Activating Disruptive Fashion Modes and Practices

Disrupting Fashion through Making Together


We are still metabolising all the insights from the seminar we ran at BITZ, Unibz FabLab, in December 2017, as the closing event of the ‘Make Yourself…’ makespace and pop-up shop. The seminar “Disruptive Fashion Modes: Future Goals, Strategies and Practices triggered discussion around challenging the status quo of the currently unsustainable clothing industry and opened up reflection on alternative fashion practices.


The session kicked off with an opening talk by Alastair Fuad-Luke, who introduced positive disruptions through the concept of alternative economies and enabling ecosystems, such as:

– The circular economy (focused, for instance, on zero waste and transparency throughout the supply chain);

– The sharing economy (including leasing models or complementary currencies);

– The new craft economy (reinterpreting heritage textiles into slow fashion modes);

– The co-making economy (focused on regaining the pleasure of making things by hand, together, aimed at enhancing individual and collective wellbeing, and facilitated by democratised access to making technologies);

– The distributed economy (enabled by the emergence of small, local and networked micro-factories).

Alastair presented also different ways in which the designer could support the transition towards sustainable futures for the fashion industry. In this regard, Mode Uncut, for instance, is a source of information and resources to co-create value, a platform for the development of start-up enterprises based on sustainable business models.

In order to get there, the designer can adopt different methodologies, such as;

– Research action;

– Design action;

– Positivist and constructivist modes of inquiry;

– Participatory action research (PAR);

– Participatory design;

– Social action.

Such a shift requires us also to rethink the designer-producer/supplier-consumer relationship, and it involves the engagement of new actors (Hirscher & Fuad-Luke, 2014). To wrap up, Alastair challenged the audience to think about: Who are the beneficiaries of such alternative fashion modes? What values can be created with these new ways? In this regard, Alastair focused on the value of collective making in terms of happiness and wellbeing, and highlighted the opportunities posed by the creation of unique designs and open patterns, the knowledge exchanged through collective experimentation, contributing to increased awareness of the authorship, origins and processes behind our garments.


The concept of ‘new value creation’ was a common thread in the presentation Experiments with Making Togetherby Anja-Lisa Hirscher. She provided an overview of the problematic fast fashion industry, and proposed alternative service models of design, production and consumption. As a reaction to the over-production and over-consumption of low value products resulting in growing textile waste, Anja has facilitated participatory design and sewing workshops, offering joyful experiences to satisfy people’s needs.

Anja stressed the importance of Participatory Design, which gives a say in the design process to those affected by a design (Bjögvinsson et al., 2012). If traditionally, participatory design means envisioning the ‘use before use’, the designer today is also embracing new challenges, such as ‘design after design’, opening up new ways of using the object beyond its original defined design (Redström, 2008). Moreover, half-way products (i.e. design objects intentionally unfinished) offer an opportunity for the user to finish the design of the product according to personal preferences, therefore learning more about the making of the product (Fuad-Luke, 2009).

These models allow for ‘more socialised processes of value creation’ (Arvidsson, 2008; 2009; 2011), contributing to an ethical economy shaped by the bottom-up actions of motivated people. Such a social production enables creating alternative types of value: social, knowledge, experiential, emotional, sustainable, and economic.

This is a timely opportunity for designers to activate service models for social value creation, building on local skills and resources aiming towards multi-cultural and multi-generational exchange. By working in small teams, participants help each other and, consequently, they feel inspired, empowered through learning new skills and methods, and also get to know new people. In conclusion, such platforms for collaborative fashion making and connected production enable a joy of making and learning together, creating value beyond the physical object.


The presentation “Circularity in Fashion by Cecilia Palmér addressed the potential of the circular economy to disrupt the clothing industry, currently dominated by increasing consumption of garments, causing urgent environmental challenges.

Within this context, designers and brands are approaching the circular economy, as a way to:

– Analyse the lifecycle of their products;

– Integrate recyclable materials;

– Save material by smart cuts and zero-waste design;

– Modular design;

– Create services for repair and reuse;

– Calculate end-of-life phase into the design;

– Ensure traceability of products;

– Reintegrate used products into the loop.

Moving beyond downcycling, fashion brands like From Somewhere ( are pursuing upcycling to increase the quality and added value of pre-consumer waste (i.e. samples, cut-offs, end-of-rolls, unsold clothing, etc.). Other fashion design brands upcycle second-hand clothing discarded by users, as in the case of Schmidttakahashi (, Eco-Alf (, and Swedish Stockings (

Such disruptive fashion practices offer diverse choices, and create multiple connections throughout the supply chain, actively involving designers, producers, suppliers, consumers, within a collaborative system.


Francesco Mazzarella presented “How can the service designer activate meaningful routes towards sustainable futures?. The global economic and environmental crisis is creating momentum for designers to disrupt the linear economy (based on a take-make-dispose model). Within this context, we are witnessing an increased interest in textile artisanship, perceived not as a nostalgic return to anachronistic craftsmanship, but as a timely opportunity to set up resilient and redistributed micro-production. Textile artisan communities emerge as bottom-up human-centred economic aggregations of artisans, engaged in giving form and meaning to local fibres, using their hands, as well as machinery and digital tools, and making socially and cultural significant textiles. Nowadays, textile artisans (as distinct from mass manufactured textiles) often find themselves in an isolated and precarious economic condition. They face multiple sustainability challenges throughout the supply chain, and are lacking a strategic agenda to drive the long-term sustainability of the artisan textile sector.

In order to tackle the social ‘wicked problems’ in the textile artisanal landscape, governmental and large non-governmental organisations are developing top-down services and strategies, but they have been ineffective in addressing the diverse needs of local communities. Furthermore, we are witnessing a common trend where methods have become a way to legitimise the field of service design, resulting in the perception that methods can be ‘commodified’ for repeatability (Akama and Light, 2012) and separated from the design practitioner. Instead, building on Akama and Prendiville (2013), Francesco argues for the designer to be embedded within the context and immersed in enacted methods, drawing on tacit knowledge in order to co-design situated services. With this in mind, service design is proposed as an approach to activate meaningful routes for the transition of textile artisan communities towards sustainable futures.

Francesco then discussed the challenges and opportunities offered by sustainable futures, such as redistributed manufacturing, flexible production, circular economy, sharing economy, slow fashion, digital fabrication, social entrepreneurship, and enabling ecosystems. A manifesto to inspire the contribution of the designer in the transition towards sustainable futures – grounded on meaning, slowness, flourishing, systemic change, sharing, ‘glocality’, and heritage – was presented.

To support his approach, Francesco presented participatory design research projects he pursued with two communities of textile artisans, in Nottingham, UK ( and Cape Town, South Africa ( A service co-design process was pursued, entailing situating the intervention, mapping out the current state of the art, making sense of sustainable futures, co-creating situated services and strategies, and activating a legacy with local communities. To support this process, Francesco used multiple research methods, such as ethnography, contextual interviews, concept mapping, co-creation workshops, roundtable discussions and questionnaires.

This resulted in a service design framework for co-designing situated services, meaningful to local textile artisan communities. Such a process aims at raising awareness, building trust, sharing sustainable visions of the future, nurturing collaboration, and activating strategies towards community self-sustainability. To wrap up, Francesco reflected on the cultural and critical value of the service designer embarked in such a social innovation journey, having to play the roles of anthropologist, storyteller, sensemaker, co-creator, activist and reflective practitioner.


The final presentation “Fashioning Platform was delivered by Zoe Romano, who presented the on-going revolution we are living thanks to ‘open design’ ( This is empowering more and more people to create and disseminate designs, and allowing professionals and enthusiasts to share their work within the world. Open design is disrupting the creative approach, from artist designers (producing objects to achieve personal reputation) to designer enablers (developing processes aimed at social impact). Within this context, we are witnessing an upsurge of digital and interactive fabrication experiences. Open source artefacts can be modified or built upon by users, thanks to an ecosystem of shared documentation, services and licences. Open design is challenging the notions of communities (sharing passions and needs), work (with a shift of attitude from ‘looking for a job’ to ‘inventing a job’) and products (becoming customisable, downloadable and fixable).

Within this landscape, WeMake ( operates with textiles, electronics and fabrication, to disrupt the fashion industry. In this regard, Zoe presented numerous examples of open designs and digital fashion, such as Fheel (3D printed shoe heel:, and AnOtherShoe (open source footwear, for Do-It-Yourself, Make-It-Yourself, Assemble-It-Yourself, Wear-It-Yourself:


To wrap up the seminar, we invited the audience to discuss and raise their key questions the with the presenters. It emerged that the on-going economic and social crises are opening up an opportunity for shifting from the current linear economy towards a circular economy. Open design practices were presented to empower a new breed of designers as enablers of digital and interactive fabrication experiences. Within this context, the designer was summoned to activate social interactions and enabling ecosystems, contributing to sustainable business models and livelihoods. Building on local skills and resources, alternative service models were envisioned to shape joyful experiences of making and learning together, disrupting our individual value systems towards collective wellbeing. Merging top-down and bottom-up agendas was discussed as a way to move from ‘parachuting’ approaches towards activating meaningful social innovations.

To achieve these goals, the next steps discussed included: building future strategies for rethinking design education, pushing the traditional boundaries of the discipline; strengthening the contribution of design activism; encouraging making as meaning making; fostering co-creation (with, and not for, stakeholders) and facilitating the process of transition through making sustainable futures.




Akama, Y. & Light, A. (2012). A candor in reporting: Designing dexterously for fire preparedness. In: Konstan, J. (ed.) Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems – Proceedings, United States of America, 5 May 2012 – 10 May 2012, pp. 281-290.

Akama, Y. & Prendiville, A. (2013). Embodying, Enacting and Entangling Design: A Phenomenological View to Co-designing Services. Swedish Design Research Journal, Vol. 1 (13), pp. 29-40.

Arvidsson, A. (2008). The Ethical Economy of Customer Coproduction. Journal of Macromarketing, 28(4), 326–338.

Arvidsson, A. (2009). The Ethical Economy : Torwards a Post-capitalist Theory of Value. Capital & Class, 33, 13–30.

Arvidsson, A. (2011). Ethics and Value in Customer Co-production. Marketing Theory, 11(3), 261–278.

Bjögvinsson, E. et al. (2012). Design Things and Design Thinking: Contemporary Participatory Design Challenges. Design Issues, 28 (3) (2012), pp. 101–116.

Hirscher, A. & Fuad-Luke, A. (2014) Open Participatory Designing for an Alternative Fashion Economy. In: Niinimäki, K. (ed) Sustainable Fashion: New Approaches, Helsinki: Aalto ARTS Books.

Redström, J. (2008). RE:Definitions of use. Design Studies, 29 (4): 410–23.


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About fm1012

Francesco Mazzarella is a service designer focused on social innovation processes and expert in activating fashion artisan communities to transition towards a sustainable future. He is a proactive, curious and systemic thinker, with international experiences in the UK, Italy, the Netherlands, Hungary, Brazil, and South Africa.

One comment on “Disrupting Fashion through Making Together

  1. Pingback: I make therefore I am | Activating Disruptive Fashion Modes and Practices

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This entry was posted on March 29, 2017 by .
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