I don’t know why, but I found this hack to be the most challenging one for which to come up with an idea. I couldn’t figure out a repair that seemed “dynamic” enough, or I came up with great ideas far beyond my technical abilities. Finally, after several panicked days spent trying to come up with an idea, I decided on turning a pair of old, broken shoes into a flower pot. Although it might not seem like it at first glance, this hack was meant to be a commentary on waste in the fashion industry, examining how our clothes are more and more being built to break and be thrown away, and trying to come up with interventions into this “fast fashion” cycle. In doing so, Claire and I explored different elements of design–what does it mean if the visceral and aesthetic aspects of an object are still intact when it is “behaviorally” and functionally useless. We also attempted to embody Richard Sennett’s notion of “dynamic repair”–while we didn’t make the shoes wearable again, we repaired them in a way that gave them a new life beyond their original purpose, and, in doing so, redefined what it means to “repair.”
Turning these shoes into a flowerpot encouraged me to reflect on the principles of design behind clothing, particularly as it pertained to Don Norman’s writings on design. Norma writes that objects have three main components of design–visceral, behavioral, and reflective. Visceral design refers to the feelings the object evokes in a person, behavioral to its usefulness and praticality, and reflective to its statement about the person using it. Behaviorally, these shoes are pretty much useless. The heel has entirely come off one of the shoes, and as someone who struggles with balance issues, that makes them entirely unwearable. For as lovely as they are, I’m not going to risk falling over simply because the shoes are beautiful. However, they really are beautiful. From a visercal design perspective, the shoes are amazing. The shape is pleasing, and they are completely coated with silver glitter, making the whole thing extremely sparkly. The moment I saw them, I thought they were the most gorgeous shoes I’d ever seen and simply had to have them. Due to their visceral design, I’ve developed a certain emotional attachment to them; hence, why they’ve been sitting in my room broken and unwearable for the past few months. I just simply couldn’t bear to part with them. This hack took advantage of the fact that the visceral, aesthetic components of the shoes are largely intact, despite their functional damage. The hack led me to reflect on the different purposes our objects serve. Obviously, shoes are intended to keep one’s feet protected from the ground, but modern design has taken them far beyond that original, simple purpose to be something we enjoy aesthetically. Our clothing now evokes an emotional response in us, to the point that I was willing to hold onto useless shoes simply because I found them so beautiful. For me, the visceral value of these shoes was so high that I overlooked their functional uselessness.
Considering how much I loved these shoes and how useless they’d become, I think our hack embodied Richard Sennett’s concept of dynamic repair. I don’t have the skills necessary to restore these shoes back to their originally functionality. However, Claire and I repaired them in a way that turned them into something completely new–a flower pot. Functionally, the shoes were useless. But aesthetically they were still stunning. We couldn’t fix the functionality, but we could modify them in a way that preserved their aesthetic value. The hack encouraged me to rethink my own notions of repair. No, I don’t have the skills to repair badly broken shoes, but that doesn’t mean I can’t repair them by merely changing the definition of repair. As Sennett writes, “a dynamic repair will change the object’s current form or function once it is reassembled” (200). Therefore, while static repair was beyond my capabilities, a little creativity and a very powerful rotary tool enabled me to repair them in a different way. Our repair involved further damaging the shoes–drilling a number of holes in the sole–in order to “repair” them, proving repair can take on a variety of forms.
Finally, this hack was also meant to be a commentary of sorts on the “fast fashion” ethos of many mainstream clothing retailers. More and more, our clothes are sold at an incredibly low price and designed to fall apart and be replaced after a season of use. I joked in class that, given the very limited walking I do, it really is a testament to how poorly these shoes were made that they fell apart after a year or two of such light use. There’s a growing contigent of people in online fashion spaces who are very critical of fast fashion. The system relies on criminally underpaying garment workers and produces a frankly astronomical amount of waste. The system is incredibly unsustainable–you can’t exactly donate or sell second-hand clothes that have disintigrated or fallen apart at the seams, so it simply accumulates in landfills. This hack was meant to be a commentary on reuse and recycling. Rather than discard our poorly made clothing when it falls apart, our hack encouraged more sustainable clothing production and a creative, DIY ethos in trying to repurpose old clothing items as opposed to the buy-use-discard cycle encouraged by most mainstream clothing retailers.
I think coming up with the idea for this project was so difficult because I have internalized a very static definition of repair. “Repair, except don’t literally repair” required me to rethink the very purpose of every day objects and the potential dynamic interventions into broken things. Although it took some time to come up with the idea, I think Claire’s and my decision to repurpose my old, broken shoes embodied the notion of dynamic repair. Our broken object was given a new life, serving a purpose it hadn’t previously. Wrapped up in our project was an implicit criticism of the waste produced by the fashion industry and a meditation on the various elements of the design of everyday objects. The shoes qua flowerpot is currently sitting on my dresser and looks beautiful, and I’m really glad I figured out a way to preserve these beloved but useless pair of shoes. I hope I go forward with a more dynamic repair perspective on the broken things in my life, and find ways to repurpose and reuse what can’t otherwise be repaired.
Norman, Donald A. Emotional Design: Why We Love (or Hate) Everyday Things. BasicBooks, 2005.
Sennett, Richard. The Craftsman. Yale University Press, 2008.