This is going to be a long one to wrap up, because I wanted to put all the childrenswear-focused content into one post. While I’ve continued mulling over and working with many aspects of my thesis, I’ve moved away from a focus on childrenswear. I’ll still include it here for completeness and those of you with children may also be interested! Skip to the end to read my concluding remarks before we get on to the next part: how I set about using these principals to begin a design process.
The child as past and future
Nostalgia in relation to childrenswear is a particularly interesting site of meaning-making and negotiation. At the heart of any discussion of childrenswear – and the design process for this target market – is the fact that within the age bracket addressed in this project, (4 to 6 year olds), children are dressed by adults. While children aged 4 to 6 begin to have opinions on their clothing choices (Jaffe & Rosa, 1990), it can safely be assumed that parents are buy- ing their clothes. The idea of the child as a consumer is a fairly recent one, and while this idea is well-explored, the child’s own agency as a consumer has largely been ignored (Cook, 2008; Pilcher, 2013). By identifying children “both as economic actors and as significant objects for consumption,” Cook (2008, p.222) disrupts the assumption of the individual as the prime economic actor by introducing kinship alliances, dependencies, and co-dependencies as key factors of cultural consumption. This necessarily brings in marginalised actors: women, children, mothers, non-workers – agents whose role in the economy and society has traditionally been perceived as secondary. As a result, we are forced to consider the relationships of ownership and acquisition of objects. Introducing children as socio-economic agents also forces “temporal dimensions” into the conceptualisation of consumption. It becomes impossible to “ignore the ways in which consumer culture reproduces and transforms itself through the lifecycle and over generations” (Cook, 2008, p.222, emphasis in original).
This reproduction and transformation is manifest in childrenswear. Le Guennec (2018) identifies clothing as a site of negotiation of the child’s role in society, which “remains poorly defined” (2018, p. 115, translation author’s own). Childrenswear consequently acts as a continual attempt to define that role and the relationship between the child and the adult, and childhood and adulthood. From the first heirloom blanket from the attic that wraps the newborn on the way home from hospital, to the christening dress worn by generations of relatives, to the everyday cost-saving hand-me-downs between siblings and cousins, the transmission of time is reproduced constantly in a child’s wardrobe (Le Guennec, 2012). In wearing these clothes, the child reproduces the previous wearers and invokes memories of intense emotion, and at the same time transforms the garment through the generation of new memories and impressions specific to her own wearing of the garment (Le Guennec, 2012; Le Guennec, 2018).
Cook has elsewhere identified the child as a “semantic space” (2004, p.14) in which the question and role of agency and decision-making are continually renegotiated – a child may be allowed to make her own decisions at times, and at other times and to varying degrees, an adult makes these decisions on her behalf (and in doing so, implicitly makes a judge- ment on the child’s ability to make decisions). Clothing, as a key identity indicator and communicator (Wilson, in Cook, 2004; Cook, 2004) becomes a site of tension and exploration as the adult seeks (however subconsciously) to construct the identity of their child, who simultaneously begins to express her own identity. The child consequently becomes a paradox: a living embodiment of a fictionalised past-as-present projected upon her by the adult (Quentel, 1997), and an individual agent of future potential and memory.
However, this phenomenon is not only witnessed in second-hand and heirloom clothing. The adult’s own choices of new clothes can be influenced by their past, and the clothes for which they feel particular nostalgia. Many clothing brands play on feelings of nostalgia and wistfulness for a “better time” or “happier days” through design and advertising. These influences frequently refer to an era when childrenswear was completely distinct from adult- wear and thus “contributed to the isolation of childhood from the rest of society” (Le Guennec, 2012, p.64, translation author’s own). Meaning is projected onto children daily – they become metaphors of hope, lineage, financial burden, parental joy, political futures, survival of the species, and any number of further tropes (Cook, 2004). In this way, the child is a “blank slate” (Cook, 2004, p.16) which is dressed up – both literally, in outfits chosen and put on by parents, and figuratively, as the parent projects their identity expression onto the child. The child becomes defined by the adult in a way that excludes the child’s own agency in self-definition. Because the child has no past, she is a vessel onto which the parent can project their own future (Quentel, 1997).
Of course, not every adult dresses their child in clothing reminiscent of a bygone era. Street wear styles in future-thinking garments and textiles are available at all levels of the market. However , heritage influences have remained strong in various manifestations through many recent seasons (Le Guennec, 2012; Simon, 2012). Nostalgia and archival influences are frequently used by many brands in childrenswear (Le Guennec, 2012) and some define themselves by their retro branding. Simon (2012) notes that the aesthetic of heritage inspiration marks a desire to return to core values, while styles simultaneously remain contemporary by becoming more minimalist and less embellished. References to nostalgia also remain consistent through trends and marketing (Simon, 2012). Heritage influences and nostalgia should not be conflated: the former is visibly informed by archive material and fashions of yesteryear, while the latter is often “intensely personal” (Muehling et al., 2014, p.74) and may not be universally triggered by any one indicator. It may be generally agreed that a Liberty print, a duffel coat, or tweed shorts are heritage garments. Yet, someone may feel immense nostalgia for an old t-shirt that would be seen by another person as worn-out and ready for the bin, because nostalgia hinges on experience and memory generated around the garment’s use.
Contemporary childrenswear : markets and trends
As numerous authors have identified, childrenswear is an almost unique market within the fashion industry as the target consumer is twofold: the purchaser of any garment will not be the eventual wearer of the garment. Rose identifies that this “presents a problem in consumption theory” (2011, p.106) that this collection will in part attempt to resolve by addressing the emotional needs of both purchaser and wearer. As has been explored above, Cook (2004) argues that the child is ignored as a consumer because she does not participate in the economic interactions of consumerism. However, to limit consumer participation to economic interactions is shortsighted. It has been observed that children participate continually and actively in consumerism, Darian (1998) noticed their influence on their parents’ purchase decisions “appears to be growing,” a phenomenon he attributed to changing societal roles of mothers, and to growing peer pressure among children as brand recognition gained increasing importance for this consumer demographic (1998, p.421). Harper et al. (2003) suggest that changing work roles are also affecting this shift, as children contribute more to household tasks when both parents are working, creating a ‘co-shop- ping’ phenomenon.
Further authors have found that this dual consumer of parent and child has implications for
the design process, as the needs of each need to be considered (Harper et al., 2003; Pilcher, 2013). This is particularly relevant when considering the child as a consumer despite her lack of economic participa- tion. At this point, in a return to principles of kansei design, it is argued that successful clothing design for children will acknowledge and fulfill their emotional needs. As the parent is the economic actor, it is the parent who ultimately must identify and recognise that a garment can fulfill the child’s emotional needs, but it may also be assumed that the emotional ful- fillment of the adult also fuels the purchase decision. Consequently, kansei design for childrenswear must respond to emotional needs of both parent and child.
Nostalgia is frequently used in marketing campaigns for various target audiences to evoke positive emotions and memories in the consumer (Youn & Jin, 2017). It was the field of marketing that first began to shift the general conception of nostalgia from a negative emotion to a positive one, or at least, one that could be monetised (Routledge et al., 2012). Ju (2016) highlights the importance and success of nostalgia within experiential marketing, as a way to stimulate consumers’ senses and enable them to return to a positive past or to a positive version of their past selves, and thereby feel positive emotion and connection.
Despite interesting research into the influence of nostalgia in social media marketing demonstrating that nostalgia can encourage engagement and boost consumer-brand relationships (Youn & Jin, 2017), this research has focused on the adult consumer. Particularly in the childrenswear market, where brands have to target two highly distinct consumers, invocations of nostalgia occur in a manner that primarily targets the adult purchaser (Le Guennec, 2012). Nevertheless, children as young as eight have been found to experience nostalgia regularly (Zhou et al., 2008) and consideration of how to invoke nostalgia in children warrants further exploration.
Heritage and vintage elements of childrenswear are largely targeted towards parents and grand- parents who, by way of clothing, project their own memories and impressions of their own childhood onto the wearer (Bruschi, 2008). By dressing children in the clothes of our own childhood, we see our childhood re-enacted – and with it, we assume, all the happy memories for which we hold so much fondness. This is more than an act of sharing heritage and family histories: it is a way of re-living these that may have very little to do with the child herself. Furthermore, the parent is acknowledged as the main economic actor, and therefore the target of advertising. An example of this can be found in the recent online ad campaign from Caramel. The text below this photo feature reads, “How do you remember your weekends as a child? Foraging in the countryside or hiding until it was too dark to see. Here the photographer Saar Manche explores the nostalgia of childhood. Waxy linen coats (all the better to ward off rain) or retro style pyjama tops, rust shorts and stripe woollen tank tops recall a summer of endless play” (Caramel, 2018). While advertising childrenswear, the copy directly addresses the adult reader, asking them to remember “your weekends as a child,” rather than asking a child, “how do you spend your weekends?”
Ju et al. (2016) place nostalgia marketing within the category of experiential marketing, exploring how it stimulates a variety of senses to encourage the viewer to travel back in time. “The key to nostalgia marketing is to allow consumers to mentally return to the experience of the favorable past, eliciting positive emotions” (2016, p.2064). The authors draw a strong link between nostalgia and self-continuity, and identify importance of self-continuity and identity as key topics within consumer behaviour research. This has significant implications for nostalgia-driven emotional design, as if nostalgia can improve self-continuity and brand connection, there are encouraging implications for basing a more rigorous and thoughtful kansei design methodology in the emotion of nostalgia.
This literature review has demonstrated that nostalgia has potential for success as the driving emotion within kansei design. As identified, the implications and possibilities of kansei design have not yet been adequately explored for childrenswear. Moreover, the pairing of nostalgia with kansei design principles and tools is a new approach to the discipline. By exploring the effects and invocation of nostalgia, it is hoped that this emotion will be shown to support and deepen the efficacy of emotional design within childrenswear.
By using nostalgia to influence design, it is expected that consumers may connect more deeply with their garments. This connection is not merely surface-level with respect to impressions provoked by marketing, but may also have a lasting impact on a person’s satisfaction and well-being, which nostalgia has been shown to enhance. It is in this respect that a systematic incorporation of kansei design methodology and evocation of a close, personalised, authentic nostalgic aesthetic is proposed, in order to generate genuine connection and emotion in the consumer and the wearer. By generating feelings of nostalgia, clothing may take on a more iconic role in family identity and relationships, bring generations closer together through shared and new experiences, and arouse the benefits of nostalgia cited by many authors for more general well-being . With regards to industry implications, a more intentional and genuine evocation of nostalgia may be expected to intensify the already successful effects of using nostalgia as a marketing technique, by incorporating the emotion and impressions into product design as well as marketing.
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