Designing for empathy. Upcycling and downcycling

Hello everyone, this is the second part of my post regarding the book A practical guide to sustainable fashion by Alison Gwilt.

I found some interesting topics such as textile recycling, upcycling and Closed-loops, which are important for the understanding of some aspects of sustainability in fashion.

While the designer is focused on sustainable strategies towards the design and production, it can be difficult to focus on the use and disposal stages of a garment’s life cycle. That is why a closed-loop system of production is important.

What is a closed-loop system?

A closed loop system of production provides an opportunity to reuse the materials of a product that has come to the end of its useful life. The materials are either considered compostable or are recycled into new products, typically of the same variety as the original product.

Between the clothing item and the wearer, there is an empathetic relationship, where the wearer will have to  provide some maintenance actions in order to provide a longer life to the item.

The understanding of this relationship is essential for the designer. This way, the designer can assess which atributes are desired and which are inconsiderable, in order to design a specific garment with unique characteristics, increasing its use.

 

As a designer it is essential to do a field test, in order to understand what people want from their clothing, gathering information for future collections and creating design for empathy.

Besides the selection of techniques, is also important the selection of fabrics and materials. The fabrics selected should have minimal impact (dying and bleaching) and can potentially display its distinctive natural fibre.

 

FAIRTRADE logo

Fair Trade?

Fair trade aspire to support developing communities by paying fair prices for their services while reinvesting profit back to the community.

If you see a cotton that has the FAIRTRADE logo it means farmers are receiving a fair price for their cotton. In relation with organic cotton, there are companies who support designers and help monitoring sustainable practices, such as the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) or the Soil Association.

Designers can always request help from fabric specialists and yarn suppliers, ethical manufacturers and sustainable organisations with the sourcing process.

 

Which fabrics can be recycled?

The possibilities of recycling a fabric increase if that fabric contains an uncontaminated mono-material (single fibre type). The recycling of fabrics contaminated with unsuitable fibres or treatments can reduced the value of the material, being called ‘downcycled’.

By using mono-materials the designer can use other techniques in order to change the visual aspect without corrupt the fibre, such as laser cutting or needle-punching.

This fibres can successfully accomplish being part closed-loop systems.

 

Zero-waste techniques

In pattern-making and toiling phase the fabric waste is common, however it is possible to apply some techniques ir order to avoid it.

  1. draping – approach used in the works of the couturier Madeleine Vionnet
  2. directly weaving the pieces of a garment into the correct size and shape
  3. designer needs to move confidently through the three-dimensional form and the two-dimensional pattern making

 

Upcycling

What it is? Its the technique of upgrading or adding value to a product that was discarded in the past. By upcycling it is possible to increase the value of the garment and prolonging its life.

Sometimes by recycling, some materials need to go through processes that can possible damage the initial value of the fibres (downcycling).

By doing upcycling, the designer can test his creativity, being able to do unique pieces without damaging or using extra fabrics. However, upcycling can require extra time and patience by cleaning up cycled pieces or by deconstruct them.

 

 

Textile recycling

What happens? Fibres are separated by chemical or mechanical processes. This fibres can be remanufactured and used in several different contexts, however by recycling, the original value of the fibre has been downgraded.

 

Pictures by me in Praia do Guincho, Portugal.

 

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