Speeds Stories: ‘FastSlow Textiles’

Speeds Stories_FastSlow Textiles

18th January 2016    

“ There are so many things that we really need to study, that are not going to make any money for anyone. If people such as me don’t do these studies, who will?”

Ethnographer Daniel Miller was interviewed in connection with his co-authored book on denim and everyday clothing. As an academic, Daniel is providing us with the focus and rigour in his research that is enlightening to design practice. Adopting the spirit of his enquiry and that of other social scientists, we are able to share our personal experiences of everyday living with regard to the choosing, using and disposing of our clothes.

As designers, we think as both creators and consumers. So, the FastSlow blogposts offer an analysis of personal attitudes towards our clothes, which constitute an auto-ethnographic study, revealing motivations that we can recognise and share. When, where and why do we buy fashion? What does any one purchase mean in our thinking – at the time or later? What does our thinking mean in the wider context of design and consumption? The rich collection of personal experiences of clothing outlined in the FastSlow Stories reflects acutely observed, personal behaviour and motivations from students and members of the TED research team. The personal stories offer a diverse mix of memories, humour, mistakes, sadness, insights, irony and dilemmas – both moral and social, characterising the range of emotions associated with fashion that we can all recognise.

Reflection on the experiences deserves further discussion, raising interesting questions concerning the translation of ideas into studio practice. The resulting shared insights into strategic decision-making, assist the direction and meaning of professional design practice. They enable a kind of self-realisation, taking Weick’s (1993) famous proposition: “How do I know what I think until I hear what I have to say?” into “How do I know what I think until I see what I make?”

Narratives reflecting on garments, which are an expression of belonging – either to ethnic cultures or family/friend  ‘tribes’, suggest emotional connections involving the passing on of personal or group culture. Fabrics as souvenirs of travel, used to repair garments, enable continued memories of places. Whereas a comfort cloth, treasured from childhood, can prove essential for wellbeing. ‘Misguided’ purchases are described as being a result of a desire to buy confidence for a social occasion or of the endorphins ‘responsible’ for an enthusiastic overspend at sale or outlet venues. Conversely, self-imposed pressure to buy clothes to fit in, be like the cool crowd, or stand out as an interesting individual leads to some regretted outfits, worn once or not at all. Professional confidences are shared, describing deception by luxury brands through cost-cutting in manufacture, leading to a call for ‘brand-transparency’ to ensure authenticity.

The blog has enabled an examination of what Fast and Slow can mean to each individual. ‘Fast Fashion’ is generally defined as garments that are acquired cheaply, on a whim or under pressure, with little or no regard for the environmental impacts or possible exploitation in manufacture. ‘Slow Fashion’ is seen as a considered purchase, often expensive to reflect costs of material, craft and quality production. It is often defined as ‘classic’ in appearance and function, for long and durable service. Motivations to shop are commonly described as: excitement, novelty, boldness or recklessness in the case of ‘Fast’, whereas  ‘Slow’ has an association of historic skills, aesthetic appreciation, investment in durability with emotional attachment – if not, occasionally, moral superiority.  Actually, Fast and Slow are as easily described as statements of quality rather than speed. Both it seems, could be equally valid if they were designed to fulfil the ideals of production without exploitation and with respect for the cycle of material impacts. Thus a huge range of design potential is demonstrated in overcoming the barriers to proposing sustainable products and capitalising on individuals’ motivations. The speed could be, therefore, simply the best-designed product for the need.

Written by Kay Politowicz

  • Blue Jeans: The Art of the Ordinary’, Daniel Miller & Sophie Woodward. University of California Press (2012).
  • ‘Stuff’, Daniel Miller. Polity Press (2009)
  • Evocative Objects: Things We Think With’, Ed. Sherry Turkle. MIT Press (2007)
  • ‘The System of Objects’, Jean Baudrillard. Verso Books (2005)