The Life and Death of Clothes: the Case of Antiform

Earlier this year, I interviewed 14 Antiform customers as part of my PhD research at the University of Brighton. My aim to find out ways in which clothing can be designed so that we want to wear them for longer. This is important, because in a government-funded report by WRAP (2012), it was found that extending the active life of garments can offer the biggest savings overall in carbon, water and waste footprints (even when compared with best practices in production and fibre choice, laundry and re-use and recycling!). And this is absolutely essential, considering the damage the fashion industry is causing to our planet.


We wanted to find out: which items do Antiform customers hang onto the longest? And why? Antiform garments are designed to appeal to their customers season after season – but what happens in reality? These insights will not only help Antiform create clothes that are used for longer but also help other designers and companies in doing so! So a HUGE thank you for those of you who have sacrificed their precious time to share your clothing stories with me. This can help challenge our throwaway culture in fashion and find new, innovative solutions.


So just who are the people who have taken part and what can we learn from them?

All 14 participants were female and between 26 and 40 years of age. Here the similarities end. They were based across the country: London, Manchester, Sheffield, Halifax and Cardiff. About half were involved in fashion as retailers, designers, managers, academics or stylists; the rest were made up of an artist, a teacher, a nutritional therapist, a librarian, an accountant and a doctor. Quite a spread of professions then!


Why Antiform? 

I wanted to know what it was people particularly liked about Antiform. Clearly, their clever designs and colourful prints were the main draw. Two participants only found out that Antiform uses locally sourced waste fabrics during a browse around the Here Today Here Tomorrow shop. Most participants, however, know Antiform well and put their purchase down to a combination of the ethos, ethics and aesthetics of Antiform, describing them as fun, timeless, graphic, bold and versatile. Quality is important, too: clothes made here in the UK from such high-end materials would normally be unaffordable. Also, the small production runs mean customers can set themselves apart from the crowd with unique statement pieces. One interviewee was so impressed with Antiform’s creative use of waste fabrics that it inspired her to salvage donated wedding dresses to make her own.

“It’s a bit Mighty Boosh. I imagine it’s something you’d wear at a festival. It’s definitely something you put on if you’re expecting to have fun.”

Continuity vs change

In an interview, Antiform owner Lizzie had previously expressed her frustration with the speed of fashion cycles: garments, unlike food, don’t go off after all. That is why Antiform are selling slowly evolving garments, rather than reinventing the wheel every season. But how do Antiform customers feel about this? Indeed, the interviewees like the fact that most garments’ shapes aren’t  constantly changing. They find it reassuring to be able to find the same styles year after year, while new colours and fabrics provide variety. Some participants were so happy to have found something that flatters their body shape and would want to own the same garment in a range of colours. However, a few people thought there could be a slightly wider variation of styles or accessories available.

“I like the idea of the slowly evolving design, so it’s definitely something that I would come back to buy again. It’s reassuring that you know a garment design is flattering and is always going to be available.”
Shop Jumpers

Made to last?

The average garment is on average 2 years and 3 months before it is thrown away. The cherished Antiform garments owned by participants were between 1 day and 4 years old, with an average age of about 2 years – and many more to come. Many garments had undergone phases of intense use and while most pieces are still in good nick, wear and tear has occurred in some. This includes fraying at the shoulder seam, moth holes and the unravelling of the hems on a few pairs of leggings. On the upside, these faults are not typically a reason for discarding! Most participants plan to mend or alter their garments or have them fixed professionally – clothing often spends some time in a ‘mending mountain’ first though.

“I once sewed a button on a coat and it ruined the whole coat. Even though I’m an emergency room doctor and I sew people up for a living, I’m too scared of material.”
Shop Dresses

Does it still fit?

Research shows that the reason a third of the clothing in our wardrobe remains there for at least a year is because it does not fit or no longer fits. Indeed, about half of the participants fluctuate between dress sizes – something Antiform garments accommodate through their loose cuts and stretch fabrics. Antiform garments were described as comfortable, flattering and easy to wear by most interviewees. The skirt on the folk dress, however, is seen as a little revealing by one participant and is therefore only worn on ‘small bottom, flat stomach days’. For a petite wearer, the top on the dress is also slightly too long – if only she had known about Antiform’s custom sizing at no extra cost!

“It doesn’t dig in at all and I can eat as many cookies as I want! It fits really snuggly actually, it holds everything in slightly, which is quite nice.”
Shop Panel Pencil Skirt

So I’ve discussed just a few of the many, many insights gained from the in-depth interviews. It showed that Antiform not only appeals to those seeking out a sustainable fashion brand but has drawn in high-street shoppers and inspired them with exciting alternatives to mainstream fashion. Custom sizing provides an inclusive offering, while limited runs and bespoke designs create a sense of uniqueness. Despite the masses of clothing available, many participants said they found it  difficult to come across clothes that fit properly – therefore, once they found a flattering style (such as the box jumper), customers appreciated its availability throughout the years. I was also delighted to hear that the conversations during this study were of benefit to the interviewees, allowing them to become aware of their own clothing habits. All in all, these insights will help us build a set of design strategies to support designers create clothes that will be worn and loved for longer.

It has been an absolute pleasure talking with you interesting people. If you’re interested in keeping up to date with the project or fancy being involved in any future studies or workshops, drop me a line and I’ll keep you in the loop.

I can’t say it enough to my wonderful participants:  * THANK YOU! * It’s been truly enlightening.

~ Anja Crabb


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