Fashion: A Problem to Be Solved

Embroidery & print design by Alyson Toone

Embroidery & print design by Alyson Toone

Believe it or not, fashion can solve problems. Worldwide, the apparel industry is a $1.3 trillion business. Literally everyone wears clothes. All of those people have needs and problems to be solved. Those needs differ based on socioeconomic factors, different abilities, geographical location, age, gender, ethnicity and lifestyle. It goes beyond just designing pretty things for status. This is about function and that is key to making apparel relevant.

Design thinking is often included in STEM or STEAM discussions. Unfortunately female dominated industries are often left out of the conversation. Fashion and surface design are female-oriented design disciplines that still require much of the same sort of thinking. In other words, fashion and surface design are seen as decoration rather than solving problems. But those industries can solve problems beautifully if we just frame those jobs differently.

What problems are present in fashion right now?


People of specific groups may need clothing to meet their lifestyle. From clothing for children with sensory sensitivity to clothing for gender fluid folks, there are needs to be met. People of color are often overlooked by traditional retailers. Tall people are often given limited choices. Short people especially adult little people are not included in the clothing world. Neither are people in wheelchairs. And the most ignored group of all are plus folks sized folks who make up a significant population of the western world. You can find a group of people who will be delighted that you cater to them. I’m sure that trans-men who haven’t undergone a mastectomy would love to have a more comfortable chest binder. Honestly as a women with thick thighs who loves dresses, I was excited to find brands like Undersummers who solved an everyday problem like chub rub without uncomfortable shapewear. By being included, it made me love my body and self even more.

Climate Change

Climate change sucks. We hear about it everyday in the news. The apparel industry contributes to much of the climate change issues. Of course finding sustainable production techniques, producing less and wearing things longer will help the cause. At this point, climate change is a fact. One thing to consider is how to make clothing for crazy weather. Clothing has been our first defense from the elements since our ancient ancestors. Maybe its flame retardant clothing for people living in areas prone to wild fire. Or clothing that is made for weather that changes drastically in one day. Or rubber boots that become flotation devices for flood prone areas.

Labor Issues

We all know about sweatshops and labor issues in countries like China. We live in a global market which means lower wages across the board for workers. So economists say… You can solve this problem with paying higher wages to workers who are hopefully local. One way to be able to offer higher wages is to employ well trained people rather than devalued, interchangeable workers. Investing in employees will ensures a better, quality product. Employing people in your local community can change your local community for the better. Offering healthcare, childcare and food are ways to make things easier for your employee. There was a company that focused on making apparel sewing jobs with childcare for mothers in Lowell, MA, a poverty-stricken area. Labor is not just about your bottom line, it is also about your local and global community.

There are many more problems to be solved by fashion. You can do this. Start looking for real world issues to apply your talent to.