Activating Disruptive Fashion Modes and Practices

Alternative exchanges

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To propose alternatives to the global economy, of which the fashion industry is an integral element, requires a basic understanding of the socio-political constructs of contemporary economic thinking and activity. Hundreds of different adjectives are pre-fixed to the ‘economy’ to convey a construct, a means to frame the purpose or intention of the economy. Some of the more popular pre-fixes are given in Figure 1.


Figure 1. Economies with different types of exchange

We can see ‘traditional and neo-liberal economies’ as the dominant models comprising the global economy. Yet, we are also aware of the rise of ‘transitional economies’, expressing an importance in dealing with pressing environmental issues or with a turn away from old ways of thinking (post-industrial, post-consumer economies) or towards more historical ways of thinking (local, sustainable). More radically, some transitional economies can be termed ‘alternative economies’, where monetary exchange sits alongside other forms of exchange – hybrid, non-monetary. Non-monetary alternative economies comprise money-free, gift, time-based, open source and informal modes of exchange.

So, a question we are hoping to address through the Open Fashion Design Network is how could we explore new forms of exchange through fashion, textile and clothing design? Can these explorations encourage the development of innovative commercial business or enterprise models? What kinds of relationships could encourage different forms of exchange between designers, producers and consumers? Can these lead to the development of viable alternative fashion economies?

A starting point for these explorations is in the Open-O-Meter, a matrix to consider whether Intellectual Property is private and protected or shared, and if the goods or service are paid for or free (Figure 2).

The O-O-Meter

Figure 2. The Open-O-Meter

This matrix was developed by the authors during 2013 to apply in a series of workshops in the City of Lahti, Finland, in order to develop a concept for an Open Fashion Design Pop-up Shop. On the left hand side of the matrix the IP is protected by copyright licences, while on the right hand side the IP is ‘opened up’ under licences which allow copying and modification which is unfettered (‘copyleft’) or might have some restrictions (Creative Commons or other similar licences). The left hand scale shows whether the design (product &/or pattern) has a price or is free, or is negotiated. This simple matrix seems to open up possibilities for different forms of exchange.

These exchanges also open up the possibility of different relationships between designers, producers, consumers and other ‘third’ parties which might extend the dynamics of the fashion industry from the private sector into collaborations with public, non-profit (social/third) and informal sectors (Figure 3).

Four sector social innovation, TEPSIE

Figure 3. Social innovation across four sectors. [Source: TEPSIE, 2012]

These cross-sectoral collaborations are central to achieving social innovation (Caulier-Grice et al, pp26-34). Perhaps, more open cross-sectoral, inter-disciplinary collaborations also present opportunities for testing more resilient, equable and creative ways of (co-)designing, producing and consuming fashion. We, at Mode Uncut, believe this is an exciting opportunity to bring in new actors and organisations to experiment with new fashion systems.

If you want to learn more…see Niinimäaki, Kirsi (In press) Sustainable Fashion: New Practices, Helsinki: Aalto ARTS Books, due to be published in May 2014. The authors of this post have a chapter called ‘Open Participatory Designing for an Alternative Fashion Economy, pp177-199.

Alastair Fuad-Luke and Anja-Lisa Hirscher



Caulier-Grice, J. Davies, A. Patrick, R. Norman, W. (2012) Defining Social Innovation. A deliverable of the project: “The theoretical, empirical and policy foundations for building social innovation in Europe” (TEPSIE), European Commission – 7th Framework Programme, Brussels: European Commission, DG Research available here.


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This entry was posted on April 8, 2014 by .
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