Design to last / circulate / die?

While several sustainable trends are emerging in the textile industry, there are three that I find especially interesting – and probably the most meaningful in reducing environmental footprint, in addition to novel materials like ours.

EmmiA while ago, I wrote about being more sustainable by consuming less, like my grandmother. Reducing the amount of new clothes produced, bought and discarded certainly takes some load off the environment, both in the beginning and the end of the lifecycle. As does designing and producing for longevity, and consuming only timeless clothing made of high-quality materials.

What’s of greater importance on a global level however, is developing recycling technologies. Many of our innovator peers (see below) are developing ways of closing the loop on textile fibres. When coupled with good collecting logistics and scaled to volume, recycling technologies will have a significant environmental impact.

Recycling needs incentive

Returning textiles for recycling should be made as easy as the return bottle system we have in Finland. Not many want to forgo their deposit, so some 90% of bottles and cans are returned. Caring for the environment would be enough reason to return used textiles for many, but let’s face it: incentives are probably needed. This is where brands are stepping in; many are implementing buyback and recycling programmes. Question is, what happens after the buyback?

Cellulose fibres, at least our ones, are great to recycle. The cellulose is ground down to micro level so the material doesn’t lose quality when recycled and can be turned into new fibres. Again, a great example of such a thing from everyday life: paper. No incentive here, but recycling paper has been the nation’s way in Finland for something like 70 years.

So what’s the problem in implementing this for textiles right away? The fact is that achieving this degree of recycling in textiles is much more complex, as most fabrics are blends. Luckily, technologies for separation are emerging, and scaling is hopefully near. Downside is that these are mostly chemically intensive processes.

What if we designed to die?

The alternative future scenario is not holding onto your garments, but actually designing and producing items on demand, for discarding after use. How’s that sustainable, you might ask.

The idea here is to not recycle but to let die, provided that the material is compostable. If a garment is made 100% of cellulose there is no reason why it wouldn’t be as biodegradable as paper. Friends of ours in Sweden have developed a service called Streamateria. Their vision is to create garments that can be designed on demand, made of cellulose in a way that resembles 3D printing and discarded after use to decompose.

Time will tell if this philosophy will conquer the world, but the perspective is certainly interesting and apt, especially when considered in regard to the future megatrend of not owning many things. Designing to die quickly is better than designing to die in, worst case scenario, hundreds of years, as is the case with synthetic fibres. Maybe this is a whole new blog post.

Stay sustained <3


Design to die by Streamateria

Some of our fellow Fashion for Good innovators developing recycling technology:

Infinited Fiber

Moral Fiber

Worn Again

A buyback programme by John Lewis and our fellow Fashion for Good innovator Stuffstr by the Independent