New School News

Future Economies of Style

What will we wear when our resources run out? How will fashion and clothing habits change when new textiles are hard to come by? How will designers and garment workers make a living in such a scenario? Does fashion depend upon an unsustainable economy?

As part of The New Museum’s Ideas City festival, a group of Parsons students have been investigating the future of clothing in a dematerialized economy with their project, the Wherefore Store, led by Kakee Scott, instructor in Parsons’ School of Design Strategies and Environmental Studies program. Resource scarcity doesn’t mean the party is over, even for fashion. Rather, there is an opportunity to present compelling, alternative economic visions that defy current standards of living. Wherefore Store is a storefront scenario that seeks to engage the public in imagining future economies and the implications for everyday, street-level commerce. It is an experiment in collaborative storytelling about our collective and individual futures.

“In the broadest sense, the Wherefore Store is a space for thinking about economic futures. Now is the perfect time for that; we’re living through a moment when many of the core principles that have guided global economic development since industrialization are being challenged to an unprecedented extent. This is a first trial of the Wherefore Store and we’re focusing on clothing practices. Our starting point has been to recognize how the production of style depends upon human skills beyond those used in the production of material garments, and to imagine how these skills could be the basis for future clothing economies.”

As part of last week’s Ideas City Festival, the Wherefore Store opened from May 1-3 at the Textile Arts Center at 26 West 8th Street, and on May 4 within the festival’s Streetfest, a day-long street fair on Bowery and Chrystie Streets, in the area surrounding The New Museum. On Friday May 3, from 5:00 to 6:00 p.m., Scott and her students hosted a workshop at The Old School (233 Mott Street) where several fashion retailers, designers and Ideas City participants created future business concepts and discuss the changing nature of clothing economies.

Scott recounts the experience: “After a long research process, the students created a set of future business concepts combining bold economic propositions with extrapolations of emerging developments in everyday and commercial clothing practices. During Ideas City, we presented their concepts and then invited visitors into a participatory exercise, using a condensed version of our process, to develop their own future visions and business concepts. We were proud of the ideas and approach we presented, but we were still surprised how eager to engage in these discussions many visitors were, especially those connected to the fashion industry. Receiving such a positive response truly reinforces the purpose behind this project and our gratitude for the chance to participate in a festival founded on the value of ideas.”

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