In the realm of fashion, individuals are disconnected from the experience of agency to care for more-than-human creatures. Consumers are willing to buy sustainable products but seldom make their behaviour sustainable. Previous research reveals that the product demand in the apparel market keeps increasing even during the COVID-19 crisis. Accordingly, not only the materials in use matter to the environment but also individuals play a crucial role in fashion’s relationship with nature. How could an individual become an active agent to practise care in fashion? How could fashion become the medium to bridge the network instead of causing damage to the environment? A potential answer emerges from environmental psychology studies. The experience of nature leads us to respect, be curious about our surroundings, and makes us reflect on our actions as well as possibilities (Kaplan & Kaplan, 1989). With the increasing attention on biomaterials development in the fashion industry, biodesign provides a prosperous base to speculate on individuals’ awareness of change in behaviours and their relationship with nature in fashion.
Growing with Garments was the first project designed to test the idea. From March to June 2022, the project invited 7 participants to design, grow and wear living garments for a month with collar kits provided. The kit is a biodegradable substrate made of hemp, beeswax, and cotton, printed with collar patterns. Participants could cut out the shapes they like and grow microgreens on the collars. When plants flourished, they could wear the living collars outside. Participants’ experiences were recorded in their journals as well as the pre-and post-experiment interviews which were analysed by text coding under the framework of Grounded Theory (Charmaz, 2006). The research found that when living nonhuman species participate in the design, people tend to pay more attention to the materials and give more care to their garments. Meanwhile, humans’ limitation in giving care is also detected in the project.
Growing with Garments not only testifies to the hypothesis that human mindsets can grow with garments but also prospect the possibility of including psychological factors in biodesign. I want to look further into the potential by seeking ways to expand the ability to care. Due to the mould problem, the current collar kit is a one-time-only material. To approach a long-term co-living system, I would like to consult biomaterial designers first to understand ways to improve the substrate. Besides, I plan to meet environmental psychologists to discuss the experiment design. It aims to create a scientific way to observe and collect data. Their professional knowledge allows the project to look deeper into the psychological aspect of interspecies collaborative design, which may create a more engaging experience for both humans and nonhumans to participate. The estimated time for conducting the project is 8.5 months. 1. Consultancy and improving the current experiment design and material design: 2 months. 2. A pilot study, a full-scale experiment, and 3 months of follow-up investigation: 5 months. 3. Data analysis and results visualization: 1.5 months.
Find here the previous Growing with Garments participent's story.
More information about the project is also available here.
Possible ways to expand the project
If I can dream, I would like to prospect the project in two directions. First, I want to expand on materials investigation and learn the potential to create a micro-ecosystem on a garment. The garment could utilize secretions from a user’s body and consume CO2 in the air to sustain. Meanwhile, it prevents its user from outer damage. By doing so, we can observe if the mutual symbiosis could have users generate more responsibility and attachment to care for their garments and the environment. Secondly, it would be playful and meaningful to observe the change of a living garment in a long term (at least 1 year). How would an individual and living organisms work on a garment? What does the garment look like in different seasons? How does it feel to gain the right back to actively create the wear by oneself and the material in use? What would be changed after the experience?
Yi-Jing Chen (1993) is a Taiwanese fashion researcher and designer based in Arnhem. Her current research is dedicated to interspecies collaborative design in fashion. Through her works, she designs living garments that allow both humans and nonhumans to be active agents. By connecting to her background in psychology and fashion design, she is searching for playful ways to build environmental awareness and mutually beneficial relationships across species. Her practices are rooted in human mindsets in relation to ecology. Yi-Jing holds a master’s degree in Critical Fashion Practices from ArtEZ (the Netherlands) and a bachelor’s degree in Psychology from National Cheng Kung University (Taiwan).
Materials cost: € 1500. Consultation: € 1000. Research, experiment, collecting and organizing data: € 2500. Total: € 5000.