Centre for Circular Design at University of the Arts London is a leading voice in academic design research and knowledge exchange. The team focus on using practice research approaches to steer and support circular economies and communities around the globe.
Design has been an important element of the resource-intensive production and consumption systems of the 20th Century. It continues to play a significant role in the damaging impacts on natural systems and human populations throughout the textile supply chain.
By bringing together academic and industry research CCD explores design for circular contexts with approaches ranging from emerging technology, systems design, materials, tools, user behaviour and social innovation. The Centre brings together UAL research staff, PhD students, national and international academic researchers, cultural institutions, industry and commerce to create new connections to support people and planet.
Miriam Ribul’s practice led PhD ‘Material Driven Textile Design’ (2018) developed a new methodological framework, and new material processes, combining methods from materials science and design. The research was structured around a model of three research residencies in pioneering material science laboratories: the Cellulose-based Textiles Section of the Biorefinery Unit’s Bioeconomy Division at RISE Research Institutes of Sweden in Stockholm and Borås, as well as the Department of Bioproducts and Biosystems at Aalto University’s School of Chemical Engineering in Finland.
Phase 2 of the Mistra Future Fashion project began with questioning whether garments could be designed for different speeds of use. This ‘Circular Speeds’ work involved proposing ‘ultra-fast’ and ‘super-slow’ design prototypes for different extremes of use and different circular systems.
Researchers worked closely with material developers and service providers, to design appropriate materials for different speeds of use, production and recovery. They developed the concepts whilst also continuing to share their approaches with fashion designers in industry to enable commercial prototypes to be developed alongside the research garments. The work resulted in several major outcomes: The Circular Transitions conference and Making Circles exhibition in 2016, exhibits in the V&A’s Fashioned from Nature exhibition in 2018, the Disrupting Patterns exhibition with Filippa K also in 2018 and the Circular Design Guidelines published in 2019.
A beautiful soft draping woven fabric and a cosy powder-blue knitted baby’s cardigan… made from pre- and post- consumer textile waste? Until recently no one would have believed it could be possible, but demonstrating this principle: that textile waste can be used to make high-quality market-ready textiles and other materials was the aim of the EU H2020-funded Trash-2-Cash project. The 3.5 year research project involved 17 partners from 10 different countries selected to represent the whole material life cycle. An experimental design-driven methodology was used to enable the collaboration along with new facilitation techniques and Life Cycle Thinking approaches designed and delivered by CCD researchers; the circular design concepts informed the materials development in an iterative co-design process to produce six sensational master case product prototypes.
This research was conducted as part of the Mistra Future Fashion phase 1 work. It addressed the need for textile designers to contribute to systemic change in the industry, through challenging oneself and one's beliefs. The project included workshop techniques that resulted in new tools being created to aid the designer on a journey of discovery, through the Sustainable Textile Designer, to the Design Facilitator, to Design Steward. The full Transitionary Textiles thesis is available below:
Jen's practice research was titled ‘e-Co-Textile design’ and applied the concept of ‘fashion activism’ to explore how textile design and making might be combined with social and digital media tools, to pilot alternative fast fashion models and promote sustainability. Jen is now the Research Manager at V&A Dundee, Scotlands first Design Museum and her interests have become more interdisciplinary over time, drawing upon the fields of user experience, interaction and service design. More about her PhD can be found below:
The Centre was honoured with this industry-focused award in 2014 for their contribution to sustainable textile design education and industry influence. The award noted that TED had made a significant contribution to how sustainability issues were understood and how problems could become design challenges for future generations.
The arsenal of tools, methods and approaches for circular design developed, tested and used by researchers over 18 years since the group’s first formation had become a valuable resource to the team and it became obvious that it could also be valuable beyond the Centre. CCD decided that making these tools accessible could help Textile Designers bring about change in their own practice, be that in academic or industrial contexts. In 2014 the team were finally able to make their accumulated experience and resources accessible to a wider audience through the Textile Toolbox web portal which was funded as part of the Mistra Future Fashion phase 1 program. Textile Toolbox remains a valuable archive for textile designers.
Very little academic research addresses the real issues of implementing Circular Design in industry, but CCD see this as one of the most important pieces in the Sustainable Fashion Industry puzzle. Through a series of 5 workshops with the design team at H&M Stockholm, as part of the Mistra Future Fashion project, researchers gained a valuable insight into the challenges of implementing change from within a large global high street brand. The workshops involved using Ted’s Ten and other design tools in experimental formats to enable in-house fashion designers to discover the mindset, space and the leverage to practice circular design. The work resulted in 12 new redesign concepts and fed the ongoing research at CCD.
Kate completed the first UK practice-based doctorate focused on ‘designing textiles for the circular economy’. The project was supported as part of the Centre’s AHRC Funded project ‘Worn Again’. The research focussed on the then emerging fibre-to-fibre recovery space, with the launch of Teijin’s Eco-Circle technology launching just weeks into the project. This along with Kates interest in innovative manufacturing processes resulted in a practice led project with both technical, creative and strategic outputs.
Firstly, the research framed multiple strategies for circular design in its many complex forms, within a now, near and far future context. Secondly, it developed a new application for ‘laser welding’, a technology not prevalent in textile manufacturing. The textile processes developed resulted in over 20 finishing processes which could be applied to a recycled polyester substrate or composite material which would also preserve the mono-material character of the textile for future F2F recovery.
VF Corporation owns 30 brands across four groups – outdoor, active, workwear and jeans. They commissioned the team to use TED’s The TEN to develop a series of inputs for the Innovation Group at this major fashion collective. The researchers first created a UAL-wide student competition and presented the results at MIT Media Lab in Boston in 2011, where they also delivered a TED’s The TEN workshop to the top VF CEO’s. In 2012 they curated a showcase of new prototypes using The TEN as the framework for a VF Innovation event for 350 employees, that lasted 3 days, in North Carolina, USA.
One question we are often asked is how can anyone change the fashion industry? With such a complex range of issues it’s difficult for any individual organisation or researcher to make an impact alone. That was why the Mistra Future Fashion program took a strategic, systemic approach to achieving a Circular Fashion industry, by involving a diverse range of expertise across 8 focused research programs. During Phase 1 CCD’s role was to investigate “Interconnected design thinking and processes for sustainable textiles and fashion”. This involved developing a range of design workshops and tools with fashion designers working in industry, with one of the main outcomes being the Textile Toolbox web resource. The work culminated in the formation of a new framework for Circular Design: Materials, Models and Mindsets which now underpins much of the Centre’s work.
How can we crystalise the key principles behind our practice in a way which is useful to us and the wider design community? Whereas many of the outputs of CCD relate to one particular project The TEN represented and made tangible the experience accumulated in the Centre over 14 years. The tool comprises 10 sustainable strategy cards which aim to help designers reduce the environmental impact of textile design, production, use and disposal. The TEN are not a check-list, but rather they are a framework for creative thinking and action. As ideas emerge, The TEN can be used to develop layers of reflective thinking and review - a chance to redesign and improve, or simply to communicate concepts more clearly. CCD researchers have used The TEN extensively in teaching and in industry to inform the design thinking process behind the creation of new sustainable design prototypes.
Service-provision for upcycling, as an integral part of a product life cycle, is a recurring theme in Earley and Goldsworthy’s practice-based research. Twice Upcycled was the first occasion where the CCD researchers explored their approaches in combination to produce multiple future cycles for one garment. Earley used textile print design to give a second-hand shirt an updated aesthetic and increased value for a second use cycle. Goldsworthy then used laser-welding technology to update and repurpose the garment, creating a new high-value garment without additional resources for a third cycle of use. Adding multiple use cycles to garments through low-impact technologies driven by Textile Design approaches, provides a unique opportunity for garment longevity in one approach explored through CCD’s research.
At this point the majority of design approaches to ‘up-cycling’ textiles resulted in a ‘recycled aesthetic’ which spoke more of ‘waste’ than of innovative and exciting fashion design. With a view to challenge the status quo of recycled fashion, researchers at the Centre sought to improve the design process for recycled textile products, whilst also addressing the aesthetic and market appeal of such products, funded through an AHRC grant. The Centre’s workshop-based action-research approach, was used this time with a team of textile and fashion designers. The resulting prototypes were presented in a special exhibition: Ever & Again: Experimental Recycled Textiles. The designers collected feedback from the exhibition to review and reflect on their design approach.
Well Fashioned was a breakthrough exhibition conceived by the Crafts Council and curated by Rebecca Earley. The exhibition brought together garments from 21 designers that addressed a range of eco fashion design approaches from materials and processes to the role of the consumer, as well as responding to political/ethical issues. The work represented a particular moment in sustainable fashion design, where the ‘recycled’ aesthetic was at its peak. It was the process of sourcing work for this show that sparked the Centre’s enduring interest in pursuing approaches to Circular fashion and textile design that showcase design skill, creativity and invention, rather than aimless use of waste materials without creating value.
One of the main resources that Textile Designers were crying out for at this time, were frameworks for practicing sustainable textile design. Recognising that there were methods and approaches which could be formalised and therefore made more accessible, Earley (with Fletcher) created ‘5Ways’ to do Fashion Textile Design with more consideration of ‘ecological’ impacts. Using design workshops to explore the 5Ways framework the group produced five prototype garments to demonstrate the approach. This “framework > workshop > making > prototyping > reflecting” action-research methodology typifies the work of CCD and can be seen in many of the subsequent projects
Natural indigo dye derived from UK woad plants was the subject of this project work. The researchers were asked to design exhibits, workshops and events for the Eden Project in Cornwall. The garden was just a clay pit building site when the researchers Becky Earley and Gary Page began to develop the concepts. Working from a Yurt for the first few years the researchers developed the following: indigo dyeing workshops with school children; co-creating dressing up clothes for a catwalk show by visitors; and performance costumes for Eden staff which told the story of the history of this ‘magical’ dye plant.
Kate's PhD was the first studentship in TED (1996-1999). 'Environmental improvement by design: an investigation of the UK textile industry' can be requested here.
Becky Earley received an Arts Council grant in 1999 intended to develop new directions for makers who have established practices. The Means of Production grant enabled Becky to team up with Dr Kate Fletcher and BA textile graduates from Chelsea, to explore the lifecycle of textile fashion products through three distinct themes – production, use and disposal. The resulting garments were exhibited in new York with the British Council’s Great Expectations exhibition in 2000 as well as a solo show at the Lesley Craze Gallery in Clerkenwell.
Sustainability really wasn’t being explored in any considered way by Textile Designers in the early 1990’s. Recognising that there were many ways that Textile Designers could explore more ‘environmentally-friendly’ practices Professor Kay Politiwicz set up the Textile Environment Design research group, which in many ways was pioneering in its focus on practice-based research, making and teaching sustainable design approaches. While not having the framework to focus on circularity in the early days, TED provided the core values and foundations for the Centre for Circular Design, which puts people, materials and making and the forefront of its approach.