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Make Fashion Circular: co-designing a new fashion system

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  • Picture of Josie Warden
    Josie Warden
  • Circular economy
  • Design

Over the next two years we will use design challenges, events, workshops, and communications to empower the next generation of designers to use circular economy principles to shift the fashion system.

Our clothes are some of our most treasured possessions: they keep us warm, dry and protected; they help us feel comfortable, to fit in and show affiliation, or to stand out and show difference.

This love of fashion fuels a global industry, employing millions around the world. But this is currently a system which drives environmental destruction, pollution and waste. One truck-full of clothing is burned or landfilled every second, mountains of clothes are stuck in warehouses or at the bottom of our wardrobes, and less than one per cent of used clothing is turned back into new clothes.

All parts of the fashion system need redesigning

Tweaking current practices - adding organic cotton here or there - or looking for solutions to deal with waste once it is already produced is not enough. All parts of the system need redesigning to prevent waste and damage from being created.

Circular economy principles offer a way to make this change. Instead of our ‘take, make, waste’ model we should be finding ways to make clothes last longer and stay in use; ensuring that materials don’t damage the environment when they are made or used; and making sure that when clothing does wear out, that those materials can be recovered and used again.

Earlier this year the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s Make Fashion Circular Initiative was awarded £1million by the players of the People’s Postcode Lottery, via their Dream Fund – a fund which support ambitious initiatives seeking to make transformational, systemic change. Part of this award will support a partnership with the RSA designed to inspire the next generation of design talent to transform the fashion industry.

The RSA has a long history of encouraging design to solve social challenges. From the open prize Premiums of our early days, to the Great Recovery, a pioneering programme investigating the role of design in the circular economy, and the RSA Student Design Awards, currently in their 95th year.

We know that designers are problem solvers and, given the right challenges, can unlock new ideas and potential. Their skills and their capacity to collaborate with a wide range of actors in the industry can help us create new products designed to last; to create new services which enable customers to repair and reuse their clothing; and to establish new business models which change the way we buy or access clothing.

Over the next two years the RSA will be embarking on a journey with the purpose of engaging and enabling the design community to re-think fashion systems through design challenges, inspiring events, communications and interdisciplinary workshops.

In 2019/20 we will be awarding two RSA Student Design Awards for briefs challenging higher education students to apply circular design principles in fashion and demonstrate positive societal and environmental impact: an open brief and an animation brief.

In 2020/21 we will be working with a cohort from across the fashion industry to foster new collaborations and solutions for circular economy in fashion. We will be developing this part of the programme this year, with support from Fellows and the wider RSA network.

Look out for more from the Make Fashion Circular programme over the coming months.

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9 Comments

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  • Would love to be involved in this circular economy research. Part of ahrc funded project exploring how creative making and design thinking can forge a new sensibility for sustainable fashion and affect behaviour change, working with community, fashion designers, design and politics researchers ans a range of practice based research tools. Have a look at our short films on YouTube at S4S project. 

  • Hi Josie. This looks very interesting. I have a project which is waiting for one or more fashion designers to get on board which harvests personal energy into power for wearable technology. It won't go far without a strong fashion backer, because it uses clothing to generate and/or move the power around the body. but it IS a big idea that dovetails very well with this project's aims. The idea is at https://www.power-2.me/ with a video on the about page.

  • This is a global wealth creation system feeds off the core of human desire and a system which I agree needs a major overhaul to be fit for our survival as a species. Has a stakeholder mapping exercise been carried out? I think it may go around the world!

  • This is such an exciting project. I am currently in my second year of Oxford University's (part-time) History of Design Master's programme and I'm writing my dissertation on this very subject. If there's any way I can get involved/contribute, please do not hesitate to get in touch. 

    • Hi Katie. Interested to hear about your research. Am currently Co investigator on a project exploring creative making and behaviour change. Have a look at our videos on YouTube at S4S projects. 

  • Josie, I'm not directly involved in fashion, but am looking at the wider topic of design for circular economy, as a result I have contacts with other industries looking at circular design and business models, so there may be some learning.  I am also addressing this as a major documentary photography project, so might be able to help in other ways.  BW Mark

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