What can a designer do to change this mindset?
In the article of September I wrote that I think mindset is the biggest issue we have to overcome to change towards a circular economy. Thereby I mean changing from seeing the importance towards freeing time to make a change in your daily work. We are all busy keeping up with our duties that it is an extra effort to stop, reflect and act.
What can a designer do to change this mindset?
I am writing blog articles since January 2012. Cradle-to-cradle was the main subject, focussed on which materials and techniques make textile products suitable for biodegradation or recycling. Ones in a while it is good to take a broader view and see the shifts that are needed to make a circular economy possible, that is what I will do in this article.
Why a circular economy? Take a look at this (Dutch) video:
Sustainable products must be sold. Otherwise they become waste and you know "Waste is design gone wrong". But what if you make fantastic woven fabrics for a living but you are not known? Then you need a framework that helps you make good quality products that sell to the right target audience. Karigar is such a framework.
Adding value is one of the key aspects of my company, it is even in my slogan “Design infinite value”. I recently finished reading the book The Upcycle (follow up on Cradle-to-cradle: remaking the way we make things)and I would like to explain to you the current concept of sustainability which is based on reducing and how to turn this in adding value.
What does “paying extra” mean? And how can you explain to your customer that he is not paying “extra”?
Products have a combined price with different currencies: money, nature, labour and trade. When you buy a product normally you pay with money, for example € 100,-. It is a shame to notice that too often someone who made your product had to pay with unfair labour circumstances and nature paid with being destroyed. There are also other ways to pay, without money, you trade a product or service for example a painter who paints the house of a gardener who does the garden of the painter.
Besides the way how you design products your whole business should become eco-effective. What are the easy steps to take? And what can be done with a little more effort? Today I will show you some examples in the Netherlands, because one of the things you can do is to stimulate the local economy.
There is a lot of attention for the circular economy at the moment. I recently read the report from WRAP. This report asks the question whether there is a business case for circular business models in the clothing sector. Let me share with you the findings.
Traditional business models are vulnerable to rising input costs and particularly raw material costs. (p. 9) Consumer goods businesses have developed business models that are predicated on cheap raw materials and labour costs. Fashion businesses have globalized sourcing raw materials and labour from low-cost countries in order to make a profit. (p.10) Now new roads need to be explored in order to have a feasible and profitable business in the future.
When produced in low cost labour countries, the true costs of production have not been completely factored in. (p.11) In the report they mean costs like water use, which are rarely monitored in these countries, but I think they should also mean the low salary and poor conditions the factory workers are working in. These workers pay with their lives for your garment.
The business models that are explored in this report are models that extend the life of clothes and increase the proportion of garments that are re-used instead of being discarded prematurely. (p.3) These models are examined on commercial viability and scalability.
The following models are explored:
We need to accept the fact that ageing is a process that belongs to the world. Products that evolve together with people get older too. They change, get some scars and a user can be emotionally attached to it, because they went through a lot of things together.
To accept the process of ageing you also need to address the issue of perfection. We live in a world where everything needs to be perfect. If it isn’t perfect you throw it away…but why not repair it? Use it again? Don’t design for perfection, because perfection is vulnerable. One scratch makes it imperfect.
When planning a products lifespan, consider the lifespan of the materials from which the product is made. Make recyclable products in such a way the quality of the material does not degrade when being recycled. And make disposable things that will last only as long as we need them. Food packaging for example now lasts much longer than the item that is packed.
My research (2009) shows that a lot of companies and designers that are working for a longer time in fashion said ‘no’ to the idea of incorporating eco-effective designing in their design process. One of the reasons they gave is being busy with following a fashion schedule; they have to show a collection every half a year (or even more). The designers do not have time to slow down and reinvent or even reflect on what they are doing. They have to continue the same way to make money. (Other reasons were: a lack of choices in materials, the materials are more expensive, do not know where to start)
In this case it is important to stop and think for a moment about what your purpose is of working this way. What is the greater goal? Think less competitive but more cooperative. What do people need? What do people want? From my point of view I would say: we need protection from the elements of nature, so we need clothes. We want our clothes to show our identity, so we want to change the way we look. This makes fashion a need. But do we have to own the garments? Do we have to use different materials all the time? Or can we reuse our materials?