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Sustainability with meaning - the Superfashion evolution

To achieve wellbeing we decorate our homes with shapes, forms and colors that are auspicious and have meaning for us personally. This all can be applied for fashion we wear as well.

Personally the fashion I design and also wear makes me feel confident that my outfits always work, no matter the occasion, allowing me to invest my mental energy into other matters. The way I do it is to design fashion with meaning.

I offer my clients options of how to tell their own story and to enhance their aspiration on personal growth: Nature connection, Nordic Lifestyle, Kalevala, Folklore, Female empowerment, Shamanic North, Spirituality, Grail codes, Light language.. The modern clientele is multitude of meanings. But one thing is common: we like to express ourselves, who we are, to be able connect with others. To ”turn up as ourselves” anywhere!

The Meanings we wear

The influence of what we wear not only affects how our surrounding sees us, but also our perceptions of others around us. And what we surround ourselves with, eventually shapes us.

Psychologists call it the systematic influence that our clothes have over cognitive processes when we physically embody their symbolisms by simply wearing them.

If we dress cheap looking or as if we don´t care of ourselves, our lives are poor. If we dress up in black and dark shades, our life may be gloomy. If we dress up in colors, our lives may turn up more colorful.

The clothes we wear influence our interactions with others, how we perceive ourselves and even how we think and behave. Fashion can be used to empower the self and reclaim self-worth.

Objects, including clothing items, have both private and public meanings. Public meanings are socially constructed by the history and culture surrounding a garment, uniforms being one of the more obvious examples. Private meanings, on the other hand, are often unique to the wearer only. This is especially the case with those items of clothing to which we are particularly attached. A recent study revealed that participants believed that their favourite garments had been imbued with a unique essence, which the researchers called “symbolic resonance”. By wearing these garments, this symbolic resonance was embodied and profoundly affected the wearer by immediately instilling emotional security, comfort and strength.

Out of The Ideal Female box

It is not to dress up in latest trends or luxury brands - that is an outside influence - but to own your beauty, our true authentic self.

While our appreciation of beauty is largely positive, the Western image of feminine beauty is narrow, reducing women to a singular idea of what it means to be attractive. This belief is so pervasive that it is internalised as the definitive marker by which we all compare.

In order to disenfranchise the beauty ideal, I believe that we need to expand the spectrum of what it means to be beautiful, while also putting less emphasis on physical beauty as a determination of our worth.

Liberating ”Niche” fashions

In response, there has been a surge of marginal groups that cater to these “niche” segments. The ideal world in fashion, however, is still one where ageless, small women or plus-size women do not exist.

By helping fashion brands to better understand and influence this meaning in order to positively affect behaviour towards clothes, psychology can assist fashion in solving some of the most pressing issues currently faced by the industry.

Sustainability with meaning - the fashion revolution

In today’s “throwaway” culture, simply investing in the design of longer lasting products by means of better technology, new production methods and newly invented materials may not be enough. Instead, researchers have proposed that to address issues of sustainability in fashion, we have to better understand human behaviour in relation to the clothes they own and the meaning these clothes hold to the wearer. The current debate around sustainability in fashion is primarily focused on how to improve our technology and processes in such a way that we can produce products that leave a smaller ecological imprint. Research around household goods, however, has argued that in today’s throwaway culture, this will only lead to landfills brimming with sustainable waste.

Photo: Mai Niemi lecture at FIT, New York

The new norms of fashion based on attachment

This impact on the wearer’s psychological state points to the fact that the purpose of most clothing transcends its utilitarian function. Unlike fashionable clothes, garments that we have a special attachment to, are unique, as they do not lose this power over our psyche once the initial excitement of their newness has worn off. Attachment items are removed from the norms of fashion. We do not seem to care, whether the item prescribes to the current modus operandi of fashionable dress. Its value is anchored in our strong emotions felt towards it rather than its monetary worth. While the item is factually worthless in the eyes of others, it has become priceless to us. This can take on such extreme forms that garments that are worn out to the point of almost falling apart are still kept safely in our wardrobes. Their value is in their mere existence.

By focusing on innovation, craftsmanship, and great design for all, there is tremendous potential for fashion to empower and celebrate the beauty in our differences.

Fashion designer Mai Niemi

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