Rebecca Earley at TED 24's Rethinking Fashion Production workshop.

Closing the loop – fashion’s challenge

What part does a designer play in closing the loop of fashion? According to Professor Rebecca Earley, sustainable fashion and textile design researcher, designers have a lead role in transforming the fashion industry.

“Designing for cyclability is about keeping things really simple. It is about keeping the idea of mono-material; you want to have as few and as pure component parts as possible so that they can be treated in a simpler way further down the line. When you choose materials, colors and dyes you have to understand that every time you add something, you introduce another chemical element that has to be dealt with in some way. If we can keep things 100 percent cotton, polyester or lyocell to end-of-life, we can process the garments in cleaner, purer and more efficient ways. We should only use mixed fibers when we absolutely have to.

Materials and chemicals are not the only challenge. It’s about designing things that are going to come back to us. So we have to consider what functionality we put into a garment. If we design kidswear and we know kids grow out of clothing, how can we design these products to get reused and eventually reprocessed and remanufactured?

The big opportunity for mainstream brands is to understand their users better; all garments move through the cycle at different speeds, satisfying different people and different needs.

« We should only use mixed fibers when we absolutely have to. »

We also have to understand that in order for cyclability to happen we have to keep systems well-organized and free-flowing. Most technical researchers report that although there are advanced ways of reprocessing textiles and garments, we can’t actually get the supply chain to work in a smooth and efficient way, so we’re not able to get back all 100 percent of the, say, polyester we put into our garments. Service and system design are crucial to improve the chance of recycling.

I’m excited by the textile designers emerging in the sustainable fashion landscape – particularly when they fit into design teams for brands, where everyone experiences real-world challenges. Brands need to make more time for creative exploration in their design teams, looking at what’s already out there and how it can be reused, reissued, improved and given a longer life. One thing that interests me is the idea of the designer understanding how the garment is going to get remanufactured. How will they design it differently? How can they design it in such a way that its’ successive lives build into a final form? I believe textile designers have a particular kind of insight around the possibilities of the circular economy, because you have to be hands-on in the act of making, exploring and sharing the materials. The things that touch us and mean something to us, as well as clothe us, guide our decision making and mold the way we can offer new things.”

Professor Rebecca Earley, sustainable fashion and textile design researcher
Visit Rebecca Earley’s website here.

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