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Co-design: rediscovering sustainable fashion

By Giulia Houston, Progetto Quid

As a fashion social enterprise with the mission of redesigning the fashion industry, in Progetto Quid we’ve always been keen on experimenting innovative and unconventional techniques of achieving our combined goal, that of creating beautiful sustainable fashion collections while fostering social inclusion of vulnerable women and men. In these years we’ve had the chance to dip our toe in the world of co-design on a couple of occasions, and in no time we realised how much potential it had to lead not only to an explosion of the creative streak within the designer team, but also to unforeseen benefits in terms of empowerment of the socially vulnerable. When a group of people, professionals or not, work collaboratively to create a product, the outcome can hardly be limited to the product itself – the dynamics that emerge have great potential in shaping social connections and forging positive interactions. Just imagine what could happen when you combine this potential to fashion’s creative and transformative power…

‘Rediscovery’ is the name of the first co-design project we worked on, and the reason for our involvement was Quid’s experience in the sustainable fashion sector and the designer team’s up-cycling skills. The aim of the project was to raise awareness among young prospective designers studying at IUAV and FDC, two fashion design universities respectively in Venice and Cairo, on the need to incorporate sustainability in design techniques. Partners on the project were Filmar, Italian textile company specialised in cotton production, UNIDO, Reclaim to wear, project started by Orsola De Castro, London-based Italian fashion designer and sustainability advocate that studies and promotes up-cycling design solutions, and finally Alex Bank and Fondazione San Zeno as funding partners.

The collaborative approach permeated all steps of the process, reaching a peak when the Egyptian students visited the Italian class in Venice for 2 weeks to participate in co-design workshops directed by IUAV teachers, Orsola De Castro and Progetto Quid designers. During these workshops the students were guided in applying up-cycling and co-design techniques in the creation of a collective fashion collection using discarded material that was provided by Quid, Filmar and other local fashion companies. The outcome of these workshops was remarkable, and not only with regards to the creative and innovative garments that were created. An incredible motivation emerged from having to brainstorm collectively on devising creative up-cycling solutions, and the increasing fluidity of the social dynamics taking place released positive energy throughout the group, fostering constructive interactions amongst students, teachers and designers, regardless of their nationality.

An exciting second phase of Rediscovery was that of actually selecting some of the garments that had been designed by the students, that could be representative of the collection, and that Quid could produce recovering its inhouse materials and distribute as a limited-edition collection. The choice was made collaboratively, and the priority was given to the garments that most of all could be adaptable to in-line production, in order also to test the feasibility of adapting alternative design approaches to medium scale production. The items chosen, both garments and accessories, are an exceptional combination of intercultural design elements, with beautiful details that convey uniqueness while symbolically being the manifestation of environmental and social sustainability values. The fact they were a success in store was all the more gratifying, proving how there is true demand for products that offer innovative consumption alternatives.

For Quid’s team, Rediscovery played a very important role. Before then the world of participatory design was virtually unknown to us and we had the chance to experience it in an exceptionally special setting, collaborating with outstanding partners and interacting with people of all ages, backgrounds and expertise. Not only did it offer Quid’s designers the opportunity to exchange expertise and learn innovative techniques, it also sparked up the team’s desire to relive the experience and, maybe one day, apply it to the world of social entrepreneurship.

Fortunately, an opportunity to put into practice what we’d learned with Rediscovery came soon enough, when in 2018 we were invited by Salvatore Ferragamo to become part of an exhibition in the Salvatore Ferragamo Museum in Florence. The goal of the exhibition, ‘Sustainable thinking’, is that of leveraging the role of art and fashion to inspire people’s reflection on sustainability, in particular by showcasing the work of designers, brands and manufacturers that are actively working to create a sustainable fashion sector. It took some time to wrap our heads around the fact that, Salvatore Ferragamo, a brand of such calibre, had expressly invited us, Progetto Quid, to showcase alongside some of the most innovative and ground-breaking brands in the world of sustainable fashion. Honoured and elated at the opportunity we were given, when we began working on the garment for the exhibition, the idea of creating it through a co-design process came naturally. We all agreed the dress had to be a symbolic beacon for all that Quid stands for, from the commitment to social and environmental issues to the passion for innovative fashion design. In the collaborative brain storming sessions, Quid designers worked together with pattern makers, tailors, members of the quality control team, the supply manager, the logistics manager, and of course the founding team, too. The creative interaction in such an inspiring project inadvertently worked out to be an extraordinary team building experience, through the fruitful exchange of suggestions, ideas and solutions.  And at the sight of the final version of the dress that the cross-sectoral team had contributed to creating, further beneficial impact was also acknowledged in the form of a feeling of empowerment and of self-determination. Feelings that are now reinforced by the fact that the dress has been on display at the Salvatore Ferragamo Museum since April 2019, where it will remain for 1 year.

In these first experiences with co-design, what struck us the most was how it has the ability to amplify fashion’s transformative power, and when we were getting to know our CRISALIS partners better, Makers Unite and The Language Project, we had the chance to learn about how their models were greatly benefitting from the implementation of co-design processes.

Excited to learn more from our partners’ broader experience in the matter, and confiding in co-design’s ability to be a true empowerment tool, we all agreed to make it a central element of the CRISALIS project. Legacy of the project will in fact be a limited-edition collection of accessories that the beneficiaries will co-design as a result of their experience through-out the CRISALIS programme. This unique collection will be a symbolic representation of the awe-inspiring adventure that CRISALIS is proving to be for all of us, and that we’d love to share with all the social innovators out there – watch out though, it will be limited edition!

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