Re(dis)covering Fashion Designers: Interweaving Dressmaking and Placemaking

Research output: ThesisDoctoral ThesisMonograph


The starting point for this doctoral dissertation was the identification of the unclear social contribution of the fashion design profession in the contemporary fashion system. Concurrently, possibilities to expand the role of fashion designers were identified. This research was inspired by design thinking discourses in design research that have explored the practice of designers and encouraged them to question the boundaries of design as a profession. While reflecting critically on what it means to be a fashion designer, the main research question that arose aimed to conceptualize the role of fashion designers. In the research domain of design and fashion, a number of issues were noticed as a gap for studying fashion designers. In design research, the absent voice of fashion designers is acknowledged while exploring the generic characterization of design practice. The domain-specific knowledge and skills required to engage in fashion de¬sign were underexplored due to certain prejudices, including the view that fashion is feminized and frivolous, and lower in the hierarchy of design professions. In studies of fashion, the idea of fashion as an institutionalized system is widely accepted and explored. However, the aspect of designing, especially the dressmaking tradition, has been relatively overlooked compared to the meaning-making aspect due to “academicizing” and the image-making tendency. To overcome this gap between the domains, this dissertation aims to invite a dialogue embracing the symbolic and material worlds of fashion through two qualitative studies in Helsinki, the capital of Finland. The metaphor of weaving – which has a number of advantages in this context – was adopted to not just interlace the narratives of the substudies but also to be used as a piece of fabric patchworking the gap between design and fashion. The two substudies were constructed because the rediscovery of the dressmaking practice of fashion designers is required prior to expanding their role. Accordingly, the first substudy was conducted to theorize fashion design thinking by identifying distinctive features of the profession. Based on a data-driven study of Helsinki-based fashion designers, the entangled relationship between their individual practice and shared culture was discovered. For the second substudy, Pre Helsinki, a designer-driven platform aiming at increasing global recognition of Finnish fashion talents, was investigated as a single case study to explore the expanded role of fashion designers as placemakers. Themes of placemaking that emerged from previous studies were examined while identifying practical descriptions of the case and active involvements of fashion designers in the platform. For interweaving these substudies, the findings were analyzed theoretically to examine how fashion design thinking is employed in the placemaking of Helsinki and Finland. These studies woven together present an original contribution of fashion designers in society and their expanded roles as placemakers. Thus, it further recovers the meaning of fashion design as a profession balancing between the symbolic and material worlds. Altogether, this dissertation invites fashion designers to rethink their roles and to act as engaged members of society.
Translated title of the contributionRe(dis)covering Fashion Designers : Interweaving Dressmaking and Placemaking
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor's degree
Awarding Institution
  • Aalto University
  • Niinimäki, Kirsi, Supervising Professor
  • Gurova, Olga, Thesis Advisor
  • Niinimäki, Kirsi, Thesis Advisor
Print ISBNs978-952-60-8188-5
Electronic ISBNs978-952-60-8189-2
Publication statusPublished - 2018
MoE publication typeG4 Doctoral dissertation (monograph)


  • fashion designer
  • fashion design profession
  • design practice
  • dressmaking
  • placemaking
  • design thinking
  • design culture


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