Convertible clothing market

type - big idea
Big Idea
category - digital
category - sustainability
sector - fashion
As the sustainable fashion landscape evolves, brands are experimenting with long-lasting garments that adapt, change or grow with the wearer

As they respond to growing demand for sustainable fashion options, brands are innovating with modifiable clothes that promote garment longevity without sacrificing on quality or design.

The need for such innovation is more apparent than ever. Despite rallying calls for environmental action, fast fashion retailers continue to sell at an unsustainable pace, while consumers continue to buy new items. Research by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation finds that while clothing production continues to increase – it has more than doubled in the past 15 years – the average number of times a garment is worn has decreased by 36%.

To combat this, designers are courting customers with adaptable fashion – from easy material add-ons that alter styles to tech-enhanced outfits that augment in real time.

Malleable materials

In a bid to counter perpetual market demand for new garments and collections, a number of fashion brands are exploring how materials can transform garments into multi-use clothing that adapts to different scenarios or needs.

One brand offering such multi-tasking garments is Stella McCartney. Its lingerie and swimwear hybrid collection, known as Stellawear, features bodysuits, briefs and bandeau tops that can be worn as underwear or for swimming. Particular design and aesthetic considerations ensure that Stellawear appeals to people wearing the pieces for different circumstances. ‘Because they are so versatile, we hope to inspire people to buy less and wear them more, which is much kinder to the planet,’ explains Stella McCartney. Produced by Italian manufacturer ISA, the garments are also made using recycled materials.

Elsewhere, Petit Pli is experimenting with clothing that grows with the wearer. Using mono-fibre polyester, the fabric's pleated nature allows it to adapt to changing body shapes or height. Having previously designed clothing for children, the brand is expanding into adultwear with a focus on pregnant women. Ryan Mario Yasin, founder and CEO of Petit Pli, explains: ‘After pregnancy, the fabric contracts again, retaining its original shape.’

For the wider fashion sector, such malleable materials are giving brands room to experiment with fabrics as a route to increasing garment longevity. This is also giving rise to the revival of nostalgic textiles such as popcorn fabric, which easily adapts to a range of body shapes.

Published by:

13 December 2021

Author: Abi Buller and Savannah Scott

Image: Same Same but Different by Sofia Ilmonen


Left: Petit Pli. Right: Second Skins by Malou Beemer in collaboration with Re-FREAM.

Adaptable looks

As consumer attitudes to repair are having a positive impact on the tech sector, fashion is beginning to follow suit with design-led pieces that use buttons and stitching for endlessly adaptable and repairable pieces.

Tapping into the rise in DIY Dressing, Scottish brand Almaborealis is inviting children to get involved in making their own clothes, using simple knitting techniques. Its Puzzleware collection includes a kit to build a beanie hat, and a ‘make your own’ toolkit that encourages children to be imaginative with their clothing designs. Through this product line, Almaborealis is celebrating traditional craft skills, while also offering children an understanding in clothing care, repair and re-use. It also allows children to easily change their clothes in line with their aesthetic preferences.

Taking a high-end approach to adaptable fashion is independent designer Sofia Ilmonen. Her recent collection, Same Same but Different, features a modular design concept that allows garments to be endlessly reconstructed, changing their size or style, or repaired. Each design, whether a dress or a top, is cleverly constructed using a series of fabric squares which can be added or removed through a simple button and loop mechanism.

Having recently been awarded the inaugural Mercedes-Benz Sustainability Prize, Ilmonen's designs have been described as: 'A really unique approach that embeds ideas of circularity, longevity, regeneration, inclusivity in terms of sizing, a technical understanding of the issues around textile waste, and a collection that is repairable, and designed to last a lifetime and beyond.

Future-fit fabrics

As we look to the future, clothing will convert and adapt beyond malleable materials and repair solutions. Soon, it will integrate technology that enables real-time transformations in clothing colour and patterns.

‘Providing children with an activity that supports life-long learning, as well as problem-solving skills, is another aspect of sustainability’
Maija Nygren, founder, Almaborealis

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