Social impact through fashion interaction

In the spring of 2020, I have written my thesis about the messages people wear on their clothes. I’m happy I found the inspiration through the strong women around me and was able to design something useful for them. I was concerned if the topic was not the Nobel price worthy, but during the interviews and digging into peoples deeper needs and desires, I realised that there is a lot that can be changed in our behaviour if there would be more sustainable options.

As a result of my work, I’m glad to have stepped a small step towards fashion industries sustainability and also not been creating digital waste by creating another platform. I created a video-prototype of my most inspiring interviewee Jana.

How it all started

In the era of “trumpified” messages, I have started to notice how people back up their speech with a message on their clothes. The message can be in a short written form or expressed as a colour, certain item or even more hidden marks that only a significant group of people can read.

Ok, I have seen young people wearing T-shirts that have messages that would draw attention to belonging in a group or supporting some activities. But when Estonian President Kersti Kaljulaid made a sartorial statement at the Riigikogu swearing-in of the incoming coalition government wearing a hoody with a message “Sõna on vaba” (Word is free or Speech is free).

The act was drawing attention to the importance of freedom of speech as one head of the parties had demanded a critical journalist be removed from Estonian public broadcasting ERR. From that moment I have started to notice more the social and even political statements on clothes.


Well, the President certainly started something as now also the other politicians in Estonia, that usually have had their feet on the ground and acting as politicians are expected, have now started to follow. On January 2020 Estonian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Urmas Reinsalu was wearing a sweatshirt that read “Money is Free” in a Government press conference to draw attention to the ongoing pension reform.

Minister of Foreign Affairs Urmas Reinsalu (Source: ERR)

One could call that political debate on apparel. At the same time, I noticed more the regular people wearing messages on their clothes. And when I started to ask about the clothes they tended to have a story behind this. As if they were expecting people to reach out and ask “why this message?” “ What are you up for”. They were expecting that people would ask.

People waiting to be asked about their message.

But wait… is it all sustainable?

Thinking about all the hackathons, conferences and other work-related events where I have been happy to wear messages and blend into the tech-crowd … where are these hoody’s and T’s I wore for one day? If we would be all conscious and sustainable would we take away an important communication channel from these people? How would they solve their need?

As the first step in my following research, I will collect stories from people to understand what they need to accomplish with their clothing and what kind of attention or results have they reached so far.

In a course of Social Design I analysed with a team (Epp Linke, Martin Rääk, Nesli Hazal Akbulut) the garments sustainability with a reuse company Uuskasutuskeskus and we found out that the reuse of fibres is not that developed as we could hope. Yes, we feel great if we donate our clothes to the reuse centres but the reality is that even most of the quality clothes won't be reused or even recycled. It is not yet possible on a larger amount. I contacted also the local garbage company that produces heat from garbage — could we flake the garments and burn them to create heat. It turns out that the fibres will stick to the flaking machine and break it. So if the garment won’t find a new life it will end up in the landfill.

How technology comes to help

Carlings has released its augmented-reality The Last Statement T-shirt

Swedish retailer Carlings has released its augmented-reality The Last Statement T-shirt, which can show a variety of political messages.

Developed for the brand by creative agency Virtue, the T-shirt is nearly blank to the naked eye. Viewed through a phone, however, it sports a bold, animated design that comments on a political topic of the day.

The T-shirt is intended primarily for an online audience since its messaging is only visible in photos and videos posted to social media.

So one could attend in activities and after when we see the pictures in online media the T-shirt would have a message that it didn’t have in the actual event. So it would create a possible discussion only after the event. AND one can choose the message in an app so when thinking about sustainability, you can have one T-shirt for different messages.

Designers acting up

Usually, fashion designers try to see future trends and fulfil peoples needs without making major statements on the clothes. They need to sell them to as big audience as possible. The year 2017 was different as Trump was elected and suddenly designers had a bigger need (or was it seeing the future need of their customers) to express a political view about women, their choices about parenthood etc.

In Estonia fashion designers also use messaging. Starting with #muhoov that is the author for the EstonianPresidents hoody … and people that are following:

…to the brand Tallinn Dolls and their softer messages on equality and saving the forests in Estonia. But you could still say that they try to reflect on what is currently going on in society.…

Populists in other parts of the world

My coursemate Francesco Duca drew my attention to the Italian populist Matteo Salvini that has followed Trumps path and copied it.

Salvini, like the leaders of other insurgent populist movements, has made highly effective use of social media. If Donald Trump has Twitter, Salvini is the king of Facebook.

Resistance by Design

Refered from Vanessa Freidmans article in New York Times.

Resistance by Design was a company born in 2018 inUS when Dahna Goldstein was feeling frustrated that she can wear her political T-shirts (supporting women in elections) only in weekends but not in the boardroom — they were not that representative.

First, in November 2016, there was #PantsuitNation and women heading to the polls in white to declare their allegiance with the suffragists — and potentially with the first female president (Hillary Clinton).

Then, in January 2017, there was the Women’s March and the pussy hat.

Women’s March 2017 (Source: REUTERS)

Is it just a marketing moment? Carpetbagging on a hot-button issue to sell stuff? It’s possible. That’s the easy accusation. But there is real money, critical mass and some risk involved. And that tends to suggest something more is going on. This is a rejection of the premise that political fashion is for marching on the barricades on your own time. This is a proposition for a new one: clothes as an overt expression of values to be worn all the time, anywhere.

This is Prabal Gurung and Tory Burch and Wes Gordon of Carolina Herrera and Diane von Furstenberg and Rag & Bone putting words and symbols to cloth. This is a quilted leather tote scrawled with “Give a Damn,” a collaboration by MZ Wallace (whose bags Hillary Clinton carried at the Benghazi hearings) and Lingua Franca (whose cashmere sweater scrawled with “poverty is sexist” was worn by Connie Britton to the Golden Globes in January).

For most people buying these clothes and fashion items with a message, they function as a clarion call for change. And while in theory that change could simply mean reversing voter apathy, the clear impetus is to upend the status quo. That’s political, whether anyone wants to admit it or not.

And although no one really expects one person wearing a T-shirt (or scarf or bag) to get other people to alter their behavior, there is something about constantly seeing an issue that makes it percolate through the consciousness.

Tory Burch, who went from writing an op-ed essay in The Wall Street Journal in 2016 urging companies to give their employees Election Day off to creating a “Vote” tee (the kind she models with a brightly striped A-line skirt in various social media posts), prefers not to categorize what she does as “political.” She calls it “humanist.”

“When people say ‘stick to fashion,’ and I get a lot of that on social media, it irritates me to no end,” Burch said. “I’m going to make it the title of my next book. Because I think people will continue to weigh in on this, and that’s a good thing.”

Gurung agreed. “As designers, clothing is our language, our medium for communication, so for myself and many others, a statement T-shirt, sweater, sweatshirt or entire collection is our way to show the world what we stand for,” he said. “To spread our message by joining with the people who can take our message from the runway or the racks to the streets.”

Interviews with designers

Interview with Katheriin Liibert

I started with the interviews and the first one was the founder of MuHoov as the main inspirer for the whole research. That is where the Presidents shirt came.

Kopli Vintaaž

It turned out that the idea of the sweatshirts with a town or village name came to the founders at 2017 which is the same year of the fashion week I talked about previously. It’s funny how ideas float around. To be correct here the idea of the neighbourhood hoodies actually came from Kopli Couture.

Phenomena started when three friends bought H&M hoodies and printed their Tallinn neighbourhoods names on them. “PÄSSA”, “KASSISABA” and “PELGU”. They instantly got attention and people were asking where to get these so the business case had started. In the era of social media, Katheriin said that it was the easiest marketing project ever. Estonians were happy to reveal where they live and even where they were born. Now they have a proper web-site and the productions for the hoodies is also more advanced. The key factor is the super fast delivery as it is a great gift and kind of an emotional purchase. You get the idea — you want it by tomorrow.

The statement hoodies were also something that people started to order and then the famous Presidents hoodie came along. The idea came from President's press people and the hoodie was made super fast so that the message would be seen in a particular meeting in Parliament.

MuHoov started another line where people could order statement T-shirts and hoodies and coded a platform where they can manage on their own and order the exact message they need. They have also started to think about export but the first attempt in Latvia did not scale as quickly as they wanted. There are many questions — maybe Latvians are not that into the small towns’n’villages where they are from. But that’s a subject for another research.

Interview with Mari Martin

Mari, a designer and manager of Tallinn Dolls, first started to produce garments with messages around 2017. The year seems to be running through my interviewees. It was also when #Muhoov started and also the fashion weeks where designers stood up.

The first edition was made together with columnist Keiti Vilms whos “SÄUTSUPÄÄSUKE” was printed on a sweatshirt. Next ones “HELGELTNÄGIJA” and “VÄIKE MUST DRESS”. The trouble with these is that they are untranslatable and are really local and born inspired by something happening in society.

When I ask about letting people choose themselves what to wear, Mari tells me that people are not that talented with word-games. Having professional (copy)writers has great results and people love the outcome.

They have also tested the clothing messages in Finland but it wasn’t that popular. Again we discussed the differences between the societies in Finland, Sweden, Norway and Estonia. Seems that fins would never wear something that could be understood as a message reflecting the society changes. Swedes would also be embarrassed. At least so had seemed for Mari when she has tried to look for new markets.

I also got a lot of insights about innovation in retail where Mari is actively searching for new investments and scaling up. Her team has developed a tool for the clothing industry where you can predict how much of specific garment you should produce. You release every product before its mass-production and see the interest of people. Through that pre-launch one can predict how much will that particular thing sell. So you can keep your volumes accurate. They are ready to test the tool with a bigger clothing industry with designer views, fabric production and retail insights and e-commerce all in one.

Interviews with people wearing the messages

My interviews can be divided into two phases. Pre-interviews with accidentally met people who wore messages and as a next step more thorough interviews with people that in some ways stand out. I chose people who act out in different entrepreneurial and/or social roles. Meaning that they could carry different missions that have to stand out. Maybe in very different ways and all in one day.

I conducted nine interviews, both online and offline. I had seven women and two men. I saw difficulties interviewing men as they open up in some ways but I could see that they could close up at some point. The reason might be me being a woman and men growing up knowing that they should not put too much effort with the looks. I could end up asking about their startups sweatshirt and they would say something like “oh that’s just comfy to wear” … even if they just walked out of the mayor TVshow on startups.

So I decided to focus on women especially after hearing a TEDx talk by a woman who was born as a man. . How she had never thought about being taken seriously as a man and now being a woman needed much more to think about what she was wearing and what messages she could be sending directly or indirectly.

After interviews, I asked my fellow students to join me on a workshop to go through the main results of the interviews. As a result of the workshop, I now had a better structure for finding the problem uniting these people.

  1. Fashion as a clear choice and invite for action

I was happy to hear that even when people said that clothes do not pay a big role in their life they reached to a point where they had to admit that now when thinking it through they have certain principles, safe-zones and action-oriented clothes. Meaning that if the need to accomplish something they’ll dress accordingly.

2. Personal brand

My interviewees were all strong and inspiring people. Listening to their stories about their own insecurities and their journey becoming the people they are now, led me to think about how much of what we are, is the fake it till you make it or maybe wear it till you make it.

One of the women told me that among the crowd she is so much related to her company that she has to disguise to represent the other interests and business activities she does. When attending to a recent state visit she had to specifically make sure she wasn’t wearing any brands of her business and would represent her as a TV-figure. The questions about the other brands would distract people from the person she wants to be in that specific business trip.

With the male interviewees, they emphasised that they did not want the brand to take over their identity. This was particularly said about people wearing their startup brand names. We also got inspired by Peter Vesterbacka — the guy who famously always wears a red hoodie. It all started with the success of Rovio and I even had not noticed that the red hoodie has lost the Angry Bird after Vesterbacka leaving Rovio. But the red hoodie stayed. So even men warmed up when talking about the red hoodie.

Then again designers were sceptical about peoples ability to create their own messages on clothes .. their own brand so to say. Giving some sort of guidelines (hometown or neighbourhood name) or creating messages by copywriters or writers gives so much better results. MuHoov even had created a special line for peoples own messages (CAPSLOCK) so that it would not mess up the original idea of the brand.

3. Body as a medium

Was it a coincidence that the designers in Estonia came to market with the message-fashion all in 2017 the same year Trump came president and fashion weeks had a new line of political fashion … I don’t know. I found it surprising that the designers discovered the clothes with messages in the same year. But as one said it was the easiest coming-to-market ever.

Again men were feeling uncomfortable when asking about wearing their company named T-shirts. They said that one should not confuse oneself with a company. We are not companies — we are people .. personalities. And when asking about their own company brand on their sweatshirt they said: “I’t something comfy I wear these days”. Then again women were deliberate brand wearers. One of my interviewees that has many social and business purposes in her work-life was eager to find new and sharp messages she could wear to support her different brands and social campaigns. She would use every chance there is to present the company she is currently developing. And yes, not always she owns them.

Another thing that kept coming up with the interviews was tattoos. I did not have specific questions about them but some people reached the point of thinking whether they would ever commit to the brand, quote or an image so that they’d have it on their skin. It was interesting to listen to their own iterations about it not interfering.

4. External confirmation of the role

It was a question that opened up a really good discussion with all the interviewees. How does our outer layer communicate with our feelings and interpretation about ourselves?

Again the most interesting were the people that had many roles all packed into one day. If they would go and hire somebody on that day and it would be a true corporate role they’d also dress up accordingly. When the same person would go and have a meeting with the more relaxed company he’s involved in, he’d wear something inspiring himself also and admit that their ideas will flow better if they are dressing “artsy”.

Also, business travel for some of the interviewees was a subject they started themselves. It is a framed time and mission you go out there to serve a purpose. You prepare and want to focus on it entirely. So they would wear something for this particular trip to get into a certain frame of mind.

The same thing is with the conferences or any events where one has to present their ideas. To get into a certain frame of mind so that the message would be supported by the visuals. And all my interviewees agreed that the visuals are the most important aspect here. We are judged by the first seconds when people look at us before they even consider whether to start listening to us or not. Maybe it would even be better if they see the message before we even start to talk — the Presidents example.

For women the outer layer is important. One of the interviewed inspiring women said that when she was invited to TEDx speech one of the first things she thought about was the setting of the stage and how would she best support her message with herself. And the outfit would play an important role for her. She had everything thought through — even the pin she was wearing and the slides that matched the colour she was wearing. There was nothing accidental there. She created the experience of herself.

My interviewees were clever of taking maximum out of the way they look. With the lifestyles, they have, ever-changing and multi-purposing. In the morning you go to the morning TV-show to present one company, after-lunch you have to focus on other agendas and in the evening run to a theatre. All with one outfit and changing the elements.

An interesting thought came from Finland — something students wear there to collect memories and experience from their student time in any school/university. It’s called overalls and with every badge, you collect you can show where you are from, what you study and what is your experience or beliefs.

Overalls representing university experience — every badge has a meaning

5. Undercover message

We talked about the opposite cases also — has it happen that the messages we send out have been attracting the wrong kind of attention?

With designers, it came out that in a small community, that Estonia is, it can be tricky to come out with. When coming out with garments that have strong messages from the day politics it can strike back with nasty comments in social media and designers felt their brand can be affected by it.

When talking about finer hints like Madeleine Albright’s famous pins that she wore in her meetings. There are many stories of how she carefully selected the pins she wore for respecting the country or a politician she was visiting or sending a careful message to the society.

The same overalls that Finnish university students wear were prohibited some time ago because it started to resemble drinking alcohol and vandalism. Sometimes the signs and way of dressing will have a life on their own and change into something not originally intended. A similar example was pointed out by one of the male interviewees about T-shirt having Che Guevara on them. In different societies, it can have totally different meaning. University students drawn to the rebelliousness associated with the icon. Critics claim that youth support the icon without being aware of the controversial figure behind it, who has been accused of using violence as a means to achieve his objectives and driving Cuba into economic disaster.[1] Critics have called the trend a “T-shirt fad”.[9]

6. Attention span

The last takeaway from the interviews was that if you want to stand out in a way you can control it, you have to be precise and leave no room for confusion. People listening to you or thinking about cooperation do not have time for second thoughts. The message that you deliver with your words and your presents has to be cleared and out there.

The message also has to be temporary or changeable. One of the interviewees took a great example from Facebook — she is now using more Facebooks temporary stories. That gives her an opportunity to have a certain kind of message or mood out for one day and forget about it tomorrow. She does not know what roles she will be in tomorrow and would de message still support her.

In the era of tweets, our attention span is getting shorter also. If one doesn’t get to the point in the very first seconds we get tired and are lost for the whole message. But we tend to remember the package the message was delivered for us. And when the main message was already on the package — we might remember it better.

Reflections on interviews

I didn’t even think about the appearance so much!

Designing against consumerism is hard…you create another product to the world…

Its too easy for the festivals to buy T-shirts… in history of Estonian Singing Festival it has been also cigaret box or scarf.

TALTECH rebranding — everybody wears now. Did we became all fans of our University?


To bring out the key results of the interviews I ran a workshop in Estonian Academy of Arts. The interviews described above were framed into a mindmap. As a result of the workshop, I was more confident that the results are promising and were able to divide them into three categories.

According to the workshop results, social impact by the appearance consists of four key elements.


What is the message we want to bring to people surrounding us? Is it direct or indirect and even undercover? Are we strongly debating or softly making the point? Are we taking into account that visuals and messages can change their meaning in a time?


Are we conscious about our appearance? Why we need external confirmation to the role? Is it for comforting us or influencing the surrounding people? Do we embody ourselves for ourselves or others?


When should we be out there? How long do we want the impact to stay? Can we have the same message for different auditoriums? Are we taking into consideration how much our target group can take? How long they actually look at us, listen or understand?


These days every persons activity reflect their environmental attitude. Sustainability or lacking one is already a message itself that we send out with our choices.


It is spring 2020 and I’m writing research about clothes people are wearing. The whole world gets a disruption in a scale never seen before. My research seems to fall into pieces.

Why should anyone ever need a message on their clothes?

If our communication is only a box on the screen do we need to communicate any other way at all?

We now see what we have done with the overconsumption and it all turns into better itself?

But then …

The crises fashion… the messages are still there

… we just changed the messages. The need just stayed.

Even new fashion lines were born to wear on the time of crises. The new situation needed a closer look. But how to research people if you cannot meet them.

Focus group

To design a workshop in the time of crises I first conducted small research among fellow designers and workshop facilitators in social media. After failing my own workshops on a screen I wanted to take something out of this and learn new ways.

The ideas were different but having seen the virtual boards and discussions in the call I decided to try out Mirko Känd’s idea of the actual meeting but keeping a distance and walking. Physical activity and keeping the distance. First I had an idea of meeting one by one and then trying to trigger people by what other people have said about the subject. But then I thought to try out being in one place but keeping a distance and record the meeting in phones. I have seen that the most effective calls are not over three people so I decided to go with a mini focus group — two people and me facilitating.

Choosing the people was again challenge. To uncover people’s perceptions and values, one needs to choose carefully that the attendants would trigger each other to speak and would not feel threatened or overwhelmed by each other. As I facilitator I tried to stay peripheral and just gave an introduction to the next topics.

Focus group results

I conducted a focus group to understand how has virus crises time affected my target group. I put down the most interesting quotes.

Focus group attendee nr 1

I’m tired of wearing masks — I am how I am

If I find client as I am.. then that’s my client. I went to my first meeting wearing a hoody saying “SUVA” “Don’t give a f…” — It gave me such a boost. Now they talk about being honest. It takes a courage to wear smth like that. The client that stayed — because I was honest and brave. I experienced … you just cannot be the next sales-guy-looking-type. You need the personal message. It takes a lot of courrage to come up with those messages.

I am my self when I really work for it. I want to be convincing for myself. First thing in the morning — I push myself up to make me ready for the day — I carefully chose the message on my clothes … even if now I only have calls and videos with my colleagues and clients.

I have had jobs where I had to wear what was appropriate and I have to say that these years were miserable.This is not me and I talk bullshit when my outer layer is not supporting my real self.

The outside appearance has to support who you are.

“This is so you” — so what is this “me”. People remember you by your style.

With right messages you attract “your kinda” people.

Focus group attendee nr 2

I don't want the brand to show on my clothes. I want to know I’m wearing a Hermes bag and I want the people that know to know but I don’t need to show that in your face. I love to position myself in a role with my clothes. I want to belong somewhere. I play with the elements on my clothes. I feel the difference I have with my clothes.

Some trade marks are too fancy to wear them at work. They’ll cause unwanted questions. Fitting in.

They were surprised I was smart in video meeting again … I just only wore the scarf.

In the start of the isolation period I went straight to the shop and bought myself a home-working-dress for making me feel comfy and at the same time look professional. I needed to prepare for the new circumstances. I’m not the pidzama-worker.

I cannot wear high heels at my work — I downgrade my self.

For an important video call I was wearing high heels just to make me feel this extra confidence.

If I wear high heels and red lipstick the scientists will not listen to me anymore.

How could i be comfy and smart at the same time. Black dress - loose and with pockets.

Black dress. Broach, scarf. It always works. Dress up, Dress down.

Sometimes I need to blend in and sometimes to stand out. I cannot be aggressive with my talks and outfit at the same time.

I have bought stuff that fits double.(both agreed)

Reflections on the focus group

Like after every session I let the participants also reflect how they felt about the format and the thoughts they had. Both participants were surprised that they were so passioned about their appearance and of course happy to be out and talking other than work or family.

Opportunities and design principles

After validating the interviews with the focus group I could see that the disruption by the pandemic had not changed the need and it was time to define the challenges through opportunities:

How might we use our body as a medium?

How might we externally confirm our role to support our confidence?

How might we build a personal brand?

Design principles

The message should be changeable by the user

The solution should make the users take control of the messages or images they are wearing.

Supporting the identity

The solution should let the user choose what suits their identity and supports their actions at this particular moment.

Timing of the messaging

With the constant overload of information, our attention span has gotten shorter. To gain the maximum effect of the messages they have to be placed so that they would be eyecatching just in the right moment.


Today's world everybody has an opinion about sustainability and it can be reflected also in their look. It becomes a message on its own. Every new product designed has to fight a dilemma — fighting against consumerism with another product?


When designing a workshop for ideation one gathers the good people, sets the mindset and atmosphere. In the pandemic, designers have to be creative — no room, no board, no post-its.

Been failing some of the workshops as a facilitator in the crises, mostly because there is always somebody that has not got the license of Miro or Figma, has bad connection or … attitude. did a survey amongst fellow workshoppers and startupers. I did quick ideation with Timo Treit on how might we conduct the easiest and most reachable ideation session.

First — no more than 4 people on a call.

Everybody has to have access to the “board”.

Not longer than 30 minutes.

Thanks to the ideas gathered we found a quick hack using Google Drive presentation to give a quick overview of the How Might We design opportunities. After the introduction I guided participants to their slide acting as a “board” and had pre-filled the boards with post-its (squares). We had 5 minutes of silent ideation and then everybody shared their ideas. The voting was also done right after the explaining of the post-its.

Reflection on the workshop:

So simple and convenient — I want to use that in my next Product Design project!

Not too fancy.


Ideas for the next time — if you run into dead-end go and sneak on others “boards” and if you have new ideas while the others are presenting — grab another colour of post-it and write directly on the current board.


The ideas that were the most eyecatching and also reflecting the design principles were:

  • “Temporary tattoos” or (electronic)re-attachable badges for messaging;

The idea came from people not aware of my previous study and especially the overalls from Finnish universities — proudly wearing badges from different events and stages of their studies.

  • Consciousness about stories and history about our clothes and badges of how much this item has been reused;

Appreciating the quality of clothes and their history is an interesting thought. It also came up with my previous research about concepts about re-usage and promoting sustainability.

  • Role model wardrobes and sharing fashion items;

The reason I liked the idea was that it also reflects some of the challenges my interviewees brought up — the designer doubting the creativity of people coming up with their own sharp quotes and messages and the other ones troubled about their body misfitting to standards and if finding a match in style wanting to repeat the outfit. The same goes with the role models — if found one that fits in style or message wise — easy to copy.

  • The message is seen only through screen;

Wearing a code that seen through the screen creates a pre-defined image. So if the picture of a person wearing the item would appear in social media or TV their clothes could have a totally different impact. Design principles set by the interview results bring out the importance of the timing — so if it cannot be controlled when the impact appears then the solution would not be a perfect fit.


To get my hands dirty and creativity juices running it’s always good to do some rapid prototyping. In the time of lockdown, one has to be creative with the options at home.

Paper prototype

Got inspired by the Tallinn Dolls quotes and tried out how would it be if you could choose the same copyright created messages but change them on the same shirt.

Changing the messages

Next, I needed to feel this on fabric. I started to play with embroidery.

Creating badges with a little helper

The first use-case I thought of was a conference situation where people would be wearing the conference theme messages but when on evening reception they would like to twist the message to an unofficial one. Because embroidery needs a lot of work I already though of the possible tester of the prototype and created a message and use-case that would suit her everyday life. She is an internal audit by profession.

Badges that can be changed according to the scenery

I explained to her the conference situation changing into the evening reception. Let her feel and play with the badges.

Testing taken outside

I also wanted to test out more digital version of the prototype.

Screen used on paper and on fabric

I combined a smartphone with my paper prototype. This way one could adjust the picture or message just by scrolling. I also tried out the screen combined with a piece of fabric.

The user story I created for the prototype with a screen was also created to fit the second testers profession. She is a Financial lead in a production company and probably will need to make budget cuts in the economic slowdown situation. So I created a wordplay for the “budget” and “cut” so in a story she could use it among her colleagues to make fun of the tricky situation.

Feedback capture matrics

Based on the two concept testers feedback I created a Feedback Capture Matrix.

I found important points that need to be considered when working on a solution:

  • Testers agreed that fun messages are the icebreakers for the conversation and rate discussion when needed.
  • The solution needs to be reachable — embroidery is too much of effort.
  • People are not willing to wear screens or as one of the interviewees said already at the beginning of the research “I don’t want to be a walking billboard”.
  • Testers also discussed further what could be the matching technology. They brought out a great example of how Kindle came to replace the books and how it imitates the paper. What could imitate the fabric?
  • The solution should be fine and thin. If it stays that heavy it will stretch out the fabric in an odd way.

Technology research

I dived my research into two parts:

  • what can be done here and now;
  • what could the future bring?

The first ideas with rapid prototyping led me to find different velcros and screens used on fabric.


Velcro on orthosis

The velcro I used for prototyping was quite bulky and it did not leave the seamless effect. The hook and loop fabrics are used in many fields and even introduced in medical environments. The thinner versions are also attachable on a certain kind of fabrics and you can tear and replace them as you wish.

The thin velcro and badge combined could be an option to use instantly. The badge again can be printed or embroidered. The trouble here is that it does not fit with the design principles about the timing. The printing and embroidery still takes time. As Designers Mari and Katheriin said the printing is now very fast just that the object stays like that forever and its still impossible to re-print over the old message/picture so that it would stay clear and neat. Velcro letters are also a good option to wear a custom message on your clothes. Picture:(

LED-technology on fabric

Programmable LED T-shirt

In the first course we had a project where I could experiment with soft objects with sensors and conductive fabric. It is possible to put wires into the fabric and also LED-technology. Also there are wearables where you can pre-set the message on an app and then the lights on a T-shirt will play it how you wanted.

Self-adhesive materials

One can glue anything on fabric and there are glues that move with the fabric and still maintain their looks. Also, the sticking materials are quite good already but usually, they cannot be reused many times.

Photonic technologies for textiles

Optical fibres have been adopted in the production of textiles and garments to enhance aesthetic performance and other functionalities. The most distinctive and basic application of optical technologies on fabrics or garments is perhaps tuning their appearance by controlling the intensity, colour, and pattern of light. For example, optical films made of periodical dielectric multilayers could be directly coated on fabrics, thus offering a highly reflective colourful appearance and enabling different colour perceptions depending on the angle of observation. Holographic films may also achieve similar functions and even provide a more complex 3D visual effect(

It is already possible to change the colour of the fabric. The most common technology for that is fabric threads changing colour when the heat is applied.

Colour changing fabric

E-ink garments

As my testers brought out the analogy of Kindles e-ink how it represents the way paper looks like. The e-ink technology can be flexible as well and is tested on fabric. Still looks papery tho.

Technology synthesis with the design principles

When going through emerging technologies concerning new fabrics it is easy to imagine that the technologies developed for medical(vital monitoring) or military (camouflage) purposes are soon accessible for the consumer industry. From the list of technologies, I found the nanotechnology to be revolutionising the engineering, communication, packaging, medical equipment, medical care, therapy and the way we look. Even nano-tattoos are attached to the human body to connect us with technology.

Nanotechnology requires much less material for versatile actions and performance, saving valuable resources. One thing is certain: nanotechnology is reshaping our future.

How might nano threads help to achieve the goals of this research?

Design principles:

The wearable message should:

  • be changeable by the user;
  • support the wearer's identity;
  • appear when chosen by the wearer;
  • be sustainable.

Wearer manipulating the appearance of fabric

With the new technologies, one can control the colour and other characteristics of a fabric. So it is possible to manipulate the garment in real-time.

Garment supports the wearer's identity

The technology lets us chose our own content and also delete one. The wearer can also choose somebody else's content if that's available.

The wearer can choose when the content appears

The control of the garments look is in wearers hands — garment can have technology attached to it or manipulate by the smart-device wearer has allowed.

The garment is sustainable

As there is no need for a constant change of different garments and one can choose the look by technology, there is also no need to consume more garments.

User stories

For the first user story, I chose the one from the company I work for where every Wednesday we have quick exercises for creativity called CREATIVE20.

User story for choosing someone else’s quote to wear on your garment

For testing, I created a story of Jana.


Jana is one of the great examples of women in tech. She is active in many fields. She is a lead figure in Prototron (the business accelerator for startups), TV star in Tehnolik (technology show for kids) and spokesperson for the border areas. She is also one of the lead figures in Objekt - centre of the future — in Narva.

Her life is full of days where she represents different brands and is actively promoting women in tech and leadership but also inviting people to visit East-Estonia. She is a TEDx speaker and a woman that wants to stand out.

User Story

Jana is called to a morning TV- show to speak about the recent business delegation trip together with the prime minister to Japan. She is called to the show to speak about their goals in Japan. She is giving an interview together with a sumo celebrity in Japan — Baruto.

Her goals in Japan were more about her personality as the head of a TV-show and not about her being a Prototron CEO. Already in the business trip, she was careful what she was wearing not to accidentally wear (on her garments or on her laptop) her other activities trademarks (like “Narva is next”, “Objekt” or “Prototron”). She did not want to confuse herself and others with her different agendas. And being honest with herself — she was most productive when she was timeboxing and outwear-boxing herself into one brand and activity at once.

Before the TV-show she carefully thought what to wear to support the idea of the business delegation agendas and she found cute Japanese figures image by Googling. She posted the information about the coming morning show to her Linkedin profile. Under the post, there’s also an option to expand the message on your wearables. She chooses to wear her e-badge on her jacket.

Wearing Japanese dolls to show respect

She gets many responses in Linkedin and many see the badge and make a connection. The Linkedin posts impact is now bigger because the message is the same on the public wall and the wearable garment.

After the show, Jana is happy that she made it back to the Prototron headquarters and is having new startups pitch to the jury of investors. She has worked hard for these ones to get ready. To show her support she posts on Facebook “Make it happen. Shock everyone.” To make it more powerful she shares it on her wearable e-badge. Under the post there’s a button “share on wearable” and she chooses her e-badge. When she is listening to the pitches she cannot support the teams verbally but she is there for them with a powerful message.

Testing the concept

I tested the concept on three women and men equally, four over a video-testing and two in real life. I have now focussed on women first but I wanted to see what kind of reactions the concept brings out on men. Again, I compiled the Feedback Capture Matrix where different colours represent the opinion of different people.

Feedback capture matrix on the concept

According to the feedback, women were excited about wearing their favourite garment with different “skins” so that it fits the occasion and It can be changed during the day. As interviewees, the testers brought out their favourite garments that they have bought double — just to be sure they can wear the perfectly fitted outfit longest. The idea of a dress like an empty canvas for anything: a statement, a flower, a painting or even the Presidents Independents day ball gown.

The men brought out the gang-belonging feeling and also their thought went on sports events like WRC where the racers change their helmets into caps where they have logos of their sponsors.

People were unsure about how the badge would look on the garment — would it fit? Would it be too bulky? Could one attach it to different places? Also, they were worried about the technology needs — would it need batteries? Where would the button be in platform etc.

Testers wondered if they could have an “imago-nest” where all their badges would be stored — a badge history or even a badge “jewellery-box”. They could re-use some of the badges as you might use the same outfits for the same kind of events. They iterated on about possibility to see other peoples’ imago-nests to be able to follow and use their pictures and statements as you would on Social Media. “I could go and see what Jana is wearing for today”. Iterating further they also thought of badge-content-designers and copywriters. So there might even be a new business to designers. Remembering what Mari Martin said about Tallinn Dolls brand statements — it’s not easy for regular people to come up with catchy statements and designs — one needs good copywriters and poets for that.

The placement of the badge was also discussed — would one be able to change where the badge is. Would it be on the chest as a typical hackathon T-shirt or on the hip as it would fit our Personas jacket? People agreed that one should be able to change the location on the body and even apply to different garments.

People were comfortable with the opportunity appearing in Social Media. To the Linkedin and Facebook, they wanted to add Twitter. They were ideating about where the button for the wearable could be and what would be on it. None of them was expecting a separate app for the wearable badge. They all started to wonder about cases where they had given up to try out a new service as soon as they understood they should have a new app or even create an account.


-- graduate from the Estonian Academy of Arts documenting her inspiration and projects

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Katre Purga graduate from the Estonian Academy of Arts documenting her inspiration and projects