Jenna Witzleben
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MFA Thesis: Drenchcoat

Drenchcoat

How can we celebrate the rain, instead of hide from it?

 

SVA MFA Products of Design

Spring 2017

Product design, fashion design, Futuring, speculative design, Video Storytelling

 


On any given rainy day, people's typical responses to the weather tend to range from quiet disdain to active repulsion. We shield ourselves from the water with additional garments and umbrellas, or by avoiding going outside altogether. Many rewilders say that comfort-seeking behavior is one of the primary hurtles for humans to overcome in the process of rewilding. While it is not completely abnormal for animals to hide from the rain, and our is not the only species that does it, I think we take it to an extreme unnecessarily. We can learn to live without rain protection for the 30 minutes a day we spend outside. I forsee a world where we instead celebrate the rain, like several other cultures do. There are several good reasons for this.

First, the rain is a critical element to life on Earth. Without it we wouldn't be able to grow crops, and we wouldn't have fresh, drinkable water. Essentially, without rain we could not live. So it seems absurd that we constantly wish it away. We should instead celebrate it and all that it gives us.

Second, we have the ability to overcome our perceived discomfort in the rain and cold. This is discussed in Cody Lundin's book 98.6 Degrees. Several of my interviewees discussed practicing this as well. Rafe Kelly in particular said, "I swim in the lake every day, year-round. If you train, you can feel livened by conditions that make other humans feel miserable." In my own immersion and exploration of walking in the rain without a hood or umbrella, I noticed this too. Most of the time, the rain is so light and really not cause for an umbrella anyway. Even when it is more of a downpour, while during the first few minutes I have to fight the urge to cover up, after a few minutes I am able to enjoy the feeling of the rain drops, a misted face, and wet hair. I feel freer to move at my normal brisk, dancerly pace through the city streets because I do not have an absurd umbrella appendage. This thermal resilience can lead to reduced material consumption (buying fewer umbrellas and rain gear), as well as reduced energy consumption (because we can turn down our heaters).

With these two value propositions in mind - celebration and resilience - I imagined the drenchcoat. This speculative garment design is made of plastic mesh and tarp flaps as a celebration of the rain. It allows the wearer to feel the rain on their skin through the mesh, while no absorbing water into the fabric itself. The flaps enhance the celebration by adding motion and dynamism to the garment in the wind. Along with this garment, users can wear the coordinating undergarment set, made in a technical fabric caller "spacer," to maximize skin exposure to the rain, while accounting for modern day modesty in apparel. 

Earlier iterations of the drenchcoat included convertible garments that allowed the wearer to choose whether or not they were exposed to the rian. I also considered aperture-based designs, with a range of exposure levels. But I decided to push this garment to the extreme. We have enough options that let us cover up from the rain; my garment is purely about connecting with it instead.

The drenchcoat is imagined to be part of a larger fashion line called Weathered. The collection as a whole imagines celebration of all less-favored weather, including snow, sleet, humidity, and cloudiness. It also begins to imagine more sustainable responses to weather conditions, like extreme cold, that do not require energy to power heating systems. 

The drenchcoat emerged from a series of design futuring exercises. First I explored two speculative narratives, a dystopia and a utopia. My particular set of futures were actually connected, where the humans on Earth split in two; some staying to rewild the planet (in the utopia) and the rest moving to Kepler 452b (in the dystopia). 

From here I expanded on the utopian narrative in the form of a speculative newspaper, complete with front page articles and an advertisement, paired with a hand tool. In this deeper exploration of the utopian narrative, I started to discuss the patterns of reciprocity and a new behavior of going on long treks to scavenge for materials from the formerly civilized world. The hand tool called the "Reciprocator" would be made of scavenged materials, and encourage the user to not just harvest and take from the Earth with the knife, but also give back, by scooping holes and filling them with seeds or biodegradable waste. 

In transitioning from speculative utopia to idea generation, I sketched around a variety of threads within the newspaper - from reciprocity to weather celebration. From here I engaged in traditional industrial design process of sketching, form development, 3D sketching and modeling, material and color selection, and final model creation. The materials were selected not only to be quick to dry, but are also reasonable translatable to a society where we make using primarily salvaged and reclaimed materials.