Modularity noun /ˌmɑː.djəˈler.ə.t̬i/ — The quality of consisting of separate parts that, when combined, form a complete whole.

Each Library entry helps define and contextualize a term within the framework of an emergent fashion ecology. Here you will find simple illustrations, relevant research and links-out, as well as mentions of any people & platforms in our network who are substantiating the term.



Current—Garments ↔ PCs = a helpful analogy. Garments, despite their relative simplicity, are fixed and not modular; PCs on the other hand make initial setup, tweaks, future updates, and disassembly (for resale or repair) routine.

Why is this so?

The industries behind both engage in linear and destructive assembly, but they do not share product finish-lines. For example, at a department store which sells electronics and clothing, you’ll find fully assembled HP gaming rigs as well as PC graphics cards—but you won’t find sleeves next to a Zegna suit or collar options by a Carhartt jacket. It’s not even a question of b2b or b2c, because garment components only comprise base textiles and trims, at which point their assembly into full garments is pre-configured. While the architecture of a jacket is far simpler than that of a PC, altering a jacket (if even possible) is guaranteed to be a destructive process, requiring considerable experience and tools.

To reiterate, garment systems find interchangeability at the notation, fabric, and tool levels, but not at the design, manufacturing, hardware, decoration, distribution (and so on) levels. That is why Modularity currently only exists within small and closed systems, such as a single garment or accessory, a single collection, or a single brand. The industry has not developed any standards or technologies which would facilitate the interchangeability of decoration [art], utility/season, high friction areas [repair], or aesthetic form [silhouette].

Horizon—It would take material innovation, fundamental design reconsideration, and widespread brand collaboration to make modularity a prominent feature of our physical fashion landscape. However, with cultural bleed from adjacent spheres like Tech—where modularity in hardware (desktop PCs) and software (plug-ins) is all but a priori—expectations and habituations may amplify niche attempts at modularity into industry-wide standards over time. We already see this in digital fashion, where modular design (artwork, fabric, garment pattern) is the core mechanism engendering exchange within a fashion creator economy.

Modularity at scale would…
  1. Shift fashion retail into component-based marketplace of upgrades, add-ons, and subscriptions
  2. Supplant seasonal synchronization—the industry’s current axis of agreement to create trend, and then sell into it—with more nuanced and responsive cycles
  3. Lower barriers of entry for designers and consumers (through component-based marketplace)
  4. Alleviate redundancy at a factor relative to garment system interoperability
Cornerstones rest upon…
  1. Education on a] world/alternate clothing systems (i.e. not taking the western block tailoring system as fundamental, but one option among many) b] alternate functioning production and retail models that are more responsive to demand and less dependent on inventory, advertisement, and discounts
  2. Survey of current design practices to identify where obsolescence (intentional or symptomatic) can be phased out
  3. Research on garment life cycle discrepancy between limits of use [durability] ↔ and limits of style [art/silhouette], i.e. what ends up in landfills due to looks rather than life expectancy. Looking to substantiate the hypothesis that non-transferability of style may be a leading cause of toss away fashion rather than durability.
  4. Coinciding cultural shift thanks to digital fashion’s modular nativeness, and ensuing demand for retroactive & lateral application of modularity to physical fashion.
Possible routes follow…
  1. Solutions for each of the domains outlined in the graphic above, with long-term intent to converge through mutual and continued cross-exposure
  2. Standardized protocols of (re-)construction and repair that promote local trade and assisted configuration over international distribution. This goes hand in hand with efforts to automatize tech pack creation in software suites like CLO3D, providing end-users the ability to generate intelligible instructions for self- or assisted-modification, i.e. re-designing an existing garment and providing the exact steps for a local tailor to execute* *This is not full modularity at scale, but it may be more realistic & more desirable concerning some of the blocks to modularity below.
Obstacles present as…
  1. Unoptimized hardware: current solutions for removability, adjustability, etc. are clunky (velcro, zippers) or tenuous (hooks & fasteners)
  2. Stylistic niche (related to above): modular garment aesthetics are tech and military dominant
  3. Cost: our current system is optimized for disposability, and offloads humanitarian and environmental costs onto Developing Economies and the biosphere itself. For consumers and brands to gradually re-assume those costs requires coordinated data, education, and innovation to accurately project and communicate the cost-saving of a total industry redirection.
  4. Basically, old habits die hard ☠️

Parallel & divergent developments include…
  1. Knitwear dominating over wovens, since knitwear manufacturing integrates more seamlessly into automation, customization, and decomposition + reconstitution (could potentially unravel into base filament whereas the “recycling” of CTM wovens irreversibly compromises fibers)
  2. Biomaterial or technological textiles that overwhelmingly satisfy our variable size and design preferences
  3. New CTM standards and innovations that make recycling of any garment type and material a 100% lossless process.

We took a nod from science fiction in writing the above speculations, which range from plausible to otherworldly. After all, reality—in the span of a couple decades—can supersede even the most outlandish of fictions. We hope to celebrate the prescience of some of these ideas, too, in seeding a destination, and encouraging the roots.


We are still building out this section. Please check back soon.


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Transformative Modular Textile Design by E.S. Hur and B.G. Thomas




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