Gentle Cycle, Do not Tumble Dry — Caring and Revaluing clothing practices

Julia Valle-Noronha, Marta Konovalov and Elina Määttänen

Published on 14.06.2024

Julia Valle-Noronha is a designer-researcher-educator. Her research interest explores fashion’s potential to initiate change from the perspectives of design and wearing practices, from an outlook that praises diversity and holds being with the earth at its core. She is an Assistant Professor in Fashion Design at Aalto University.

Marta Konovalov is a designer-researcher, craftivist and educator focusing on repair and regenerative textile design. She is a lecturer and doctoral student at Estonian Academy of Arts.

Elina Määttänen is a designer-researcher. She is a doctoral student at Aalto University, redesigning discarded clothing into made-to-measure garments. She aims to bring a sense of calm to the wardrobe by reducing the reactivity to buying triggers.


…care is somehow unavoidable: although not all relations can be defined as caring, none could subsist without care1

The first time I paid close attention to the concept of care in academic discussions was in 2018. The Nordic Design Research Society conference announced a call for papers under the theme ‘Who Cares?’.2 It was probably then that I started thinking about what care means in fashion and clothing practices, including design, production and use. This text seeks to add to this discussion by looking at care from the perspectives of repair and redesign. It departs from theories of care to analyse works by designer-researchers, namely Marta Konovalov and Elina Määttänen, who will join me in co-authoring sections of this text.

This text is part of what I call The Clothing and Textiles Care series, which so far includes Iron while still damp3 and Cold wash, Drip dry, Do not wring.4 While the titles – and the content – place a lot of emphasis on practices around cleaning, they also surface other discussions on the aesthetics considered appropriate, cultural appropriations and general thoughts on agency and responsibility in design at times of climate collapse. The call for a gentle cycle, be it in washing, repairing, storing, designing, or generally experiencing garments, resonates with the latter discussion, and the need to reconsider our practices with and around clothing for more responsible futures.

This text is organised in four sections. The first opens up care as a means of thinking about fashion in our context today. It lays down contemporary discourses on care and approximations in the field of fashion and clothing. The second and third sections zoom into two design research practices, namely the projects and results of research engagements – Layers of Repair5 and Needs.6 These two sections are co-authored with the designer-researchers themselves. The last section concludes the work with discussions on what such efforts may offer (fashion) design research and practice.

Care practices in fashion and clothing

There is a certain complexity in care practices around clothing, as likely with everything else, that is little reflected upon, discussed or even explored. We may quickly think of the gentle cycle in the washing machine, airing woollen garments for spaced washings, using soap nuts instead of commercial detergents, or starching white shirts to prolong the lifespan of collars. However, we seldom consider what other notions of care we can engage with while designing, maintaining or wearing (out) clothes.

Research on care has recently multiplied with a series of publications that has shifted the focus from care as a human practice, often performed by women (read childcare, home care and elder care) to care as a potent and complex form of agency. Fischer and Tronto’s7 seminal definition states that care is ‘everything we do to maintain, continue and repair our world so that we may live in it as well as possible. That world includes our bodies, our selves, and our environment, all of which we seek to interweave in a complex, life-sustaining web’.8 Through this, they acknowledge the interdependency between various agencies extending beyond humans and how care permeates all. Expanding the discussion, philosopher María Puig de la Bellacasa looks at care as a work of ethical and political concerns. For her, care can be conceptualised as ‘[…] a concrete work of maintenance, with ethical and affective implications, and as a vital politics in interdependent worlds’.9 This conceptualisation makes room for more-than-human agencies of care and emphasises the frequent tensions between the various dimensions of care, when care is not always a positive affect. This work has been seminal in inviting the broader field of design into the conversation, where the Nordes 2019 Conference is a good example. However, explorations that focus on fashion and clothing as both agents and a catalyst of care are still nascent.10 Here we explore caring from the perspectives of repair and revalue, as practices entangled with care.

In this work the concept of revaluing and its relations to care are relevant. According to Reno,11 to revalue is to find value again in things that have undergone processes of devaluation. Though the author speaks from the context of waste, transposing the idea to clothing items is not hard. In this text, we discuss – through the works exposed below – two dimensions of de/re-valuation. The first concentrates on garments that have been devalued due to wear and tear, and no longer conform to the global-north normative aesthetic preference for the new. The second concentrates on garments devalued by a style mismatch and focuses on idle clothing in active wardrobes and the latency of reuse. Below we look into the projects, especially considering the relations between revalue and care.

On Care and Repair

What are our roles in the daily and intimate relationships we have with garments? Konovalov proposes that through the act of repair, and an attention to experience, such roles can be reconsidered, balanced. She asks ‘Are we consumers, owners, wearers or can we be in a caring relationship with the things we wear?’

Adding a layer of repair to a woollen glove in the workshop setting. 14 June 2023. Photo: Aurelia Minev.

The exhibition ‘Narratives from Prolonged Engagements’12 investigated the relationships individuals have with clothing and textiles from the perspective of mending. It aimed to widen the boundaries of a garment’s use-time and aesthetics. The creative practice of Marta Konovalov was displayed alongside narratives embodied through wear and repair as notations in diaries and designed cards. Through the mending practice, it was noted that the act of repair contributes to a system for the clothes to live their own life in the hands of the user or multiple users, each adding a new layer. There is more than sustaining the physical form – repairing something is also an act of love, care and personal healing.

Marta Konovalov sees a new hole when it appears not as damage but as a creative opportunity emerging. As a craftsperson she repairs her personal clothing items and garments belonging to her family. She practises hand stitching, darning, swiss darning, sashiko-inspired stitching and patches. The clothing, socks, gloves and footwear are mended using similar methods to outline the possibilities for regenerating broken or worn out textile surfaces. All of them have layers of repair as a result of the act of repair taking place alongside wearing out. Therefore, the artefacts represent her personal journey as a textile mender and their common history.

While the discussion on care practices in fashion and clothing is still nascent, the connection between care and repair has been widely explored.13 In this work, the act of repair not only extends product lifetimes and delays textile disposal, but also holds a strong sense of agency in affecting the aesthetic perceptions of menders and wearers. They begin to look at traces of wear – and their repair – in clothing items as a rich manifestation of the relationships with that piece. 

On Care and Reuse

Studies in psychology show a strong negative effect from possession clutter.14 People own many times more garments compared to previous decades part of a consumption cycle,15 which has been increased by online media.16 The amount of storage space in an average-sized home puts a cap on how much clothing can be stored, but people continue to buy more, ignoring the physical limitations of their homes.17

In a year-long project and exhibition ‘Lainavaate’,18 Elina Määttänen studied the formation of ownership of a newly arrived item of clothing as it is added to the wardrobe. In ‘Lainavaate’, 10 pairs of redesigned jeans were gifted to ten participants (one pair of jeans per participant) to wear at least 30 times in one year. The focus on wearing the jeans prompted Määttänen to stop buying clothes. By taking buying off the table, she could concentrate on the clothes she already had. Instead of ideals and fantasies, she could focus on the realities of day-to-day dressing. The daily logging of worn clothes through pictures and then storing most of her clothes away affording a seasonal edit , enabled her to get to know her clothes better, their possibilities, and how they interacted with each other, because there were fewer of them to process and study at once. Her behaviour towards her clothing evolved and she identified actual needs that would make dressing easier and allow for more even use of items in the wardrobe.

Lainavaate jeans ready for the participants. 30 December 2021. Photo: Jussi Kantonen.

It is worth looking into how closing the outflow from our wardrobes affects our attachment to our clothes. Määttänen’s 2024 design research proposal ‘Needs’ addresses this idle zone in wardrobes to revalue garments at rest, closing the outflow from our wardrobes. 

In ‘Needs’19 Määttänen attempted to cultivate a forever wardrobe, using existing items that do not align with her lifestyle to redesign ones that do; for example, converting jersey dresses into bodysuits, improving upon two trench coats to create a superior version, or reimagining knitted sweaters to create a dress. Second, she used thrift store clothing as material to respond to the remaining needs, which she couldn’t fulfil with the idle clothing material in her own wardrobe.


In this work we argue that care is essential for the subsistence of the relationships we have with the things that clothe us in our everyday endeavours. We know clothing holds various agencies in caring for humans, such as protecting us against the weather, support when we are recovering from illness, and symbolic communication. What are the ways through which we can care for clothing beyond selecting the gentle cycle in the washing machine? Here we propose that design can be a tool to expand, discuss and even confront practices of care with clothing. Through the works exposed, we understand that things we engage with are ready to act, affecting how we relate to the world more broadly. Through care-led design, or design-led care20 we can promote stronger and more caring relationships between people and designed things.

 We acknowledge the limitations of the reach of such proposals. As single entities, none of these practices is able to change the course of how fashion and clothing systems affect our planetary boundaries. However, together with other caring efforts, they may support a new understanding of the close entanglements between people and (designed) things for more responsible futures.

  1. Maria Puig de la Bellacasa, ‘Nothing comes without its world: thinking with care’, The Sociological Review. 60:2 (2012), p. 198.
  2. Nordic Design Research Conference, ‘Who Cares?’, (2–4 June 2019) Finland. Helsinki: Nordic Design Research Society (NORDES).
  3. Julia Valle-Noronha and Marina Valle-Noronha, ‘Iron while still damp’, Proceedings of the 8th Bi-Annual Nordic Design Research Society Conference – Who Cares? 2–4 June 2019 Finland. Helsinki: Nordic Design Research Society (NORDES).
  4. Julia Valle-Noronha, ‘Cold wash, drip dry, do not wring’, In Mönstrade Positioner, ed. by M. Bergström (Borås: Textilmuseet, 2023), pp. 90–93.
  5. Marta Konovalov, ‘Narratives from prolonged engagements’, (exhibition), Trash to Trend Stuudio, Tallinn, Nov. – Dec. 2023.
  6. Elina Määttänen, ‘Needs’, (exhibition), Everything and Everybody as Material: Dialogical Bodies. Textilmuseet, Borås, 19 – 20 April 2024.
  7. Berenice Fisher and Joan Tronto, ‘Towards a Feminist Theory of Care,’  in Circles of Care ed. by E. Abel and M. Nelson (Albany, N. Y. : State University of New York Press, 1990).
  8. Ibid., p. 40.
  9. Maria Puig de la Bellacasa, ‘Matters of care: speculative ethics in more than human worlds’, Posthumanities (Minnesota: University of Minnesota Press, 2017), p. 5.
  10. Paolo Franzo, ‘Fashion as a Practice of Care’, Fashion Highlight 1 (2023): pp. 22–29; Kate Fletcher and Mathilda Tham, ‘Earth Logic: Fashion’, Action, Research, Plan (UK: R. Booth, 2019).
  11. Joshua Reno, ‘Wastes and Values,’ in Archaeologies of Waste: Encounters with the unwanted, ed. by Daniel Sosna and Lenka Brunclíková,  (UK: OXBOW BOOKS, 2017), pp. 17–22.
  12. Marta Konovalov, ‘Narratives from prolonged engagements’, (exhibition), Trash to Trend Stuudio, Tallinn, Nov. – Dec. 2023. 
  13. Berenice Fisher and Joan Tronto, ‘Towards a Feminist Theory of Care,’  in Circles of Care ed. by E. Abel and M. Nelson (Albany, N. Y. : State University of New York Press, 1990).
  14. Catherine A. Roster, Joseph R. Ferrari and M. Peter Jurkat, ‘The Dark Side of Home: Assessing Possession “Clutter” on Subjective Well-Being,’ Journal of Environmental Psychology 46 (2016), pp. 32–41 <>; Joseph R. Ferrari and Catherine A. Roster, ‘Delaying Disposing: Examining the Relationship between Procrastination and Clutter across Generations,’ Current Psychology (New Brunswick, N.J., 2018) 37, No. 2, pp. 426–431 <>
  15. Rachel J. Eike, Michelle Burton, Gwendolyn Hustvedt and Sunhyung Cho, ‘The “Joy of Letting Go”: Decluttering and Apparel,’ Fashion Practice 14 No. 2 (2022), pp. 225–241 <>
  16. Yanqing Zhang, and Oskar Juhlin, ‘On the fashionalization of digital devices: a study of the representation of mobile phones in fashion magazines,’ Fashion and Textiles 7 (2020), pp. 1–20; Rachel J. Eike, Michelle Burton, Gwendolyn Hustvedt and Sunhyung Cho, ‘The “Joy of Letting Go”: Decluttering and Apparel,’ Fashion Practice 14 No. 2 (2022) <>
  17. Katia Vladimirova, ‘Consumption Corridors in Fashion: Deliberations on Upper Consumption Limits in Minimalist Fashion Challenges,’ Sustainability: Science, Practice & Policy 17, No. 1 (2021), pp. 102–116 <>; Kate Fletcher, ‘Durability, Fashion, Sustainability: The Processes and Practices of Use,’ Fashion Practice 4, No. 2 (2012), pp. 221–238 <>; Rachel J. Eike, Michelle Burton, Gwendolyn Hustvedt and Sunhyung Cho, ‘The “Joy of Letting Go”: Decluttering and Apparel,’ Fashion Practice 14 No. 2 (2022), pp. 225–241 <>; Saulo B. Cwerner, ‘Clothes at Rest: Elements for a Sociology of the Wardrobe,’ Fashion Theory 5, No. 1 (2001), pp. 79–92 <>
  18. Elina Määttänen, ‘Lainavaate’ (exhibition), Kalleria, Helsinki. June 2022.
  19. Elina Määttänen, ‘Needs’, (exhibition), Everything and Everybody as Material: Dialogical Bodies. Textilmuseet, Borås, 19 – 20 April 2024.
  20. We borrow the notions of repair-led design and design-led repair to start a proposal on care-led design and design-led care. See Eleni Kalantidou, Guy Keulemans, Abby Mellick Lopes, Niklavs Rubenis, and Alison Gill, Design/Repair: Place, Practice & Community (Palgrave Macmillan, 2023).
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