Prof Rebecca Earley shared her experiences with the HEREWEAR consortium, of working at the forefront of Circular Textile Design with big brands and small enterprises.

Textile Designers are uniquely placed to make decisions that echo throughout the material life cycle and Professor Rebecca Earley of HW partner UAL has spent six years exploring how the relationship between textile design practice, sustainability and circularity can create new tools, models and mindsets for brands and other textile supply chain stakeholders to begin their own transition.

Becky was invited to give the second talk in the HEREWEAR Partner Talks series and used this opportunity to showcase some of the approaches she has been developing with her team at the Centre for Circular Design at Chelsea College of Arts (part of University of the Arts London).

Becky began her talk by exploring the progression from ‘Green Design’ in the 90s to Circular Design which has been prominent from 2016 to the current day. The change has involved moving away from a primary focus on product solutions to an approach which takes into account the whole system from raw materials, through production, to the experiences of people who use those garments, to the services, logistics and technologies that can add value when those garments are discarded. Central to the popularity of the Circular Design concept is the measurability of impacts which makes it much more appealing to businesses than less concrete approaches.

Becky’s work is more and more recognizing the social dimension of transitioning to circular systems, and the importance of mindsets, behaviours and motivations in creating change. The importance for Becky here is in leading people towards the kind of future they want, by providing better alternatives to the current ways of consuming and experiencing fashion, for example through new business models, appropriate use of materials, such as paper for faster speed garments and super slow materials like polyester for garments that can be used and adapted through services to last up to 50 years.

One of the central themes of the talk was the relationship between sustainable design and circular design; simply put, garments can be sustainable without being circular, whereas circular garments have to sustainable – circularity can’t be an excuse for greater consumption, it has to be about reducing impacts otherwise it falls into the territory of ‘greenwashing’.

This territory is very difficult to navigate for designers and other people involved in the decision making around garment design and sourcing. Becky explained that much of her work has been to develop new tools to help people prioritise the focus of their circular design approach, for example through The TEN. Through her experience of working with students and different sized brands, Becky has found that the approaches are necessarily very different from person to person and business to business; a design-maker will need to take a different route through The TEN – play a different hand – than a design team in a big global brand. Likewise, a luxury label will have different cards to play than a high street brand. What was clear through Becky’s talk is that Circular Textile Design has a great set of tools and methods that can really make sense of how bio-based textiles and garments can be designed for local circular systems with reduced impacts and minimal materials loss whilst also creating something that people want to wear, responsibly. 

For more information, contact Prof. Rebecca Earley