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Local Wisdom

Kate Fletcher’s Local Wisdom project explores the ‘craft’ of using garments in resourceful and satisfying ways. It employs these creative actions and ideas, which rarely make it onto catwalks or business agendas, as potential agents of change in tackling some of the problems we face as a global community.

The findings have now been published in the book, Craft of Use; Post-Growth Fashion. Here Kate Fletcher provides a broad imagining of sustainability in fashion that gives attention to tending and wearing garments; that favours their use as much as their creation. The Craft of Use presents a changed social narrative for fashion, born out of ideas of satisfaction and interdependence, of action, knowledge and human agency, that glimpses fashion post-growth.

Available to order through the publisher, Routledge.

The craft of use is built on the research conducted through the Local Wisdom project, covering 5 years and over 400 stories of ‘use’. Interviews and photo shoots involving volunteer members of the public to have been used to capture the stories, habits and practices of how we use garments provide alternative views on fashion provision and expression. Unlike the vast majority of fashion messaging surrounding us, these use practices privilege everyday lived experience and typically need little money or materials to make them happen; but instead tap into an abundance of experience, ingenuity and freethinking. This challenges the fashion industry’s ever-increasing dependency on dwindling resources and explores solutions that promote process over purchase.

The project has now evolved to engage an international network of partners in the UK, USA, Canada, Denmark, Australia and New Zealand. Each partner aims to amplify the ‘craft of use’ through new design processes, business models and approaches to user engagement with their clothes.

Local Wisdom is generously funded by the Leverhulme Trust.


Image by Fiona Bailey

Dr Kate Fletcher initiates Local Wisdom. The first community photo shoot takes place in Totnes, Devon, a pioneering transition town, closely followed by a second shoot held in Bolllington, Cheshire, in association with the Three Shires Textile Festival.

The Local Wisdom website launches to begin a dialogue around emerging practices, themes and patterns of behaviour identified through the project.

From the beginning these practices highlight actions and ideas often overlooked in more commercial engagements with sustainability; they demonstrate that in fashion sustainable opportunities can flow not only from professional designers and production, but also from the choices all of us make, as users of clothes. The project offers a human scale and intimacy to sustainability ideas, recognising that a change to a seam or wearing a garment as part of an alternative ethic are eminently do-able activities and within the reach and influence of us all.


Images by Paul Allister

The year kicked off with a third Local Wisdom photo shoot held as part of Shift at London’s Southbank Centre, an event organized by the pioneering organistion Cape Farewell. Local Wisdom also ventures in to Europe for the first time with a photo shoot held in Berlin supported by the British Council.

‘Garments are sold to us as products, yet we live them as a process.’

Fashion design has a strong emphasis on surface and the provision of instant solutions. It is created, presented and sold for the imaginary moment before time and everyday use enter and change the piece. But while garments may be sold as a product, they are lived as a process. Adaptive use is the destiny of many garments – though rarely is the subject taught in design schools. The craft of use introduces the dimensions of time, use and user knowledge and skills into understanding of a garment. For things need tending no less than creating. The craft of use explores fashion as the product of complex, dynamic relationships evolving over time.


Image by Kerry Dean

Image by Jeremy Calhoun

Image by Paige Green

A photo shoot is held in Westminster Hall, alongside a meeting of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Sustainability and Ethics in Fashion for which CSF provides the secretariat.  Local Wisdom makes a first foray in to America with a photo shoot in California as part of the Craft Forward Symposium.

‘Post-growth economics’

Tying in with the discourse surrounding new perspectives on ‘craft’ and material creation, this project seeks to help foster economic systems which develop qualitatively without increasing in quantitative scale; that is to increase value, satisfaction and potential without growing the resources consumed. Consumerism and economic growth are naturalised within current ideas of fashion production and consumption but their dependency on ever increasing resource consumption is at odds with the finite nature of the planet

Local Wisdom uncovers an array of practices for resourceful, creative and satisfying experience of fashion, offering the craft of use as images and stories which offer a pragmatic and directly applicable set of actions to engage how we can create and experience fashion beyond growth.


Image by Fiona Bailey

A Local Wisdom photo shoot takes place in Dublin as part of Better Fashion Week and in Oslo in conjunction with the Product Life Extension Conference organised by SIFO. Photographer: Fiona Bailey.

The Leverhulme Trust confirmed funding for an expansion of the project over a two year period.  Seven academic partners from three continents agree to take part in an in depth exploration of the principles and practices established through the project to date. These partners are all based in regions where high fashion consumption is the norm.

‘Paced consumption & commitment strategies for the future’

Affluence has delivered important increases in well-being; but evidence suggests that the ever increasing flow of new rewards can undermine our capacity to enjoy them. The challenge is to pace consumption rather than maximise it.

The project is expanded so that design students from seven regions can explore and propose ways in which to amplify and sustain the practical knowledge that has been gathered by the project to date.

In 2012 the network activity kicks off in San Francisco with the California College of the Art co-ordinating a photo shoot and initiating design work with students and staff. Two further partners co-ordinate photo shoots and begin design work later in the year, Kolding School of Design in Denmark and London College of Fashion.


Image by Namkyu Chun

The Craft of Use website was launched communicating the knowledge, skills, themes, strategies and practices that have been identified and developed through Local Wisdom.  The final four network partners, Emily Carr University of Art + Design, Parsons School of Design, Massey University and RMIT, held photo shoots in their respective cites and undertook related design projects with students.

Since 2009, over 400 examples of the ‘craft of use’ have been collected across three continents. From this data over 80 design projects have been undertaken by network partners. The resulting work is currently being brought together in preparation for the Craft of Use Symposium to be held in London in March 2014. The event will mark two years of research and design activity, instigating the first public dialogue around the craft of use in fashion as a route to enhanced fashion experiences without increased consumption.

Craft of Use