Evolving responsible fashion with cradle to cradle design

How is cradle to cradle design being applied in the fashion world and what are the benefits?

The concept of cradle to cradle design has been slowly and diligently infiltrating mainstream fashion debates, articles and fashion consciousness over the last few years.

Professor Frances Corner, head of the London College of Fashion, recently quoted the term ‘cradle to cradle’ in her superb article It’s time we stopped destroying the earth in SALT last year. I write this article to follow on from Corner to expand on the cradle to cradle concept and it’s influence in fashion.

Recently, iconic fashion organisations such as Fashion Positive, Stella McCartney, Trigema, H&M, M&S, London College of Fashion and numerous others have begun to engage with the core concepts of cradle to cradle design, some already even producing cradle to cradle certified apparel at very high quality and standards. In answer to the severe problems with our often unaware consumer fashion mindset, these pioneers in fashion have begun to make conscientious, positive decisions towards creating responsible, sustainable & superbly creative fashion.

But what are these cradle to cradle protocols and how do they revolutionise the way we see and experience fashion currently?

Under current regulations & guidelines, in many cases, making colourful comfortable & fashionable clothing has produced a mass of environmental, social & economic issues.

Effluents from clothing factories contain a plethora of harmful trace elements found in dyes needed to produce certain colours. We expect to pay higher prices for brand names because the brand has value & we do put much value on the materials the garment is made of, so our sense of value is somewhat misguided. Our economy is mostly a linear one where we take materials, make the garment, then wastefully dispose of it when it is either out of fashion or worn out in landfill or incinerators.

With cradle to cradle as the design principle by which so many of these pioneering companies are beginning to make their clothing, many of these issues are being resolved quite effectively and economically.

Trigema in Germany spent over seven years developing its 100% toxin free dyes for use in its celebrated Trigema Change clothing range. These are also the first 100% safely compostable t-shirts in the world. M&S has a take-back system called Shwopping which allows customers to return old garments in store to support either, clothing the disadvantaged or to be re-utilised & repurposed in more garment manufacture. Stella McCartney has teamed up with the Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute to promote and activate the cradle to cradle philosophy under the Fashion Positive initiative. 

Massive work is under way by hundreds of companies large and small to bring enlightened consumerism to all of us, and cradle to cradle thinking is playing a significant role in these dynamic, positive changes.

Cradle to cradle in very simple terms is a standard applied to all goods produced for human use, to be 100% healthy and of very high quality. Combining chemical science, biologic expertise & common sense, product designers get to see what is actually in their materials and make changes where necessary, for health, efficiency and economic benefits.

The standard or level attained is based on scoring in five specific and clearly defined categories.

- Material health: What is in the materials being used, what is it made up of? How toxic are the materials? Do they have any negative effects on the environment, humans or animals? Materials are assessed down to one in one million particles to create a detailed inventory of ingredients. Suggestions are made to remove the dangerous ones & replace them with healthy equivalents.
- Material re-utilisation: Can your materials be used again in some beneficial way once the products’ usefulness ends, can it be disassembled, biodegraded or repurposed? Seeing each product as a resource for another use is an integral part of keeping the circular economy in flow. Designing this into the product before it leaves the drawing board encourages creative thinking and innovation.
- Renewable energy use: – How much of the energy used to make the product is Solar, Wind and renewable? The criteria at each level progress towards a goal of all manufacturing operations being carbon neutral and powered with 100% renewable energy.
- Water stewardship: Is the water that comes out of the process drinkable, how clean is the effluent produced from the factory? Manufacturing processes are designed to regard water as a precious resource for all living things and at each level progress is made towards the goal of all effluent being clean enough to drink.
- Social fairness – Are your workers/employees happy? Are they being paid a fair wage and are their working conditions safe? Company operations are designed to celebrate all people and natural systems and progress is made towards the goal of having a wholly beneficial impact on the planet.

A score on each of these five categories or pillars will determine the product Certification Basic, Bronze, Silver, Gold or Platinum.

As you can see, taking all these things into consideration really transforms the way we experience fashion both from a manufacturer and a consumer point of view.

Cradle to cradle design is not the answer to all the sustainability issues we face in fashion or the world in general. It is, however, a great start to make the world a better place for us all.

Brendon Rowen

Topics: New business models
Tags: | certification | Circular economy | fashion | Innovation | manufacturing | solar | water
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