Best in Category - Design Strategy 2023

Fashion Futuring: A speculative toolkit to spark imagination and provoke a values-driven transition towards sustainability

clarice garcia

A speculative design toolkit to spark imagination and provoke values-driven transitions towards sustainable futures.

Fashion Futuring relies on our capacity to embrace a transitional posture, a floating state between our convictions and doubts, helping us to abandon predictive orientations and surrender our imagination into unthought possibilities for opening new paths towards sustainability.

Fashion Futuring articulates reality-fiction and materiality-abstraction as complementary concepts to investigate how societal values that twinkle in our imaginaries can influence our worldviews even before finding a solid cultural ground to land and repose.

Fashion Futuring is a design-led methodology that interlaces design fiction, non-linear time, collaboration and systems thinking to help fashion stakeholders to enact a values-driven transition towards sustainable futures.

Design Brief:

As a trend forecaster with a background in design, I wanted to know how my knowledge and skills in understanding culture through materiality could support the fashion industry to transition towards sustainability. My experience as a trend forecaster has enabled me to reflect deeply on my practice and take a critical position on fashion forecasting mechanisms.

So, the question that guided me in this endeavour was:

How can trend forecasting practices shift or expand to enact a values-driven transition towards sustainable futures?

In response to this question, my project explored how adopting and developing alternative approaches drawn from Speculative Design (Dunne and Raby 2013) and a Transitional Design perspective (Irwin 2015, Tonkinwise 2015) could help us to reimagine and shift the existing dominant models of fashion futures practices.

This project was developed by:

Design Process

The design process consisted of four phases: (1) Deep Diving, (2) Reorienting, (3) Floating, and (4) Landing.

  1. Deep Diving was a stage dedicated to understanding the problem. I critically examined and reflected on fashion as an industry and system and probed how fashion futures practices have evolved, particularly fashion forecasting. Through literature review and analysis of current case studies, I understood that the present purpose of fashion forecasting is to propose short-term style predictions that encourage a fast replacement of styles despite the climate crisis.
  2. Reorienting was a stage dedicated to explore other possibilities beyond trend forecasting. I thus sought out other discipline areas, theorists and practitioners concerned with the relationships between society, culture, design, and futures beyond predictive approaches and more aligned with sustainability. As a result, I started to redirect my practice, shifting it from a short-term, predictive, and market-driven approach to explore the collision between design and futures as a way to transition towards resilient and sustainable futures.
  3. Floating refers to impermanence and openness within the unknown. From this posture, I designed and conducted a series of workshops to test ideas, methods, tools, and approaches that sit at the intersection between fashion and futures. This stage involved observing and analysing conversations and interactions among participants and reflecting on the feedback provided as an iterative and collaborative design process to adapt and refine tools and methods.
  4. Landing refers to the stage of materialisation of Fashion Futuring concepts into an actionable toolkit. It involved the development of the visual identity of the project, website, and final tools.

Design Excellence

The Fashion Futuring toolkit consists of seven steps and a user manual that permits anyone in the fashion industry to use and adapt it to any particular circumstances.

Conceptualised in a card game format, Fashion Futuring is an accessible medium to spark creativity and engage experts and non-experts in playful and intuitive forms of futures-thinking. Card games are widely used in futures studies to engage ordinary people in futures-thinking, helping them to access what they want or may disown.

As Fashion Futuring proposes a visual-driven strategy for creating imaginative future scenarios, it can liberate us from the need to keep ideas under control and to assume a more transient and unleashed posture in regards to futures, freeing us from our rationalities, Manichaeism and tendencies to face complex ideas as pre-deterministic dualities instead of venturing into nuanced, extraordinary, abstract and unexplained routes for imagination.

Fashion Futuring bridges fiction and action since speculative designs extrapolate the boundaries of imagination and critique to become a tool to inform collaborative and values-driven transformations.

Therefore, future scenarios envisioned through fiction are not an end per se but a starting point to help us to decode values that interlace pasts, presents and futures as a crucial culture-driven ally in building paths towards sustainable futures.

Thereafter, Fashion Futuring resonates with the idea that fiction is a final solution or endpoint but a tool for ‘designing back from the future’ and ‘as an exercise of applied research and learning’ (Fry 2021:164).

Also, Fashion Futuring is an invitation for further design futures initiatives. It can be hacked and adapted to any sector.

Design Innovation

Although the fashion industry has invested valuable effort in transitioning to sustainability, it mainly focuses on technological developments as a magical solution for the current crisis. Tech-driven solutions such as recycled materials, bio-textiles, and zero-waste processes are welcome, expected and needed. However, more than purely technocratic initiatives are needed to create desirable and liveable futures.

Therefore, Fashion Futuring emerges as a strategy to include culture and values in building systemic change towards sustainable futures. By intertwining design, fiction, culture, and systems, Fashion Futuring is a values-driven design-futuring methodology that bridges imagination with systemic strategic planning to inform concrete action.

Fashion Futuring also challenges predictive and defuturing (Fry 2008) futures-thinking practices by adopting a collaborative, design-led and sustainability-driven approach to intertwine imagination, values and strategic planning for concrete action.

Through the imagination of impossible worlds, uncertainty is taken as a core stimulus to collective imagination rather than a threat that may discourage us in embracing action and moving forward. Fashion Futuring is more than a mere exercise of imagination or co-creation of fictional objects, instigating visual representations, or seductive dystopian/utopian scenarios. Instead, Fashion Futuring summons design imaginaries and all the diverse forms of life and culture that can be decoded through the collective imagination of objects and abstract constructs to identify and embrace what guiding societal values we need to cultivate in order to transform old systems and build more liveable and ecological futures.

Fashion Futuring also invites us to break free of our convictions in industrial and pre-defined clock-time horizons to embrace a more elastic and floating temporal state, where futures emerge from our capacity to create symbolic and emotional connections between past, present and futures. Fashion Futuirng assumes the power of design to guide us into collective discussions and profound transitions.

Design Impact

Fashion Futuring was tested and iterated with designers, design students, fashion forecasters, and the general public in workshop sessions conducted between April 2021 and June 2022. Feedback from participants led to the conclusion that Fashion Futuring has the potential to inaugurate a new way of thinking about fashion and futures, moving beyond next-season trends by helping multiple stakeholders in industry or education to think and act together in transitioning towards sustainability.

Fashion Futuring can be methodologically transposed to sectors beyond fashion where consumer goods also follow a consumer culture logic, where novelty and change are synonyms of progress, innovation, and success. The knowledge that emerges from a Fashion Futuring methodology could thus be adapted and tested in other fashion-related markets such as furniture, home utensils, vehicles, and electronics, to name a few. It means expanding futuring and design-led approaches to sectors that are trends-driven and embodied in an aesthetic economy (Entwistle 2002), ruled by a fashion-as-change logic, where novelty, ephemerality, excess, and acceleration of obsolescence are furiously and frivolously pursued and governed by a defuturing attitude. So, Fashion Futuring can be considered and mobilised to provide an affirmative change for those interested in testing new possibilities to transition.

The Fashion Futuring toolkit can be freely downloaded and adopted by any company interested in creating new visions and concrete strategies for building values-driven futures.

Circular Design and Sustainability Features

It is important to acknowledge that a fashion logic is infiltrated in sectors that go beyond the apparel industry. ‘The new’ as an appealing concept to stimulate consumption is transversal in sectors that involve many typologies of products - from washing machines to cars or smartphones, many sectors rely on Design as a strategy to produce style obsolescence to stimulate consumption. In many circumstances, the newest version of an Iphone has minimal differences when compared to its previous model. In many cases, changes are more stylistic rather than functional.

Also, many circular design frameworks ignore the role of culture as an ally to implement strategies and actions more efficiently towards sustainability. Fashion Futuring is thus an invitation for us to include a 'sustainability-as-culture' (Ehrenfeld, 2008) in our design approaches, where worldviews are put at the center of the discussions.

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