Design for a Circular Economy

Are you thinking of entering the SDC International Design Competition 2017? The theme for 2017 is ‘design for a circular economy’. As always, the focus is on colour and its use in the design process, and you will need to analyse and justify the resources used. This includes the dyes, chemicals, materials and processes used to commercially produce your product within a circular economy.

So what is the circular economy? 

Here’s one definition:

‘The circular economy is an alternative system in which products and materials are kept in a high-value state of use for as long as possible’

Water drops leafSo could this offer a practical solution to the earth’s resource problems?

Today’s linear ‘take, make, dispose’ economic model relies on large quantities of cheap, easily accessible materials and energy and is a model that is reaching its physical limits. A circular economy is an attractive and viable alternative with huge benefits for the environment.

What are the issues that need to be considered from the outset?

Design of a closed loop product requires innovative thinking and working methods. Sustainability is key. Areas important for economically successful circular design include:

  • Careful material selection – yarns, colours and fabrics
  • Consider the manufacturing techniques and processes – use of resources and pollution. What are the wastes generated during textile manufacturing? What are the resources used? How can these be reduced?
  • Designed-to-last products – what is the final product and its intended lifecycle?
  • End of life separation or reuse of products and materials
  • Design-for-manufacturing criteria that take into account possible useful applications of by-products and wastes.

What is the impact of the fashion and textiles industry on the environment?

It’s extensive, from growing or making fibres through to discarding the product at the end of its life.

Colorful t-shirtsIssues include:

  • Raw materials – use of pesticides and other chemicals
  • Manufacturing processes – textile dyeing and finishing is a resource intensive, high volume, high impact source of water pollution and CO2
  • Transport – shipping goods long distances
  • Use and consumer care – how will products be washed or cleaned?
  • Lifecycle of the product – how long is it designed to last and what will happen to it at the end of its intended life?

Bear in mind: reduce, recycle, reuse. We’ll return to this in a future blog.

There is a lot of information available regarding the circular economy, so do your own research!

Here are some useful links:

The Ellen MacArthur Foundation works with business, government and academia to accelerate the transition to a circular economy. Their website is a great source of information on the circular economy.

There’s also a separate circular economy portal which is an Ellen MacArthur Foundation initiative.

WRAP (Waste and Resources Action Programme) was set up in 2000 to promote sustainable waste management. Their website is a source of circular economy information.

globe-in-handThe Zero Discharge of Hazardous Chemicals Programme (ZDHC) takes a holistic approach to tackling the issue of hazardous chemicals in the global textile and footwear supply chain, and their website is a useful source of information.

The high profile ‘Dirty Laundry’ reports from Greenpeace have had a (sometimes controversial) impact on the textile supply chain.

And here are some further links you might find useful:

This article from The Guardian outlines ‘10 things you need to know about the circular economy’.

This article from the World Economic Forum takes a look at som of the environmental issues of the fashion industry.

Take a look at SDC’s circular economy Pinterest board for more ideas, links and inspiration:

This blog is part of a series of educational resources around the theme. We will be rolling out some resources and educational material on the following:

  • Sourcing and choice of materials
  • Manufacturing processes
  • Use of product

Watch this space for further updates or get in touch and we’ll let you know when information is available.

The SDC International Design Competition is open to fashion and textile design undergraduates in a number of countries worldwide. For details of the competition and for the full brief, visit the SDC website.

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