Open Source Undies brainstorming session

Last Monday we had a little get-together at Open Design City to discuss some of the issues of clothing production & consumption, and work out how open source-influenced methods could improve the clothing and fashion industry.

2 hours, many cups of tea and a plate of cookies later and we had come up with a few interesting ideas, and 2 concepts for how a better-clothed future might look.

Each person was asked to think of and draw, make, or write down a visualization of 1 or 2 core problems in the way the clothing industry works today. We each presented our thoughts to the group and discussed them.

Some perceived problems:

  • Everything / everyone looks the same in many parts of the world (fewer independent clothing producers, more large brands, leading to a loss of personal/local/national identity)
  • There’s a lack of information for the public about processes / manufacture / costs of clothing
  • Clothing can be overpriced due to ‘paying for the brand’ / or it can be underpriced – the costs saved for the consumer are pushed onto the environment, or the people working to produce the clothing.
  • Lack of quality garments at affordable prices
  • Slippage of industry standards – pay less, get lower quality?
  • Materials – problems with environment/climate/waste . High pesticide use in cotton industry, for example.
  • Simplicity in clothing – sometimes no ‘simple’ option is available.

We then asked how ‘open source’ development, systems or ideals could change the industry:

  • Open Shapes – patterns? Freely distributed and available for modification/adaptation
  • Open source scientific development of materials
  • Use of personal fabrication – 3D printers, laser cutters
  • Transparency in production – costs, waste, environmental impact…
  • Knowledge sharing
  • Learning skills that were previously commonplace. Learn to repair, reuse, create and modify.
  • Reducing costs of production? Or maybe improving efficiency? (not in $ per garment, but in number of garments produced.)
  • Allow for individual alterations or personalisation.
  • Clothes swapping and other forms of distribution.
  • One perceived problem with self-manufacture would be the problem of having too much choice… for example, a 60-item restaurant menu is not better than a well thought-out 5-item menu. Some kind of curating of designs would be necessary.

We then split into 2 groups and settled on two core issues we would like to work on, and then brainstormed various solutions, before focusing on one concept to present to the other group. These solutions were not restricted to open source ideas or open hardware. Group 1 fleshed out the workings of an online platform, and Group 2 came up with a physical repair shop and linked online network.

Group 1

 

Group 1’s plan investigated the various aspects of an online platform to share and modify designs, whilst also thinking about other alternative clothing economies: repairing, hiring, and swapping clothing.

OS Undies Group 1 brainstorming.pdf

 

Group 2:

Haute Couture designers play an important role in setting the fashion pace. They don’t entirely dictate people’s tastes but they do determine a lot of what appears in magazines and high street shops. These high street shops and big brands contribute the most to what clothing is seen on the streets, though people can (and do) go their own way and create their own styles.

One problem we particularly focused on was the throwaway nature of fashion and consumerism. With the high rate of change, and the push to own ‘in-season’ garments, clothes are dismissed and discarded within a year of purchase. Due to this rapid cycle, and in order to save money, clothes are not produced to last.

Through our discussions, we drew two conclusions:

  1. People are less willing to throw away clothing that has a story or some kind of personal connection – perhaps it was a gift from a friend, perhaps knitted by grandma, perhaps you designed, made or personalised the piece yourself.
  2. Repairing damaged or worn clothes is often seen as something done by poor people, wearing obviously old or repaired clothing has a negative connotation.

So we decided our aims would be:

  1. Involve people in their garments
  2. Make repair beautiful

Our final concept took two different paths: a physical shop and an online platform.

We envisioned a chic downtown shop in the fashion district – it would have all the elements of a Saville Row tailor, but rather than designing or manufacturing clothes, the focus would be on bespoke, tailored repair. Elegant, creative patching with ornate stitching.

Prices would be high – by repair standards – but you would have the experience of a personalised tailoring service without having to buy a whole suit. Luxury for the economic crisis…

The decision to aim at the high-end market is to try to shake free of some of the negative connotations of repair.

Customers would bring in their damaged garments and discuss the repair with a skilled artesan, they’d pick out fabrics based on colour, texture or weight, decide on a stitching pattern, and create a new identity for their article of clothing.

People love to have stories to tell about their objects – rather than trying to hide the damage, a beautiful patch highlights the life of the garment, makes it a one-of-a-kind, and allows the wearer to tell others about either the wild night when the damage occurred, or the experience of having a high-end repair created for it.

The scourge of the regular casual cyclist. A sub-crotchal blowout destroys an otherwise functional pair of jeans. Not a cool, rock’n’roll place to have a gaping hole.

By sharing the methods, successes and failures of this shop with the online public, it becomes an open franchise, replicable in other cities.

The other part of Group 2’s concept is an online space where you would find tutorials and information about different stitching techniques, and the best ways to patch certain areas or materials. People could share photos and instructions for their patches, post the stories behind the material used, or the rip itself.

In this way the process of repair becomes more valuable, respected and widely circulated, and a long-lasting, personalised garment gains value over something new and mass-produced.

Thank you so much to Annelisa, Brian, Julia, Cathrin, Angel, Sergio, Mei, Judith and Rosa for all the help, good times, great ideas and interesting discussions! We’ll have a practical workshop in a couple of weeks with some people who actually know how to sew. Updates to come!

Some more interesting links to check out in this area:

Robis Seidran Koopmans, (who is using open source 3d programs and techniques in fashion) also gave me this tip: Susan Spencer has been (or had been?) developing almost exactly the hypothetical program I mentioned in my first post. I’ll get in touch with Robis and Susan soon and talk about their experiences.

A group at Cornell has been doing mind-blowing research into stitch meshes.

I don’t know if these are quite right for me, but Open Source shoes are almost a reality at the Barcelona FabLab. Check out their video, and if you like it, you’ve still got 6 days to support their project or order your own open source shoes!

The idea of open-source undies did not inspire my oft-nude friend Robbie to put any clothes on, but it did inspire this lovely cartoon:

Open Source Hulk by Robbie Neilson

You will have noticed that there’s no video this time… ah… technical difficulties… most of the photos in this post are stills from the video we shot at the workshop (thanks for the help, Rosa!) but the post-production side of things has grown complicated. The state of open source non-linear-editing software is a big but necessary hurdle for me to deal with. There has been much exasperation, and plenty of gibberish hurled at the Terminal window.

Can any of the more technically-minded amongst you help me:

a) create the right proxy files from Canon H264 footage for importing into Kdenlive

b) convert Canon H264 footage to an intermediate editing codec for use in Cinelerra (tried various versions of MTS / MKV so far…)

c) stop OpenShot from crashing the moment I try to do anything complicated?

There will be a more in-depth look at my first month with open source software soon. I’d like to have a happy ending to my editing struggles first though…

Open Source Undies?

In hardware, Open Source techniques (collaborative working, sharing experiences and experiments, transparency in production) are designed to democratise the design and production process. To take what traditionally was a difficult and expensive task done only by experts, and provide the tools and methods to make it more accessible, faster, and more efficient.

Not all aspects of my life will provide great opportunity for open source improvement, however – particularly anything that already is fast, cheap, and easy to produce. For example, anyone can produce their own toothpaste in the same time it would take to brush their teeth. Here’s proof:


(this video is my first attempt at using open source editing software- OpenShot. It’s basic, but everything was easy to work out!)

To make toothpaste there’s no special equipment needed, no expensive materials. This recipe is just a variation on the WikiHow one: 80ml baking powder (NaHCO3.), 30ml hydrogen peroxide solution (3%, H2O2), 10ml glycerin (C3H8O3) (or you can use xylitol – C5H12O5), 2 drops peppermint oil. You can get hydrogen peroxide, peppermint oil and glycerin at most pharmacies. There’s not a great deal of variation or strong opinion on different toothpaste flavours, so although I’ll be using this open source version throughout the year, I’m not expecting others to get excited about it.

But what about more complicated matters? What about open source underwear?

I’m somewhat worried – I haven’t threaded a needle since the horrific experience of winning the school prize for sewing when I was 11 – it was a co-ed school, and my gigantic tribal beach baggies had for some reason impressed the judges. But I don’t just want to make undies for the sake of undies – I’m interested in seeing how Open Source methods can change clothing production.

There are already interesting ideas in the world of fashion with regards to crowdsourcing and technological innovation, and there are people working collaboratively and sharing their designs with others.

My thinking is based on the simple idea that not everybody is a perfect small, medium, or large. Most people are not shaped like shopping mall mannequins. Even mannequins only fit their clothes because they’re pinned at the back. My chicken ankles make any pants other than stovepipes flap listlessly like spinnakers. My shoulders wouldn’t even look broad in an ’80s power suit, and I think my hips are wider than my chest. While a fit 60-year-old might proudly boast ‘I have the physique of someone half my age‘ it’s not ideal for a 28-year old. I’m not worried about my body shape, it’s just an inconvenience when looking for clothes.

One of Da Vinci’s lesser known drafts, before he really nailed that circle.

But if I were to go to a shopping mall on the hunt for a jacket, I’d have to hope that one of these multi-national chains happened to have a style I like, that suits my body shape, and doesn’t have any stupid piping, or contrast-coloured zips, or whatever else the mass-produced version of this season’s style is.

So finding something I like is already an unlikely proposition, even before thinking about the sizes available. Instead of finding just the right jacket for me, I might end up buying 2 or 3 articles on sale (‘saving’ money) which aren’t necessarily quite the right style, colour or fit.

It also seems that manufacturing clothing in the countries with the lowest wages and then shipping it in bulk to the countries with the highest incomes is hardly an agile system, and difficult to achieve efficiently. We’ve taken this frustration of clothes shopping for granted for a very, very long time. But what other option is there? Tailoring is too expensive, and making things yourself is too difficult, right?

Well, one goal of my project is to get people to consider how an open source method might work in different areas, and I think there are plenty of opportunities in clothing.

For example:

-Imagine an online community, (kind of like a thingiverse version of openwear), where people could share their designs freely with others. These designs would be electronic patterns, readable by a software program.

A user could download a pattern, alter its design to their own taste, and release it back to the community as well.

-If this software program could parametrically alter the designs – for example, if I took my chest, neck, waist and arm measurements as inputs, the program could calculate the necessary changes to the pattern and provide the correctly shaped and sized pieces to be cut out.

-On a private section of your online profile you would have all of your measurements recorded so you could instantly adapt any pattern to fit. (Of course, your measurements might need to be adjusted should you switch to a Paula Deen-inspired diet.)

-Then you would be able to print and cut out the design to sew together. This could be done in a low-tech manner (print out on paper, pin to material, cut out with scissors) or a mid-tech manner (use a computer-controlled plotter to draw the design on material, cut out with scissors) or a high-tech manner (a computer-controlled laser cuts the parts directly)

Now this idea does not solve all the difficulty of actually designing or sewing the clothes, but the focus is on removing or streamlining the computational aspect of a tailor’s work, and leaving more time for creativity in design and high-quality crafting.

In order to illustrate the concept I would like to make my own boxer shorts. I’ve chosen boxer shorts because they’re one of the simpler articles of men’s clothing, and they really only have one key measurement – the waist. There’s generally a bit of give and take in terms of the length and leg circumference of boxer shorts, and I’m sure you could adjust them in a ratio with the waist measurement.

Is anybody keen to help me? I’m not trying to build a huge software program, just develop or adapt:

-a boxer short design (I guess in vector graphic format?)

-an equation which would adjust the size of pieces in accordance with the waist measurement

-a way of linking these together.

Who’s in? There’s a perfectly-fitting pair of boxer shorts in it for you…

Let me know what you think in the comments – could this kind of clothing system work? is there anything like it already? is the future for open source toothpaste really as dead as I assume?

Read on for a writeup of our open source clothing brainstorming session…

Another spectacular opening ceremony

It all kicks off today! You’ll be relieved to hear that Mr. Bean was unavailable for this particular opening ceremony:

Day 1: Engelbeckenholunderblütensekt

As mentioned in the video, you can download the recipe and branding elements here:

Engelbecken recipe.odt

The font used in the label is the open source Chunk, from The League of Moveable Type.

Now, this project format is hardly ideal – for example, the label is a non-editable PNG, and the .odt with the recipe does not include previous revisions. I’ll be looking into how to better document my projects over the next few weeks. This is also one of the many issues with my current website setup – I’m starting a ‘bug list’ of areas to work on over the year and the project website (and the bug list itself) are right at the top. Vimeo is also a temporary video hosting solution until I get a better website up & running. Anyone have much experience with GNU MediaGoblin, or Kaltura.org?

While some aspects of my project might take a few weeks to organise a solution for (the open source cellphone is hopefully coming soon, but it’s not cheap…) – there are things I can change on day 1. Software is of course the obvious one, so over the course of the day I’m going to be installing Linux and open source software. I’ve already written the suicide note for my personal facebook page, (come join me on diaspora!) and I’m currently composing an inventory of products and services I use.

In other news, the IndieGoGo campaign is still on for another week – tell your friends! Here’s Judith’s latest drawing for the calendar:

Yochai Benkler, drawn by Judith Carnaby for the 2013 Open Source Calendar (Swimsuit Edition)

One of the core ideas behind the calendar is presenting those who have inspired others to get involved in open source, so Yochai Benkler is an important one for me personally. I read his marvelous book The Wealth of Networks 3 or 4 years ago, and it was my first real in-depth introduction to online collaboration, to open source, and peer production, and it’s something I would recommend to everyone. You can buy the paperback, or, because it’s licensed under a Creative Commons NonCommercial ShareAlike license, you can download various electronic versions for free. If you want to read the book on your proprietary Kindle with its proprietary formats, I won’t judge you. Here’s how to convert ePub files to MOBI files.

OK, time to partition my hard drive! First step, work out what ‘partition a hard drive’ means.