Week 4 - 2 more interviews

This week I focused more on talking to general consumers at an age group of 20-30. Before meeting with them, I listed out some assumptions I had for the consumer group.

After chatting with the 2 interviewees, I found that most of my assumptions on this group were correct. Some characteristics of the consumers are:

-they are aware of the negative environmental impact caused by the fashion industry, but one of them not very in depth

-they want to help make a change but believe it is very hard, and they believe the those who dominates this industry should make changes to influence the market

-both of them are trying to shop sustainably but certain brands with sustainable concepts are expensive and does not fit their taste

-one of them went to volunteer at FABSCRAP and learned about textile recycling, and mentioned she consciously look at the labels before purchasing clothes. The other had no idea about materials and knowledge related, and tend to choose the ones she believes would be more durable

-both of the shop at 2nd hand store and sell their clothes to thrift store / online platforms as well

One main theme I noticed is that they all mentioned one concern about knowing the issue but don't know how to take actions, and sometimes they would feel a lack of motivation to make changes to change certain habits. And the most direct way they try to help make a change is through donating 2nd hand clothes or reselling, trying to avoid throwing them away directly. It's interesting that they both talked about the desire to help make a change, but not sure what other ways to help promote sustainable fashion.

For next week, I'm planning to pivot a little bit and try to dig deeper and understand what consumers' current behaviors are and their assumptions for this industry. For the target user group, I'm planning to find consumers in a different age group, and see if there are differences in their points of views and lifestyles. I also need to do more research on the effective ways people could take actions, and see if people are familiar with different methods and tools.

Week 3 - Topic Chosen & Interviews

After deciding to focus on Fashion Waste, I started sketching the lifecycle of of a piece of clothes based on previous research I did. I mainly divided the process into 2 main phases: Pre Consumer & Post-Consumer, and mapped out some stakeholders related to each area.

Because the topic of Fashion Waste consists of so many different areas, I wanted to start my conversation with a diverse group to help me narrow down the problem space. This week, I talked to an independent designer and a coordinator from FABSCRAP, which is an NGO in NYC aiming to help with commercial textile recycling. And here are some learnings I had from the 2 conversations:

With Independent Designer:
- She is aware of the problem existing and are trying to promote sustainable fashion by being more conscious in sourcing local materials.

-However, independent designers are still concerned with the source of materials because companies who produce textiles don't expose details about how the material is initially produced and if the production process is ethical and sustainable.

-Being sustainable fashion costs a lot, and as independent designers, it's really hard to maintain financial stability while considering sustainability.

-She believes that people who have the ability to spend still lack of awareness of this issue. The consumers should be more conscious about it and give back a little bit more to support smaller business who want to promote sustainable fashion.

With Staff from FABSCRAP:
-FABSCRAP deals with commercial waste and deals with the pre-consumer side in the product cycle. There are still issues remaining in the textile recycle process because certain materials such as Spandex and elastane cannot be recycled. And currently, there is no better way to solve this problem, and these materials usually end up being shredded and used as mattress filling / house installations.

-She believes education is a large issue. There's still a lot more room to educate people form the business side about the importance of applying sustainable materials rather than only focusing on the financial aspect. They should take responsibility of thinking about the end life of materials they choose.

-For consumers, she believes most people don't realize how much time, money and effort are put into the streams during the recycling process. People tend to think once they donate things away, the problem is then solved.

The conversation I had this week was really inspiring because they pointed out issues that lies throughout the entire lifecycle of clothing. It seems that currently there are efforts put in by orgs like FABSCRAP at the recycling space during Pre-Consumer phase, as well as by the department of sanitation during Post-Consumer phase.

The "During Consuming" phase doesn't seem to be brought up that often during the conversation I had this week, and I think this could be an interesting problem space to look at and think about if there are problems related to the awareness of the consumers. Maybe there's space to better educate them before they're consuming, or maybe there're issues with they don't know the best practices to help with sustainability in fashion. And this will be my research focus next week.

Week 2 - Narrowing down topics

After doing some more research this week, I narrowed down my topics to two problem areas: Fashion Waste & Social Isolation.

Fashion Waste has been a notorious topic that's widely discussed worldwide. There're stats showing Globally, 80% of discarded textiles are doomed for the landfill or incineration. and Only 20% are actually reused or recycled.
"A lot of the clothing ends up in the dump, and the equivalent of one garbage truck full of clothes is burned or dumped in a landfill every second. "

Fashion Industry has caused atrocious environmental issues with its use of carbon, pesticides, plastics and water. Personally, I have always been passionate about fashion since little. I enjoy watching out for fashion trends, and of course purchasing new clothes. But as I grew up, I started to realize the serious issues caused by this glorious industry. Personally connected with several independent designers who are fighting for sustainable fashion, I also feel empowered to choose a topic like this because I believe there's still a long way to go in terms of raising people's awareness on this topic.

I still need scope it down and think about which specific user group that I want to focus on, but my general direction is to raise awareness of the general public, and provide easy access for people to take actions to support sustainable fashion. And also from the perspectives of production as well: focusing on the concept of recycling, and how independent designers could be benefited at the same time.

The 2nd topic I decided to choose is related to mental health situation during COVID. " A broad body of research links social isolation and loneliness to poor mental health, and data from late March shows that significantly higher shares of people who were sheltering in place (47%) reported negative mental health effects resulting from worry or stress related to coronavirus than among those not sheltering-in-place (37%). "

Stress and isolation during this period can be challenging, and social connectedness are especially needed for people to have a sense of belonging and love. So I want to work on a problem like this and try to come up with solution to help people stay connected and have fun. I don't want to choose the serious path to think about how mental health can be hugely improved, but instead focus on how people could have fun together under the current situation.

I found one study saying that a lot of these social gatherings failed to reduce loneliness among 48 percent, and actually increased loneliness among 10 percent of respondents. We often try to use digital tools to solve the current problem, but sometimes it doesn't work the way people anticipated. So I think this will be an interesting topic to tackle, but will require much further research and considerations ...

Week 1 - Ideating

It’s the first week of thesis development, and I mainly did some preliminary research and found to statistics about some really big topics that I’m interested, including: Responsible Consumption, Online Safety for Teens, Plastic Pollution, Media Bias, Mental Health during COVID, and Climate Change.

These are some general ideas and they still needs to be narrowed down further, but I’m really hoping to work on a problem and figure out a solution to create certain social impact. I’m excited that we have a whole year to work on our thesis topic, but at the same time, I also have the fear of not being able to narrow things down to an extent where I could come up with a great solution. For some of the topics that I have in mind, there are already solutions and frameworks built by different organizations, so I’m also a little bit worried about the scope of my project. Hopefully throughout the next few weeks, I’ll gradually narrow things down to a very specific problem where I feel comfortable and confident tackling by myself.