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Stitching a sensibility for sustainable clothing: Quiet activism, affect and community agency

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Fast fashion has become notorious for its environmental, social and psychological implications. This article reports on some of the work undertaken as part of the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC)-funded ‘S4S: Designing a sensibility for sustainable clothing’ project, which sought to combine social science and participatory arts-based research methods to explore how processes of ‘making together’ in community textiles groups might generate a new ethic, or sensibility, among consumers to equip them to make more sustainable clothing choices. The study develops a novel methodology that responds to the complex demands of participatory working. It required careful management of the combinations of methods, which included various different making workshops; wardrobe audits; interviews; films and journal keeping. The project also raises the question of using multi-modal formats, which generate rich data, but also add to the complexity, highlighting a need for multi-disciplinary teams. The article focuses on participant responses from two series of five-day workshops that explored: (1) hand-making fabrics by spinning, dyeing and weaving thread; and (2) deconstructing and reconstructing knitted garments. The embodied encounters offered in the workshops encouraged participants to reflect on the fluidity of garments, by which we mean coming to view clothing not as fixed objects but rather as open and full of potentiality for change. For example, a jumper might be unravelled and the wool used for a different piece of clothing, or a dress unpicked and the fabric used for some entirely different garment. The resultant affective responses ranged from a deeper engagement with the materialities of the clothing industry to an awareness of the amount of time incorporated in the process of making clothes as participants started to re-imagine clothing through the embodied act of re-making.

Keywords: activism; affect; co-production; community; craft; social design; sustainable fashion

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: 0000000107905329Manchester Metropolitan University 2: 0000000419368024University of Exeter 3: 0000000106935374University of Wolverhampton 4: 0000000106895675Falmouth University

Publication date: March 1, 2020

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  • The Journal of Arts and Communities seeks to provide a critical examination of the practices known as community or participatory arts, encompassing a field of work defined for this purpose as incorporating active creative ollaboration between artists and people in a range of communities.The journal will take a cross-artform and interdisciplinary approach,including work happening in performance, visual arts and media,writing, multimedia and collaboration involving digital technology and associated forms. In part this will create an archive that will document work which can otherwise be ephemeral
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