Open fashion: transform an industry a few stitches at a time

by Cecilia Palmer (originally written for the Vienna Open festival publication, 2013)

Anyone, regardless of skill, can “open” a piece of clothing: it takes only a pair of scissors. Adapting garments with a few stitches, or conducting a sewing machine, too – to get started remixing clothes can be learned very easily. Yet, only few wearers take the step to play with their ready-made garments.

Unlike many other consumer products or artistic creations, fashion does not underlie as strict patenting or copyright law. It’s for a large part an industry based on copying and because of this, it flourishes. Not that most actors within fashion are outspoken free culture advocates; quite the opposite. But despite firm ideas about the author genius, and brands fighting pirates in the far east for all they are worth, fact is that the fashion industry can be regarded as a free industry, an example of a creative field where copying is actually the common practise.

While the industry already copies and remixes itself, constantly, the exciting part of what open design can mean for fashion lies not in how it can be implemented on a B2B level, but how it can allow the consumers entrance into this mythical realm that we call fashion. And by that, unleash potentials for changing the way we consume and view our possessions. It happens when we invite the wearer into the production process and thus transform from passive consumer to proactive maker.

Fashion is intrinsically about image, illusion, myth. It wants to awaken desire, to seduce. Oftentimes in the creation-production process, there is more weight on representation than on the actual product. It is fast and fluid, as if it may just consists of that stuff that dreams are made of — easy it is to forget that actually, it is an utterly material product, and as such, it has the respective impact on both environment and people.

A key for sustainability is to reestablish a connection between owner & object. By bringing back the authentic stories around the clothes we wear, to contra the made-up storytelling that is marketing and branding – we start to reconnect. By swapping once-treasured garments with friends or strangers, by producing new items with preloved textiles and second hand materials, there is something real re-entering the stage. And that is where we can begin to build affectionate relations to our objects again. To love our stuff, because what we love we value, we repair it if it breaks. It is like the difference between fast food or a real meal prepared with care. When one starts engaging in making stuff, we learn to recognize quality and the worth of things. The more we know to recognize quality and to treasure our belongings, the less needless consumption follows.

Open fashion has a potential to rebuild relationships in an industry that has gone almost entirely global – between producer and consumer, between user and object, between image and the reality behind – in a gesture to change the world in small and beautiful stitches, two hands at a time.