The Broadcast / Designing For Circularity

Designing For Circularity

We’ve been using recycled polyester to make our jackets since 2006, back before it was widely available or even desirable. But true circularity is about more than recycling or using recycled materials. It’s about an entire system change, extending product durability and repairability, treating waste as a resource, and reimagining our relationship to consumption.

14.01.22

5 min read

Written by Zak Rayment & Sophie Scanlon

For most of recent human history, we have operated an extractive economic system. But the traditional approach of take, make and waste is no longer an option.

Circularity, or the circular economy, is a system in which products and materials are recycled and kept at their highest material value - maintaining the quality of the resource without downgrading it. Think jackets made of jackets, rather than jackets made from plastic bottles.

Recycling should always be the last port of call, first keeping materials in circulation, repairing them or upcycling them into new products using the same materials, before eventually recycling all their constituent parts to be fed back into the manufacturing process as useful raw material.

To do this effectively, there are several elements that need to come together…

Designing a Circular Product

Designing for circularity is effectively a tightrope walk. Our designers are constantly looking to build the most enduring product possible, whilst using low-impact materials and considering the garment’s end of life. To design for a circular system we need to understand the recycling technology and ensure we are designing for recyclability right from the beginning. We’ve recently been guided by the expertise of The Circular Textiles Foundation and our partners at Project Plan B. (Who we’ll get to in a minute...)  

The first port of call is durability; ensuring that a product is built to last for as long as possible. But for a circular product, materials and construction matter for more reasons than a product’s longevity. If a garment is made out of just one material (a.k.a mono-material) it’s far easier to recycle at the end of its useful life. Virgin and recycled polyester can be recycled together, even the sheer fabric of a jacket’s outer shell and its fluffy insulated fill – as long as it’s all polyester, it can be thrown into a machine and fully recycled.

It’s also important to make sure the product can be easily repaired if needed, and eventually be dismantled to be easily recycled. Even something as simple as the elastic bungee in a Nimbus Jacket’s hood can pose a problem, as this needs to be removed before the rest of the jacket can be recycled. These things all start in the design phase, and our Lived & Loved repairs team work closely with the product team to feed back construction improvements; from improving repairability to building in mono-material that doesn’t need to be separated. This helps improve the end-of-life recycling process carried out by our partners at Reskinned and Project Plan B.

Reskinned - Repair, Reimagine, Recycle...

Clothes being sorted for assesment.

Reskinned take pre-loved gear...

Reconditioned Finisterre gear at Reskinned, ready to be sold.

... And get it ready to accompany new adventures.

Through our trade-in platform partnership with Reskinned, we’ve amassed a large inventory of pre-loved gear. The majority of what has been traded in can be re-conditioned and re-sold, giving it a second life with a new owner and many more adventures to come. However, some product that comes back to Reskinned has had such a full life of adventure that there is no realistic chance of repairing it to a sellable standard.

We’ve always believed recycling should be the absolute last step for any product. Some of these “over-loved” pieces can still be upcycled into useful products, like wallets or tote bags, but what happens when a product has truly reached its end-of-life?

Using plastic bottles, which have already had a full life, to make fabric is exponentially more environmentally sound than using virgin oil extracted from the earth. But it’s far better again to use old textiles and turn them into new textiles. Whereas using plastic bottles to create fabric for jackets still represents a linear system, textile to textile recycling stimulates the need for a garment to be recycled at its end of life, creating the circular system.

“Research indicates that the reuse and recycling of textiles could contribute up to 12% of the 50% reduction in carbon footprint that is needed by 2030 to maintain a 1.5 degree level of warming.”

So, how do we make a truly circular product and start creating jackets from jackets?

It's Time For Plan B...

The issue is not that we lack the means to recycle an old jacket into a new one. It is that clothing just isn't designed to be compatible with current recycling systems.

Enter Project Plan B. Based just up the road from us in Plymouth, they have developed a technology which mechanically recycles post consumer polyester back into clean, compact rPET pellets. That huge container of dirty old jackets suddenly becomes a few bales of clean raw product – a resource that can be used again and again, made into new jackets or any other polyester item.

Going in as a Finisterre Jacket...

... Coming out as a clean raw material, ready to be remade.

Aware of the need for textiles to be designed for recycling, Project Plan B set up the Circular Textiles Foundation, a not for profit body that enables and guides the UK textiles industry’s transition to circularity. It unites recyclers and brands, educates and advises on recyclability principles, and certifies textiles as circular and designed to be recycled.

This new way of thinking enables us to rethink waste as a resource, closing the loop on our outerwear, so that finally, that jacket that has been through so much can now be made into a new jacket for another life full of adventures.

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This isn’t something for 10 years down the line. This is what we’re doing now.

We are on a constant journey to reduce our impact, and are fully committed to the circular economy, but we can’t do this alone. Working with trusted partners like Reskinned and Project Plan B is a great start, but for a truly circular economy we need everyone – brands, manufacturers, producers, governments and consumers – to reject its historically destructive, disposable practises.

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