April 2013 Rana Plaza garment factory collapse in Dhaka, Bangladesh. While the “slow fashion” movement as a cultural phenomenon has largely manifested itself in the form of “green” garments and beauty products, the “slow” in slow fashion can also be glimpsed in the exchanges and interactions happening in places like the Brooklyn Flea, a marketplace that serves as a microenvironment for buying and selling all manner of organic, sustainable, local, repurposed, and alternative items. At a time when people are realizing that our rate of consumption, even of eco-goods, is unsustainable in every sense, can a community vintage market provide an alternative? Do the lifestyles enabled by the Flea, perhaps, hint at an incipient model of “counter-consumption?” As Henry Alford of The New York Times has noted, Brooklyn has become a powerful cultural signifier, “a byword for cool from Paris to Sweden to the Middle East.”1 In other words, what begins


other places where can you shake the hand of the man who brined your pickles, or learn the provenance of a vintage acquisition directly from its curator. While money is, naturally, exchanged for objects, these exchanges suggest the potential for a

The “slow” in slow fashion can also be glimpsed in the exchanges and interactions happening at the Brooklyn Flea, a marketplace that serves as a microenvironment for buying and selling all manner of organic, sustainable, local, repurposed, and alternative items.

in Brooklyn—and in particular at the Brooklyn Flea—can in principle have major ramifications for fashionable consumption in far-flung corners of the globe. Purveyors at the Brooklyn Flea are striving to put the heart and soul back into retail by highlighting the channels of creation and exchange that nurture a consumer good into being. Indeed, there are few

1 Henry Alford, “How I became a Hipster,” The New York Times, May 1, 2013, www. nytimes.com/2013/05/02/ fashion/williamsburg. html?pagewanted=all.

3 Adam Sternbergh, “Can You Guess Where These People Live?” New York Magazine, September 26, 2010, www. nymag.com/news/features/ establishments/68492.

2 Kate Fletcher, “The Dear Fashion Journal … Alternative Perspectives on Style,” Kate Fletcher: Sustainability Design Fashion, February 5, 2013, accessed May 16, 2013, www. katefletcher.com/the-dearfashion-journal-alternativeperspectives-on-style.

4 Kate Fletcher, “Consumerist fashion: innovation repressor,” Kate Fletcher: Sustainability Design Fashion, February 17, 2012, accessed May 16, 2013, www.katefletcher.com/ consumerist-fashion-innovationrepressor.

new consumption landscape—or, rather, a revival of some older modes of consumption—driven largely by human interactions and communication. The informal conversations and exchanges that take place at the Flea help to imbue the saleable items with value, and to foster lasting relationships between customers and objects. What makes this scenario a potential model of counter-consumption is the manner in which buyers are encouraged to invest themselves in the stuff they are buying, and in the people who created or sourced that stuff. As Kate Fletcher explains in regard to the fashion industry, what has been lost in the speeding up of fashion consumption in recent decades is fashion’s “original meaning—a group activity of making and doing.”2 Perhaps it is in reestablishing just such a zone of local, collaborative production and consumption that the Brooklyn Flea hints at a possible “alternative fashion system.”

“packed with people earnestly cultivating a quirky interest … and other people who … are happy and excited to … celebrate those people.”3 Rarely in their reporting on the Flea do journalists mention the retail underbelly of the market; rather, it is portrayed as a space for the cultivation of identities, sartorial sharing, and artistic exchange. Increasingly, however, places like the Flea have emerged as alternatives to the consumption sites that have historically reinforced New York’s status as a fashion capital. As Fletcher states, “in the collective cultural consciousness, fashion is consumption, materialism, commercialization and marketing. It is buying high street and high end.”4 Fletcher explains further that the “domination of consumerist fashion within the fashion mindset means that alternatives are squeezed out. Other options seem unworkable.”5

FIGURE 1: Two flea attendees take a moment to pause and play foosball.

THE RISE OF FLEA CAPITAL Since the opening of the Flea in 2008, a vibrant community of making, selling, and trading has materialized out of what was at the time a dwindling flea market culture. Favorable press coverage has included New York Magazine’s description of the Flea as “a cross between a consumer bazaar and a creative laboratory, promising high-quality offerings in a stridently low-key setting,” and as being

FIGURE 2: A seller assists a customer by holding a mirror.


In light of its success, the Brooklyn Flea does appear to demonstrate the possibility of alternatives to mainstream consumption, including consumerist fashion. But serious questions nonetheless remain about the sustainability of such an alternative marketplace. Moreover, given that business at the Flea is still marked by the exchange of money for

While money is, naturally, exchanged for objects, these exchanges suggest the potential for a new consumption landscape— or, rather, a revival of some older modes of consumption—driven largely by human interactions and communication.

goods, can it truly be an alternative? How different are these retail spaces from the malls and specialty shops that support most consumption today? The vintage market, once a backwater industry for individuals who could not afford higher-priced apparel, “has moved away from its historical outré and shabby associations, and become a mainstream and highly commodified fashion alternative to wearing new designs.”6 Meanwhile, as the slow fashion movement has become a trend in and of itself, vintage, artisanal, and bespoke consumption have to some extent encroached on the territory of traditional, high-end retail. Shopping for secondhand goods can create a certain degree of anxiety in the unacquainted. As fashion theorist Alexandra Palmer explains, “part of the anxiety rests in the subtle nuances of when an item is suitably vintage. The danger exists of making a faux pas and being merely out of date.”7 Consumers often rely upon social networks to guide them, since they “are frequently too anxious about the choices to be made to proceed without various forms of support and reassurance.”8 The Flea accomplishes this support function admirably: within its funky environs, relationships are formed, knowledge is shared, and attachments nurtured—all of


them aspects of the “Flea experience” on which it is difficult to put a dollar value. At the same time, the Flea helps to reestablish the task of shopping as itself a worthwhile, legitimate pastime, one in which procurement is but one feature of the overall experience. Indeed, it has been argued that the act of shopping for and wearing vintage garments is only “secondarily about [the] resale of clothing … it is primarily about being involved in a change of status and a revaluing of clothing beyond the original time period or setting.”9 The smart consumer who spends enough time within the vintage realm, actively engaging with its social networks, can “achieve the status of a connoisseur,”10 a status that is difficult to attain in traditional retail settings. Yet the Brooklyn Flea remains a site of commerce, like any other store or shopping mall, thereby problematizing its claim to be truly alternative. With only 140 vendor stalls available, prospective sellers must have a credible business model and appealing merchandise in order to stand out among the other 7,000 vendors who have applied for a stall since the Flea opened.11 Brooklyn Flea co-creator and manager of everyday operations Eric Demby has the final word in selecting vendors, making him a powerful figure in the cultivation of Brooklyn’s cultural capital. Demby has proven to possess a knack for choosing vendors that contribute to the overall “Brooklyn vibe,”12 admitting that “the vendors overall ultimately reflect my personal taste in one way or another, and … a certain amount of cohesion has emerged— a ‘look’ I guess you could call it.”13 Demby’s curatorial influence at the Flea helps to draw in customers who are too busy to troll through

5 Fletcher, “Consumerist fashion.” 6 Alexandra Palmer, “Vintage Whores and Vintage Virgins: Second Hand Fashion in the Twenty-first Century,” in Old Clothes, New Looks: Second Hand Fashion, ed. Alexandra Palmer and Hazel Clark (Oxford: Berg, 2005), 197. See also Nathaniel Dafydd Beard, “The Branding of Ethical Fashion and the Consumer: A Luxury Niche or Mass-market Reality?” Fashion Theory 12, no. 4 (2008): 447-468. 7 Palmer, “Vintage,” 200.

8 Alison Clarke and David Miller, “Fashion and Anxiety,” Fashion Theory 6, no. 2 (2002): 209. 9 Marilyn DeLong, Barbara Heinemann and Kathryn Reiley, “Hooked on Vintage!” Fashion Theory 9, no. 1 (2005): 23. 10 Palmer, “Vintage Whores,” 200. 11 Amelia Blanquera, “Brooklyn Flea Business School,” The Local: Fort Greene, April 14, 2010, www.fort-greene.thelocal.nytimes.com/2010/04/14/ brooklyn-flea-business-school.

the city’s many independent vintage and thrift stores, while still allowing them to feel that they are active participants in an “alternative sphere.”14 In

Increasingly, places like the Flea have emerged as alternatives to the consumption sites that have historically reinforced New York’s status as a fashion capital. an astutely curated vintage market, “the consumer is virtually guaranteed to find a suitable purchase, given the [diverse] range and amount of stock.”15 CULTIVATING MEANING AND SELLING HANDBAGS Much of what is wrong with today’s wasteful and speed-obsessed consumption landscape has to do with the manner in which the human labor that goes into the creation of consumer goods has been hidden. Therefore, in seeking to elucidate what is truly “alternative” in the Brooklyn Flea, it is helpful to consider the vendors themselves. Andy and Chery Lin sell restored Dooney & Bourke handbags from the 1970s through the 2000s. Their booth at the Flea stands out both for its appearance and for the comparatively high price of the bags: around $100 for most models. Sellers like the Lins carefully select and arrange their goods in order to mitigate potential anxieties that consumers might have in approaching their display, as well as to draw individuals out of the chaos and into their booth. After all, “Brooklyn Flea shoppers are a discerning bunch …. Vendors need to make

12 Guy Trebay, “Scavengers on the Urban Savannah,” The New York Times, April 13, 2008, www. nytimes.com/2008/04/13/ fashion/13flea.html?scp=1&sq =scavengers%20on%20the%20 urban&st=cse.

15 Palmer, “Vintage,” 203.

13 Eric Demby, e-mail message to author, April 10, 2010.

19 Blanquera, “Brooklyn Flea Business School.”

14 Palmer, “Vintage,” 203.

16 Eric Demby, e-mail message to author, April 10, 2010. 17 Palmer, “Vintage,” 209. 18 Palmer, “Vintage,” 205.

an impression in order to make a sale.”16 The Lins accomplish this in part through the descriptive, hand-lettered price tags that accompany their goods, which provide an entryway for fostering a relationship between consumer and bag. Palmer explains that the purpose of such tags is twofold: first, “like a museum’s object label or catalogue record, the hang tag authenticates and interprets the vintage merchandise that is, in effect, curated.”17 Second, the tags authenticate the merchandise as rare or special: “here, high-end … designer labels are inferred to be removed from the negative, tainted aspects of the used garments.”18 In contrast to similar bags that do not include mini-biographies, the Lins’ bags have an “aura” that helps to legitimize their cost. While Andy fields technical and provenancerelated questions, Chery teaches her return customers—young women she refers to as her “Dooney Girls”—about the history of the brand and how to identify fakes. She is also happy to explain why her bags are superior to similar versions sold by neighboring vendors. Through the dissemination of this kind of information, Chery and Andy have created a cachet for Dooney & Bourke at the Flea, placing themselves at the top of its hierarchy of vendors. The Lins’ customer base has directly shaped Chery’s market behavior as a business owner. While her high-end European bags by designers such as Chanel and Prada have sold well at other outlets, Chery’s Brooklyn customers prefer the more

The Flea helps to reestablish the task of shopping as itself a worthwhile, legitimate pastime, one in which procurement is but one feature of the overall experience. mainstream Dooney & Bourke. This sort of trialand-error marketing is not uncommon at the Flea. “There is no formula for success,” says Denby. “It’s an alchemy of passion, talent, luck and timing.”19 In contrast to large markets, the Flea encourages rapid and informal types of market research that


a quest for a simpler life, [the vintage] attitude also carries a darker suspicion that recent social, cultural and political developments are profoundly corrosive.”22 The Brooklyn Flea is close to the hearts of many New Yorkers, who patronize it out of a deep commitment to sustainable alternatives to the consumption economy. Yet, given the many other, similar markets in New York and elsewhere, the question remains, why Brooklyn? Eric Demby responds,

FIGURE 3: A seller helps a customer by tying on a bracelet.

themselves reflect the social characteristics of the market as a whole. With its affordable $100-per-day booth fee, the Flea serves as a space both for individual sellers to pursue their idiosyncratic passions and for seasoned business owners to test new markets—although the differences among these types of vendors can be difficult to see. Indeed, in the vintage marketplace, “the borderline between collector and dealer is sometimes not well defined … [since] both dealers and collectors share … a sense of gratification and nostalgia towards [vintage] clothing.”20 This sentiment is particularly evident at the Brooklyn Flea, whose participants generally downplay the pecuniary aspects of the market while championing those who promote community and connoisseurship among the various vendors and buyers. CONCLUSIONS Fashion theorist Nathaniel Beard explains that vintage clothing allows individuals to assert their personal identity as well as their affiliation with particular social and political values.21 “More than 20 Anna Catalani and Yupin Chung, “Vintage or Fashion Clothes? An Investigation inside the Issues of Collecting and Marketing Second-hand Clothes,” (paper presented at the 8th International Conference on Arts and Cultural Management, Montréal, Canada, July 3-6, 2005): 7-8.


We didn’t choose Brooklyn so much as it chose us…. [The] Flea is more a culmination of a new consumption/production landscape … [which reflects] things that are good about Brooklyn and perhaps show a way to a new kind of economy scale .… When it comes to creating a major locally grown project in their own backyards, everyone at the Flea seems invested in succeeding.23 While the future of the Flea, and of the consumption landscape of New York generally, is uncertain, all signs point to a profound shift toward more homegrown alternatives. Nevertheless, the jury is still out on how major an impact on the overall economy of New York places like the Flea will be likely to exercise in the near to medium term.

Demby’s curatorial influence at the Flea helps to draw in customers who are too busy to troll through the city’s many independent vintage and thrift stores, while still allowing them to feel that they are active participants in an “alternative sphere.”

21 Beard, “Ethical Fashion,” 449. 22 Beard, “Ethical Fashion,”456. 23 Eric Demby, e-mail message to author, April 10, 2010.

FIGURE 4: Two Flea visitors search through a pile of vintage kilim rugs.


DISRUPTION THROUGH DOWNLOAD: BurdaStyle.com and the Home Sewing Community Rachel Kinnard

Fashion is not created by a single individual, but by everyone involved in the production of fashion, and thus fashion is a collective entity.1 Today, the practice of home sewing can be seen as a disruption to the mainstream fashion system—a system fueled by fast-paced consumption that typically separates producer from consumer by great distances both geographically and socioeconomically. The online community challenges this global fashion system by encouraging home sewing, while also reimagining the consumption of sewing patterns themselves. Traditionally, sewing patterns have been designed and produced by a group of designers hired by a publisher (McCalls is an example).2 By con1 Yuniya Kawamura, Fashiontrast, BurdaStyle.com, ology (Oxford: Berg, 2005), 1. launched in 2007 by 2 See www.mccallpattern. the German fashion mccall.com.


magazine Burda Style, is a website that supplements a standard e-commerce channel for the sale of sewing patterns with an open-source pattern platform for a global audience of home sewers. The combined commercial and non-commercial approach is helping to foster a community of independent designers,

A practice traditionally associated with housewives and homemakers, home sewing is finding new devotees among a younger generation that appreciates the DIY approach to clothing and fashion.

restoring a culture of home-based clothing production that represents a genuine alternative to the mainstream fashion system. A practice traditionally associated with housewives and homemakers, home sewing is finding new devotees among a younger generation that appreciates the DI Y approach to clothing and fashion. BurdaStyle.com has carried the tradition of home sewing into the 21st century by exploiting the possibilities of the Internet as a vehicle of distribution and knowledge-sharing. The average age of the BurdaStyle member is 33, with the majority living in the US, UK, Germany, and Australia. A platform for sewing inspiration and knowledge as well as the sale of patterns, the site’s primary value for users consists in its archive of user-generated content, comprising personal sewing projects, recommendations, sewing pattern reviews, and tutorials. Members can also share their own patterns and designs by uploading them. The site thus fosters a more active type of consumption by promoting the practice of home sewing through the collective development of a community-based sewing resource. It is through the socially networked nature of the platform that the tradition of home sewing is being reimagined and made accessible to a wider, younger audience. Moreover, as a commercial business operating on a global scale, BurdaStyle is demonstrating the commercial viability of several concepts previously found only in conceptual fashion projects. ORIGINS Hubert Burda Media, one of the largest publishing houses in Germany, began including sewing patterns in Burda Style (formerly Burda Moden) magazine in 1952. The magazine gained prominence as one the most popular home sewing pattern producers in Europe. 3 See www.burdastyle.com/ statics/about. BurdaStyle.com was founded as an initiative 4 See www.etsy.com; www. ravelry.com; www.craftsy.com; to bring the Burda brand and www.instructables.com. into the US market, es5 “Cutting Chiffon and other pecially among younger Slippery Fabrics,” last modified consumers. According to November 28, 2011, www. burdastyle.com/techniques/ the company, the aim of cutting-chiffon-and-otherthe website is “to bring slippery-fabrics.

Through social networking, sewing pattern distribution is shifting from a one-directional, top-down affair to a collective enterprise of home sewing knowledge, tips, and lore. the craft of sewing to a new generation of fashion designers, hobbyists, DI Yers as well as inspire fashion enthusiasts.”3 DISRUPTING TRICKLE-DOWN FASHION Experimental fashion projects question the hierarchical fashion system by intervening in the production of fashionable goods. Through the social platform BurdaStyle.com, sewing pattern distribution has shifted from a one-directional, top-down affair to a collective enterprise of home sewing knowledge, tips, and lore. The website operates as a social facilitator of fashion, mediating knowledge dissemination and social connections, with member contributions enhancing the online sewing community’s core value. The website approaches the home sewing market in an uncommon way, merging concepts already present on the web but not previously tailored for home sewing enthusiasts. While other creative project sites such as Etsy, Ravelry, Craftsy, and Instructables rely in a similar way on user-generated content, BurdaStyle.com’s focus on the practice of home sewing is unique to its online community.4 Although free to join, BurdaStyle.com requires that users become members in order to access many of the site’s features. As a member, one can buy and download sewing patterns (most are $5.99), upload homemade sewing patterns to share with other members, upload photos and instructions of personal sewing projects, contribute tutorials to the Learning section (for example, “Cutting Chiffon and Other Slippery Fabrics”5), or participate in the Discussion section. Facilitating a peer review component, BurdaStyle.com members can also link their projects to the pattern used, thus creating a library of user-generated variations on a single pattern (SEE FIGURES 1-2).


FIGURE 1: BurdaStyle’s “Franzi” vest project and pattern page.

FIGURE 2: A selection of member-created variations on Burda Style’s “Franzi” pattern.



Fashion theorist Otto von Busch has described traditional home sewing patterns as establishing “a form of controlled action spaces, not primarily aiming to teach sewing as much as reproducing the latest fashion .... Similar to the pattern magazines of today they offered no real possibility to ‘talk back’ or form new communities.”6 This unidirectional form of idea circulation is broken by BurdaStyle. com’s interactive functions. Although the site continues the distribution of professionally-created sewing patterns from Burda Style magazine, its most valuable asset lies in the community contributions. When members share their personalized projects using a particular pattern (such as the “Franzi” vest), new possibilities for the sewing pattern are created. The social-sharing feature of the platform encourages further interpretation and modification of the patterns, a fundamental practice in fashion design.

BurdaStyle.com members often reimagine mass-produced sewing patterns by altering the patterns in accordance with their personal tastes and specific projects. Community members identify with sewing no longer as just a means to copy fashion trends, but as an outlet for their own creativity and originality. COMMUNITY LABOR Home sewing today is an activity taken up through a variety of motivations. But whether as a hobby, passion, or necessity, the practice connects production with consumption in ways that have grown increasingly rare in the era of the globalized fashion industry. In addition to promoting this self-reliant practice, the BurdaStyle.com experience engages members in another level of consumer/producer intermingling. The site gains value through


user-generated content, and most importantly is a community for sharing knowledge and inspiration. The platform publishes original content through blog posts and editorial projects, but the staff’s primary function is to foster community growth and achievement through sharing and learning. The platform is a place for members to build virtual identities and social relationships (SEE FIGURE 3). In her “Featured Member” interview, for example, member mollykatherine explains her relationship to BurdaStyle.com: I’ve been a BurdaStyle member since January 2010, pretty much the day I started sewing again. I was looking for a free pattern online to practice with and stumbled across BurdaStyle. I was so excited by my discovery that I joined immediately and eagerly got sewing so I could be a part of it and upload my first project. I am now an avid member and stop by several times a day. I find the community so supportive and informative and gain endless inspiration from all the other members’ creations.7 In response to mollykatherine’s article, community member Turtlegirl00 wrote, “So happy you were featured! I love your sense of style and your projects are always inspiring!” Pambox, another member, commented, “Molly! Congratulations on being featured. Always love your stuff.” Pampula wrote, “Oh I loved reading your feature article, it was so fun to peek in your life and sewings! Everything you make is so lovely and inspiring :) And I’m so flattered that you chose two of my projects to your top ten favourites, Thank you so much!”8

6 Otto von Busch, Fashionable: Hacktivism and Engaged Fashion Design (Gothenburg: Art Monitor, 2008), 46. 7 Molly Katherine, “Featured Member: mollykatherine,” BurdaStyle Blog, last modified October 24, 2011, http://www. burdastyle.com/blog/featuredmember-mollykatherine.

6 Turtlegirl00, October 26, 2011 (4:34 p.m.), Pambox, October 26, 2011 (2:25 a.m), Pampula, October 25, 2011 (12:52 p.m), comments on Molly Katherine, “Featured Member: mollykatherine,” BurdaStyle Blog, last modified October 24, 2011, http://www. burdastyle.com/blog/featuredmember-mollykatherine. 9 See www.burdastyle.com/ projects/maryy.

FIGURE 3: mollykatherine’s BurdaStyle.com member profile.

ENGAGED DESIGN: THE MARYY DRESS PATTERN BurdaStyle.com members often reimagine massproduced sewing patterns by altering the patterns in accordance with their personal tastes and specific projects. Community members identify with sewing no longer as just a means to copy fashion trends, but as an outlet for their own creativity and originality. The platform facilitates the practice of creative home sewing by encouraging engaged design. In 2008, BurdaStyle.com held an open call for the design of their next professionally produced sewing pattern, an initiative that further extended the communitydriven, crowd-sourced design practices promoted within the site. The winning design was the Maryy

The extensive catalog of user-generated patterns and modifications represents a genuine alternative to the popular image of the “designer as genius,” and the corresponding top-down distribution system typical of mainstream fashion.


dress pattern,9 a personal project shared prior to the open call that was nominated by members of the community. The Maryy dress was eventually made into a free, open-source sewing pattern, available for download: as of November 7, 2011, it had been downloaded 29,294 times, and used as the basis for over 100 new member projects.10 Member comments on the project include expressions of excitement about their own version, disappointment in specific details of the pattern or instructions, and questions regarding the pattern. Mema79 writes, “I can support DanniiDx. I also had problems with the instructions and in the end I had to cut 8 centimetres from the bust of the dress so that it would fit me. Despite these problems I am very happy with the result and this is a very nice dress.”11

By supporting a community of knowledge, best practices, and mutual inspiration, experiments like these promote a more active style of consumption, even within the parameters of a commercial, profit-seeking business. The ability for members to link their modifications of a standard pattern through the site creates an ever-growing catalog of pattern interpretations and variations. This extensive catalog serves as a library as well as a source of inspiration for members’ own versions, and also represents a genuine alternative to the popular image of the “designer as genius,” and the corresponding top-down distribution system typical of mainstream fashion. CONCLUSION As the twenty-first century proceeds, the web is transforming the practice of product development and fashion marketing, blurring the line between producers and consumers. Online communities like BurdaStyle.com can to some extent counteract the relentless materialism and consumerism


promoted by the mainstream fashion system, above all fast fashion. By supporting a community of knowledge, best practices, and mutual inspiration, experiments like these promote a more active style of consumption, even within the parameters of a commercial, profit-seeking business. This sort of value-added activity may also represent a hopeful example for other industries, in which traditional craft skills and local differences have been replaced by globalized manufacturing and media businesses that together promote the passive consumption of generic products. Through the social functions of the platform, the community reimagines the practice of home sewing as an interactive fashion system. The “Maryy” sewing pattern exemplifies the kind of community-driven design encouraged on BurdaStyle’s website. When a pattern is made available on the platform, members reinterpret and enhance the design through their own variations. The community engagement produced through the online platform disrupts the traditional top-down dissemination of sewing patterns and promotes 10 See www.burdastyle.com/ a more engaged kind of projects/maryy. fashion that is helping 11 Mema79, July 28, 2010 to restore the traditional (8:29 p.m), comment on last modified July 7, role of home sewing as an “Maryy,” 2009, www.burdastyle.com/ aspect of popular culture. projects/maryy.

CHECK OUT SOME FASHION: Clothing Libraries in Sweden Alessandro Esculapio

In the past few years, clothing libraries, like toy and tool libraries, have emerged in many industrialized countries, their establishment a reaction to clothing overconsumption and environmental concerns connected with the fashion industry. The phenomenon is spreading especially quickly in Sweden, with clothing libraries operating even in small cities such as Malmö, Umeå, and Norrköping.1 Lånegarderoben in Stockholm and Klädoteket in Gothenburg provide good examples of this increasingly critical attitude toward fashion production and consumption. Lånegarderoben 1 Katrin Sörbring and Henrik and Klädoteket were Ek, “Unna dig något du inte har råd med,” Expressen, April established in 2010 and 25, 2013, www.expressen.se/ 2012, respectively, and nyheter/dokument/unna-dignagot-du-inte-har-rad-med/. are similar in structure and aim. Both require 2 Thorstein Veblen The Theory of the Leisure Class, (Oxford: users to buy a memberOxford University Press, 2007 ship that allows them [1899]), 49.

to borrow clothes for a limited period of time, and both are open only at certain times during the week. Additionally, both libraries maintain blogs that keep readers and members up to date on their activities and on issues and initiatives related to sustainability. In this sense, the libraries’ ambition is to contribute to a long-term cultural shift in our relationship to clothing consumption, by promoting alternative consumption practices and by contributing to a democratization of style through facilitating broader access to fashionable clothes. CLOTHING LIBRARIES AND OVERCONSUMPTION While “conspicuous consumption” was long ago identified by Thorstein Veblen in relation to wealth display by the upper classes,2 a much more widespread habit of clothing overconsumption has manifested itself with the advent of fast fashion: cheap, low-quality yet trendy clothes produced by


big global retailers such as H&M, Forever 21, Zara, and Uniqlo, among others. According to a study carried out by the management consulting firm Technopak, which focuses on the fashion industry, global per capita apparel consumption will grow significantly by 2020.3 Journalist Elizabeth L. Cline provides a clear picture of the current situation in Western countries, with particular attention to the United States. Referring to a 2008 statistical analysis by the American Apparel and Footwear Association, Cline observes that “Americans buy an average of sixty-four items of clothing per year, a little more than one piece per week.”4 As both she and fashion scholar and consultant Kate Fletcher have pointed out, this pace is not sustainable for our planet.5 What needs to change is the premise of the system, the model that determines our patterns of clothing consumption. Fletcher writes about “paradigms, or accepted models of how ideas relate to one another” as being “the sources of systems,” including the mainstream industrial fashion system. She goes on to argue that “if we influence things at the level of a paradigm, then a system can be totally transformed …. Fostering this new way of seeing is the ongoing biggest challenge of sustainability for the fashion and textile sector—to build a more convincing, reflective and ethical paradigm that is more sustainable by design.”6 The Lånegarderoben and Klädoteket libraries focus on the concept of sustainability by offering members the opportunity to rent clothes instead of purchasing them. On the Klädoteket website, the founders describe the library as “an alternative to the consumption hysteria in today’s society”7; similarly, Lånegarderoben was established with the idea that “one can renew one’s wardrobe without contributing to further consumption.”8 As Fletcher

3 Arvind Singhal, “Clothing Consumption by 2020, and Their Impact on Fibre-Manufacturer Supply Chain,” www.technopak. com/files/ITMF_06Nov12.pdf. 4 Elizabeth L. Cline, Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion, (New York: Penguin, 2012), 5. 5 Cline, Overdressed, 5.


6 Kate Fletcher, Sustainable Fashion and Textiles (London: Earthscan, 2008), 73. 7 See www.kladoteket.se/ var-ide. 8 See www.lanegarderoben.se. 9 Fletcher, Sustainable Fashion, 155.

The libraries’ ambition is to contribute to a long-term cultural shift in our relationship to clothing consumption, by promoting alternative consumption practices and by contributing to a democratization of style through facilitating broader access to fashionable clothes. writes, the act of sharing a product increases its efficiency because it then meets the needs of many people.9 Emelie Dahlström, spokesperson for the cultural association Kulturföreningen Kreativitet, which was responsible for the establishment of Lånegarderoben, stated in an interview that “[clothing libraries] may not be good for basic clothing like everyday jeans, but for party clothes and special occasion wear it is the perfect solution.”10 Whereas it can be problematic to argue in favor of the renting of basic t-shirts or underwear, it is much easier to promote the sharing of clothing items that are not worn on a daily basis. The typical consumption pattern of such special-occasion garments is a good starting point for promoting new behaviors and motives, beyond the consumerist “desire for pleasure, new experiences, status and identity formation through buying goods.”11

a requirement that is clearly of primary importance for many people. The key characteristics of fashion as a concept, namely, change, novelty, and variety, are thus honored by the libraries, but without necessitating separate purchases by individual end users. As Fletcher puts it, “fashion … can, and must, play another role that helps us both identify the causes of sustainability problems and cultivate new aspirations.”13 Clothing librar10 Johanna Björk, “Clothing ies, as part of fashion Libraries: A Shift from Wasteful to Resourceful,” March in the sense of a broad 31, 2010, accessed March cultural phenomenon, 11, 2014, www.goodlifer. com/2010/03/clothing-librarare to some extent conies-a-shift-from-wasteful-totributing to this positive resourceful. change. 11 Fletcher, Sustainable FashThe concept of fashion, 117-118. ionability plays a very 12 Sörbring and Ek, “Unna dig important role in our något.” dress practices. Fashion 13 Fletcher, Sustainable Fashis clothing imbued with ion, 118. symbolic value, which 14 Fletcher, Sustainable Fashis what makes it so ion, 120.

appealing. It satisfies needs that differ from those satisified by simple clothes, such as the need for protection from the elements. According to Fletcher, alternative fashion practices must remain attuned to the symbolic meanings of fashion in addition to the more mundane practical purposes of clothing as such: On the one hand we have to celebrate fashion as a significant and magical part of our culture (while divorcing it from rampant material consumption). And on the other hand we have to produce clothes that are based on values, on skill, on carefully produced fibres; clothes that are contentious, sustainable and beautiful.14 Looking at the items of clothing that can be checked out at Lånegarderoben and Klädoteket provides a better understanding of how the sustainable aspect of the libraries’ activities meets the need for the aesthetic, symbolic dimension of fashion. The most striking difference between the two libraries is

AESTHETICS AND FASHIONABILITY The Swedish newspaper Expressen recently published an article featuring an interview with a member of Lånegarderoben who works as a spokesperson and moderator: “I go to many meetings and I find myself often on stage, so I need a large wardrobe. But I don’t need to own everything I wear. I want to protect the environment and it’s also cheaper [to rent clothes] than buying new things that one might perhaps wear only once.”12 The principle behind Lånegarderoben seems to be shared by its members, as it allows them to have access to a variety of items,

FIGURE 1: The Lånegarderoben clothing library, Stockholm, Sweden.


that Lånegarderoben stocks clothes designed specifically by Swedish brands, whereas Klädoteket focuses more on secondhand and redesigned clothes. This difference seems to mirror an ideological difference between the respective managers and members of the two libraries. The attention that Lånegarderoben shows to brands, whether well-established ones like Filippa K, J. Linderberg, or Nudie Jeans Co., or upcoming ones such as Matilda Wendelboe and Uniforms for the Dedicated, is relevant to its Stockholm location.15 As Sweden’s fashion capital, Stockholm is famous for its cool, fashion-conscious residents, people who, more than other places in Sweden, value branded clothes and the public, performative dimensions of style. The presence of a biannual Mercedes Benz Fashion Week,16 as well as a vibrant night scene, are contributing factors to the central role of fashion and fashionability more generally in the city. Attention to sustainable practices is the thread that connects the brands that donate clothes to the library (this being the primary source of Lånegarderoben’s inventory). Bigger companies like Filippa K and J. Linderberg have signed the Code of Labour Practices of the Fair Wear Foundation, an independent nonprofit organization that works mainly with European companies and their Asian factories to improve labor conditions for garment workers.17 The other, generally smaller, companies and designers all produce their clothes locally on a small scale and employ, for the most part, organic materials. Klädoteket, by contrast, does not carry branded clothes, but rather vintage or redesigned pieces. Unlike Lånegarderoben, this clothing library currently relies mainly on donations from individuals and “redesigners,” not from companies.18 In this sense, Klädoteket’s activity is less restricted by the concept of fashionability as articulated through traditional fashion media. Instead, it promotes a

15 See www.filippa-k.com; jlindeberg.com; www. nudiejeans.com; matildawendelboe.se/sv; and uniformsforthededicated.com. FIGURES 2 & 3: The Lånegarderoben clothing library, Stockholm, Sweden.


16 See www.mbfashionweek. com.

more personal and creative approach to the concept of fashion, one that does not necessarily lie within the parameters of the mainstream industry. This different approach seems to mirror, in turn, the attitude toward fashion and clothing of people living in Gothenburg, who are often characterized as being more “relaxed” and “alternative” in comparison to Stockholmers. CONCLUSION With a focus on issues of sustainability and consumption, Lånegarderoben and Klädoteket are proving the impact that consumers can have on fashion. However, there are more opportunities yet to be explored. Members of Lånegarderoben are required to wash the clothes they check out before returning them, and the library also reserves the right to have items dry-cleaned and charge the cost to the

17 See www.fairwear.org/488/ labour-standards. 18 On the concept of redesign, see e.g. www.redesigndesign. org.

FIGURE 4: The inventory at the Klädoteket library, Gothenburg, Sweden.


FIGURE 5: Inside the Klädoteket library.

The key characteristics of fashion as a concept, namely, change, novelty, and variety, are honored by the libraries, but without necessitating separate purchases by individual end users. borrower. The practice of dry-cleaning, however, is anything but sustainable, mostly because of the use of perchloroethylene (perc), a petrolchemical-based solvent, as detergent. Fletcher points out how sustainability is a key factor in clothing maintenance, even more than in production: “… even though the typical garment is only washed and dried 19 Fletcher, Sustainable around 20 times in its Fashion, 75. life, most of its environ20 Fletcher, Sustainable mental impact comes Fashion, 80.


from laundering and not from growing, processing and producing the fabric or disposing of it at the end of its life.”19 The library could raise its sustainability standards by adopting alternative cleaning processes like hanging garments in a steamy space or by providing members with instructions on how to wash the garments by hand. The establishment of clothing libraries is a signal of how our relationship with dress can be explored in unexpected ways. New attitudes toward fashion result from a shift of our ideas and feelings, which, as Fletcher noticed, are usually hard to challenge: “The more radical innovations [in fashion] focus on consumption patterns and bring the biggest benefits because they are based on cultural change and shifts in consumer consciousness, although they are both difficult and time consuming to influence.”20


RE-KNITTING: The Emotional Experience of Opening Knitted Garments Amy Twigger Holroyd


My PhD research explores design activism in the context of my practice as a designer-maker of knitwear. Motivated by the prospect of a more sustainable and satisfying fashion system, I am investigating the idea of “openness” within my practice. Openness can be explored on a number of levels. At a macro level, I have constructed a metaphor of fashion as a commons, which has been subject to gradual enclosure through professionalization. I see a lack of making knowledge as one element of this enclosure, and suggest that an open fashion system would permit a greater role for individuals to make and maintain their own clothing. However, I am aware that the majority of knitters focus on making new items—mirroring, rather than challenging, the linear production-consumption model of the mainstream fashion industry. Design researchers Alison Gill and Abby Mellick Lopes argue that too many sustainable design initiatives involve the production of new things; they suggest that “the challenge for


the material practices of design might be recast in terms of a negotiation with those things already in existence.”1 I concur, and argue that the same is true for amateur making. I have chosen to initiate re-knitting as a new “craft of use”2 and to study how it develops. By “reknitting,” I am referring to a range of processes that utilize knitting skills, techniques, and knowledge and can be carried out by individuals to repair and alter existing items of knitwear. Re-knitting extends the making relationship beyond original contstruction and has the potential to keep garments in use longer. Activity in this area has been patchy; 1 Alison Gill and Abby Mellick while there are many Lopes, “On Wearing: a Critical examples of wearers Framework for Valuing Design’s Already Made,” Design and repairing and reworking Culture 3, no. 3 (2011): 312. garments using dress2 Kate Fletcher, “Craft of use,” making techniques, accessed August 11, 2013, current examples using www.craftofuse.org.

knitting are limited. Although it was common to rework knitted garments in the past, such practices have fallen out of favor. The ability to open and reconfigure a garment depends on its physical properties, and what one perceives to be possible. Although knitting has an inherently open and “tinkerable” structure, we tend to perceive garments as closed and inviolable. Activity is limited by a lack of knowledge of how to open and alter the fabric and by cultural expectations regarding “appropriate” ways of interacting with our clothing. As part of my research, I worked with a small group of female amateur knitters, exploring ways to open existing knitwear and discussing the emotions involved; through this article, I would like to share their experiences, and their words. At the start of the project, I asked the knitters about their perceptions of altering knitwear. My experience of altering things, or dressing them up, is limited but … they always involved

changing the buttons or putting lace on it or something like that. And it just never looked right. It was never good enough that you’ d want to wear it. It was a lot of effort, and the result was unsatisfactory. I can’t see it, I can’t visualise, I can’t imagine what you would do. I’m not very imaginative in that way. I wouldn’t like to spoil something that’s perfect. Despite these concerns, they liked the idea of re-knitting and could think of items that they might want to change. This is an article … perhaps I can do something with it, so that I can wear it, and it be an interesting, individual piece. Certainly, it’s not at the moment.


Before starting to work with the group, I developed a range of methods for altering knitted garments. Many of the methods involve opening the fabric through unraveling, laddering, or cutting; knitters have different experiences of, and feelings about, each of these actions. Unraveling— the deconstruction of the fabric, row by row—is a common activity within conventional knitting. Unraveling directly reverses the formation of loops involved in knitting, and the yarn remains in its original state, as a continuous strand. Knitters unravel and re-knit their work in order to correct mistakes; this might be a small section of a single panel, or an entire garment that has not “turned out.” Some knitters also unravel existing items of knitwear to reclaim the yarn.

knitters generally have a horror of cutting knitting. If I mention the word cut to knitters, the response is usually a sharp intake of breath and a look of panic; more than once I have heard “sacrilege” muttered in response. Their horror is understandable: when a knitted fabric is cut, the structure of intermeshed loops is disrupted, and it cannot be unraveled into a continuous thread. Cutting cannot be reversed, as unraveling can; therefore, it is a more violent means of opening a fabric. To explore these feelings, we deconstructed some knitted garments together. During this process the participants’ perceptions of the knitted fabric started to change. They realized that the nature of the knitted structure is such that ladders need manipulation to “run,” and a fabric cut vertically does not come apart without vigorous handling.

When I was first married, and we didn’t have much money, I used to buy jumpers at jumble sales and unpick them, and knit my son jumpers from the best of the wool.

It’s that expectation that it would all fray, and it just hasn’t. It’s liberating because it’s not all just disappeared.

Hence, unraveling can be seen as an integral element of knitting practice. Although unraveling is sometimes associated with disappointment, the process offers the satisfying opportunity to start afresh.

There’s something subversive about doing this. It’s like a new world. The experience of deconstruction proved to be essential both in developing a deeper understanding of the knitted structure and in building a willingness to open knitted garments. Following the deconstruction activity, we tried out a number of the re-knitting techniques that I had developed; this introduced the participants to a range of options. The project culminated in each participant using re-knitting techniques to alter an item from her own wardrobe; I was able to observe their emotions and thoughts as they negotiated this new experience. The knitters felt it was important that their reknitting alterations produced an improved outcome; however, this was thought to be a challenge.

I’ve knitted one thing recently that was appalling, I mean the fit, it was just dreadful, rubbish pattern. And I’ve pulled it out to wool. I’m known as a backwards knitter. I’m always pulling stuff out and doing it again. I can’t bear to be defeated by some balls of wool, and I can’t bear waste. Laddering occurs accidentally when a stitch is dropped; for some, this is a worrying experience. I’m always scared, if you drop a stitch or something, I’m always scared it’s going to run right down to the bottom. However, most knitters know how to re-form a ladder, and are able to use this technique as an alternative means of correcting mistakes. The actions of both unraveling and laddering, therefore, are seen as relatively safe; in contrast,


It’s a very fine line, between altering something and ending up with something naff, and ending up with something where actually you’ve improved on it. FIGURE 2


I don’t want the cure to be worse than the disease.

We’ve done things I would never have dreamt of. It’s made me a bit braver.

Design discussions revealed a crucial issue: whether the alterations would look intentional and purposeful. The idea of “looking like it’s meant to be like that” arose again and again in the conversations. This issue of intentionality relates to a broader concept of wholeness. During the early stages of the design process, several participants expressed concern that their additions might look “stuck on.” Another comment links these issues of intentionality, wholeness, and purposefulness: Yes, as if it’s meant to be like that, rather than sticking it on for the sake of it. The knitters addressed these concerns by using the repetition of design elements to “tie everything together,” making the original garment and the new additions part of a new whole. When the participants reflected on their projects, positive comments mentioned the additions “looking like it’s part of what it’s supposed to be” and “looking like a whole”; they were described as “looking interwoven,” “blending in,” and “hanging together.” Following the project, the knitters reflected on their transformed garments; they were pleased with them, and considered their alterations to have improved the original items. They also felt positive about the activity of re-knitting. It’s been really quite exciting, what you can do with existing garments that you’ve got. Just to turn them into something really original, which I think is fantastic … it’s quite a liberating thing. You feel like you can go in and alter and put back together. It’s a really nice thing to do.

They also felt good about having been able to transform an unworn item and return it to wear. It does feel good (“noble” perhaps sounds too pompous) to reinvigorate a rather sad garment. I feel, sort of, justified that I’ve been able to turn it into something I want. And I shall feel selfrighteous when I wear it!

I was excited to hear that they would continue with this activity in the future. I’ve realised that knitting the garment is not the end of the journey. Whereas before, when you knitted something, you either wore it out, or got tired of it, or gave it to charity. But it’s no longer the end of the journey, it can always become something else. At the end of the project, I asked: What advice would you give to another knitter interested in reknitting? It doesn’t have to be an immediate success. You’ve got to allow for, not exactly failure, but for things to turn out in a surprising way.

They described feeling proud of having achieved a complex task. I’m impressed with the way it all works, the construction of it. I think that’s really clever. And I’m quite pleased that I’ve been able to do it.









JEN BALLIE is a post-doctoral researcher in the Design in Action unit of the Arts and Humanities Research Council’s Knowledge Exchange hub in Swinton, England. Her work explores social, interaction, and sustainable design for fashion, furthering the design process through service design. Her doctoral research combines textile design processes with social media to develop design interventions for citizen engagement. These projects have produced a series of service design concepts and speculative new business models for fashion and textile design with consideration to sustainability. Workshops have been delivered at the Victoria and Albert Museum, Marks and Spencer’s Shwop Lab, and online fashion retailer A SOS . MARIANO BRECCIA grew up in the western suburbs of Buenos Aires. During his childhood, the distant figure of his uncle (the comic strip writer Alberto Breccia) inspired him. He studied law and communication, and worked at a radio station for 10 years. These experiences, his time as a garbage collector while in his teens, his passion for vintage clothing, and the technical development he acquired through working with different brands in the textile industry, all contribute to the artistic textile recycling project 12-na, developed with his partner Mechi Martinez. MIRIAM DYM is an artist whose work addresses themes of resource extraction, manufacturing, consumption and waste. Her current work includes live manufacturing performances. Under the corporate name Dym Products, Dym mingles art, design, materials handling and supply chain services. Years of searching for ways to transform her own household’s trash production and disposal led Dym to reframe her art practice, turning it into a functioning business whose products and services attempt to re-order the generation, consumption and discarding of material goods. Dym has exhibited her work at museums and galleries in the US and abroad, including the Brooklyn Museum of Art, SFMOM A , and the Weatherspoon Museum. Residencies include The Watermill (Long Island, New York), Cité des Arts (Paris), and Stanford University Digital Art Center. ALESSANDRO ESCULAPIO is a student in the MA Fashion Studies program at Parsons The New School for Design. His thesis focuses on wabi-sabi in fashion, with specific attention to its role in sustainable practices. He co-edited BI AS : Journal of Dress Practice, and contributed to Just Fashion: Critical Cases on Social Justice in Fashion and The Fashion Condition, both published by SelfPassage. Esculapio has worked as an assistant to fashion historian Emily Spivack on her projects “Worn Stories” and “Sentimental Value.” His interests include alternative fashion practices, conceptual fashion, and fashion in fiction. 


KATE FLETCHER’s work is both rooted in nature’s principles and engaged with the cultural and creative forces of fashion and design. Over the last two decades, her original thinking and progressive outlook have infused the field of fashion, textiles and sustainability with design thinking. Fletcher’s pioneering work ranges from developing “slow fashion” ideas and practices to directional sustainability projects, including Local Wisdom, which has engaged thousands of people worldwide with “craft of use” and “post-growth” fashion. Fletcher has over 50 scholarly and popular publications, including Sustainable Fashion and Textiles: Design Journeys (2008, 2nd ed 2014). She is also co-author of Fashion and Sustainability: Design for Change (2012). Fletcher is Professor of Sustainability, Design, Fashion at the Centre for Sustainable Fashion, London College of Fashion, where she has a broad remit spanning enterprise, education and research. Her strategic leadership within the Centre includes spearheading its role as co-secretariat to the All Party Parliamentary Group on Ethics and Sustainability in Fashion at the House of Lords. PASCALE GATZEN is an artist, educator and fashion designer based in New York. Within her art and design practice, Gatzen produces and facilitates large collaborative projects using clothing as her main medium. The focus both of her teaching and of her artistic practice is on relational aspects of fashion, and on developing reciprocal models of production and exchange. She is an Associate Professor of Fashion Design at Parsons The New School for Design, where she has developed and implemented an alternative fashion curriculum within the BFA Integrated Design program. Website: www.pascalegatzen.net. GIANA PILAR GONZÁLEZ is a designer and consultant who works and plays with brands, technology and cultural systems. She researches, analyzes and (re)maps brand codes and structures to create new user experiences, engagements and products. Within her practice, González blurs the lines between art and commerce, digital and analog, and couture and popular fashion. She integrates methods including hand processes (sketching, prototyping, illustration, book-making), ethnographic research (participant-observation, interviewing), user experience and interaction design. González has led and designed user experience projects for brands including Moleskine, Google, Benjamin Moore, AOL , Nokia and Coca-Cola. She also develops maps that document and open-source the codes behind fashion labels such as Chanel, Burberry and Versace.  Her artwork has been featured in exhibits at Eyebeam and Garanti Gallery, and in publications such as Wired U K , Hurriyet, and Fashion Practice. González holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Architecture from the Catholic University of America in Washington D.C. and a Master’s Degree in Interactive Telecommunications from Tisch School of the Arts at N Y U.   She currently


lives and works in New York City, and is the founder and creative director of T EOSA N TOS Inc., a brand and interaction design consultancy. MARC HERBST is an artist, writer, and co-editor of the Journal of Aesthetics & Protest (www.joaap.org). He is interested in the expansive field at the intersection of the environment, livability, and what people make of it—that is, culture. His work is based on an appreciation of political activism in a cultural context. Herbst has edited or contributed to 10 books, including authoring a comic book series focusing on what might eventually constitute a post-capitalist and postglobal-warming style of dress, and a small zine on pre-World War 2 German youth groups. He is currently pursuing a doctoral degree at the Goldsmiths Center for Cultural Studies at the University of London. AMY TWIGGER HOLROYD is a designer, maker and researcher, working at the intersection of fashion, making, design and sustainability. While pursuing undergraduate and graduate studies in fashion and textiles at Manchester Metropolitan University and Winchester School of Art, Holroyd developed a sustainable fashion philosophy based around craft, longevity and versatility. In 2004, she launched her experimental knitwear label, Keep & Share, to explore these ideas further. In addition to creating collections of knitwear as well as individual items on commission, Holroyd runs workshops and participatory knitting projects in a variety of settings. She also creates conceptual one-off pieces which investigate issues of authorship and ownership. Holroyd sees her practice as a type of research, generating new knowledge that can be shared with others, and potentially influencing future fashion and design activity. Between 2010 and 2013, she undertook full-time PhD study at Birmingham Institute of Art & Design. Her research explores amateur fashion making—which she describes as “folk fashion”—as a strategy for sustainability. More specifically, the study investigates the practice of re-knitting: the use of knitting techniques to rework existing knitted garments. In 2014 Holroyd joined the University of Leeds as Research Fellow in the School of Design, working on a 3-year Arts and Humanities Research Council-funded project investigating the role of design in revitalizing traditional craft processes and place-related products and patterns. Holroyd’s work has been featured in many publications, from Vogue to Fashion Theory, and in books including Sustainable Fashion and Textiles by Kate Fletcher, The Culture of Knitting by Jo Turney, and Knitting: Fashion, Industry, Craft by Sandy Black. RACHEL KINNARD is a fashion journalist, independent curator, and currently part of the team at the Brooklyn-based fashion brand, BAGGU . A double alumnus of Parsons The New School for Design, she holds a BFA in Fashion


Design and an MA in Fashion Studies. Kinnard’s research interests explore the boundaries between fashion and the body, specifically with regard to technology and medicine. Her MA thesis project considered how the social experience of the female body and daily dress practices can anticipate the decision to undergo a breast reduction or breast augmentation procedure. In 2013 she served as a curatorial assistant on Front Row: Chinese American Designers at the Museum of Chinese in America in New York City. She served as project manager in developing The BurdaStyle Sewing Handbook, an instructional sewing book published by Random House in 2011. She is a regular contributor to the online magazine Apparel Insiders, and a co-founder of BI AS: Journal of Dress Practice. Website: www.rachel-kinnard.com. MECHI MARTINEZ was born in Buenos Aires, and has been involved in making clothes since childhood. By the age of 18, she was working independently, making all types of garments. In 2004, she began the recycled textile art practice 12-na in partnership with Mariano Breccia, a practice that she continues to this day. ELIZABETH ORIO is a Chilean journalist, based in Stockholm since 2003. She studied garment design in Chile. In 2007, she founded Prendas Públicas (www. prendaspublicas.com), a fashion blog focused on Spanish culture as well as on Scandinavian fashion design. In 2011, she was invited as a panelist to the conference, Jornadas Blogs de Moda, hosted by the Museo del Traje in Madrid. She has worked for newspapers including NEO2 (www.neo2.es), Tendencias Fashionmag (www.tendenciasfashionmag.com), VA N IDA D (www.vanidad.es) and C AC AO Magazine (www.cacaomag.com China/Sweden), and a variety of Spanish-language blogs. She is currently a content editor for the international project Fashion Revolution (www.fashionrevolution.org), specifically developing content for Fashion Revolution Chile. LAUREN DOWNING PETERS is a PhD candidate in the Centre for Fashion Studies at Stockholm University. She was in the inaugural class of the M A Fashion Studies program at Parsons The New School for Design, graduating with honors in May 2012. Her current work emerges from her Master’s thesis, and explores the discourse of plus-size fashion and the function of clothing in “fat activism.” Her dissertation is tentatively entitled “At the Margins: Plus-Size Fashion, Fashion Systems, and Stigma,” and is scheduled to be completed in 2018. Peters has recently published articles in the peer-reviewed journals Fashion Theory, The Journal of Curatorial Studies, Canadian Review of American Studies, BI AS: Journal of Dress Practice, and Cuaderno 48, as well as a co-authored chapter in a forthcoming volume entitled Global Fashion Brands: Style, Luxury and History.


J. MORGAN PUETT is the founder of Mildred’s Lane, a combination hand-crafted clothing line and social practice. Her work has been exhibited at renowned institutions worldwide, most recently at the MoM A , New York City, and has been featured in New York Magazine, W, Harpers Bazaar, Art Forum, Art in America, World of Interiors, I.D. and The New York Times, among other media outlets. She is the recipient of numerous awards and fellowships, and was named a Fellow of United States Artists in December, 2011. JOKE ROBAARD is an artist, researcher and lecturer based at the Gerrit Rietveld Academy in Amsterdam. Her work spans many fields including geography and cartography, photography and philosophy, and fashion theory. Robaard’s brochures and photographic works, videos, texts, lectures, student projects and archives are all aspects of an ongoing process of uncovering hidden or forgotten connections between people, clothing, words and society, and of how these things change over time. Selected recent exhibitions include: Endless Shirt, Reading Back and Forth (group exhibition), Stadtmuseum Graz, Austria, 2007; Opera Aperta, Dutch Pavilion, Venice Biennial 2011; Get Real/Real Self, Museum of Modern Art, Arnhem, Holland, 2011; Does it Work? How Does it Work? (group exhibition), Goldsmiths College and Slade School of Art, London, 2014. Website: www.jokerobaard.nl. ZOE ROMANO lives in Milan and currently works on Digital Strategy and Wearables for the open-source electronics prototyping platform Arduino. She co-founded Openwear.org, the European pilot project around collaborative fashion and open-source branding, and Wefab.it, an initiative for the diffusion of open design and digital fabrication in Italy. Her media-based political activism has focused on issues of precarity, social production, and labor in the creative and service industries. She recently launched a Makerspace in Milan called Wemake.cc, focused on contemporary fashion and design practices. Websites: www.wemake.cc and www.zoescope.wordpress.com. STEPHANIE SYJUCO is a sculpture and installation artist whose work often includes an active public component that invites viewers to directly participate as producers or distributors. Representative projects include starting an ongoing collaborative project with crochet crafters to counterfeit high-end consumer goods (2006-present); presenting a parasitic art counterfeiting event, COPY STA ND : An Autonomous Manufacturing Zone, for Frieze Projects, London (2009); and Shadowshop, an alternative vending outlet embedded at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art that explored ways in which artists today are navigating the production, consumption, and dissemination of their work (2010–11). She is currently collaborating with the FL ACC Workplace for Visual


Artists in Genk, Belgium, on a new body of works utilizing 3-D scanning of Belgian and Congolese antiquities to produce hybrid ceramic objects addressing the legacy of colonialism, empire, and trade routes. Syjuco received a BFA from the San Francisco Art Institute, and an MFA from Stanford University. Her work has been shown at major institutions nationally and internationally. A recipient of a 2014 Guggenheim Fellowship Award, she is an Assistant Professor in Sculpture at the University of California, Berkeley, and lives and works in San Francisco. Website: www.stephaniesyjuco.com. MARGREET SWEERTS trained as a theatre director and worked in theatre for many years in Holland and Belgium. In 2002, she founded SERA together with Ivo van Megen, specializing in site-specific theatre. With the fashion designer Saskia van Drimmelen and fashion student Jarwo Gibson, Sweerts co-founded the hybrid fashion collective Painted in 2006; since then, the group has explored new and alternative ways of making, presenting and distributing fashion, looking for reciprocal relationships in all phases of the process. The work of Painted has been displayed in various international exhibitions, and Sweerts and von Drimmelen are frequently invited to give lectures and workshops about their practice. Golden Joinery is the latest offspring of their body of work. Sweerts also has 25 years’ experiences as a performer and teacher of the Argentine tango. OTTO VON BUSCH has faculty appointments at Konstfack University College of Arts, Crafts and Design (Stockholm) and at Parsons The New School for Design (New York). He has a background in arts, craft, design and theory, and aims to seamlessly combine all these fields into one critical fashion practice. His research explores the emergence of a new “hacktivist” role in fashion design, in which the designer engages participants to reform fashion from an institution fraught with anxiety and fear into a collective experience of empowerment and liberation that helps people become more fashion-able. In recent years, Busch’s work has primarily engaged the politics of fashion, especially in his collaborations with the Parsons-based research group The Fashion Praxis Collective. Website: www. selfpassage.org. JADE WHITSON-SMITH is a lecturer on textiles at the University of Huddersfield, UK. She is currently pursuing doctoral research that examines human/garment interactions. Whitson-Smith is interested in challenging post-purchase fashion behavior, and has delivered lectures and workshops for ReMade in Leeds exploring the practices of repair, exchange, and re-design. She sits on the board of Leeds Community Clothes Exchange, one of the biggest and most established clothes swaps in the UK. Whitson-Smith works closely with illustrator Simon Edgar Lord to visually communicate her adventures through the wardrobe.



Profile for The Journal of Design Strategies

The Journal of Design Strategies Volume 7  

Alternative Fashion Systems

The Journal of Design Strategies Volume 7  

Alternative Fashion Systems

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