How do you design sustainable products?

Did you know, 80-90% of a product’s sustainability is decided at the design phase?

How sustainable a product is, is influenced by many factors, including the yarn and fabric it’s made from, how this is produced, treated and dyed, the cut and manufacture of the product, the care of the product as well as what happens to it at the end of life stage.

Many of these decisions are taken when the product is being designed. This includes the end of life stage - extending the life of a product and what happens to it at the end.

Extending the life of a product significantly increases it’s sustainability credentials. So designing a product that’s made to last, can be repaired and re-worn, improves it’s sustainability. In addition, how easier a product is to recycle is often also decided at the design phase, and being able to properly recycle a product is important to prevent waste going to landfill or being incinerated.

Whilst it may seem odd to design a product for the end of its life, it’s an important aspect of sustainability that items can be recycled.

So how do we design a product for extended life and recyclability?  

We start by looking at the fabric, although it isn’t as simple as choosing natural (i.e. cotton) over synthetic (i.e. polyester) or organic versus non-organic. Although organic cotton is obviously best, as we already know, it’s also about using monomaterials – fabric that consists of one type of fibre.

This is because, when you consider the end of life stage of a piece of clothing, items that are made from one fibre are easier to recycle. For example, it’s possible to recycle cotton, so an item of 100% cotton, or organic cotton, can be recycled, processed and re-made into new fabric. A composite fabric – for example one that includes a mix of cotton, elastane or lycra, and polyester, is going to be harder to recycle as each type of fibre requires a different process to recycle but you’d need to separate them first, or you end up with a slightly inferior product, so one that is harder to recycle and re-use. You might be able to recycle it, but you’ll end up with a poorer quality yarn at the end.

Then you also need to look at how the item is designed to be cut, to reduce waste. Now most businesses will try to reduce waste fabric anyway, because it’s more profitable not to waste fabric if you can help it.

And you also want to look at how the product is made. Clearly an item that is poorly put together will only last a few wears and may not be repairable. Better to choose a product that is made to last, and from a quality fabric where small defects or wear patterns can be patched or repaired – or even upcycled and re-used if necessary.

All of these consideration affect the lifespan, and therefore the environmental impact, of our clothing.

So how do our clothes fair in this assessment? Well, sustainability is built into the design of our clothes. Basics are designed to be worn with everything and be a wardrobe essential. By keeping it simple, our clothing can be mixed and matched with more items – meaning you get a better cost per wear, a lower environmental impact per item and have a capsule wardrobe with plenty of options.

All our items are made from 100% organic cotton, without anything else so it’s a monomaterial. This should ultimately make them easier to recycle when they’ve sadly got one stain too many or too many knee holes to be patched!

And we work hard to ensure the quality of our clothing means that they can be passed on time and time again. It’s great to see that many of our customers have used our clothes for younger siblings, or passed them on or sold them as pre-loved in our Facebook group.

1 comment

Really interesting and informative; thanks!

Angela Morton November 20, 2020

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