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.

 

Clothing supply chain: rethinking design

This post is based on the reading of the book A practical guide to sustainable fashion by Gwilt, Alison.

This book is enriched with valuable information for designers who wish to learn how to apply sustainability and ethical values on their creations, however, as a non-designer myself, I found it really interesting. It is filled with key issues regarding the production and disposal of clothing, talking about eco-friendly fashion designers and companies. It also has some exercises that help motivate us to research, creating a cycle map of a fashion item analysing the environmental and social impacts.

So…should we rethink fashion design?

The fashion industry has been developing, however the process involves a general set of steps and stages known as ‘the supply chain’, which include: design, sample-making, selection, manufacturing and distribution.

The role of the fashion designer is essential within creation and development, controlling and making decisions towards a desirable product.

The production and distribution of clothing has a large impact environmentally and socially, attached with ethical and sustainable concerns.

up cycling
can our fashion items be part of a closed-loop system?

Consumerism and fast fashion are the main reason for the actual obsession in bringing runway trends to the high street as fast as possible, which might cause impacts in the supply chain. The fashion network of the supply chain is global, involving a large amount of people, countries and laws/legislations.

Meanwhile, the consumption of fashion has been increasing. The ‘use phase’ is the stage when the customer buys an item and its consequent life cycle from there on. The use phase includes wearing, washing, drying, storing, alterations and repairing. Studies affirm that the majority of the environmental impacts associated with clothing are created during the use phase, due to the laundering process which implies the use of water, chemicals and energy.

cof

The disposal of garments is increasing
Think well all the options, before the disposal of a clothing item: can it be repaired? Can you transform it? Should you donate it to someone?

It is possible to think that an item could be recycled, donated to someone or disposed into a landfill. For this reason Sustainable Fashion is important and with that, a sustainable designer who understands the impacts of our daily clothing.

In nowadays, is essential to evolve the significance of eco design and accept new contemporary methods that can be used throughout the supply chain, and cause less impact on the use phase.

Eco or green design attempts to avoid the environmental impacts that are associated with a garment during its life cycle. The aim is to prevent, reduce or eliminate impacts that may pollute, destroy or reduce the planet’s natural resources.

Sustainable design embraces three key areas: society, environment and economy, becoming the main focus of the designers to manage the three at the same time.

This way, sustainable fashion focuses on the life cycle of a garment and on its particular supply chain.

 

Fashion supply chain
Social and environmental impacts along the clothing supply chain. Made by me, inspired by “A practical guide to sustainable fashion”

 

The fashion industry is facing issues regarding social and ethical affairs related with fast fashion, however the future of fashion can change if designers and related companies work together, towards a green revolution: sourcing appropriate fabrics (which can be easily recycle, not demanding too much treatment or which don’t harm innocent animal lives), avoid the adoption of harmful chemicals on the production and administer reasonable and fair wages and work conditions to the employees.

If you are a designer and you are thinking in making improvements and becoming more sustainable within your creations, these are the steps to take:

  1. map a life cycle of the product to be developed;
  2. identify the environmental and social impacts of your product;
  3. evaluate the results of  the 1st and 2nd steps;
  4. engage with sustainable strategies which can eliminate negative impacts from the garment’s life cycle.

life cycle of a garment

by mapping a life cycle, a designer can easily understand and evaluate sustainable actions of the designs and assess improvements on the process. Engaging with a strategy helps focusing towards aims and objectives.

Above are some strategies given by A practical guide to sustainable fashion:

  • Minimizing the consumption of resources
  • Choosing low-impact processes and resources
  • Improving production techniques
  • Improving distribution systems
  • Reducing the impacts created during use
  • Improving the garment’s lifetime
  • Improving the use of end-of-life systems

 

There is also the economic component where the designer is focused on trends and market targets, however it is possible to apply sustainable strategies, during the development of the production of a collection.

Pictures by me in Praia do Guincho, Portugal.

 

 

Hello Green

What is Sustainability?

How do we incorporate it in our lives?

Are there any challenges?

According to Margaret Robertson in Sustainability principles and Practice

“Sustainability refers to systems and processes that are able to operate and persist on their own over long periods of time”.

Also, if we search the word sustainability on the internet it will appear with “the ability to be maintained at a certain rate or level” or “avoidance of the depletion of natural resources in order to maintain an ecological balance”.

Sure Sustainability is the path of the Future and towards a better way of living but sometimes can be difficult to incorporate, because it usually involves change and discipline. Sure we want to have a fantastic and inexpenisve style within our wardrobe but do we know how to do it in a sustainable way? Sure we all love our favourite brands but is it following the standard regulations?

Modern society is in constant change, and with the increase in population many of our actions have dramatic consequences to our biosphere, threatening to break the balance of dynamic equilibrium on the planet.

Unfortunately, a single group of people cannot realistically change this issue, it will require the majority of society to make the changes, to face the challenges and to revolutionise their lives.

Green Taja is a platform where I post my sustainable routine, my research and global news with my passion for fashion, photography and styling.

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