CLIENT: STUDY NY
There is no structured network of food waste suppliers and sustainable dye houses in the New York area. This is the biggest roadblock for local fashion designers to use natural dye in their products. Farm2Wardrobe was initiated as a strategically planned online network to bridge the gap between the different players in the manufacturing process. It enables local designers to collaborate with one another to promote the use of natural dyes instead of chemical ones and also provides transparency for the consumer at every stage. The viability of this concept has been tested and the potential for it to grow in urban areas is immense.
What if the values of the “Farm-to-table” movement, which values the freshness and healthiness of organic, locally sourced food could be applied to clothes and help make fashion more sustainable? And what if we could use fashion to help minimize the world’s huge problem of food waste?
Those were the questions that kick started the “Farm2Wardrobe” project, which for 10 weeks aimed at combining fashion and food waste into a sustainable business proposition.
Instead of starting by choosing a brand, our team decided to begin its exploration by focusing on current global sustainability issues and how business could be actively involved in trying to solve them. After much discussion, we narrowed down our options to the problems of food waste and sustainability in fashion.
As our initial expected deliverables, we had planned on introducing a line of naturally dyed clothes to a New York based fashion label focusing on social and environmentally conscious consumers, in addition to developing a mobile app with recipes and instructional videos for consumers interested in dyeing clothes naturally at home.
By then, we had also secured interest in a partnership with Study NY, a small, online-only label run by designer Tara St James. Focused on ethical womenswear, the brand adopts sustainable practices in the sourcing of its materials and manufacturing process, which is conducted locally in New York.
Exploration questions in hand, we dived deep into extensive research to determine the technical and business feasibility of our ideas. We attended workshops and consulted frequently with sustainable fashion experts Liz Spencer, who runs the Brooklyn-based natural dye house The Dogwood Dyer (Brooklyn + Fashion + Design Accelerator by Pratt Institute), and Cara Marie Piazza, a Natural Dyer and Textile Designer living and producing her work in New York City.
Additionally, we would meet up with Parsons professor and Mobile Textile Lab owner, Laura Sansone on a weekly basis to discuss our project. We also studied salad companies like Sweetgreen and Chop't to look into how and where they dispose their food waste.
From these conversations, we gained insight into the practical aspects of natural dyes (how to dye using onion and avocado skins, the necessary equipment, among other things), its sustainability benefits, but also learned about challenges such as the fade propensity of the colours, which could become a problem for implementation of the project.
Reframing the Problem.
However when we examined the business side, our exploration showed that we were focusing on the wrong problem. As a result of our conversation with Tara St. James and a value chain analysis of Study NY, we concluded that the real challenge was achieving scale in the manufacture of naturally dyed clothes. The lack of a structured network of food waste suppliers and sustainable dye houses in the New York area was actually the biggest roadblock preventing Study NY (and other local designers) from including naturally dyed clothes in their lines.
From building a journey map based on Study NY’s website, we also learned that the company’s sustainability practices were not appropriately reflected in the user experience. That was a serious issue, as the values of transparency and sustainability were at the core of the company’s value proposition.
The conclusions urged a reframing of the problem and led us back to the ideation room. After brainstorming a large quantity of ideas, we bundled together complementary themes and dismissed the redundant ones, narrowing down our efforts to three concepts.
With concepts redefined and more refined, we came up with a strategy to test our assumptions by developing prototypes and utilizing a mix of surveys and interviews to validate the ideas. Our testing tools were mock-ups of key redesigned elements of Study NY’s website, a working prototype of the farm2wardrobe network and a survey focusing on the features and user needs for the mobile app.
As a result of an online survey answered by 16 Parsons students, we discovered that users didn’t find very valuable the idea of utilizing a mobile app. Only 20% of them said they had interest in learning how to dye clothes at home, while 60% would rather buy naturally dyed clothes at a store. Their answers were that they found very expensive and too hard to dye themselves their clothes. Therefore we thought that these answers were applicable to a larger population and as a consequence the idea was naturally, discarded.
Need for Redesign.
As for the website redesign, the team showed the mockups to a group of 8 students, who validated the need for the introduction of infographics, the use of more photography and the utilization of maps to enhance transparency in the brand supply chain.
The online network benefited from the process of co-creation, as potential users (Laura Sansone, Liz Spencer and sustainable designer Cara Marie Piazza) interacted with the prototype at different stages of development and provided feedback for the iterations. User feedback was invaluable, as it helped us identify what was not working, what could be improved, refine the concepts and incorporate the relevant suggestions in the following iterations of the prototypes.
The network has been designed as a mosaic to reflect how different resources come together under the network umbrella. It aims to briefly introduce examples of key resources brought together by the network (sustainable fashion designers, natural dyers, shop profiles, educational opportunities, etc.), serving as a gateway for a wealth of information on sustainable dyeing.
Our primary aim was to facilitate shared value amongst all the stakeholders by being transparent and creating a platform approachable by all the users. The prototype of the online network can be viewed here www.farm2wardrobe.wix.com/designedbynature
Through the platform one can learn more about how to use food waste as a natural dye, network with several other players in sustainable fashion, advertise about their sustainable fashion brand or simply learn more about sustainable fashion by attending workshops or events. Instead of merely listing suppliers, an interactive map shows the location of different network members to promote local connections.
The user testing and interviews we conducted to test our prototype of the online network pointed out that the project was progressing in the right direction. Laura Sansone’s recent project proposal for Parsons to partner with Cornell University to develop a similar online database of sustainable fashion designers and suppliers, proves the credibility and the immediate need for our project.