Mending Fashion

Niki Fairchild Azevedo – Penny W. Stamps School of Art & Design

Collaborators: Matt Snell – LSA, Mark Lindquist, Associate Professor – SEAS

Will being immersed in a VR journey, experiencing what it takes to make your clothing change your relationship to what and how you buy? By changing the way one views and consumes fashion new more sustainable habits can be formed in the place of an increasingly insatiable consumption culture. In seeking to disrupt the harmful practices of the fashion industry; which accounts for 10% of the world’s carbon emissions, is the second largest consumer of water, and thrives on predatory labor practices, can a new level of value be found in the clothing items we purchase? Studies have been conducted which show that VR can increase empathy. Can introducing individuals to information which they may have seen in other less immersive and interactive forms create a more significant change in behavior when presented in VR? Being immersed in the farm to retail journey of a pair of jeans in a 360° environment may build empathy and spark a shift in values which ultimately leads individuals to reject the fast fashion market and accept a new norm of paying higher prices and buying fewer items of clothing.

This past summer I have worked with my international research partners Ayu Norma, and Max Geraldi to collect 360° film and interview footage of partner organizations. These partner organizations represent a wide network of SE Asia manufacturers. Gamatex and Asmara allowed us access as well as sharing their process and personal experiences working in Indonesia. The Caywood cotton farm in Costa Mesa, Arizona gave in depth understanding from the perspective of a 5th generation cotton farm in the USA.In our research we also created cross university ties and partnerships with research professors and practitioners at the Bandung Institute of Technology in Java, Indonesia. Through the practice of Participatory Action Research we have all come together to share what is a truly one of a kind boundary spanning piece of research. This research and film is now being turned into a VR reality experience aided by the expertise of the faculty, staff and students at the University of Michigan. Cross-departmental collaboration ranges from the Film and Television department at LSA, to VR Sustainability experts at SEAS, Integrative Design Faculty at STAMPS and technology specialists at the Duderstadt Center. All parties have come together adding their knowledge and experience to make a unique piece of research to send out into the world for participants.

The research goal is to reach 100 participants representing diverse demographics. Once participants are recruited and offered an honorarium of $15-20 they are given an initial survey to gather demographic information, current shopping behaviors, as well as values on environmental and sustainable topics.Participants are then given an opportunity to donate their honorarium to a sustainable Fashion non-profit organization.Directly after filling out the initial survey participants will engage in the 7-15 min. VR experience following the creation of a pair of jeans from farm to retail store. 2 weeks after the participants experience the VR presentation and initial survey they are emailed a follow up survey. This survey is designed to test knowledge gained and retained from the VR experience, as well as shifts in beliefs and values from the initial survey.The participants are again given the chance to donate their honorarium to a sustainable fashion non-profit organization. The donation is implanted in the experiment as a method to quantitatively gauge a shift in actional behaviors.