That’s the way it should be if you take on a circular mindset. Circularity means reusing and recycling materials and products, to keep them at their highest value - in order to turn discarded resources valuable resources.
As designers, we have potential for a much bigger impact than we are used to think. When designing a product or a garment, our decisions touch on materials, production, use, and disposal of the product. A common design failure is waste after end of use.
We can influence people to love the clothes they buy and wear, and encourage them to keep it longer. And we can select textiles that are recycled and recyclable. Circular fashion is not only about beautiful design - it is about clever and responsible design. Because fashion isn’t waste until we waste it.
This guideline is an introduction to circular fashion design and seeks to explore the field by bringing theory to a product level. So you, as a designer, can learn how circularity can strengthen your product development and design process.
The tool will introduce new concepts and words. Recycle, upcycle, downcycle, reuse, redesign - what is what and what is the difference? To set the record straight, we prepared a short introduction of circular names and terms for you.
is to recycle a material into higher value than the original material. For example, when disposed foods are used to create new fibres and textiles. When upcycling materials, health should be considered always, especially in case of skin contact.
The term upcycling is also often used when materials or parts of an old product are rearranged and reutilized to create a new product. Such new combinations might preserve the material value once but are often mixed with different not remarkable recyclable textiles so that a downcycling might follow. Therefore, we call this mostly limited method redesign.
If a material or element is still in high quality, there is no need to recycle it yet. First, products or materials can be reused in a new design or context. For example, when clothing is handed down or nylon strings from old kites are reused to adjust a hoodie.
is to recycle a material into lower value than the original material. For example, when disposed garments are downcycled into insulation for housing.
In the textile field the term recycling mostly refers to the most common method the mechanical recycling.
In the bio-cycle, the product or material is biodegraded and returns to the natural system at the end-of-use. That means it is broken down or decomposed by microorganisms. The process is inspired by nature, for example, when leaves fall off the tree they composite and return to the soil releasing nutrition. For textiles not only the base material need to be biodegradable but also all dye stuff and finishings need to compost in the soil quick and safe.
The “technical cycle” contains products that are used but not used up. For example, the metal buttons on a shirt might last longer the main fabric. It also contains materials that are able to be regenerated to same or higher quality. Therefore, synthetic fibers such as polyester and nylon but also recyclable cellulose fibres can be recycled with textile-to-textile recycling methods.
In the “biological cycle” materials are returned to the natural system and composted, similar to how we handle food waste. Not only natural fibers and textiles, such as cotton, hemp, linen, but also bio-based or compostable polymers can biodegrade in the bio-cycle. An important requirement is that colorants and finishings are biodegradable too. The cycle is mainly suitable for goods that are consumed or that relieve high abrasion into nature. Our database contains only biodegradable or recyclable textiles.
is suitable for almost any kind of textile even textile blends and mixes. The process usually begins with sorting, separation after colour and sometimes after fibre. The textile is broken down by crushing, grinding or shredding where also non-target materials (e.g. metal and hard plastic parts like zippers and buttons) can be removed. The short staple fibres of shredded natural fibres or blends can be mixed with virgin fibres are respun to yarns. The limitation is that when fibres are chopped into shorter pieces, it decreases the quality, and therefore min. 60% virgin material must be added to create new stabile yarns.
In the chemical recycling process, the polyester is broken into molecules. By separating the chemical ‘building blocks’ (depolymerization), unwanted components can be removed, such as dyes, surface treatments, non-PET fibres and chemicals. Therefore, chemical recycling has the potential to hit the “reset” button. Moving degraded or lower molecular weight materials back up the quality ladder, allowing them to flow within the same value chain from which they came or to other end markets if demand is greater. A separation of color is not needed.
Whereas pre-consumer textiles can be easier recycled because we know what’s in it and we can identify not blended and mixed textiles, post-consumer textiles often consist of different materials that need to be taken apart to be regenerated.
Pre-consumer textiles are yarn, fabric and products leftovers that are discarded during production and retail at all stages before it reaches a user. This includes left overs from: Yarn production, yarn dyeing, fabric dyeing, fabric weaving, textile swatches, end-of-roll yardage, cut and sew fabric scraps , clothing samples, defective or unsold garments.
Post-consumer textiles are garments disposed by the wearer after use. The average usage of garments has globally decreased by 36% in the last 15 years. The rapid consumption is fuelling the industry of used clothing, where the garments are sorted into clothing into two categories - wearable and non-wearable. 50% of collected clothing is re-wearable, and the rest could be recycled. However, only 12% of the global textile materials go into recycling while 73% are landfilled or incinerated. (Source: Circular Fibre Initiative)
The intention of this concept is to reuse and recycle products or their components in order to restore more of their inputs like material, energy and labour. By doing so an enormous business potential of otherwise discarded products can be unlocked. The idea is to develop systems and services to repair, refurbish, reuse and recycle goods according to the hierarchy of waste striving always to reach the highest effectiveness of a raw material by choosing the next step of a product which is most valuable and needs the least new input: Reuse before recycling. #circular retail models #sharing economy #collaborative consumption.
The concept of Cradle to Cradle® has been developed by Michael Braungart and William Mc Donough at the end of the 1980s and is about innovation, quality and intelligent design. The common product’s life starts at the cradle and goes to grave in the end which means usually incineration or landfill. On the contrary, this concept aims to design and manufacture ecologically intelligent products for closed loop systems, coming from the cradle and starting a new life again. The precondition for a circular economy and for Cradle to Cradle® inspired design, intending a valuable closed loop, is a division of all materials into two different types of material flows: nutrients for the biological cycle and nutritions for the technical cycle.
The transitional approach is handling existing textiles, by involving reuse and redesigning methods and services to give materials and clothes new life or by recycling them into new materials. This is a rather reactive approach reducing slightly the amount of waste but will probably not change the linear system from within. A significant positive impact on reducing the exploitation of virgin resources and leveling up the material health is questionable #redesign. However, this field can provide enormous business potential offering redesign services, second hand and leasing models and is as important as solution for the transitional phase - to at least save the textiles out there already.
Our approach is a proactive one, designing garments for circularity from the very beginning. Products directly optimized for reuse and recycling by design incorporate an endless value. This can max out further the potential of corresponding retail models and services. To make sure that the best value of each garment can be catched after use, its recovery method is designated and saved in an ID right in the beginning. This is what we call circular.fashion. Let’s get it started! Jump into our guidelines.