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Design for Circularity: Where Brands Can Start

Looptworks can help you to design for circularity.

Calling All Businesses with Excess Textiles If your business deals with excess textiles, our solutions team is eager to collaborate!  Together, let’s weave a greener tapestry for generations to come.

Designing for Circularity: Where to Start

Circularity is often an afterthought. An apparel brand consistently ends up with excess inventory and needs a sustainable solution to delight its customers and investors, for example. But the circularity conversation can happen much earlier—during the design phase.

According to the UK’s Waste and Resources Action Programme, up to 80% of a textile product’s environmental impact is determined at the design stage. When you design for circularity, you consider the entire lifecycle of a garment, from the raw materials it’s made with, to how it’s manufactured, to what happens when a consumer discards it. The process aims to create apparel that’s durable, versatile, repairable, and recyclable.

Below, we’ll dive into key considerations for circular design, discuss the difference between circular and regenerative design, and shout out organizations around the world who are leading the charge in designing for circularity.

What is circular design?

In short, circular design means creating products and systems that minimize waste and environmental impact while maximizing resource efficiency and longevity. While we focus on textiles at Looptworks, circular design extends to all consumer products, from sweatshirts to smartphones. Whatever product you’re producing, here are six considerations for your design and development team to think about:   

  • Materials Selection
    Designing for circularity starts with choosing materials that are renewable, recyclable, or biodegradable. This could mean using organic cotton, recycled polyester, or innovative materials like Tencel, which comes from sustainably sourced wood pulp. Designers should also think about the environmental and social impact of the materials they select. Consider the pesticides used to grow them, the working conditions of those who harvest the raw materials, and the chemicals and toxins that will remain in fibers throughout the product lifecycle.
  • Product Design
    Designing garments to be durable reduces the need to replace them, decreasing demand for brand-new products. This may involve using high-quality stitching, reinforcement in high-stress areas, and selecting materials known for their longevity. Designers may also consider modular components, like removable buttons, replaceable zippers, and patchable areas that allow consumers to repair items rather than throw them out. Lastly, designers may create products that can be easily adapted or customized to meet changing consumer needs or preferences, extending their relevance and lifespan.
  • Waste Production

Minimizing waste in the production process is key to circular design. Incorporate cutting techniques that maximize fabric utilization and find innovative ways to repurpose or recycle production scraps. Brands can also implement practices to reduce water and energy usage in textile production, such as using water-efficient dyeing processes, recycled wastewater, and renewable energy sources.

  • Distribution

Think about all the steps in your supply chain and how much energy is involved in delivering final products to their retail destinations. Embrace local manufacturing to reduce transportation emissions and support regional economies while also promoting shorter and more transparent supply chains.

  • Disposal

Look ahead to what happens to your product once it’s discarded. How can its raw materials be reused in another product? Designing products with end-of-life scenarios in mind is crucial. This includes using materials that can be easily recycled or composted as well as ensuring that different components of the garment, like buttons and zippers, can be separated for recycling purposes.

  • Transparency and Traceability

Providing information about the sourcing, production, and end-of-life options of a garment allows consumers to make informed choices and encourages accountability throughout the supply chain. Behind the scenes, conduct regular comprehensive lifecycle assessments to evaluate the environmental impact of your products and identify areas for improvement in design and production. Designing for circularity is not a quick fix—it’s a process that can be continually optimized alongside advances in education, social awareness, and manufacturing technology.   

Designing for circularity vs. regenerative design—what’s the difference?

“Circular design” is sometimes used interchangeably with “regenerative design” as both are aimed at reducing the environmental impact of products and systems. Still, each approach has a slightly different focus.  

Circular design refers to products and systems that operate within a closed-loop system where resources are reused rather than disposed of as waste. The primary goal of circular design is to minimize waste, maximize resource efficiency, and extend product lifecycles through strategies such as recycling, reuse, repair, and remanufacturing. Circular design aims to reduce the overall environmental footprint of products and systems by keeping materials and resources in use for as long as possible, thereby minimizing the need for new resource extraction.

Regenerative design aims to restore the health of ecosystems and communities through systems that actively contribute to the regeneration of natural resources. It seeks to create mutually beneficial relationships between human activities and natural systems, promoting practices that improve soil health, water quality, biodiversity, and ecosystem resilience.

While circular design focuses on minimizing negative impacts, regenerative design aims to generate positive impacts. Both approaches are important for advancing sustainability and addressing environmental challenges. 

Manufacturers paving the way in circular design

Looking for examples of brands putting circular design into practice? These are just some of the manufacturers setting positive examples in the textile industry. 

  • Patagonia offers repair services for its products, encouraging customers to fix rather than replace items. The brand also uses recycled materials in many of its products and promotes initiatives like the Worn Wear program, which facilitates the resale and recycling of used Patagonia clothing.
  • Adidas: Adidas has implemented various circular initiatives, including its Futurecraft.Loop sneaker, which is designed to be fully recyclable. The brand also partners with organizations like Parley for the Oceans, using recycled ocean plastic in some of its products.
  • Eileen Fisher offers a take-back program called “Renew” where customers can return used garments in exchange for store credit. These garments are then either resold as second-hand items or repurposed into new designs.
  • H&M has launched several initiatives to promote circularity, such as its garment collection program, where customers can drop off unwanted clothing for recycling. The brand also offers collections made from recycled materials and has set goals to become fully circular by 2030.
  • Nike has introduced the “Move to Zero” initiative, which aims to reduce waste and promote sustainability throughout its supply chain. The brand has developed innovative materials like Nike Grind, made from recycled sneakers, and offers a recycling program for old athletic shoes.
  • Levi’s has implemented various sustainability initiatives, including its Wellthread collection, which focuses on durability, recyclability, and responsible manufacturing practices. The brand also offers a buyback program for used denim and uses recycled materials in some of its products.
  • Stella McCartney incorporates innovative materials such as organic cotton, recycled polyester, and vegetarian leather alternatives. The brand also promotes repair services and offers a resale platform for pre-owned Stella McCartney items.
  • The North Face is prioritizing material sourcing, durability, minimizing waste, and recyclability. For example, the brand’s gear recycling program helps keep resources in use and out of landfills.

Where does Looptworks fit into your supply chain?

Wherever you are in your circularity journey, Looptworks can help. We partner with brands at the material sourcing and disposal stages of the product lifecycle, recycling excess pre- and post-consumer textiles into fibers that can be used to make new apparel. Reach out to learn more today.

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Headshot of Tami Bringman, Chief Financial Officer at Looptworks.

Tami Bringman

Chief Financial Officer

Tami is a senior accounting leader with over 16 years of experience in the manufacturing and textile industry. Her specialties include process development and implementation, mergers and acquisitions, job and project costing and analysis, and managing complex teams and technical projects. Tami has served as Chief Financial Officer and Controller for a variety of innovative companies, where her analytical skills and strategic mindset helped organizations create efficiencies in their financial systems.

Headshot of Kelley Purdy, Vice President of Partnerships at Looptworks.

Kelley Purdy

Vice President, Partnerships

Kelley is a passionate and strategically minded business development leader with more than two decades of experience in the sporting goods apparel industry. He has experience in product construction, league partnerships, retail relationships, supply chain management, sustainability, circularity, and carbon footprint management. Kelley builds successful partnerships by putting the customer first while simultaneously advancing his organization’s business objectives.

Suzy Off: Operations Director for Looptworks

Suzy Off

Chief Operating Officer

Suzy is a product leader and operations expert with more than 25 years of experience in the textile industry. She is passionate about finding creative solutions to complex problems and motivating people to action through vision, strategy, collaboration, and communication. Suzy has proven expertise in product development, sustainability, marketing, supply chains, and innovating processes and best practices to drive results.

Headshot of Scott Hamlin, Founder and CEO of Looptworks.

Scott Hamlin

Founder & CEO

Scott is a visionary leader with more than 32 years of experience in strategic branding, innovative product creation, supply chain sustainability, and sales and marketing for global organizations. He founded Looptworks in 2009 as an industry solution for turning excess materials into upcycled consumer products. In 2022, Scott transitioned the company to a B2B business model focused on eliminating global textile waste through closed-loop solutions.

Headshot of Scott Hamlin, Founder and CEO of Looptworks.

Scott Hamlin

Founder & CEO

Scott is a visionary leader with more than 32 years of experience in strategic branding, innovative product creation, supply chain sustainability, and sales and marketing for global organizations. He founded Looptworks in 2009 as an industry solution for turning excess materials into upcycled consumer products. In 2022, Scott transitioned the company to a B2B business model focused on eliminating global textile waste through closed-loop solutions.