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Conscious Book Club Reflections & Takeaways: Book 1 "Circular Design For Fashion"

This year, I started on a quest to read more books about ethical fashion, economics and social entrepreneurship. The first book I chose was, “Circular Design for Fashion," by the Ellen Macarthur Foundation. When I first started I was worried it was actually a textbook on technical design for clothing; boy was I wrong. I am excited to share some of what I gleaned with you guys but, before I divulge any further, I want to share the book definition of a circular design economy and also show you a graphic that helps clarify the difference between linear and circular economies. After all, a picture is worth a thousand words, right?

The book defines the circular economy as:

"...a systems solution framework that empowers people to address global challenges, including climate change, biodiversity loss, waste, and pollution. It relies on three principles all driven by design:
1. Eliminate waste and pollution
2. Circulate products and materials
3. Regenerate Nature.
It seeks to create an economy in which nothing becomes waste and everything has value."

The Summary

"Circular Design For Fashion," was actually sponsored by the Ellen Macarthur Foundation and co-created by over 80 contributors ranging from high end designers, to CEO's and founders of some of the top fashion brands in the world. Their common goal? To create a brighter, more sustainable future.

It truly is a motivational, manifesto from many major voices declaring opportunity in a new frontier: circular economics developed at the design stage. After identifying why our current linear economy simply won't cut it, the book presents the opportunities of the circular design system, dismantles current myths, identifies emerging areas of opportunity and lays out a practical guide of application.

5 Takeaways

I know, that sounds like a lot; and, honestly it was. Narrowing down 5 takeaways from this was challenging in my 12 pages of typed out notes. Yes, I typed notes while reading. What can I say? You put me in formal education for 16 years and expect me to quit cold turkey?

After getting a birds eye view at what I had gleaned from these pages, I narrowed down my takeaways to these 5 things:

1. Baby Steps Are Better Than Bailing

A common thread I found across the book was that the task at hand is ginormous and intimidating; but, by seeing all of the amazing companies and concepts that have come from just one small idea, there is proven hope for larger change and progress. If each of these individuals or companies would have thrown in the towel, we wouldn't have the innovation and new potential we have today.

"Working toward a shared vision requires ambition, but also acceptance that solutions might not be perfect the first time around. The path will reveal new challenges, as well as exciting opportunities that are waiting to be unlocked."

pg. 70

2. People Are Awesome & We're Better Together

With any new concept, the scale of change can be intimidating. To achieve a realistic, sustainable system out of the circular design process, it takes a village. I really enjoyed the part of the book starting on page fifty seven where there are three truths outlined about why the circular design is, and must always be, collaborative.

This collaboration happens internally, using existing potential inside of the companies resource reach and employees. For example VF Corporation, owner of Nautica & Tommy Hilfiger, enlisted fiber scientists, product testing companies and new zipper manufacturers, to produce their Napapijri Circular Series Jacket.

The collaboration also has to happen externally. One project I found to be so amazing mentioned in the book was "The Jeans Redesign Guidelines." This project set out to improve denim production and give a set of guidelines for jeans to be made in line with circular economy principles. After two days of designing, sharing perspective, challenges and opportunities, brand leaders, retailers, manufacturers, recyclers and NGO's stepped out of the room with the guidelines. After that, they brought together 70 leading brands, manufacturers and mills to put the guidelines into practice and bring the jeans to market.

The practical element very quickly opened up collaborative conversations about how to achieve a common goal.

pg. 67

3. Switch the Pipeline Focus

While as a creator it is very hard to wrap my head around my products being thrown away or damaged, it is, however, a reality that the fashion industry should focus on instead of high profits and trend diving. Right now when a company designs a product, the major focus is on the profit margin the item will bring in. The average markup on a piece of clothing is an average of 65%. THAT'S RIGHT. The secret is out. Also, the average trend time for a piece of clothing is 3 years, with Zara changing out clothes every 4 WEEKS! Both of these alarming facts point to the current focus of the fashion industry -- profit. The industry is focused on selling through a trend item at the highest profitability and then switching stock quickly to the next trend to maintain said profitability.

A new new way of thinking I walked away with from this book is the idea that you start the design process by thinking about the future of the garment after its purchased. Is it durable? Does the customer know how to patch it? Does the company have a repair program to incentivize a life long relationship with the garment? Is the material biodegradable? What will the footprint inside of a landfill be? Does the style transcend time and trend? The focus needs to shift to selling to users rather than selling to consumers.

"Circular design requires thinking backwards and forwards. Thinking back to even before creating the garment and thinking ahead to its many lives."

pg. 132

4. There is Huge Opportunity in the Digital & Technological Spaces

As stated above, people are awesome. I don't know how many times I looked over at my husband while reading this book and said, "people are awesome." What I meant by this is that I am so inspired by the amount of ideation, determination and innovation that already exists in the circular design economy space. Being a lover of entrepreneurship, nothing thrills me more than learning about an amazing idea someone had to take advantage of solving a problem. With digital media platforms and technological innovation growing exponentially, there are a lot of opportunities to use that to the advantage of creating less waste.

Creating machines that could separate and recycle clothing faster back down to fiber could make it a more viable option for fabric sourcing. Washing, dyeing and finishing clothing could all be done using less water, clean energy and more innovative systems. There are already companies out there using fabric waste to make bricks for locals to build their homes with. The opportunity does not lie solely in the form of uninvented machines. New apps and online systems for clothing swaps and rentals create a fun, more dynamic second hand experience that is showing huge growth. We can use common technology in innovative ways to implement circular economic practices.

"From an intellectual point of view, circular design is fundamentally about seeing connections and designing in new patterns."

5. Quality Over Quantity: Clothing Deserves to be Cherished

Heirlooms. This word has been circling in my head when it comes to the last takeaway. Since moving to England I have decided to follow the Royal Family on instagram, obviously. Who doesn't want to see the Queen in her little head scarves petting her favorite horses? I realized, though, that the jewelry, gowns and even riding wear, are always highlighted as heirlooms from royals past.

As I walk through museums and see Princess Diana's wedding dress so beautifully enclosed in a glass box and the sketches tucked away safely for viewing, I am reminded that clothing deserves to be cherished. It holds a story. It makes up an element of you, of your expression to the world. It is made thoughtfully by designers and seamstresses that have lives and use their time, energy and gifts to provide actual, tangible pieces of art. Personally, I think we've forgotten that. We have forgotten what it looks like to invest in the story of our wardrobe and, subsequently, do not desire to care for it and cherish it.

"People get deeply attached to stories. Fashion is not so much about producing clothes, it's more related to art and storytelling. When clothing fits our body, values and personality, we want to keep it forever."

A Reflection

I walk away from this book feeling more hopeful of the mindset of designers, CEO's at large fashion companies and highly influential people. Sometimes it seems as if we are all talking about change, but not taking larger actions to accomplish it. I believe that with baby steps, collaboration, new focus, innovative problem solving and a true admiration for the art of fashion, we can work to create a brighter more sustainable future.

Cheers to You,

Kara Jo

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This makes me so hopeful!