Modular, or transformable, fashion has appeared in various forms over the past 50 years. Designed as a speciality garment system, it makes parts of a clothing range multipurpose or detachable, such as sleeves, hoods, collars, trouser legs, external pockets, and coat and skirt extensions. It employs a variety of fastenings, including zips, press studs, buttons, and Velcro. Recently, at Paris Fashion Week, luxury genderless fashion brand Botter released its Spring/Summer 2023 collection, which inc
included tailored jackets, cardigans and dresses with sleeves that can be worn on the arms or around the body. And, French ready-to-wear label Courrèges featured jackets with thick straps on the side, to be worn on the shoulder like a bag. The modular clothing concept emerged in the ’70s when Sandra Garratt was studying at the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising in Los Angeles, where she came up with the idea as part of her graduation project. Garratt is often credited as heralding mass-market adoption of the concept through her brand Multiples in the 1980s. In 1986, the brand forecasted $200 million in sales that year in the US alone and was stocked in all major department stores around the US. The concept was created to make fashion and styling simple and convenient for women of all shapes and sizes. Today, modular fashion is widely connected to sustainability; detaching or fastening components to a garment for various occasions and seasons prolongs the lifespan of clothing. In 2020, H&M brand Cos launched a multifunctional collection with adaptable designs, including a garment pocket that unzips to be a clutch, a dress that can be worn as separates and a timeless classic – the cargo pants convertible to shorts. Modular garment systems and multifunctional clothing require dedication, an innovative approach to designing clothes and a long-term vision of educating people on the value of the concept. So far, this has been challenging, due to mass market customers wanting to be inspired about what to buy with little cognitive effort on their part. With the rise of circular fashion, some brands are building a modular garment system into their label from the outset. Each brand’s range provides something new, based on a blueprint of modular and multifunctional clothing, to ensure variety in the wearer’s wardrobe. Here are five brands that are designing modular systems to extend the life of the garments they create. Konundrum German brand Konundrum was created in 2020 by Central Saint Martins graduate Jan-Philipp Kosfeld. The label is built around a modular outerwear range in which every part of their trademarked Garment System is detachable and interchangeable. Shoppers can purchase based on the brand’s suggested Editions or configure their own from the core. There are four core styles to build upon, which add collar, hood, and sleeves in various shapes. Dzhus Founded in 2010 by Ukrainian designer and stylist Irina Dzhus, the label has been recognised globally for its innovative multifunctional approach. Each collection features a strong avant garde and utilitarian aesthetic where every piece can be worn multiple ways. Dzhus’ brand aims to tackle overconsumption with a focus on creation. Since the attacks on Ukraine began, Dzhus has fled her homeland, finding refuge in Europe and working between Warsaw, Paris, and Berlin. The brand has been donating 30 per cent of its profits to Ukrainian animal rights organisations and the army. Fortune W.W.D. Menswear label Fortune W.W.D. based in the Philippines, focuses on “a garment’s ability to consistently reinvent itself through usage, construction, material, and silhouette”. Its Reversible Service jacket can be worn as olive frogskin or sand frogskin camo, with differing pocket layouts. It also has a detachable pocket that can be used as a sling. Sofia Ilmonen Dedicated to creating sustainable modular fashion that celebrates femininity, Finnish designer Sofia Ilmonen has won awards for her sustainability and innovative approach to design that incorporates zero-waste pattern cutting. The namesake brand is created from square modules and assembled with a button and loop mechanism, which provides countless possibilities for wearing each garment. Solve Solve is a multidisciplinary social innovation studio in design and sustainability created by Cristina Dan. The studio incorporates “design thinking, new technology, a user-centred approach, circular economy ,and biomimicry to co-design sustainable innovations”. Every piece in the collection can be worn in different ways and made to order. When a wearer no longer wants the item, it can be returned to Solve and repurposed into other items through its Refashion program. Compared with the days of Multiples, modular and multifunctional clothing is not mainstream; however, the circular design principles of modular clothing, along with zero-waste patterns, show it has great potential as a weapon in the war on waste and hyper-consumerism. As the industry is increasingly being pressured into changing traditional and damaging supply chains, multifunctional garments may start to emerge in homegrown brands. Competition is fierce and differentiation is key. There’s no doubt this garment system will continue to interest up-and-coming fashion designers to push the boundaries of garment construction, value and longevity to the wearer and a considered effort to prolong the life of the clothing. While modular and multifunctional clothing might seem limited in creativity, unique pieces will appear through innovative materials and shapes that can be used across a brand’s collections, with the ability to adapt to a wearer’s body shape. That will be the point of adoption. Brands will begin collaborating, enabling a mix of interconnecting garment components. Maybe the future of clothing is modular.