As the world becomes more aware of how the products we buy impact the planet, circularity has become a hot topic. A circular economy is based on the principles of designing out waste and pollution, keeping products and materials in use, and regenerating natural systems. So instead of being made, used and discarded, circular products can be reborn.
It’s a powerful concept, but one that is still in its early stages in most industries, including fashion. Leading the way in bringing circularity into fashion design is Dominic Sluiter, Director of Digital Creation at STITCH, a digital design suite that is helping fashion designers at Tommy Hilfiger transform the way they design clothes.
The first step has been to design using 3D technology. Instead of making sketches, designers can digitally construct their product – enabling them to design clothes that are more efficient to produce and can be prototyped and optimized in hours rather than weeks.
This makes constructing zero-waste products, for example, a far more viable option.
3D design alone only goes so far – but the additional tools and functionality it enables can help designers take the sustainability of their designs to the next level. “The 3D tools out there at the moment are not necessarily built for circularity,” Dominic explains. “We are giving 3D design a new meaning and making it a powerful enabler of circular design.”
The first step has been to create a digital library of fabrics and trims in the 3D design hub, each with a specific sustainability rating. “I’m very passionate about giving people the understanding that they actually have a choice,” Dominic says. “We want to make it very clear to designers that they are in control, and make the impact of their decisions visible to them.” Designers can now make quick choices that allow them to create a more environmentally friendly garment, such as choosing lower-impact materials.
“We are giving 3D design a new meaning and making it a powerful enabler of circular design.”
This digital library is also the beginning of a toolbox for creating products that aren’t just more sustainable, but are circular. When designers are able to select, for example, recycled and recyclable fabrics and trims – and put them together in a way that enables easy disassembly to aid with reuse and recycling – they can more easily design for circularity.
Alongside building out the library and materials’ circularity data, the next step will be to introduce live feedback. Designers will receive input on the sustainability score of their product during the creative process – giving them the information they need to make any product more sustainable and more circular.
Johanna Loehnig, is a designer on the TOMMY JEANS team, jumped at the chance to learn 3D design techniques and has kept updated on STITCH’s innovations. She explains how this newfound sense of control has already been a positive change: “When you design a garment, it is sometimes easy to forget the impact you are actually having. Knowing that the fabric and trims I choose can make such a positive difference has been a really empowering learning experience for me.”
Adopting a new way to design isn’t straightforward. The tools require more data inputs and a more complex interface, which means that education and support are essential. So Dominic also offers a range of classes and events at the STITCH Academy, and the STITCH team is always available to support anyone using the tool day to day.
It is this need to transition, Dominic says, that makes progress in this area challenging for other brands. “In the apparel industry, everyone is holding on tightly to the traditional way of working. PVH Corp. (Tommy Hilfiger’s parent company) is really forward-thinking and has put so much investment into pushing this work forward.”
But, as Johanna points out, it is essential that brands work together to create change. “This is a global issue and it cannot be solved by one company or one government alone. We need brands to come up with lots of solutions so that we can inspire each other to improve and scale up circular ideas.”
The future is full of possibility – but Dominic highlights that it will take the right mindset to uncover it. “Making change takes guts. If you’re one of those people who does want to create change, you might get some pushback or people that might not understand right away. But that doesn’t mean you’re wrong – it just means that you are curious and are thinking further ahead. It’s hard to break through and do things differently, but it’s not impossible.”
At Tommy Hilfiger, we want to create fully circular products that are part of a sustainable loop. The end of one product’s lifecycle should be the beginning of a new one, and our industry needs to do better. So our circle round initiatives are focused on finding creative innovations that can transform the way we make and sell clothes. Read more about our action plan here.