NO FULL TEXT AVAILABLE. Access is restricted indefinitely. ----- The world is currently negotiating several different ideas of sustainability including those of a social, environmental and economical nature. It is largely agreed that western society is presently consuming unsustainably with 20% of the world’s population currently consuming 80% of its resources (UNEP 2002). There is an increasing need for western society to develop sustainable patterns in the consumption and production of goods. This research specifically investigates product sharing as a way of decreasing consumption patterns whilst maintaining the present lifestyle standards.
In response to present day consumption and eco-systems concerns, international research initiatives have been directed towards solutions that leapfrog societies into new economies based on the sustainable use of resources. The most promising of these is Product Service Systems (PSS), solutions that are able to decouple the use of resources from economic growth. Such solutions are seen to be innovative as they have the potential to radicalise socio-technical systems of production and consumption whilst still delivering advanced ideas of wellbeing. In a nutshell, PSS decoupling the use of products from their ownership and achieves sustainability through shared product use (Mont 2003, Tukker 2004).
Product sharing can be seen as a pathway to sustainability by increasing the material efficiency of products (Heiskanen and Jalas 2000, Hockkerts 1999, Manzini and Vezzoli 2002). This is interpreted as more people owning fewer artefacts or people using artefacts more intensively. Product sharing regularly takes place within society and can be seen in well thought-out and commercial versions such as business-to-business equipment leasing, and more domestically as a Laundromat or laundry service. Both of these examples of product sharing could be said to be taking place within a formal or even a designed (facilitated and planned) environment. The sharing of products (clothes, tools, appliances) also regularly occurs informally in an un-designed manner, through friends, family and neighbours. In these instances, the sharing is socially orientated ‘peer-to-peer’ and takes place in what I terming ‘un-designed’ manner.
This research has been concerned with a gap in how PSS research understands product sharing and consumer practice, the relationship between people and things. Believing that PSS research has placed an overemphasis on product functionality, this research has a particular interest in the symbolic or more cultural and meaningful characteristics of goods. By looking at different ideas of clothes swapping, this research offers designers an understanding on how symbolic goods such as clothes are exchanged and shared.
Many PSS investigations, despite focusing on business models, have delivered only low rates of adoption (Hirschl and Scholl 2003). When thinking about this I felt that perhaps the business models of PSS were out of step with the current consumer demands for more modern (collaborative and participatory) forms of consumption. Clothes swaps are examples of a socially organised system, an alternative consumption practice already adopted into daily life. This thesis has investigated the contribution of design in enabling a more structured, or designed version of sharing by specifically looking at how clothes are shared informally and how new designed models of clothes sharing, such as swapping are emerging.
This research explores three different types of clothes swaps, developing a framework that has identified the role of social relations and the nature of cultural practice within each exchange. Furthermore this research has documented the process and activities of clothes swapping to uncover insights into the consumer experience of swapping. In developing and testing these frameworks this research has uncovered an interesting role for design within clothes swapping. This research has found that design has an important role in structuring the system (the process) and the service (the consumer experience) of swapping. Key to is the establishment of; a sense of community, trust, opportunities for the swappers to revalorise goods, and interactions between swappers. These findings are of interest to PSS research and designers, demonstrating opportunities for the possible modernisation of the economic models of PSS.