Design - Closing the Loop

Design - Closing the Loop

A few weeks ago I visited a recycling plant down in Tuas, Singapore. I was extremely excited as it's not usually open to the public and it's not something you get to do everyday!

Clothes Don't Get Recycled Here
Of course I had to ask about clothing! Well, just to disappoint everyone, the public waste collector does not take clothes for recycling anymore. They did do this when the door-to-door recycling scheme was still around, but with the implementation of the centralised recycling bins, the clothes get contaminated and end up being sent to be made into scraps for use at workshops, or even incinerated.
Well, that's what the person in-charge said to me.
No one wants dirty clothing. The plant suggested that clothes be sent to the charity / thrift shops instead... but how much can they take?

Fibre Recycling Means Down-Cycling
The second disappointment is that when a garment is recycled, it does not get transformed into another one. Unlike an aluminium can which can be indefinitely recycled into another can without compromising its structural properties, the fibres of a garment become too damaged during recycling to be spun back into yarn.  The shredded garments are usually used to fill furniture, acoustic walls and even car seats. For quality textiles to be produced, the recycled fibres must be blended with virgin fibres. Redress Asia's R-Cert requires that a minimum of 20% recycled fibres remains in the blend and in the finished garment. Unfortunately, mechanical fibre recycling is the most scalable recycling technology to-date for natural fibre post-consumer textiles. 
Redress Asia
Source: Redress Asia, R-Cert

For chemical fibres such as certain types of polyester and nylon, chemical fibre, rather than mechanical fiber recycling is used.  
What Can Fashion Designers Do?
Can fashion designers design garments for the Circular Economy? Can we minimise the number of garments entering the waste system? Last week I looked at designing for durability, emotional durability and repair. This week, it's all about recycling, upcycling and disassembly 
#1 Design for Recycling
The process of recycling, be it chemical or mechnical is laborious.  Recycling companies need to understand what is in the garment before it is sorted and recycled back into quality textiles. Garments need to be designed of mono-materiality and be labelled properly  ie, pure cotton or polyester etc. 
  • Design it for 100% xxx: mono-materiality. A garment can't be recycled textile-to-textile if it is 99% cotton. 
  • Designing with fewer non-textile parts e.g. buttons, zips, studs. All these add to easier sorting and recycling.
  • Work together with recycling companies that deal with certain textiles e.g. Patagonia collaborates with Teijin Fibre to upcycle their polyester garments. 

Until we find a way to recycle clothing of mixed materials (and which is also scalable), designing for mono-materiality is the way.   [Note: Eco Circle in Japan and Worn Again in the UK are looking at ways to recycle mixed-fibre materials]
Kate Goldsworthy's research looks at zero-waste techniques and also mono-materiality.  This is one of the garments (Laser Line) produced from 100% polyester.  
design for good
Source: Laser Line

#2 Design for Upcycling
Let's postpone the arrival of clothes to the bin. Can we design garments for upcycling? Perhaps we can include little notes with the garments to inform our customers how the garment could be upcycled. All the production textile waste could be used in the designs of other clothing lines. Twice Upcycled explored using different techniques (including laser welding and etching) to prolong the life of a shirt by upcycling it once and then a second time after use. 

design for good
Source: http://www.upcyclingtextiles.net/#/concert/

#3 Design it for Easy Disassembly - there's a lot of talk about making appliances easy to disassemble for repair or to upcycle / recycle the parts. What about clothing? I found this technology called wear2. The special Ecostitch of the garments can be easily dissolved using microwave technology which means the garments can be re-used or recycled easily.  Watch this video and tell me what you think!

#4 Design for Composting
This might be extreme, but I do like the idea although I wouldn't compost it unless I've worn it to bits. Frietag developed a 100% biodegradable textile from hemp, flax and modal (fibre from wood) and it breaks down within a few months of being in the composter.
Source: Oliver Nanzig

Are there any other ways of keeping clothes out of the bin?

This is part of the Fashion Designers Do Good series. Read more here.

design for good

Fix It Friday - Learning New Things!

Repair is a learning journey and an experience!

A few weeks ago I got to learn basic electrical repair at Repair Kopitiam - diagnosing the problem from plugs, wire inspection and then dismantling the whole appliance. It felt like doing surgery, not that I have done it before!

The Difficult Parts

  • I had a bit of trouble with the science of it all. I think what got me was having to remember the Ohms Law, which is important in electrical repair. Without Ohms Law, you wouldn't know if there was anything wrong with your appliance, well, you could use the multimeter. Help, I need to refer to my notes!
  • Drawing the circuit diagram was tough too as it was hard to see where all the wiring went from the plug. 

Fun Bits

  • The "aha" moment - dismantling my toaster and finally realising how it works!
  • Fixing the toaster with other repair coaches - apparently the earth and live were touching each other causing entire flat to trip! I now can make toast!
  • Using the soldering iron and worrying whether I was being poisoned by the fumes (I was reassured that it was non-lead solder!)
Have you tried repairing appliances? I'm a bit more confident now that I have some basic skills but I think I will need practice and someone guiding me when it's more than the fuse or wiring that's the issue!


Fixing my 15 year old toaster

The lever was the most difficult to take out!

I didn't know that a toaster had a circuit board!

My friend's circuit diagram of the toaster

Announcing My July Workshops!

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Announcing My July Workshops!
I'm honoured to be collaborating with Naiise in these workshops! Do sign up if you're free!

Click on the images for more details. 

I'm also working with the Awareness Place Wellness Centre on a repair workshop!

Email sem@kmspks.org for registration for
The Art of Mending Clothes

Design for Minimal Waste (Pt 2)

fashion designers do good

Fast Fashion Means More Waste

"80 billion items of clothing are manufactured worldwide each year"
European Year for Development 2015

Today the fashion industry is about creating new clothing lines every 2-3 weeks, and unfortunately, we have responded positively to this business model. We voraciously consume whatever is the trend of the season (or possibly day!), and this habit has generated mountains of clothing waste. 
Are you guilty of throwing out clothes that are just worn a few times.......
..... that are slightly worn......
maybe even if it has just lost a button.....?
Why are we now a generation of consumers that purchase based on quantity rather than quality? 
A Cambridge University study reports that "in 2006, people were buying a third more clothes than they were in 2002, and women have four times as many clothes in their wardrobe than they did in 1980. Women are also getting rid of similar amounts each year." 

Can Fashion Designers Influence Post-Consumer Waste? 

Last week we looked at how fashion designers can make decisions to minimise pre-consumer waste, so what about minimising post-consumer waste?

#1 Design for Durability

In the race for cheaper and faster, something has to give, and this means garment quality (amongst other things) is compromised. According to WRAP's Design for Longevity, there are four areas in which designers can make changes to prolong the life of garments:

a) Size and Fit
Undamaged garments are primarly discarded because they no longer fit, but designers can help increase their longevity if the clothing can be easily adjusted.

Being constructed of individual panel shapes, a garment can be designed for future alterations to fit an individual's shape. Let's take a leaf from:    

  • the 1800s when scraps of fabric were used to extend the hem and increase the girth of the garment as children grew taller, or adults grew larger in the middle! 

  • the adjustable waist bands that are commonly found in children's trousers. Can we apply the same for adult trousers?

Source: Speedbargains.com

  •  The Shoe That Grows -  I find this inspiring. These are shoes designed to be adjusted up to 5 sizes as the child grows older, and lasts 5 years.  Although they are designed for use in impoverished countries, they would be great everywhere! 

Source: The Shoes That Grows

b) Fabric quality - good quality textiles means longer lasting clothes, but it also means using the appropriate stitches.
c) Colours and Styles - everyone loves classic or timeless styles. I discovered the 30-year sweater! Now doesn't this look classic to you? Let's design things that people want to wear.

Source: http://blog.pier32.co.uk/2015/06/introducing-30-year-sweatshirt.html

d) Care - how we care for our clothes affects their lifespan. Designers and retailers can inform customers how to launder and even store the clothes via proper labeling or even online or in-store information.  I share my tips here. 

#2 Design for Emotional Durability

Garments can be physically durable, but how can we promote a garments' lifespan through emotion? 
Clothes protect us from the elements, but they are more than that. They give us our identity, define who we are both culturally and professionally.
Can we create clothing that is more meaningful to the wearer ..... something emotionally durable

  • Case in point, why do wedding dresses get passed down and worn by the next generation? Allison Rinaldi wore her great grandma's.

Source: Ecouterre

  • Patagonia and The North Circular develop an emotional connection between their clients and the product through customer stories, and maker stories, respectively.
  • Companies such as Project Repat, provide services to enhance that connection by remaking things, in this case cherished but worn out t-shirts, into quilts.

Meet your knitters at The North Circular

#3 Design for Repair

Today, most wearers don't typically repair their clothes, but then they probably don't notice the plastic packet of buttons or swatch of fabric that comes with it. We need more than that to nudge people to repair their clothing.  In fact some companies such as Patagonia and Nudie Jeans offer free repair services for their clothing lines as part of their customer service. Others even offer a full repair guide on on-line!

Next week I'll be looking at how the fashion designer can contribute to the circular economy. Stay tuned!

Preparing for Singapore Maker Faire

Preparing for Singapore Maker Faire
There won't be any Fix It Friday this week as I have been very busy with two things, Repair@Schools (a spin off of Repair Kopitiam) and the preparations for Singapore Maker Faire (11-12 July). 

Singapore Maker Faire

A group of us (under the One Maker Group) were given a theme to work on - Childhood Dreams - and I decided to make a huge interactive nest that families could weave on, the whole idea being that people could relive and experience the warmth of a mother's embrace (the nest), and also take part in building the nest using old t-shirts. 

Unfortunately, I didn't have enough time to design it......

it got delayed.....

so eventually, I decided to transform the nest into woven hoops, akin to the Native American dream catchers. So, our plan is to have these hoops hanging from the ceiling and underneath, members of the public will get to weave a mini-version. 

I'm looking forward to it!

Check out the progress below:

dream catcher

dream catcher

dream catcher

dream catcher

Yup, we used a hand drill to wind up the t-shirt material!

dream catcher

dream catcher

dream catcher

Design for Minimal Waste (Pt 1)

Design for Minimal Waste (Pt 1)
minimal waste design

"Designers have privileged access to the production process since they are responsible for specifying up to 70 percent of subsequent material and production processes in any given project. " Source: McAlpine

As a little girl I used to watch my mother sew dresses; she would take her time to ensure that the patterns were laid out in such a way on the fabric to minimise any potential waste. She would pause,  do some mental arithmetic and then go back to placing the patterns. I'm sure there's a formula for this!

"You don't want to waste something that is so beautiful and costs money" 

It's true, why do you want to chop up a piece of fabric only to have most of it end up in your bin?

Design for Minimal Waste

15% of textiles end up on the cutting room floor, but consumers also throw out a lot more garments every year too, not to mention the newly bought clothes that sometimes don't get worn or end up in the bin.

As designers we can design for minimal waste, impacting both the pre-consumer and post-consumer end of the supply chain. This week we look at the pre-consumer end of the supply chain.


Note - The techniques I share below are new ones. In fact, if you familiar with knitting or crocheting, these are both techniques that actually minimise textile waste - you are creating the textile to fit the garment rather than cutting it out from a roll of fabric! For example, some manufacturers have circular knitting machines to create t-shirts. 

#1 Zero-Waste Pattern Cutting
zero waste

Timo Rissanen explored and uses zero-waste pattern cutting. I had blogged about Rissanen in 2009 when he first published his zero-waste pattern cutting concepts.  Basically, an entire garment can be cut from fabric with NO waste, as you can see from this image (courtesy of Timo Rissanen). Isn't this amazing?

Rissanen is not the only designer who explores this concept. Others include Holly McQuillan and Daniel Silverstein who explores different types of draping techniques, which leads me to the next technique which I think is equally amazing...

#2 Subtraction Cutting 

This technique was developed by Julian Roberts.  There is no traditional pattern in Roberts' technique but "the resulting shape of the garment is created by the removal of fabric rather than the addition of fabric and therefore the creation of negative space which the body occupies".  It involves three concepts of the tunnel, plug, and displacement, and the resulting garments are more voluminous and less seams. I think the looks is very experimental though but some of the designs come out great!  My only concern is what happens when you need to do alterations; there are no seams.....

subtraction cutting
Source: Julian Roberts

#3 Transformational Reconstruction

If you are a lover of Pattern Magic books, you might have seen this technique by Shingo Sato. The designs and patterns are extraodinary in the sense that no darts and seams are needed. I'm not sure whether this technique would constitute a minimal waste design, but take a look for yourself here

#4 Upcycling Pre-Consumer Textile Waste

Off-cuts, end-of-rolls, cut-and-sew waste (ie the 15%) and the textile samples all can be upcycled into something. Orsola de Castro uses cut-and-sew waste to create her collections, while Alabama Chanin by Natalie Chanin uses off-cuts for some of her signature applique creations. 

alabama chanin
Courtesy of Alabama Chanin

#5 Take a Leaf from Cultural Costumes

To be honest, some of the best zero waste designs are from cultural costumes, and these are based on the rectangle block. Perhaps designers should draw inspiration from these cultures.

Indian Saree 

Sarong wrap 

African Kente


Chinese qipao - I added this because before the qipao was influenced by Western tight-fitting forms, it was very baggy and based on the rectangle block. 

Source: http://alphahistory.com/chineserevolution/introduction-to-china/

Next week we look at how the designer can design for minimal waste from the post- consumer angle.