When trend forecaster Clarice Garcia PhD enrolled to do her PhD within the School of Fashion and Textiles at RMIT University, she wasn’t sure about her research question. Having spent a decade working with the trend forecasting industry – both in her native Brazil and in Melbourne – she decided to turn her attention inwards to reflect on how she could interpret cultural and social-political shifts to create a more sustainable and equitable fashion industry.

black boxes with fashion futuring branding

Clarice soon realised that with so many current and emerging crises facing the planet, trend forecasting in fashion had become largely outdated. She needed to pivot significantly to adapt to the rising consciousness of businesses and consumers when it comes to sustainable fashion. She had always been responsible for predicting new trends, identifying materials, introducing styles and anticipating colour palettes – feeding the consumption mindset. Instead of helping to move the industry towards a more sustainable future in her future-thinking practice, she was in fact doing the opposite and acting against a more positive future. This realisation was the origin of Fashion Futuring, winner of the 2023 Victorian Premier’s Design Awards best in category for Design Strategy. A pocket-size, card game format ‘toolkit’ – available online to download, adapt or hack – Fashion Futuring challenges the fashion industry and other sectors to question their current practices and change their mindset towards a more sustainable and circular future.

Transitioning towards a values-driven, sustainable future in fashion

Clarice discussed the impetus for her groundbreaking research in this video

Fundamental to Clarice’s research was the fact that it was practice-based and built upon her extensive knowledge of the industry and relevant learning rather than pure theory. Finding a way to present her ideas and findings in an engaging and impactful way proved to be the greatest challenge of her design strategy project.

Her personal design process didn’t have a formal pathway – rather it was something that she had to invent, that could evolve organically as she did her initial literature review to confirm her assumptions and demonstrate that her observations were correct.

Bringing the project to life using a simple yet imaginative tool

Clarice was inspired by the idea of traditional card games as an easy and enjoyable way to present and implement her Fashion Futuring project – creating an instructional guide for the future through a series of beautifully designed and impactful cards that poses the questions and elicits ideas from participants, sparking their imagination to think differently.

To expand on her initial premise, Clarice extended her perspective by looking at examples of practitioners in the emerging field of design and futures. Her findings emerged through practice, after running workshops with more than 100 people around the globe. She also tested her strategies at Melbourne Design Week, at conferences and at a 12-hour workshop over 4 days with a group of fashion students.

The ‘toolkit’ went through a number of iterations to address the challenges she faced when identifying gaps in data and comparing her expectations to a reality where she could not control

the results of her research. In choosing the card format, Clarice acknowledges that it provides a greater opportunity to inspire imagination among its users.

‘When we have little artefacts that we can touch, we get more immersed, but we don’t necessarily need to have the cards as physical objects to have the same outcomes,’ she commented.

‘The toolkit is about exploring the senses and imagination, and the most important sense is that of vision. I want people to imagine the future through the visuals rather than asking questions. That is why it is available digitally, and as the Fashion Futuring website suggests, I encourage people to download it , adapt it and even hack it to inspire different conversations about the future,’ she added.

The positive impact of purposeful design strategy

For Clarice, the most rewarding part of this project is how it can impact various stakeholders along the supply chain. She has had interesting responses from students, teachers and trend forecasters – especially those within fashion industry – who have used Fashion Futuring to test existing methodology and generate new ways to embrace change and act differently.

When applying Fashion Futuring, a session is designed to bring people with differing or even conflicting views and objectives together – consumers, designers, manufacturers, textile developers, communicators, strategists, activists and decision-makers – to explore potential future scenarios and envision values to drive planning to action.

Beyond fashion – using the toolkit across cultures and industries

Clarice points out that as a strategic project, Fashion Futuring can be adapted for use across various other applications and sectors. Its purpose is to test creative methods that people tend to be stuck on, create space for conversations and encourage discussions on what values we want to have and pursue for our future.

For it to be truly effective, scaling up the project is essential. Clarice views it as a ‘cultural force’ that requires scaling to get more people talking about sustainability. As it instils new values in those who participate, those mindset changes will lead users in a different direction.

Clarice is currently running sessions with architects and urban planners to create a Cities Futuring toolkit that looks beyond data and population demographics to incorporate values and cultural considerations. The aim is to create cities and infrastructure that don’t just focus on adopting new smart technology but are based on the people who will live in them and their different cultural attributes.

The future of Fashion Futuring

In the near future, Clarice hopes to apply the principles of Fashion Futuring to more sectors and by doing so, gain more insights and develop improved testing capabilities with industry partners who understand the impact it could have. She is particularly interested in working with companies that are already making strides in this area and supporting circularity.

She also wants to test this and other strategy projects culturally – to extend beyond western culture and include Indigenous and minority perspectives, turning the concepts and processes from singular to plural.

‘In some ways Fashion Futuring goes against what trend forecasters do – against my own practice but it is my hope that it opens up a new pathway for people working in fashion and forecasting industries to promote positive impact,’ she said.

‘I now see myself more as a design futures practitioner – someone who understands what forces are guiding us and channels that into helping others realise that all design processes are systemic and linked. Ideas are more important that products. Looking at systems rather than one element is critical, and it is my role to connect the dots and make sure that we think more strategically and less operationally to engage in a more long-term, empathetic, humane and environmentally conscious practices for a sustainable future for everyone,’ she added.

Why awards and recognition matter

When Clarice made the decision to enter the Victorian Premier’s Design Awards, she did so as a way to potentially scale up her project, turning her doctoral thesis into a practical and accessible tool that could make a difference in the world

She never expected to win.

‘It was actually a very great surprise because I thought as a non-Australian, it wouldn’t have been a possibility. But winning really demonstrates how Victoria is an incubator of great design and progressive thoughts – where people can be inspired and share a broad understanding of global challenges,’ Clarice said.

‘The award fulfills my wish of getting greater visibility for the ideas behind Fashion Futuring, helping me spread the word and get the messaging out about the need to change the way we think about sustainability and future initiatives in the fashion industry and more widely,’ she added.

Fashion Futuring also received a 2023 Good Design Award in the fashion category