You are invited to contribute your own fictional fashion World to the Fashion Fictions project.
This guide will help you to generate, develop and submit a 100-word outline of an alternative fashion World.
You can use the guide individually, collaboratively or in a workshop setting.
Identify one specific issue relating to our real-world fashion system that frustrates you. Consider how this issue could be reversed to create a positive vision. Alternatively, work directly with a focused idea for a positive fictional fashion system.
Develop your core idea – the distinctive essence of your parallel World – by thinking in detail about the ‘what if’ question driving your fiction.
Generate a ‘backstory’ for the World: an explanation for why its fashion system developed differently to the system in our own world. Identify an event in history – genuine or invented – that caused the fictional World to split from our world.
Flesh out the idea and capture it in a 100-word fiction. Use the first 50 words to describe the core idea and the backstory. Use the second 50 words to describe the everyday fashion practices in your World and key aspects of its fashion culture.
Submit your fiction to the project.
By creating a fictional fashion World, you’re contributing to Stage 1 of the Fashion Fictions project. All fictions submitted will be added to the Worlds page and made available for use in subsequent Stage 2 workshops and Stage 3 ‘everyday dress’ projects.
Imagining fictional fashion cultures and systems, presented via 100-word written sketches describing each World.
Fleshing out the Stage 1 Worlds, often working collaboratively to create visual and material prototypes.
Enacting and experiencing the prototyped Worlds via intensive and extended ‘everyday dress’ projects.
As part of the project, submitted fictions may be adapted, remixed, combined with others or otherwise altered – whether to create a new 100-word outline or by groups building on the fiction in future.
With that in mind, all contributors are required to agree to a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International licence being applied to their submission. This will allow others to share and adapt the work in any medium and for any purpose, providing that they credit the original creators (i.e. you) and share their material using the same Creative Commons licence.
Before you start, it’s a good idea to have a browse through some of the Worlds that have already been written.
Click on one of the Worlds below, and you’ll see that each one includes the 100-word outline, along with information on the ‘what if’ question underpinning the fiction, the issue in our own world that it addresses, and any sources of inspiration.
A note about ‘fashion’
The word ‘fashion’ has many potential interpretations, and for many people it will bring to mind catwalks, upmarket stores and aspirational lifestyles. However, this project uses a much more inclusive interpretation of the term, encompassing pretty much every contemporary experience of wearing clothes (which, of course, has social and emotional, as well as practical, functions).
So: if the f-word is tripping you up, feel free to think in terms of clothes-wearing instead.
2. Rules of the game
To play Fashion Fictions, it’s important to know the rules of the game – which we could also think of as parameters for the Worlds we’re imagining.
The first rule is that in Fashion Fictions we’re imagining contemporary realities in parallel worlds, rather than futures in our own world.
So: in your fictional World, it is 2021. The World has much in common with our own, but some significant differences – these differences are the focus of your fiction. The World split from our own at some point in history, when a key event caused it to develop along a different trajectory.
A good way to keep this rule in mind is to imagine that you’re writing a concise description of your World for a 2021 guidebook aimed at inter-world travellers.
Effectively, we’re trying to come up with a kind of ‘counterfactual’: a story that imagines what would have happened if a historical event had happened differently.
Here’s a (non-fashion-focused) example of counterfactual fiction:
In the world described by Michael Chabon in The Yiddish Policemen’s Union, the USA implemented a real-life 1940 proposal to resettle European Jews in Sitka, Alaska, creating a Yiddish-speaking metropolis.
The second rule is that the Worlds we create should be positive and enticing, in terms of individual satisfaction, social justice and sustainability.
This can be tricky to embrace, as counterfactual fiction is often rather dystopian! It might be useful to take inspiration from solarpunk – which envisions sustainable civilisations – and speculative fiction based on social justice movements.
There are three further rules – your fiction should aim to:
- Focus attention on use and associated practices such as loaning and sharing, rather than production and conventional consumption
- Be physically possible (no magic, aliens, time travel or speculative technologies that aren’t viable in the here-and-now)
- Think beyond what happens, or even feels plausible (to you), today
3. Get started
To start your fiction you’re going to come up with the core idea and backstory, each of which is made up from two elements:
the distinctive essence of the parallel world that you’re imagining
the specific proposition driving your fiction
the location and scale of the ‘what if’: local or global, mainstream or niche
an explanation for why and when the World split from our own
the event that caused the fictional World to split from our own
when the juncture took place: could be months, years or centuries ago
The interactive Fashion Fictions generator shows how these elements are combined. The generator has two sentences with four fields shown in blue, which change when you click on them. These four fields relate to the four elements shown above.
You’ll play with the generator itself in a moment – but first, move the slider on the image below to see how the fields relate to the elements.
Now, go to the generator and click on each of the blue text fields to get a sense of possible ‘what ifs’, contexts, junctures and timings:
4. Generate your World
It’s time to start coming up with your idea. There are two ways of doing this:
- Route A: use the generator – explore the generator options to find an engaging combination
- Route B: create your own – identify a specific issue or positive idea and build on it to come up with your own ‘what if’
Go to the relevant section below for appropriate guidance.
Route A: use the generator
Use the generator to explore possible ideas, playing around until you find a combination that intrigues and excites you. (With twelve options in each field, there are over 20,000 possible combinations!)
When you’ve settled on a good combination, start to develop it by adding detail to the skeleton offered by the generator. For example, if you were working with the combination shown in the image slider above you would need to develop it by asking the following questions:
- In World X, secondhand clothes are highly valued – but how is this manifested in terms of specific practices, services or systems?
- in one forward-looking nation – which one?
- This culture can be traced back to the influence of a charismatic leader in 1982 – which leader? Is this a real person, or someone that you invent? What did they do to initiate this culture? How did it develop?
There are many possible answers to these questions – it’s up to you, as the author (or god, if you like) of this World to decide on the answers that work for you. See the next section – Tips – for further guidance.
Route B: create your own
Start by identifying an issue relating to our own fashion system that frustrates you. It might relate to the environmental impacts of the fashion industry or social factors such as fashion’s lack of inclusivity. Next, consider how this issue could be reversed, or flipped on its head, to create a positive idea.
Alternatively, you might go straight to a positive idea for a satisfying, socially just and sustainable fashion system.
There are some examples in the table below, but it is not an exhaustive list! Please feel free to identify your own issue or idea to use as the basis for your fiction.
|Rapid consumption of clothing||>||Limited/zero consumption of clothing|
|Homogenous fashion culture||>||Localised fashion cultures|
|Huge personal wardrobes||>||Limited personal wardrobes, or systems for sharing wardrobes|
|Fashion’s lack of inclusivity||>||Inclusive fashion|
|Clothes quickly outmoded||>||Classic/uniform styles|
|Disposal of damaged/stained clothes||>||Widespread mending practices, or celebration of damage/stains|
|Global North fashion centres||>||Indigenous / global South fashion centres|
|Secondhand clothes rejected||>||Secondhand clothes normal or appealing|
|Lack of making skills||>||Widespread making skills|
|Globalised production||>||Local production, or close relationships with producers|
If you’d like some background reading to inform a positive idea, these recently published reports (available as free downloads) are a good place to start:
Earth Logic: Fashion Research Action Plan by Kate Fletcher and Mathilda Tham presents a radical vision for fashion. Three key ideas within the plan, described on pages 43–55, provide valuable starting points for dreaming up new Fashion Fictions:
- less calls us to imagine living with fewer goods and materials
- local prompts us to think about fashion that is rooted in and adapted to its local environment
- plural challenges us to think up new centres for making fashion with space for a diversity of voices
A Societal Transformation Scenario for Staying Below 1.5°C, published by Heinrich Böll Stiftung and Konzeptwerk Neue Ökonomie, outlines the climate effects of limiting global production and consumptions and envisions an accompanying societal transformation.
The infographic on pages 70-71 summarises proposed changes across various aspects of society – many of which could radically reshape the fashion system, from measures to limit advertising to widespread maker spaces and time for slowness.
When you’ve settled on your positive idea, you need to focus in and become more specific to create the ‘what if’ for your World.
For example, if you had identified systems for sharing wardrobes as your positive idea, you would need to come up with a specific system to base your fiction on – whether one wardrobe per town (in the form of a massive clothing library), one wardrobe per family, some kind of rotation system (with bundles of clothes passing from one person to the next) … or something else that you might dream up!
At the same time, think about the context for this ‘what if’: is the system global or localised? Is it mainstream or niche? Go back to the generator and click through the options offered in the second blue text field to get some ideas. As the author (or god, if you like) of the World, decide what works for you.
The next section – Tips – provides further guidance.
Next, develop a backstory, identifying a juncture that caused your fictional World to split from our own. This could be a grassroots uprising, a new government policy or the emergence of an influential leader; it could be a crisis or geopolitical shift, or even an event that would have seemed irrelevant at the time.
Think, too, about the timing of this juncture, which is completely up to you and could be months, years, decades or centuries ago. When choosing, think about how long you want the core idea to have been running: is it new and unfamiliar, or established and unquestioned?
Browsing the junctures timeline, which shows the events that led to the creation of a selection of the Worlds submitted so far, might help you to find inspiration:
Alternatively, you could go back to the generator and click through the options in the third and fourth blue text fields to explore possibilities – and you might find the Tips section below useful.
Take inspiration: from other spheres
When generating your ‘what if’, it can be useful to transpose ideas from other spheres of life.
For example: what would happen if we treated clothes like our houses, our bodies or our friends?
Or: what if we learned to live with our clothes like we learn to read, to cook or to drive?
… from history and outside the mainstream
You could also take inspiration from historical fashion cultures: perhaps imagining that a past system has continued to the present day, or relocating a system from the past to the present.
And of course our contemporary world isn’t homogenous. If you are familiar with a fashion culture that hasn’t been subsumed by the globalised mainstream, this could offer valuable inspiration for your fiction – with due caution in terms of cultural appropriation if this culture is not your own.
… or from individual practices
Even in places dominated by a globalised fashion system, individual non-commercial practices such as sharing, mending and keeping persist.
These resourceful practices – examples of which are collected in Kate Fletcher’s wonderful Local Wisdom project and the related Craft of Use book – offer another source of inspiration. What would such practices look like if multiplied into the mainstream?
Fashion Fictions is a playful project, using creativity and humour to explore topics that often feel fixed and ‘heavy’.
So, try to have fun as you invent your World – it’s fine to be a bit silly!
Amplify the idea
Don’t forget the fifth Fashion Fictions rule: to think beyond what feels plausible (to you), today.
You might find that you need to amplify your initial idea by making it more radical, bigger in scale or more mainstream.
Common problems: feeling draconian
Sometimes, people developing fictions based on reduced consumption worry that their World is feeling rather negative.
In this situation, it might help to frame the system either as something that people choose to participate in, or something that’s been established for so long that it feels natural to the inhabitants of your World.
… rewriting history
The further back in time you place your juncture, the more history you need to rewrite.
For some this might feel liberating, but if reimagining modernity, the Industrial Revolution or even human civilisation feels a bit daunting, it might be a good idea to slide your juncture nearer to the present day, where the scope for divergence from our own World is narrower.
… shifting time
World-writers occasionally wish to imagine the fashion system that emerges after a contemporary crisis, such as the Covid pandemic.
In order to avoid breaking the ‘parallel presents’ rule, a good strategy is to shift your selected crisis earlier in time. For example, you might identify a global pandemic in 2010 as the juncture that initiated your imagined World.
6. Develop and write
In this section, you’re going to develop your idea and write the fiction – so grab a pen and paper, or digital equivalent.
Let’s start by capturing the important aspects of the elements you’ve decided on, to create the first half of the fiction.
Write around 50 words to communicate:
- the core idea of your World (the ‘what if’ and context)
- the juncture that led to its development: what and when
- what happened between then and now
If it would help to look at an example, go back to the Introduction and look at one of the Worlds linked there.
Well done! You might want to take a little break before the final steps.
Now it’s time to flesh out the idea.
Take some time to think about the World you’ve outlined. What happens there? What’s the experience of the everyday wearer? What are the impacts of the core idea in terms of practices, norms and values? As before, you’re the author of this World: there will be many possibilities, and it’s up to you to decide what feels right.
When you’re ready, record your thinking in the second half of the fiction.
Write 50 words to communicate:
- the everyday fashion practices in your World
- important aspects of its fashion culture
You probably won’t be able to fit in all of the aspects of your World that you’ve imagined. Think carefully about what is most important to communicate to the people reading or building on your fiction.
Put your two 50-word sections together to form your complete fiction. Check that it’s a maximum of 100 words in length, and make sure that you’ve captured the most important aspects of your World.
Finally, make a note of the additional bits of information that the submission form asks for:
- ‘What if’ – a brief summary of the proposition driving your fiction
- Issue – the issue in our own world that your fiction is targeting
- Inspiration – any sources of inspiration that you have drawn on in developing your fiction
Congratulations – you’ve completed your Fashion Fiction!
When you’re ready, click the button below to submit your fiction to the project:
Feedback on this guide is welcome: please email Amy
Want another go? Feel free – you are very welcome to submit as many fictions as you like!
Want to share or adapt this guide?
Both this guide and the Fashion Fictions generator are published under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International licence which allows you to share and adapt them in any medium and for any purpose, providing that you credit the author (Amy Twigger Holroyd) and apply the same Creative Commons licence to whatever you create.