Designing a Sensibility for Sustainable Clothing (S4S)

Lead Research Organisation: University of Exeter
Department Name: Politics


The Designing a Sensibility for Sustainable Clothing project represents a significant attempt to seek to understand how creative activities might shape individuals' sensibility for sustainability (that is the way in which they think through, imagine and practice sustainability) in relation to clothing. Our interdisciplinary approach provides a novel methodology that promises to push forward the boundaries of work on pro-environmental behaviour change. It also makes a significant contribution to the emergent field of sustainable fashion and to research on the relationship between craft processes, creative making and material affect. The project is grounded in 'social design' and co-production methodologies, which means that we are not interested in just producing knowledge, but also in working with others in the process of generating knowledge. This approach is important because fashion industries, cultures and imaginaries are multi-faceted and complex issues with significant personal (i.e. emotional) social and environmental implications. We argue that participatory arts and craft practices are potentially an important tool for generating a sensibility of sustainability and therefore for informing policy on behaviour change. Arts and crafts therefore require a serious test bed as a behavioural intervention, not least because political scientists have, now for a number of decades, recommended that multiple knowledges be drawn together to solve policy problems.

The project consists of five interrelated work strands:

Work strand 1. Individual research participants and experts (including our local community textiles / fashion partners and national and international policy -making and -shaping actors) come together to discuss the social and environmental problems associated clothing, and to inform and shape the workshops that follow through exposing the challenges of making fashion sustainable and engaging in asset mapping to address these challenges.

Work strand 2. Throughout a series of workshops (8 series of 5 half day workshop), groups of 6-10 participants explore different elements of the clothing life-cycle in a participatory manner. They are encouraged to share knowledge and be reflexive and interactive by passing creative outputs (see Case for Support for details of these) artefacts and written and self-evaluative films on to a group of similar peers in a different part of the country.

Work strand 3. Clothing practices are assessed before and after the workshop series to identify any changes in clothing sensibilities and choices using a survey, interviews and a wardrobe audit. A smaller group of key volunteers will keep a reflective clothes-purchasing diary throughout the life of the project, recording clothing purchases as well as reflecting on any changes in their feelings, attitudes and behaviours. They will record their perceptions about the role of engagement with material processes in shaping any changes.

Work strand 4. We adopt a 'politics of affect' by exploring in-depth the way people feel about clothing and the material processes involved in making fabric and clothes explored in the workshops. We do this through inductively analysing talk during the workshops, interviews and participants' blogs and the reflective films.

Work strand 5. Our findings are assembled carefully after liaison with our extensive network of project partners, consultants and participants into a policy brief that will help policy-makers work towards promoting pro-environmental behaviour change. In liaison with our project partner Fashion Revolution, we will arrange meetings with DEFRA and the All Party Parliamentary Design and Innovation Group at which we will share the policy brief and some creative output from the project (e.g. reflective videos and artefacts). A small select group of 2-3 participants from each location, some key partners, the investigators and project researchers will attend.

Planned Impact

S4S has potential to create economic and societal impact benefiting a range of stakeholders, including participants, local economies, local communities, fashion / environmental NGOs, policy actors and the broader public.

1. Individual participants will benefit in multiple ways. Unlike most academic projects on behaviour change, participants will foster positive working relationships with researchers as they explore research questions in a fun and tangible way. They will develop a skill-set to make fabric, and make and mend clothing. They will be invited to creatively explore their relationship with clothing and reflect on its ethical impacts. WS3 and WS4 explore the extent to which a sensibility for sustainability for clothing is generated by participants. Where such a sensibility has been generated, we expect it to endure beyond the lifetime of the project resulting in significant behaviour change.
2. The local economies in the Falmouth and Wolverhampton areas will benefit from our work directly and indirectly. Directly, in the short-term, local fashion and textile businesses and artists will benefit from the consultancy fee budgeted to the project. These include: Hawthorne Fibres (spinning instructor); Blacker Yarns (organic wool company); Patricia Dillon, Irene Griffen, Lizzie Harrison, Clobber Creations (textile artists), Fiona-Griffiths (pattern-cutting), Finesterre (local clothing company) and Anti-Form (upcycling clothing ). The opening symposium purposively co-creates the project among participants, consultants and researchers to ensure maximum utility for local businesses, who will also benefit from raising their profile locally. The 'mini market' event in Penryn at the end of project event allows local businesses to promote themselves and to sell their wares. Less directly, our project provides a new niche market for ethical wares after developing participants' sensibility for sustainability.
3. Our co-created workshops take place in community-based organisations, including The Poly (the cultural hub of Falmouth) and The Hive (a centre for arts, and creativity, Shrewsbury). By basing our workshops and outreach events community spaces, we engage in a mutually beneficial relationship: the project benefits from local artistic hubs promoting our events to diverse users of these spaces and, generally, contribute to university's community engagement and relationship building. In turn, the community venues will gain bookings and publicity. In addition to connecting people within communities, the design of our workshops (see WS1) allows us to connect people across communities in Cornwall and the West Midlands.
4. Fashion / environmental NGOs will benefit from the processes and results of our research, in particular practical ways in which a pro-environmental behaviour change can be fostered among the public. Our research strengthens our existing partnership with Fashion Revolution, a campaigning organisation with worldwide reach, closely in developing a model for 'affective' engagement that can lead to behaviour change.
5. Policy actors will benefit from our explicit aim to contribute to the agendas of DECC and DEFRA. The project will directly address DEFRA's Sustainable Clothing Action Plan and Framework for Pro-Environmental Behaviours (work strand 5). These institutions remain keen to learn how to promote pro-environmental behaviour and are likely to want to follow-up with us any promising initiatives related to the project. We will emphasise our engagement model and research findings, which they may be willing to promote.
6. The broader public will benefit from viewing the outreach materials produced by the project, which will be widely disseminated on social media with the assistance of Fashion Revolution. They will benefit from learning about clothing choices and ways in which making and mending clothes can shape identities and emotional relationships with style.


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