• The garment life matrix: A tool for negotiating complexity in Design for Sustainability

Hesseldahl, Katrine, 2023, Thesis, The garment life matrix: A tool for negotiating complexity in Design for Sustainability PhD thesis, Royal College of Art.

Abstract or Description:

This research project develops a new tool, ‘The Garment Life Matrix’ (GLM), to enable the fashion industry to shift towards a sustainable circular economy model. Fashion is a complex system, with long supply chains, and vast networks of actors and physical components participating in different parts of the system. Fashion’s emissions are produced not just at the production stage, but at multiple points throughout the lifecycles of garments. This complexity makes it challenging for designers to identify where best to focus their efforts to conduct sustainable practice. A substantial number of strategies for Design for Sustainability (DfS) have been proposed, but the tangible impact of these on fashion design practice has been limited. A key reason for this is a lack of understanding amongst designers as to how to implement them efficiently in practice. The effectiveness of DfS strategies depends on the designer's ability to holistically consider factors which impact on a garments’ sustainability and based on this understanding, select the most appropriate strategies for each case. Several tools have been developed to support designers to do this, but these do not provide sufficient consideration of crucial factors and prescribe overly granular approaches, as well as present overly complex guidance that is unsuitable for design practice.

There is a need for more straightforward and applicable support for applying DfS strategies in garment design practice. In other words, designers need a systematic approach to help them choose the most effective “tool” in the “toolbox” of DfS strategies. My project aims to redress this gap. This research project develops a tool that supports garment designers in
considering and negotiating the many factors that interrelate to determine the environmental impact of garments’ lifecycles.

This research project has two main contributions.

The first is the identification of a set of key factors for enabling sustainable garment design, consisting of the primary and enabling factors, and putting these factors into a relationship. The identification of these factors was based on a review of literature on DfS and DfS tools, and further established through empirical research which included two studies. Study 1, which comprised a series of interviews with consumers, investigated if/how the identified DfS-factors were affected by/affected their behaviour. And Study 2, which enriched understanding of the identified key factors by drawing in the perspective of garment industry professionals to understand if and how the identified factors were affected by/affected their practice. Findings from these studies and a supplementary review of literature were used as input for designing ‘The Garment Life Matrix’ (GLM) framework, which articulates the key factors for DfS and their relationship. Through a series of Research through Design experiments, the GLM framework was developed into an interactive tool, proposed as DfS support.

This leads to the thesis’ second contribution: A new DfS tool and method which enables designers to manage effective selection and implementation of DfS strategies. By prompting designers to systematically consider a holistic set of DfS factors, and articulating how these correlate to affect garment’s lifecycles, the GLM supports designers to competently select and combine appropriate DfS strategies for each product they are working on. The tool and method were developed and tested with garment designers through a series of action research studies. First, as support for designers to diagnose the sustainability of their current practice and pin-point relevant opportunities to improve this. Next, as support for designers to systematically select and apply appropriate DfS strategies to ensure their efficacy.

Qualification Name: PhD
Subjects: Creative Arts and Design > W200 Design studies > W230 Clothing/Fashion Design
Creative Arts and Design > W200 Design studies > W290 Design studies not elsewhere classified
School or Centre: Research Centres > Materials Science Research Centre
Funders: The Burberry Foundation
Uncontrolled Keywords: Design for Sustainability; Tool; Framework; Circular Economy; Garments
Date Deposited: 27 Nov 2023 14:09
Last Modified: 27 Nov 2023 14:22
URI: https://researchonline.rca.ac.uk/id/eprint/5611
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