Academic journal article International Journal of Design

Fashion Thinking: Fashion Practices and Sustainable Interaction Design

Academic journal article International Journal of Design

Fashion Thinking: Fashion Practices and Sustainable Interaction Design

Article excerpt


Broadly defined, "fashion" refers to the symbolic, aesthetic, and cultural meanings that objects carry, especially the ways in which people use objects to express their taste, lifestyle, social status and belonging to a community. We don't ordinarily think of fashion as a positive force for sustainable practices in the design of products and services. One imagines that fashion drives consumption and premature obsolescence at the expense of efficient use of resources. At the same time, fashion exists in various aspects of our lives and plays an essential role in shaping consumption practices (Sassatelli, 2007). Also, fashion-oriented design encourages ingenuity, imagination and innovation (Walker, 2006), which are crucial elements in pushing forward technological and social progress. In this paper, we ask a design research question about whether it is possible to re-conceptualize fashion so as to help designers make sustainable practices natural and fashionable. In other words, is it possible to embrace fashion as a fundamentally human predisposition in a way that is also in harmony with the need to ensure a sustainable future?

To drill down into some of the specific questions underneath this large area of inquiry we ask: How does the notion of fashion affect consumption practices, especially with respect to devices and energy-intensive services made especially with respect to information technology devices and serves that are resource-intensive or use scarce materials? Is there a way to embed fashion into design to facilitate and promote sustainable practices, generally? Is there a way to incentivize businesses and policymakers to create business models or policy so as to target fashion demand for sustainable rather than unsustainable consumption, especially the consumption of products and services in which HCI and interaction design are implicated?

Our interests are in the arenas of fashion, sustainability, and HCI. Specifically, we are interested in understanding ultimate particular acts within the everyday practices of individuals in relation to the things they treasure. We are interested in multiple levels of this relationship, including affect, form and function. By ultimate particular acts, we refer to Nelson and Stolterman's (2000) notion of design's concern for the "ultimate particular" rather than the general. Moreover, our goal is to imagine if and how each ultimate particular act could become fashionable to a larger community, as a means of promoting more sustainable practices. We approach this goal by examining everyday consumption practices in order to understand the complexity of fashion and how fashion functions in everyday life; we do not focus on fashion in the sense of quantitatively assessing the popularity of current trends or understanding how marketers predict or control fashion trends.

In the context of the everyday, "fashion" is much more than what is called the fashion industry, which deals with apparel, although that is a substantial part of the global economy (Black & Eckert, 2009). It can also include categories such as luxury items, cosmetics, bottled water, as well as aspects of furniture, housing, and automobiles, for example, that are not strictly aimed at satisfying actual physical needs but are aimed at social signaling. Through interviews described in this paper, we begin to examine the role of fashion in choosing personal electronic communication devices. Given that fashion is a relatively new topic in HCI, we also draw upon diverse fields such as sociology, anthropology, cultural studies and social practice theory. This work provides an initial background for interpreting our interviews and for our efforts to conceptualize fashion and its relationship to digital consumption and sustainability.

The general program of study guiding this paper is the hypothesis that fashion might be reconceptualized as a force for sustainability, rather than unsustainability. …

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