5 Ways we can design more sustainably.

Firstly, what is sustainable design? The dictionary definition of sustainable is “pertaining to a system that maintains its own viability by using techniques that allow for continual reuse”

Soudi Masouleh

Introduction by Soudi Masouleh

Introducing Jonn Langan a passionate and (very clever) apparel design leader from the sportswear industry. Former Creative Lead Designer at Rab, Jonn has joined forces with SSACHS, sharing his wealth of knowledge gathered during his extensive career.

In his first article, Jonn shares with us his thoughts on the important role a designer has to play in creating sustainable products, and introduces his 5 Filters approach.

Jonn Langan

In the design sense, sustainable has become synonymous with recycled materials. But this is not the only consideration to make a design “sustainable”. Sustainability can come from a multitude of different design considerations, not just from the material it is created from.

The Higg Index covers all the environmental considerations a company might think of to create more sustainable products. From the material choice, to the supply chain, to the transportation and the distribution. But what else could and should be considered on a design level?

Just in creating a design there are a lot of opportunities to make a more sustainable product.

Here are 5 filters to help improve the level of sustainability.

1. Do we need this product?

A simple question, but one which is overlooked a thousand times. Often we create products just because of an opportunity to create. In actioning a 2D design into a prototype , we have inadvertently approved an increase in our carbon footprint. This is via the cost of materials, prototyping, shipping as well as the human resource cost. With better planning, research and briefing however, this kind of situation can be completely averted and companies can focus their efforts and resources on those products we do need.

2. What is the lifecycle of the product?

Again a simple question, and again one which is not often asked. If we are designing a product to last a lifetime, then we need to make sure it is capable of doing so. All the components of the design must be robust enough to satisfy this want. Conversely if we are designing products to last for a single use or a single season, then we won’t need to build the product in the same way (Although should we really be designing products in this way anymore?).

3. How repairable is the product?

As we start to realise how many products we use, we also become aware of how many we throw away or recycle. This is often through either degradation or damage of the item. The logical question is therefore – “Shouldn’t we be looking at the construction, materials and finishings to ensure that it is easy enough to repair a product, to enable its continued use?” This seems a better way to elongate the lifespan of products and is far more sustainable (as the carbon footprint is much smaller) when compared to breaking the product down to into its component parts and starting the design process again.

4. How recyclable is the product?

For some products we know that there is always going to be a shorter lifecycle and therefore we know that we will want to recycle them. So how can we design products incorporating this knowledge? Limiting the different number of components and base material types used, can make this process easier. Even if a product is made using only one single material, it may still be difficult to recycle and be used again at a yarn level, without any loss in quality. The number and different type of fibres contained in the material need to be considered, as will any finish applied to the material. Fabrics containing elastane (spandex) which are so ubiquitous in performance wear, are notoriously difficult to separate and recycle. New chemical process’ for recycling fabrics, are improving all the time – as explained in the article Recycling Clothing the Chemical Way, from the Royal Society of Chemistry. Unfortunately these systems just aren’t in place yet, commercially. So careful consideration is needed to design products, that can easily be break down and recycled.

Often we create products just because of an opportunity to create. But in actioning a design into a prototype, we have approved an increase in our carbon footprint

5. Can we design without producing a product?

As the modern era of design is changing to incorporate new digital technologies, the need to create a physical product is lessened. Amongst the new technologies, are the rise of 3D clothing specific drawing programmes like CLO3D. These systems can change the way we design, we can :

  • create “1st” prototypes virtually
  • check fit against our specified target end-user body shapes
  • create patterns that can be checked for efficiency, or verify our concept.

All of this without producing a single physical product!

This ultimately brings our conversation back full circle to our first question: “Do we need this product?” The answer will dictate and validate if we proceed with the prototype.

Although designers are just one cog in the apparel machine, they need to do their bit to make sure we are designing and creating products for the right reasons.

These are just a few things that we can do as designers and developers, to help make better decisions, create more sustainable products and be more considerate with the planet’s resources. Although designers are just one cog in the apparel machine, they need to do their bit to make sure we are designing and creating products for the right reasons.

Jonn Langan

For more information contact Hello@ssachs.co