WHAT DOES CIRCULARITY LOOK LIKE IN AN AUSTRALIAN FASHION CONTEXT?
A system in crisis
It operates in an almost completely linear way, in a "cradle to grave" model (McDonough & Braungart, 2009), whereby a throwaway culture encourages consumers to treat low priced fast fashion items as nearly disposable (Hvass, 2014). The environmental impact of the extraction of resources and excessive waste in production and disposal at such scale is pressing.
As the second largest consumer per capita of textiles in the world and consuming twice the global average, cost effectiveness and rising consumption is currently driving the Australian fashion sector.
Australians are the second largest consumer of new textiles in the world, double the global average
This research project
With no regulatory legislation on textiles and a national waste crisis, there is an urgent need for sweeping change. New sustainable business models are emerging that utilise design thinking to reconsider textile and clothing design, manufacturing and consumption around the principles of a circular economy; however there is a lack of research on applying these principles to a contextualised Australian fashion manufacturing sector.
This research aims to shed light on the design practice of circular economy models operating within the Australian fashion sector, examining the barriers to circular design and manufacturing processes, the solutions to overcome these barriers, and new pathways and opportunities for systemic change.
The research participants
This study involved 14 participants in interviews and a Focus Group to examine Australian fashion SMEs adopting circular and sustainable design practice within their business models as an alternative to consumptive and wasteful linear systems.
WHAT ARE THE BARRIERS TO CIRCULARITY IN THE AUSTRALIAN FASHION SECTOR?
Complexities & reluctance in sourcing, supply & manufacture
every time we butted up against the legacy industry, it was impossible to get anybody to change the way they worked
Component costs and a competitive environment
Meeting consumer price expectations is a challenge with such high component costs. Most SMEs in this study found wholesaling prohibitive as their products were unable to sustain a retail markup.
The volume of cheap offshore-produced fashion entering the Australian market reinforces low price expectations of consumers. A sale culture and frequent drops of new inventory contribute to a consumption culture, forming a significant barrier for business models operating on slower and more considered and conscious development processes.
materials are more costly when you're doing it right
- New design processes guided by circular purpose
- New business models guided by circular purpose
- Building relationships around circular purpose
NEW DESIGN PROCESSES GUIDED BY CIRCULAR PURPOSE
This section describes the ways in which SME designers are navigating the barriers and complexities of the sourcing process and developing new design processes centred in circular purpose and product stewardship
Designing for Biological Circularity & Longevity
Biological and Technical Loops
we make the right decisions at the design phase
Designing Out Waste
Short and Long Term Strategies
- Designing for mono-materiality
- Global partnerships to recycle scrap fabric into knitting yarn
- Experimental collaborations with CSIRO to use cotton waste as a fertilizer for new cotton crops
- Colour and fibre sorting systems for textile scraps ready for future recycling technologies
- A new technology initiative for sustainably extracting raw cellulose from the food and beverage sector for fibre and textile manufacture
Building a Circular Resource Library
Tested Materials and Components
I really just stick to those materials which I feel are very easy to qualify and very easy to trace
NEW BUSINESS MODELS GUIDED BY CIRCULAR PURPOSE
a hybrid of mass production and single pace production
Life extending models and PSSProduct Service Systems (PSS) and life extending models include rental, collection or take-back of goods, repair and alterations services, education around laundering and care as well as engaging consumers in creative workshops.
Pressures of speed, costs and consumer price expectations are reduced by this decelerated model, engaging the consumer in the narrative and extending the use phase.
whether it’s through repair or different styling ideas and ways to wear a garment … we’re trying to keep that customer interested in wearing that piece.
and when they’re no longer wearing it …asking them to send it back to us so we can either give it another life with someone else, or depending on its condition might be able to be repaired, or it might be ready to be composted or recycled.
BUILDING RELATIONSHIPS AROUND CIRCULAR PURPOSE
Collaboration and Co-creation with the consumer
Crowd-fund models and Education
The Very Good Bra utilises a crowd-funding model to pre-sell this print design underwear. Production only goes ahead if pre-orders enable minimum order quantities of the printed textile to be met.
anything could still end up in landfill, we have to rely on our customers to take the right actions
we do a lot of R & D work with customers
Collaboration & Co-creation within the Supply Chain
Supplier reluctance to change legacy practices and share information about origins of materials are overcome through the heavy investment of circular SMEs in building positive and collaborative relationships with their supply chain, engaging in the circular narratives and goals of brands; inspiring innovation, iteration and flexibility.
Challenges of requirements for highly specialised (globally situated) circular components and materials may be overcome through “glocalism” (Payne and Ferrero-Regis, 2019, p.10). This transparent supply chain model combines highly specialized components manufactured or sourced internationally; with Australian fibre, processing and reshoring of manufacture. Examples of this from the research include the use of European closed loop Lenzing Tencel fibre in locally-based textile knitting factories; or locally grown fibres such as wool that are processed offshore before returning to Australia for knitting. The glocal supply chain is is kept as short as possible and is highly transparent.
I don’t want to become a business that is so huge that we don’t know who is in our supply chain
Fostering circularity in the Australian fashion industry
Greenwashing and the burden on SMEs
Participants in this study are burdened with the responsibility of education of their supply chain, their consumers and the wider community.
While government and industry are beginning to see the benefits of a circular economy as an alternative and a solution to the increasingly alarming issue of waste in Australia (Commonwealth of Australia, 2018), little of this focus has been directed at the high levels of toxic textile waste, and the high levels of consumption and disposable behaviours of fashion consumers.
These challenges require external intervention to support those circular fashion labels currently carrying the burden of education of the wider supply chain and the community.
There’s a lot of people saying, ‘Oh, this is a great product because it’s biodegradable’, and, yes, it is biodegradable, but it still leaves toxic residue at the end of its life
But, they cannot do it on their own. Support for SMEs and larger enterprise taking circular and product stewardship approaches is urgently required in the form of education of the community and industry; legislation and mandating around the collection and disposal of textile waste; and investment in infrastructure and technologies. This research and the Design Map developed from this project are tools to support the pathway to circularity in the Australian fashion industry; visually storytelling the complex interrelated relationships and strategies of circularity in an Australian fashion context to the diverse stakeholders involved.
This research was limited to interviews and a focus group with a small number of fashion SMEs, practitioners and academia engaged in circular and sustainable apparel design, and is by no means exhaustive. Further research is required in three areas. Firstly, consumers were not interviewed for this research project, and greater understanding is needed in this space to adequately engage this critical stakeholder in the circular fashion and textile economy. Furthermore, larger corporations with bigger economies of scale and single-season fashion items may be better positioned for rapid textile recycling in faster technical speed cycles (Goldsworthy, 2017), and more research on what this might look like in an Australian context is required. Finally, more data and research is required on the recovery, sorting and recycling of textile waste as a resource for the Australian fashion sector. I sincerely thank all the participants who gave up their time to support this research.