So much of what we talk about and do about fashion - whether that's inside the industry, in magazines or in the conversations we have with our friends - is focused on buying clothes. All the stuff that goes on when we use or live with garments is well and truly below the radar. But I think this stuff really matters. And so for over five years I've been imagining and talking about fashion not from the usual point of view of creating and consuming new pieces, but from the perspective of using the things we already have. After all things need tending and wearing no less than creating...
As I set out on this task, the first things I did was to talk to the public - people like you and me - about how they use their garments. It started small, at two 'community photo-shoots' in old textile regions of the UK, and ended up with interviews being conducted in 13 countries in three continents. The result was nearly 500 stories and portrait images that set out some of the amazing, bizarre and truly innovative things that go on as we use our clothes.
Perhaps what the tales of the use of clothes show is that this is an enormous area of fashion activity - informal, everyday, costing little - but it is central to people's fashion satisfaction. Moreover the practices of using clothes typically use up few resources. In a world of scarce resources and climate change, cultivating ideas and skills of using clothes is gold dust. It is also shows us that some of the good stuff that goes with fashion happens outside of the market - in the world of the gift economy, in caring for others, in imaginative actions.
Fashion doesn't need to be created within the formal sector or have the approval of a 'genius designer' for it to be fashion. A broader spectrum of activity than that which takes place within the market is valuable. Fashion is much more than shopping.
This journey - guided by the public's actions - has just been turned into a book featuring many stories of using clothes and exploring the 'craft' of using things. It also talks about the skills and ideas of use as part of an exciting new agenda of imagining what fashion might be like in a world that has moved beyond consumerism. An uncomfortable thought for many, a world 'post-growth' is one that we all need to grapple with.
As I recorded the interviews and later sifted through the hundreds of photos of people dressed in the pieces that feature practices of using fashion, my overwhelming response was to feel humbled. People are remarkable. They are diverse, have moments of brilliance, and they hold within them many of the answers to the collective problems we face.