UCL Institute for Environmental Design and Engineering


Blog: Clothes with Stories

28 January 2021

An interdisciplinary art-science project funded under the UCL Grand Challenges of Human Wellbeing

Black and white illustration our wardrobe. Figure 1 Clothes with Stories

We believe that a salient problem with the throw-away culture is that it appears to be the cure for the unhappiness that it actually causes. That is, the more consumerism damages our well-being, the further we fall into its trap to gain temporary pleasures. How can we break this vicious cycle? And what are the consequences of this lifestyle for the environment?

CLOTHES WITH STORIES is an interdisciplinary art-science project funded under the 'Wellbeing in a Throw-away Culture' initiative, part of UCL Grand Challenges. It investigates the implications of a throw-away fashion culture for the environment and provides interactive art-based outputs to engage the public with this topic.

This project aims to provide innovative opportunities for self-reflection and criticism, to grow awareness of the status quo in the fashion industry and encourage the public to see their individual impact on the environment and learn ways to reduce their impact by making small steps. To this end, we first conducted a literature review to find key facts and figures about clothing, and then communicated these in form of a 360-degree illustration. Subsequently, we bought second-hand t-shirts from charity shops, printed our originally designed logo on them, and brought them back into circulation by donating them to charity shops again.

Black and White Clothes with stories are to cherish logo

Weight of clothing bought each year

  • Consumption of new clothing is estimated to be higher in the UK than any other European country with 26.7 kg/person [1].
  • UK annual consumption compares to 16.7 kg in Germany, 16 kg in Denmark, 14.5 kg in Italy 14 kg in Netherlands and 12.6 kg in Sweden [1].  

Resources (water, energy) and emissions (CO2)

  • The global textiles industry relies mostly on non-renewable resources, using 98 million tonnes in total per year including oil to produce synthetic fibres, fertilisers to grow cotton, and chemicals to produce, dye, and finish fibres and textiles [2].
  • The global average water footprint for 1 kg of cotton (equivalent to the weight of one man’s shirt and a pair of jeans) is 10,000 – 20,000 litres [3].
  • Global textiles production produces an estimated 1.2 billion tonnes of CO2eq per year globally – more than international flights and maritime shipping combined [4].


  • The value of unused clothing in wardrobes has been estimated at around £30 billion [5].
  • £140 million worth of clothing goes into landfill each year [5].
  • A number of luxury brands incinerate unsold clothes, accessories and perfume to protect the prestige of the brand and prevent unwanted stock from being sold cheaply. The total value of goods it had destroyed over the past five years was more than £90m [6].


  • Increasing garment lifetimes is one of the most effective means of reducing their environmental footprint. Extending the life of clothing by an extra nine months could reduce carbon, waste and water footprints by around 20-30% each. 
  • The British charity Waste & Resources Action Programme (WRAP) estimates an increase of 10% in second-hand sales could deliver environmental benefits, cutting CO2 emissions per tonne of clothing by 3% and water use by 4% water, if it extends garment life by 50% [5].
  • Take-back schemes and fashion as a service enable consumers to change their wardrobe frequently without buying new clothes.
  • The Environmental Audit Committee report highlights the role that schools and colleges could play to raise sustainability awareness and foster the skills and habits necessary for creating and mending clothes and taking care for them [1].


Illustration. figure 3. Clothes with stories

To visualize the aforementioned facts and figures and turn them into tangible knowledge, our artist created a virtual tour around the house. This interactive 360-degree illustration is made of hand drawings on a cubic map such that it flawlessly surrounds the observer’s viewpoint at the centre of illustration. A wireframe 3D model of the house was created to guide the artist through the illustration. The resulting artwork was then transformed into an equirectangular spherical map suitable for virtual reality viewers.

To see this 360-degree illustration, click the link below: 


An Innovative outreach plan: From charity shops to charity shops

Clothes with Stories figure 4 illustration

Due to Covid-19 lockdown we had to resign our outreach strategy: We purchased second hand t-shirts from charity shops around London, screen-printed our original artwork on them at home, linked them to our informative 360-degree illustration via strung tags, and donated them back to various charity shops to redistribute them across London as “augmented” second-hand t-shirts. 

The designed logo first and foremost aims to illustrate how the value of an object – here a t-shirt – increases with time as one makes memorable experiences with it. So, the logo encourages the consumers to cherish a t-shirt with stories rather than seeking satisfaction by renewing their belongings. The logo illustrations are also tightly connected to nature to remind us that living in a harmony with our habitat could be a better choice for our well-being.

Due to the Covid-19 restrictions in 2020, the purchase of second-hand t-shirts and the printing process faced a few challenges. However, by the end of the full lockdown the t-shirts and the required equipment could be purchased and a dark room was set up at the artist’s home to print a total of 20 second-hand t-shirts together with their informative tags that included the link to this blog post and the artist’s webpage for the virtual around the house tour.

Clothes with Stories. Greyscale photo, printmaking

printing process of T-shirt

Clothes with stories greyscale photo. Woman with print

printing process of T-shirt


Solmaz Farhang

Solmaz is a graduate of MA Art and Science from the University of Applied Arts Vienna with a successful track record of interdisciplinary and science communication projects in collaboration with institutions such as University of Vienna, European Space Agency and Hubble Telescope. In this project, Solmaz led the generation of art-based outputs including the design and execution of screen-prints on second hand t-shirts and associated 360-degree illustration. Solmaz loves repairing the holes in her clothes so she can wear them for a long time.
View Solmaz's website.

Dr Gesche Huebner

Gesche Huebner - Portrait Clothes with Stories
Gesche is Lecturer in Healthy and Sustainable Buildings at UCL IEDE and researcher at the UCL EI. Her research focuses on energy consumption in residential buildings and the implications of internal temperatures on human health and wellbeing. She was project lead for “Clothes with stories”. She is a big fan of buying clothes in charity shops, both for her kids and herself, and really wants to learn how to knit and crochet, in particular striped hats.
View Gesche's profile.

Dr Farhang Tahmasebi

Farhang is a Lecturer in Engineering and Architectural Design at UCL IEDE. His research mainly addresses energy and occupant behaviour modelling. He contributed to this project by investigating the fashion industry status quo in terms of environmental performance and extracted key facts and figures to inform the artworks resulting from the project. Farhang is not ashamed of wearing the same clothes everyday, neither at UCL campus nor at his home office!
View Farhang's profile.