What’s in the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s Circular Design Book

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Design less, design better, design knowing, design values and design together. Those are the rules Ellen MacArthur Foundation has been preaching for the last four years in fashion.

Now, the sustainability-bent organization is encapsulating its vision in a book: “Circular Design for Fashion,” launching Dec. 2.

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The book is geared toward “fearless innovators,” as noted in its foreword, or those committed to spearheading the future of fashion from whatever role they play, and painting a “very clear vision for what good looks like,” according to Laura Balmond, lead of Make Fashion Circular at the Ellen MacArthur Foundation.

Along with presenting the case for systems (sum of the parts) thinking, the book also includes case studies from more than 80 early practitioners of circular design in fashion. Among the notables are Vivienne Westwood, Gucci, Kevin Germanier, H&M, Gap, ThredUp and Vestiaire Collective. Case studies focus on topics like zero-waste manufacturing with the book’s “Who’s pioneering it?” segment detailing how men’s brand Taylor Stitch, for one, dials down on waste by way of its custom shirting business.

Learnings from Ellen MacArthur’s Jeans Redesign project were also tapped throughout the book, showing how to source better materials and design out waste (avoiding rivets and trims in jeans, for example).

Most importantly, the book leads with three myths around the circular economy (that recycling can save us, that product durability is a one-way ticket to sustainability and that we can design our ways out of a climate catastrophe) — while supplementing with a few inherent insights. The organization’s insights are rolled into one ball of truth: circular design is an interdisciplinary, collaborative and iterative journey.

“While circularity was growing in awareness and becoming [part of] the agenda, quite often it got quickly equated to ‘We need to recycle,’” said Balmond. “While recycling is part of the system and we need to do that, there’s so much more in the overall system we need to look at that are all design decisions. We wanted to bring that lens quite early on. By pointing to those ‘myths,’ it’s easier to understand the concept of what we mean between a linear system and a circular system. It’s not actually about recycling — it’s about the way that you design your business model.”

Ellen MacArthur’s work in fashion started in 2017 with the publication of its “The New Textiles Economy” report. Over the years, various philanthropic partners, among them the Laudes Foundation, the People’s Postcode Lottery and the Royal Society of the Arts, have supported the organization’s work to push circular economy principles to fashion’s fore.

The lasting aims of the book, according to Balmond, is to “create a turning point for circular design in fashion.”

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