Welcome to the Circular Economy: What Do Fashion and Regenerative Interior Design Materials have in Common?

The recent NeoConversations podcast, Design and the Circular Economy, is compelling and sets the stage for trendspotting during the upcoming NeoCon conference. As an avid shopper and seller at sites like Poskmark and TheRealReal, I couldn’t help but see the parallels.

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As we look toward regenerative products, we expect these products to meet the aesthetic, durability, flexibility and price of first-life products – which brilliantly describes my expectations of a new-to-me Cult Gaia bag purchased through a re-sale platform!

A circular economy, also called circularity, reconceptualizes traditional material loops, a linear flow of “take (raw materials from the earth), make, dispose” into the more sustainable loop “recycle (for raw materials), make, use, reuse, remake” system. In an essay by Economist Kenneth E. Boulding titled “The Economics of the Coming Spaceship Earth” published in 1966, Boulding wrote succinctly about the risks we take in looking at the earth as an unending source of raw materials available for our consumption. In a circular economy, we make sustainability a priority in a sophisticated way.

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Are we to regard the world of nature simply as a storehouse to be robbed for the immediate benefit of man? ... Does man have any responsibility for the preservation of a decent balance in nature, for the preservation of rare species, or even for the indefinite continuance of his race?

- Kenneth E Boulding

Circularity mimics the natural environment. In nature what we may call “waste” actually contributes to the survival of the entire system. As we recapture waste through waste management processes, we close the loop in much the same way mother nature does. All waste from the system contributes to its continued viability and no resource goes unused. Considering the critical environmental challenges we’re dealing with today, partially as a consequence of our current linear production methods, “take (raw materials from the earth), make, dispose”, rethinking this process is critical to the health of the planet and mitigating human-driven environmental impact.

One fantastic success story is the fiber industry which is a significant consumer of oil derivatives as raw materials. Fibers, made using this derivative raw material, can be fully recycled using pre-consumer and post-consumer textiles and even by incorporating plastic wastes from outside of the textile loop. The clothing industry has been an early adopter of regenerative textiles. Names we know such as Gucci, Stella McCarthy[LM1] and many others use regenerative fibers such as ECONYL by Aquafil.

Tarkett Desso is offering 4 styles made from 100% regenerative fibers, which includes this pattern Arable. These 4 patterns make up the Human Fascination collection.

Tarkett Desso is offering 4 styles made from 100% regenerative fibers, which includes this pattern Arable. These 4 patterns make up the Human Fascination collection.

We’ve all heard the catchphrase “Design with the end in mind.” This takes on new meaning as we are asked to consider, not only raw material sources and recycling processes, but also waste management processes such as how products can be separated into useable components for regeneration. Also, how do we build regenerative processes into the life cycle of projects? This requires a long-term view of our product specifications and building a plan for long-term use and reclamation. How do we build a process for product regeneration at the end of a 10-, 20-, 30-year project lifecycle?

As Giulo Bonazzi and David Oakey reminded us during the NeoConversations podcast - we are in this together. We must emulate nature and take a multi-generation view of the products that we specify. This is a challenge which must be met with a multi-disciplinary approach including product designers, interior designers, manufacturers, suppliers, end users, legislators and recyclers.