It is no secret that the fashion industry, in its current state is not a sustainable industry. The growth of the fast fashion market has led to absurd levels of demand, production, and consumption. Garments are made with the expectation of them having a short lifespan, both in durability and market popularity, because of rapidly changing trend cycles. Clothes are cheaply made in vast numbers only to thrown away after they are no longer deemed desirable, that is if they are even still wearable by that point. Production practices need to change, alternative and innovative designs that practice and promote sustainability need to come into the mainstream. One method of sustainable fashion design that is on the rise and making movements in the industry is modular, multifunctional design. Modular design is an approach for product designing which is used to produce a complete product by integrating or combining smaller parts that are independent of each other, allowing designers, manufactures and customers to customize, reuse, upgrade, or maintain product designs. Multifunctional design means one garment can become multiple, suitable for varying occasions and environments. The ability to change, mend and transform clothes negates the need to purchase excessive amounts of clothing.
To look forward we must look back, specifically back to how we got to the point where the fashion industry is one of the most polluting industries around. The rise of the fast fashion business model in the industry is the biggest driving factor of fashion and textile pollution and waste. In the 1980s, the concept of fast fashion was beginning to take off. The initial purpose being to let everyday people enjoy the quickly updated fashion trend cycles through cheap prices. However, the waste of resources caused by the short service cycle and subsequent pollution has become a huge problem. In 2014 people on average were buying 60% more clothes than they were in 2000 and they were only keeping them for half as long, a trend that is only on the rise. This excessive demand leads to excessive waste with an estimated 85% of textiles going to waste each year, ending up in landfills or being burnt.
The fashion industry needed to respond, from the turn of the 21st century, designers began experimenting with conceptual high-fashion designs. The idea of modular and multifunctional clothing was beginning to be explored. One designer, Hussein Chalayan, known for his highly conceptual, artistic catwalk shows began experimenting with transformable clothing. Initially through his interest in technology, and only as what has been described as ‘wearable art’, his garments began dialogues. Later, however, Chalayan continued with the idea of transformation and took it out of the avant-garde and into the practical mainstream. In 2013 he debuted a range of transformable dresses at his show in Paris, combining multiple garments into one. Many designers high-fashion conceptual work has slowly began to become translated into the commercial fashion industry and year on year more designers are using the modular, multifunctional approach.
Modular, multifunctional design works as a sustainable production and consumption model because it can be diverse and flexible whilst allowing for continuity. Most clothes undergo a five-part cycle: design, production, sales, use and disposal. Compared to traditional designs, modular design has a high degree of flexibility in each process, the seller can design, produce, and sell modules according to market demand, the customers can also abandon the module they don't need and only keep the useful parts. Multifunctional modular design brings the clothes wearers into the process, maximising the interest and subsequent care the wearer has for the garment. Customers can tinker with the modular design and change the clothing style through module assembly. The garments can then meet different needs and extend the service cycle of clothing as much as possible at a lower cost. Furthermore, separate modules from one piece of clothing can be combined with newer lines allowing the customer to keep up with trend cycles whilst still being sustainable and giving the garment a second life. The benefits are that this design method removes the need to buy multiple outfits if one can be transformed for a range of styles or practical uses. There is also the possibility to replace damaged modules rather than the whole garment, creating less textile waste.
Buying quality garments that will last longer and have multiple uses is the way forward for sustainability in fashion. Children’s wear brand Petit Pli designed clothes based off Origami that grow (expand and/or contract) as the child grows, meaning less need for throwing away and buying new clothes due to changes in size. Marfa Stance designed by Georgia Dant is a women’s modular fashion brand utilising reversible quilted base layers from which designs can be built up from. Removable hoods, collars , necks , sleeves as well as button layers are all used to transform garments. The late Virgil Abloh was working on a multifunctional clothing range for Louis Vuitton called Louis Vuitton 2054. Abloh coined the portmanteau term “Accessomorphosis” describing the transformation of an accessory into a garment, effectively evolving its functional form for example bags that become coats or hats that turn into dresses. He also described “Compressomorphis” meaning the use of pockets to compress garments for travel. Abloh took modular design a step forward by combining fashion with other products in this collection with coats that transform into tents, duffel bags that turn into sleeping bags and shirts that become pillows. The collection shows the future possibilities of modular and multifunctional design, and where the industry needs to move into to become sustainable. We should all look to buy clothes that will have good durability and seek out designers who are using sustainable models, together with innovation on the side of the designers and manufacturers this is how we will tackle the issues with fashion and climate change.