Here, Sinem Celik, owner of BluProjects, a consultancy firm based in Istanbul that connects companies and people with a dedication for cleaner denim and mindful sourcing, talks about how to make fashion and denim production more sustainable. Product design for her is the key.
I am writing this column in a café in Amsterdam on an afternoon in late July, dazed by the very unusual heatwave that has taken over the city.
This reminds me of the question that's been at the forefront lately: what is happening to our Earth? It's no wonder that, from ordinary people in the streets anywhere in the world to economists and politicians, climate change is a part of our daily routine now.
Being one of the significant contributors to environmental issues, the fashion industry never found itself heavily under the spotlight until now. Out of the whole industry’s output, denim for sure is the most popular, both by having one of the filthiest productions and also due to the rebel soul in its roots. Thus, jeans, unsurprisingly, are leading the sustainable fashion industry today.
When we look at the whole supply chain in the denim industry, there is no doubt that we are witnessing a sourcing revolution. Conscious yarn alternatives, clean indigo processes and low impact garment-finishing help setting new standards without compromising the aesthetics of the final product. Moreover, thanks to forward-thinking companies, who enable a second life for leftovers and offer creative solutions for the supply chain, waste has been redefined and become a valuable material.
While brands are trying to match the needs of highly aware consumers and declaring challenging goals one after another, sustainable innovations have become the main discussion of the sourcing platforms. The efforts from all tiers of the supply chain are promising; however, one major issue is still neglected, which is the central topic of this article: sustainable design.
Design is the starting point of all products around us. Design decisions make our daily lives easy, but they also shape the processes behind the products we use, the materials and energy required to make them, and what happens to them when we no longer need them. So, what we have is not only a scientific or technical problem but also a perception problem; ultimately, we have a design problem.
When it comes to sustainability in our industry, we tend to focus more on sourcing, materials, processes, and production. We favor talking about the savings, new yarns, low impact processes, and clean chemistry. Major brands seek ways to lower their impact and focus actively on new retail models, from rental to digital collections. However, the impact of design cycle itself has not been tackled yet.
Waste, which is one of the main items on the sustainability agenda, is usually considered from a consumer point of view. It is true, and also proven by the life-changing data, that 65% of all textile products end up in landfills every year. However, what about the waste created by the design and product development cycles of the supply chain every season?
Consider the vast number of mills, garment manufacturers and brands in this competitive world, and imagine the volume of pre-consumer waste generated. With the fashion cycle becoming faster and the market pushing for more, the challenge is to adopt a philosophy of “less is more.”
Now it is time to look for new models around product development cycles. The number of developments, recyclability and biodegradability of products should all be criteria for a designer’s work and success.
As the industry becomes more purpose-driven, sustainable design and creative prototyping will become as important as the final product. The after-life of every new design should be studied carefully, and the material and process decisions need to be made with a close eye on environmental criteria.
With the necessity of new design models and the fact that the fashion industry is moving away from traditional design, the training of future designers also becomes essential. Current fashion design education is not sustainability-oriented. However, a growing number of fashion schools are feeling a responsibility to place environmental design at the core of their teaching. It is promising that fashion design for sustainability is starting to be well recognized by universities and businesses, and more importantly, by students and newcomers to the industry. New generation design students refuse to contribute to damaging industry practices; instead, they are trying to find new alternatives and advocating change.
While circular and waste-less design models are becoming a new standard, it is no wonder we see a tendency to focus on nature. Biomimicry, which is an approach in design and engineering systems, examines models in nature and imitates or draws inspiration from these designs to provide solutions to people’s problems. In the fashion industry, there is a growing group of designers and clothing manufacturers who are now turning to nature for help in developing mindful clothing. So, ultimately and finally, Mother Nature has become a source of inspiration.
It all starts with one single decision; let’s use the power of product design for something better.”