Emma Rigby

Design and the laundry: changing behaviour and the rhythm of consumption

London College of Fashion

Garment laundry is a mundane, habitual and routinised social practice. At the same time, it is a private act of domestic resource consumption, annually using huge amounts of energy, water and chemicals through the continual use of washing machines, detergents, tumble dryers and irons. The strain this has on the environment is significant and arises, particularly, from the burning of fossil fuels and CO2 emissions generated by the electricity needed to heat the water and air in washing machines and tumble dryers. For most garments, laundry is the most resource-consuming stage in their life and can be linked to other major environmental problems including air and water pollution and biodiversity loss (Defra, 2009). As such, over sixty per cent of energy consumption in the lifecycle of a pair of jeans accumulates directly from their laundering (Defra, 2009), and in the case of a cotton t-shirt, this jumps to almost eighty per cent (Hansen, et al. 2007). 

This research project looks at possibilities to reduce the frequency, volume and impact of garment laundering through design tactics. It uses design thinking as a holistic and user-centred approach to gain new insights into how design can encourage pro-environmental behaviour. The first research phase encompassed sixteen year long diary studies on eight specific garment types. The second research phase involves a series of shorter laundry studies, which will feed back into practical realisations for a design strategy. The research tradition for this project is critical enquiry, and draws on elements of social theory. In particular, practice theory is employed to understand motivators for pro-environmental behaviour and is used as the theoretical setting for the complete doctoral investigation. The methodology also integrates elements of Action Research and Design Practice.  


Professor Sandy Black

Professor Kate Fletcher