Activating knowledge and empowering clothing communities with open source fashion

Obra Gris

Oscar Ruiz Schmidt is originally from Costa Rica and studying in a master of Fashion Design at the Kunsthochschule Weißensee in Berlin. Together with his partner Ingrid Cordero, created Obra Gris, a clothing label (and a blog) with a metaphoric Spanish name referring to something in construction or in progress.

He wrote to Openwear to exchange some views on the topic of Open Source in Fashion to be inserted in his 35-pages essay:

Having recently studied in Europe with all it’s facilities, and returning to my country, where materials are scarce, there is no fashion school and local design initiatives are uprising without enough educational support,
I’m trying to find a solution to activate all this knowledge and empower communities to develop clothing competence since my recent research in the field has broadened my spectrum. The following questions arise.

oscar ruiz schmidt

I answered as co-founder of Openwear but also as one of the creators of Serpica Naro back in 2005.

Oscar Ruiz Schimdt: From where I stand geographically, one of the problems I see is that while access to the information is there, unsufficient education, language barriers, material resources, even being able to print information or patterns is difficult. While I see an advance in being able to access the information, what do I do with it if the infrastructure does not allow for me to put it into practice? Shouldn’t open source information be translated
to reach a larger audience?

Zoe Romano – Information has become an abundant resource while infrastructures for new models are mostly all to be built. We are in a transition era in which a lot of experimentation is going on. We shouldn’t be afraid to start with precarious infrastructures, and that’s why it becomes really important collaboration and sharing: people and ideas are the main ingredients to cook new recipes.

ORS: Do you think that designers resign to authorship by making their work methodology open?

ZR – That’s one of the main thing we need to clarify: open-source doesn’t mean to resign authorship.
It’s more about opening up the codes to creating collaboration. The more you involve people transparently in a process the clearer it becomes who started the process, who’s collaborating and who’s doing what. Exactly the opposite of what happens in the fashion system where is functional to have a single entity getting all the attention, being it the brand or the fashion designer, while hiding the complex work behind each product and the various skills behind innovation (that is always a collective process). We are finally realizing that open innovation is able to revitalize stale innovation processes happening in established enterprises.

ORS: If a designer places all of his methods online, can he still make a living from selling his clothes?

ZR – Actually, in the last 20 years most of the small-scale designers have been having problems in make a living from selling their clothes even wothout sharing a single thing. The market has become too polarized, big brand conglomerates and fast fashion take it all. At Openwear we believe that networking could be a possible solution. We are experimenting a networking based on sharing and collaboration, and also on the creation of a consistent brand expressing the framework in which many small firms and individuals produce value and can benefit from an economy of reputation.

ORS: If clothing competence is developed to the extent where everybody starts sewing, will the fashion business die?

ZR – Joe Kraus, founder of Excite and partner at Google Venture said: “The 20th- century mass-production world was about dozens of markets of millions of people. The 21st century is all about millions of markets of dozens of people”, so as home-cooking is not killing restaurants and home-taping didn’t kill the music industry (but p2p is forcing it to change its business model), home-sewing won’t kill the fashion business but it is very likely to go through changes. We shouldn’t also forget that we live in a world facing the problem of sustainability and goods won’t be able to travel as much as they used to be.

ORS: Do you think that the fashion industry will remain as it is, or do you think that open source fashion will rise to a point where the industry will be modified? If yes, how?

ZR – I partly answered above. There are different trends that are challenging the industry from different perspective: open source movements are rethinking intellectual property, digital manufacturing is rethinking distribution and production, the emergency of ecological sustainability attacks the concept of programmed obsolescence and long supply chains… There could be many viable solutions, not only one.

ORS: Karl Lagerfeld collaborated in 2010 with Burda magazine by publishing two of his patterns. Hedi Slimane had done the same for Die Zeit Magazine in Germany. Do you see this as open source or rather as a commercial opportunity? Does this compell the open source movement?

ZR – Most of the patterns that you can find online are freely available for personal use but rarely for commercial use. I’m not talking about the possibility of re-selling the digital pattern itself but to be able to produce and sell garments starting from those shared codes. This is what we are doing with Openwear Collaborative Collection and this is what we think it could bring collective benefit. Open source movement is not only about sharing items, it’s more about creating a different ecosystem of relations, especially to avoid exploitation and abuse of rent.

Obra Gris -  Draped cape and orange dress

ORS: How do you believe your own actions have modified the fashion industry?

ZR – In 2005 with Serpica Naro we challenged the Chamber of Fashion of Milan, who accepted our fictions fashion designer in the official calendar of the fashion week. In that event a group of precarious workers demonstrated that coordination, collaboration and focused skills can beat the gatekeepers with the same weapons, giving voice to all the workers through a real collective brand. Now, the ideas born in that context are taking shape and strength in a bigger project like Openwear. Our main aim is not really to modify the fashion system but to support and inspire people who are imagining new ways of producing fashion, with more respect for the workers, the environment, personal development and the social sphere.

Are you interested in his research? Read it here:

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Get in touch with Oscar on Openwear!

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