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Speculating on the future of consumption

UN Goals

Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns

This is a speculative design project on the 12th UN Sustainability Goal: Sustainable Production and Consumption Patterns. The branch we chose to work with is labour exploitation within clothing industry which is one of the most intensely highlighted problems by the media.

We look at clothes as something that is used several times – in many cases not even once – and then thrown away without further consideration. When we buy clothes we do not care where they were made in and by whom, because the low price on fast fashion items in the only variable that makes us get them.

This project uses Speculative design in order to a different angle on the knowledge that people already know about this ethical concern and thus make them appreciate the clothes that they have the privilege of picking off a rack.

Read about goal 12


A globalized economy is not without peril

Research was essential in narrowing down the UN Sustainability Goal to be able to focus on one particular issue in the chain of consumption. We found the discussion about outsourcing garment labor to third world countries intriguing.

Research was essential in narrowing down the UN Sustainability Goal to be able to focus on one particular issue in the chain of consumption. We found the discussion about outsourcing garment labor to third world countries intriguing.

This project is not to state that the underpaid labor problem itself is new. The question we raise is quite the contrary – why this problem is widely known and often discussed about, but consumers are still indifferent?


Gig Economy Model: Making the connection

The aim of this project is to raise awareness on underpaid labor through showcasing explicitly the actual amount of payment that the garment workers are receiving. This project focuses on making the connection between the consumer and the factory worker in the fast fashion industry by applying the Gig Economy Model to our speculative platform.

In other words, our method for creating the connection was removing the many “middle hands” that are covering the reality of harsh factory worker conditions and their low salaries and revealing the real people behind the production of garments. With the webstore we are challenging the customer to shop for clothing while making them choose who will produce the garment.


Our world

No middle hands in garment production. The consumer meets the garment producer through shopping online.


Application of the gig economy model to fast fashion industry: Customers buy clothes on webstore, choose contractor and rate contractor upon provided service.

Digital Speculative artifacts

The company webpage, the webshop and the contractor’s mobile application.

Physical Speculative artifacts

The package with ordered garment that the customer is receiving: A cardboard box with garment, a thank-you note and encouragement to rate the contractor.


First iteration user manual and webstore

1st iteration

The initial idea for raising awareness about clothing production was to sell customizable DIY-kits that include materials and an instruction manual (following the well known the IKEA model).

2nd iteration

During the 2nd iteration round, allowance for customization was removed from the webstore thus leaving only pre-designed items. Customers receive a DIY kit with an instruction manual to sew their own clothes.

Eventually, this idea seemed to be too feasible and positive, possibly to the point where consumers would enjoy making clothes on their own, even if this model would reduce consumption amounts because of the time required for assembling garments at home.

Excerpt from the DIY instruction manual

3rd iteration

Since we needed to re-think the concept for highlighting the problem, we decided to neglect the DIY model and move the production back to the garment worker from a third world country.

We then prototyped a platform called “iSweat” that is based on Uber-like gig economy model: Customers choose clothing to be sewn by someone in a third world country.

Workers (aka contractors) advertise themselves on the platform by putting sponsored banners, offering sales. Contractors need to sew the clothes by accepting orders on an app, following instructions, writing a Thank-You-note (asking to rate them on the platform) and shipping it to the customer.


Shop for clothing and negotiate on production costs

The webstore allows one to shop for clothing items similarly to any other online fashion webshop. The only difference is choosing for labor that will sew your garments upon checkout.

The order summary will show where the money from the original garment price goes and how much the worker will receive after tax deducted from the store.

Test the store


Everyone gets total control

The mobile application is meant for the contractors. They can accept and reject orders, they see when the order needs to be shipped, have access to assembly instructions for every garment and are reminded to include a Thank-You card in the customer’s package.

Try the app


What the customer receives

The cardboard box that the customer will receive will be marked with a standard label with information about the product and who assembled the garment.

Inside, the worker will have packaged the garment(s) and included a Thank-You note on behalf of the platform, a personalized message and a gentle reminder to rate their service on the platform.

Label for the cardboard box that the garment is supposed to be shipped in

Thank-You-note that the worker is supposed to write for the customer. A custom message and invitation to rate their work on the iSweat platform

User Testing

Testing speculative concepts is difficult

We did user testing with a few people in order to collect feedback and check whether the approach we’re taking is delivering the message.

The amount is too low for the services offered, and that might make me want to find out where all the money goes.
It feels a bit It feels a bit like an internet prank, with like, buying poor third world country children.
Are the administrative costs really that high, to collect all of those money, and leave the worker with 10 cents?

We found that test subjects had a visceral reaction when it came to selecting the contractors. Doing this explicitly felt much harder than to just buy a t-shirt in H&M even though they thought it in the essence was the same action.

Talking with the users after the test sparked discussions about whether and how this is different than how it works today. We talked about how this could be good for workers and how globalization has made a lot of people less poor.


Concluding the project

Doing a project in speculative design has made it apparent that the speculation need to be very intentional and thought out, both in terms of what is said and what is shown explicitly and implicitly, otherwise a different message will be transmitted. User testing is crucial to evaluate whether that message is read correctly, otherwise the speculative project will also speculate on the probability of its own impact.

A challenge for us has been the coupling of the consumer side (webshop) with the production side (mobile application).

What made us change the course of concept, was realising that making customer directly choose the labor is making the ethical concern more relatable rather than just providing with more information about the problem.