A Fashion Fundy’s Guide to Purposeful Design


Purposeful design cherishes the concept of captivating design solutions, underpinned by conceptual thinking, meticulous attention to detail, and innovative production. Design and Materials are well thought out and crafting is as important as the final product. The most basic and important design principle is “form follows function”, even though the principle is associated with 20th century modernist architecture and industrial design which says the shape of a building or object should primarily relate to its intended function or purpose. Relatable in garments design? Definitely.

Design has always been a broad concept and it’s getting broader by the day. It encompasses art, form, functionality, and style. By large, the common characteristics of a good design are concept, content, craft, suspense, and communicative efficiency. However, the most important question posed in relation to modern fashion is: how important are aesthetic needs and should they overshadow function? In the current popular consciousness, the notion of design as problem solving has become overshadowed by the notion of design as aesthetic appeal and style.

Fashion is broadly divided into classic and ephemeral. Fashion has its timeless classics and it’s less commodified avant-garde wherein a garment is considered the equal of a painting or an art work. The classics embrace function more than anything else, hence they stand the test of time.

In fashion there are no traditions, just changing tastes and its cyclical nature suggests reversion to past tastes. As a result, fashion design is a field that is constantly changing with new trends driving
out the old ones. Functional deficiencies and poor material choices prevent products from becoming classics and having value over a long period of time. It also takes away from creating stability, longevity and heritage.

Wanda Lephoto Photo: Provided

SASH Photo: Provided


From my personal experience working as a stylist with emerging South African streetwear designers, in most cases form follows aesthetics and design principles are not taken into consideration. Aesthetics are prioritized and the consumer/wearer is only lured in by the aesthetic appeal and ‘hype’ around the designers because they make ‘dope’ clothes. However, are these garments really dope? “Dopeness” does not just end at aesthetics. The biggest problem in production is craft, poor material choice (from fabrics, buttons, zips etc) and not being consciously aware in the creation process. I understand the idea of moving into an innovative space and challenging the norms in design, but innovation must come with problem solving and design thinking.

I recently came across and wore garments from two streetwear designers made from upholstery fabric and it was clear that function was not considered at all. The material renders, the garments impractical for all weather conditions: they are –“cold when it’s cold and hot when it’s hot”- and the lack of craftsmanship is highlighted by the fact that moving in them is not very much pleasant or practical. I was left very perplexed. This is just many of other encounters.

The concern should not be simply to find solutions to functional problems but to find ‘elegant’ solutions- the elegance is not just an add on but is intrinsic to the problem solving. This is where the 5 most important principles of design thinking come into place: empathize, define, prototype, test and iterate. Instead of starting with a problem, design thinking starts with observation. It’s informed by an understanding of the culture and context of a problem (what people need), rather than the problem.

It is crucial to build safeguards into the designing process to ensure that garments are produced with both fashion and functionality in mind. The function is largely the challenge. Addressing the function is what makes a good or bad design. If it is removed, you remove the foundation of the output. The distinction of an impactful design depends on the visual ability of the designer to view the design in a 3 dimensional way and their technical know-how to harmoniously blend material, form, and function
together. Wanda Lephoto, Sol Sol, Young and LAZY and SASH are some of the South African streetwear designers that always give incredible executions of their collections from craft, established conceptual thinking, attention to detail, functionality aligned with fashion and aesthetics and prodigious production.

Simplicity should be favoured to complexity. Usability and ergonomics should be prioritized over all other design considerations, including aesthetics. However, looks do matter and the concern should be with the impact that aesthetics have on the consumer/buyer and delight them with visual effect of the product. Good design is harmonious, functional, aesthetical, and transcends time. It would be incredible to see more South African streetwear designers engage in a new dialogue with consumers by, implementing design principles and thinking into their design process for progressiveness in streetwear design ethos.

Young and Lazy                                                                                   Photo: Provided