Fashion in-between : artisanal design and production of fashion

Maarit Aakko

Research output: ThesisDoctoral ThesisCollection of Articles


Despite the dominating role of mass-manufacturing of fashion today, some studio-based designers prefer an artisanal approach to fashion: they produce on a small scale, often locally, and utilize expert craftsmanship and traditional techniques as part of their design and production methods. Examining the concept of ‘artisanal’ in the context of contemporary fashion, this doctoral dissertation aims to decode the essential features of artisanal fashion. It also analyzes the significance of this approach and its relationship to the current cultural and societal environment. The study takes a particular look at the designer’s role in artisanal houses, and examines his/her ability to control and influence the process and the outcome. Compared to the mainstream clothing industry, artisanal fashion, with its emphasis on craftsmanship, offers an alternative approach. As this area of fashion remains largely unexamined in the academia, this dissertation set out to uncover the basic principles of artisanal fashion with an inductive approach. The primary data was gathered through interviewing the designers of eleven small-scale, entrepreneurial fashion labels. Complementary material about these companies and their ways of operating was collected by ethnographic methods, such as atelier and showroom visits. The author also gathered supplementary data through participant observation while working part-time as an assistant and a patternmaker at an artisanal fashion design studio. As the findings of this study illustrate, essentially, artisanal fashion integrates traditional craftsmanship and contemporary fashion design; craft-based methods are applied in innovative ways with an eye for today’s cultural and visual climate. At the core of this approach is the concept of ‘skillful materiality’, which relates to the artisanal elements of the design and making processes: the attention given to high-quality materials and expert garment construction. Secondly, it is characterized by the ‘designers’ integrated role’. Commonly, in artisanal ateliers, the designer is also the owner and the principal of the company. Such a centralized role provides an opportunity for the designer to be strongly involved in the design and production processes, and work closely with her workers, suppliers and often the end customers. Thirdly, the independent position of these companies provides ‘freedom for creative control’ in decisions regarding design, production and business management, and allows the designer to tailor the work to his/her personal philosophy, referred here as a potential for ‘materializing values’. From a larger perspective, this dissertation discusses such fashion production that lives at the cutting edge of the conventional fashion industry, and thus offers an alternative viewpoint to the current, resource-depleting fashion system. The study contributes to the search for more considerate ways of garment manufacture that support a slower fashion cycle. It also shows that traditional and craft-based methods of design and production can be relevant in today’s world. The small-scale, local focus and independence of artisanal fashion companies provide an opportunity to integrate ethically and environmentally sound principals at the core of their work.
Translated title of the contributionFashion in-between : artisanal design and production of fashion
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor's degree
Awarding Institution
  • Aalto University
  • Niinimäki, Kirsi, Supervising Professor
Print ISBNs978-952-60-6800-8
Publication statusPublished - 2016
MoE publication typeG5 Doctoral dissertation (article)


  • fashion
  • fashion designer
  • artisanal production
  • slow fashion
  • materiality
  • skill
  • craft


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