Author: Hana Grgić
As a clothing lover myself, everything that includes fashion catches my eye. I’m not interested in typical (mainstream) clothing companies, we all know that ultra-fast fashion is eating the world and people are often buying clothes they don’t need. My special interest in clothing lies in a story that a piece of clothing can have, whether this is a unique piece produced in a textile factory that no longer exists, or if it belonged to someone else in the past. I love worn clothes, as long as they remain in good shape and condition. That being said, it’s hard to imagine how excited I was when I saw a pitch about the Worn Stories project during the last Expo Day at CODE in December. I immediately thought “OMG this project needs to be spotlighted”.
Since I’m into worn clothes with a story, I was so delighted to find out what motivated them for their project.
“Our initial idea was something like a blog where you could write stories about your piece of clothing to make people aware of this fast-fashion and to engage with their clothes a little more. Instead of saying ‘this is a really expensive sweater’, saying something like ‘this is my grandmother’s sweater,’” says Hannah Rau, an Interaction Design student and the initiator of the project. Erm, this was everything I ever wanted to know – what kind of a life my now favorite sweater had before it belonged to me!
“Our initial idea was something like a blog where you could write stories about your piece of clothing to make people aware of this fast-fashion and to engage with their clothes a little more. Instead of saying ‘this is a really expensive sweater’, saying something like ‘this is my grandmother’s sweater,’”
How did they start to develop their idea? “Hannah and I started to work on this project last semester as part of the Screen Design foundations module, mostly focused on a design brief from our lecturer Natalía Papadopoúlou. Then we got curious to trace exactly where donated clothes go,” explains Marie Spreitzer, Interaction Design student. Then they came to an idea of having a platform where you can swap clothes, and there you can say what kind of an experience someone had with that piece of clothing. “Then the other person you swap the clothes with will also see what you’ve experienced with it and can add their own story to it,” adds Marie.
Since this was a design idea rather than a technical one, they still need to think about how this will work in practice, but back to that Expo Day, they’ve received an “Investment Ready Award” (meaning ‘you would bet money on this succeeding now’) from Product Management lecturer Chris Bonau Schmidt. This was a nice push, but also led them to the conclusion that the two designers, Hannah and Marie, really needed that Product Management perspective in the team. This is where another fashion lover came into play.
After Worn Stories gave talks to find a PM, there she was, a perfect PM. Mia McCarthy elaborates on her motivation to join the team: “I remember Marie and Hannah working on the project a little last semester because we did the PM module ‘Communication and Presentation’, and the project caught my eye right there. I am into fashion, and I wanted to go into fashion professionally. One thing I really wished for was some kind of project in the fashion industry.” Having done market research beforehand on other projects, she was convinced that she would be able to help them with Worn Stories.
So, now that you know more about their motivation for the project, I asked them to tell me more about some of their hurdles and teamwork. I also wanted to especially underline the fact that they were an all-female project crew. It’s 2021 yet women in tech are still seen as a minority. That’s a rather sad fact, and while CODE hopes every year to see more and more women, we are aware that the problem is systematic.
In one form or another, women still hear “You’d be better off doing something else” on an everyday basis. 2020 showed us once again that Covid-19 has, in many ways, “exacerbated existing inequalities” for women in tech. It was a natural moment to ask how they feel about the label “Women in Tech”.
“CODE is a very safe space that gives us a lot of opportunities, especially for women, like the ‘Women at CODE’ Slack channel and special events organized for female-identifying individuals,” explains Hannah.
“As a student, I don’t consider myself a woman in tech yet, and I think a big part of that learning journey is also how to navigate as a minority in such a big field like tech,” says Hannah. Her experience at CODE was so far really positive and she never thought of herself as a minority. “CODE is a very safe space that gives us a lot of opportunities, especially for women, like the ‘Women at CODE’ Slack channel and special events organized for female-identifying individuals,” explains Hannah.
Here at CODE, our students are familiar with working in teams from (almost) day one. Having several experiences working on teams already in her studies, Mia wanted to comment on the dynamic in an all-female team. “The beginning of last year, I just worked with my project partner, James. The second half I was with him and three other white, male students. I feel now – also because we have a history of friendship together – it’s something definitely much more comfortable and easy to work with someone like-minded. I enjoy working in an all-female team. We know how to communicate with each other and there are certain things that you just get as a woman.”
All three identify as strong-willed, confident women. “I try not to label things when I’m doing them, as in ‘I’m doing this because I am a woman of color from xyz background’. I just want to be doing the best I can at what I’m trying to do, and we should be confident in what we are doing,” says Mia.
Although I used the term “all-female” a couple of times in this article, Marie is careful about labeling the project as “all-female”. Her aim is not to be celebrated (only) because they are a female team, but because of what they deliver with this project. This is a legitimate concern, but it’s great not to forget about the power that role models can have. They agree. “Some younger girls will know that they can achieve things by seeing others do it, and we need to be at the stage to make that happen,” they say.
I’d be more than excited to use their app and read all those (always) amazing stories that a piece of clothing might have. Fashion industry desperately needs some fresh minds, fostering change to fashion products. Hannah, Marie, and Mia’s ideas are exactly what we need.
Cover photo: Photo by Caleb Lucas on Unsplash