Fashion and style are constantly evolving, both within the industry, and within a user’s wardrobe. We are always growing as individuals and our style reflects this, leading to an ever-increasing consumption cycle that is straining our planets resources. This concept focuses on the development of a garment sharing service that mirrors the rate of one’s evolving style. The aim is to reduce individual consumption by providing ongoing renewal for one’s wardrobe while simultaneously extending the garment life-cycle. Competitiveness demands that the service remain as enjoyable and easy to use as standard point of sale purchase, at an affordable price. The Velary’s purpose is to make retail suit contemporary lifestyles. I designed the user experience, and overall service, to address barriers to achieving the lifestyles of today and tomorrow such as waste, over consumption, and environmental or social impacts. Read the full thesis here.
My research began by looking at circular economy practices and then more broadly at sustainable practices in the fashion industry. What I found was that the majority of work being done to address sustainability is focused on either using better/more sustainable materials and production methods, or re-circulating products that are already in existence (either through up-cycling, or swapping user to user). There was however a gap in initiatives addressing shopping behaviour and offering alternatives to shift consumption. This is where I’ve chosen to focus.
My thesis design is part sharing economy, part extended producer responsibility, part circular economy, and largely focused on the user experience of shopping and consuming. The concept is currently titled The Velary, a library for your clothes. It positions itself between the familiar and the disruptive. Drawing from the more polished user experience we see in a boutique setting, along with behaviour change models that are more common in startup culture.
WHERE MY THESIS IS POSITIONED
The positioning of this research has evolved throughout the project. It has become apparent that aligning the concept within one framework, or theory leaves several gaps. In order to address this, the thesis research has incorporated context and theory from a variety of sustainble strategies, which are highlighted in the diagram below. This integration of theories and approaches enables me to propose a concept that is routed in behaviour change through service design, but also incorporates vital sustainability and circular economy practices in the garment criteria, cleaning, and repairs required to achieve a desirable design.
The above context is triangulated with an emphasis on minimalism, the sharing economy, and the circular economy, to form the basis of an exploration into the behaviour behind how we shop.
To compliment the context that was developed through secondary research I conducted primary research in the form of interviews, surveys, and a probe. The purpose of primary research was to gain insight into user behavior around shopping, and identify key needs that users would require to be met in order to adopt new shopping behaviors. Discovery during this phase in the project illuminated the need for a service to provide a similar rate of renewal that users are having when shopping regularly, while also slowing their rate and impact of consumption, which we achieve through extended garment life-cycles.
Combining both secondary and primary research insights, I consolidated a list of five key learnings that inform the constraints of this thesis project. They involve perspectives from both industry and consumer contexts.
User archetypes were developed in response to primary research conducted over the summer semester. The four archetypes range from a primary user, to a late adopter. Users who are most likely to become early adopters include the “Trendy Trader” or “Habit Maker” who are likely already exploring different ways of consuming garments, and may have an interest in more ecologically sound practices, or humanitarian concerns. Whereas “The Cautious Consumer” is only likely to try sharing garments when they see a proven case for doing so, and “The Reflective Shopper” is still learning about their behavior, and the impact they have.
THE USER EXPERIENCE
The user experience consists of a five stage process: reserve, renew, wear, return, and repeat. The Velary will have branches in key metropolitan areas along with an online store. Users may checkout garments online or in store. The user selects the duration of their reservation (between one and six months). Users then pick up in store or have the garment delivered, and add the garment to their wardrobe for their selected duration. The Velary will remind users of their return date. Returns can be made in store or by mail. If a user becomes attached to a garment they may move to a long term lease where they own the garment, but commit to returning it to The Velary for recycling at the end of life stage. The Velary manages repairs and cleaning when needed. And all garments will be recycled back into material used in future garments for the service.
THE TWO TIERED WARDROBE
The introduction of the two tiered wardrobe is significant in allowing the most comprehensive and accurate version of the service to exist, while not removing ownership from a user's experience entirely. This helps to break down barriers associated with sharing only models and ease the on-boarding process for a user. The Velary is designed to accommodate ongoing renewal in a users wardrobe without the effects of rampant consumption we experience with fast fashion. To do this we have developed an understanding of one’s wardrobe in three layers. The center layer, or the nucleus of your wardrobe is called your core wardrobe. In the core wardrobe you have garments that you have invested in, these might be your favorite jeans, your wool winter coat, your black and white t-shirts, your favorite dress. These garments fit close to your body, will last a long time, and have emotional significance. The second layer is what we call the renewal layer. This traditionally includes seasonal garments, or pieces that bring a bit more variety to your wardrobe, update your wardrobe as your style evolves, and gives you that sense of renewal. The renewal layer is where The Velary garments are situated. The third layer is essentially excess or junk, that you don’t love, don’t need, or doesn’t fit well. Users may wish to pair down this layer and remove it entirely, focusing their wardrobe on the Core wardrobe and Renewal wardrobe. By removing this layer you gain a more acute understanding of your own style and reduce the number of things you own, a sort of cleansing.
IDENTITY AND BRAND
Identity and branding were key elements of this project, to communicate the narrative behind the service. More than communicating the project itself, identity design also served to connect the project to fashion industry and practice. My intention working on the identity was to create a brand that speaks to a new way of engaging with fashion, both as a retailer, and from the users perspective. I set out to create a name that had historical and logical roots yet offered new vocabulary and language that would free the concept from the confines of stigma around sharing. Over the course of the semester I have found myself revisiting the proposed brand, and have finally found it settling into the project. During final critiques this semester most reviewers commented positively on how they were intrigued by the name, and that the process behind it was of de rigeur.
SERVICE DESIGN / THE BIG PICTURE
The design of the service was seminal in determining the strategy and big picture of my design concept. Service design methodologies including service blueprints, scenarios, mapping, and video sketching were employed to develop a clear picture of the functionality of the service.
More interestingly, the service design process integrated a deep dialogic practice with faculty and external professionals during the summer and fall semesters. While this project has been rather self directed and independent, arriving at a clear articulation of the design was most effectively achieved through conversations. I was able to gather individual reactions to what I was proposing and reformulate aspects as needed. This led to a far more resolved and digestible concept. I have been able to observe the value in this dialogic process during final critiques by collecting and analyzing the feedback to the concept. The feedback I received, as further outlined in this document, focused on an expansion of the work, rather than shifting anything that has been developed to date. This response intrigued me as it highlights the effectiveness of the service design, and communication. Those experiencing the work with a fresh perspective were inclined to suggest ways to deepen or expand an aspect of the project rather than comment of gaps or missing information. The diagram below illustrates the process of the thesis project.
The diagram below illustrates the process of the thesis project.
User experience strategy was used in conjunction with service design methodologies to ensure the design meets user criteria derived from primary research conducted during the summer. UX methodologies spanned both strategic and technical design outputs, delivering a user experience map used to design the service and to design individual touchpoints such as web design. User experience design acted as the cornerstone for design deliverables, and provided both strategic foresight and grounding in user research. The nature of interdisciplinary design in this project has illuminated how service design, UX, IXD, and UI design intersect. In a conversation with my supervisor Haig Armen, we mapped this funnel. Our observations eluded to service design forming the overarching strategy and intention of a design. While user experience focuses on the user flows, needs, expectations, and experiences both online and offline. Interaction design pertains to the functional design of digital products integrating both UX and UI criteria and methodologies. And finally UI consolidates the strategy and research from the above disciplines into visual form.
When approaching the design I intended to focus on shifting user behaviour around consumption, and developing a service that would entice them to do so. I was clear about focusing on this aspect of the fashion industry because of the lack of initiatives that are addressing consumption in a way other than simply telling people to stop buying, which seems to be only temporarily effective given the prevalence of advertising and the rate at which the fashion industry is moving. I knew full well that it was entirely possible that the design proposition I was working on might only have marginal impacts in terms of sustainability. But that by demonstrating an effective alternative to existing consumption practices I might inspire others to create more propositions that might eventually lead to something both more sustainable and capable of changing behaviour. I was also concerned with developing a solution that might be appealing to those working in industry, and that might lead to an understanding that industry can remain profitable and address issues of behaviour change and sustainability in fashion. It often seems that we think this is an either/or problem space, which leads to little incentive for those who have the greatest impact to review their own practices.
The impact that the service will make in terms of cost and sustainability is the most fundamental impact to be measured. There are more aspects that in fact may be more influential, including behaviour change and inspiration as mentioned in the previous paragraph. However for now I will look at a cost analysis, and garment lifetime assessment. According to a 2011 study from statistics Canada the average household expenditures on clothing are $3364/year. With an average household size of 2.5, that means that the average Canadian is spending $1,345/year on clothing. This in not necessarily representative of my target audience, but can be used as a base amount to project clothing expenditures. Another figure referenced for clothing expenditures is about 4% of an individuals income. Here I can extrapolate that if my user is a mid-level professional woman, in a creative industry or corporate environment (likely in an urban area), she can be expected to have an income of $35K - $70K/year, which means clothing expenditures would be between $1400 - $2800.
With these figures in mind we can start to determine the amount of garments, and the types of garments that would fit within this budget using the table on the following page. Here I compare the costs of garments between fast fashion, higher end(mid level ready to wear ie. not couture), and The Velary. We can also begin to project the lifespan and number of user per garment in each of these categories. Fast fashion garments fit into the paradigm highlighted from Paul Hawkins ‘Natural Capitalism’ “that only one percent of the total North American materials flow ends up in, and is still being used within, products six months after their sale”(Hawkin 81). These garments may not be necessarily disposed of at this time, they may instead be adding to the excess layer in our wardrobes, taking up space and not being used. The quality, style, and consumption rates of a typical fast fashion garment mean that it is suitable for 0-2 users (0 being when a garment is purchased and sits in a closet unused).
When we look at a mid-high end garment those figures change based on cost, style (often), and consumption rates, as well as a higher commitment to the product when a user is investing more financially. Here we canproject that the lifespan could be between 6 months (for a more wasteful user who won’t pass on the garment) and 10 years (for a user who passes on a garment at some point, or is committed to maintaining and using the garment for an extended period of time. Given the quality, and the use habits of this cycle we could see a higher end garment in the hands of up to three users.
Considering a garment from The Velary’s service with similar quality as a high end garment, plus built in repairs and maintenance, and continuous passing along of the garment to new users we can project that a garment would last 3-5 years, and would be worn by up to 20 users (depending on the length of reservations).
Using the previous projections about cost, quality, and consumption behaviour I created a wardrobe based on an early adopter’s persona. Here we see how The Velary’s wardrobe differs from a standard wardrobe.