One of the most important actions the textile industry can take to bring about meaningful and significant change is the transition to a circular economy.
We are currently using 1.75 planets worth of resources every year – that’s nearly two planets worth of resources – and that number is set to rapidly increase over the next decade. In the United States alone last year, there were 11.3 million tonnes of textile waste produced. In fact, textile production today accounts for 10 per cent of the global carbon dioxide output. That’s more than all international flights and shipping combined. And only a fraction of what’s being manufactured is getting recycled: 87 per cent of the total fiber input that we’re using is ultimately incinerated or sent to landfill.
It’s clear that we can’t carry on with business as usual. We’re depleting very limited resources and producing huge quantities of waste. Instead, encouraging repair, refurbishment, reuse, or resale is a viable approach. Once products reach the end of their first lives, circularity becomes a really key concept: meaning keeping textile materials in closed loop systems to be remade again and again.
The Ellen MacArthur Foundation — a global charity launched in 2010 that helps support major corporations shift towards more circular approaches — states that within the circular economy there are two cycles in relation to materials: the technical cycle and the biological cycle. The technical cycle generally means materials that are human made, whereas the biological cycle are materials directly drawn from nature that can ultimately degrade with hopefully no impact as they go back into the soil. This does not mean categorizing good or bad materials; it’s not like natural is good and synthetic is bad. Often, for example, plastics get demonized, but plastic is not a bad material, because it has the capability to be infinitely melted and remade.
When looking at the technical cycle, the goal is to think about materials not as static objects but as part of a moving, constantly dynamic system: thinking about where it comes from; the process of transformation; and thinking about where it can go at the end of life, this is celebrating zero waste and looking at closed loop production approaches that allow materials to remain in completely closed loops to be made again and again, and really keeping low impact at the front of mind.
An important component in making a circular perspective work is manufacturers acknowledging their responsibility as a custodian of the material: not just at the point of sale, but beyond that, understanding that even after the customer has finished with the product, they need to have the connection and the system to be able to take it back from them, and put it back into production.
Then there is the biological cycle. As I mentioned, this is about celebrating and exploring a real appreciation for natural materials and even promoting a sort of spiritual connection to materials and collaboration with nature, rather than controlling it. This involves both elevating the importance of natural material but also looking at it from a more technological perspective in the same way an exciting raft of designers and material innovators are working with bio-based materials in more technological ways.
In the architectural and interior design sphere, there’s lots of exciting material innovation around this sort of theme, be it a strong focus on regenerative materials, where possible, and really thinking about using technological means to elevate the manufacturing potential and the performance of unexpected raw materials to perhaps increase our palette and think particularly about what’s abundant in nature that we can work with.
Caroline Till is a member of the Heimtextil Trend Council and co-founder of the U.K. future agency FranklinTill, who were responsible for the Heimtextil 2023 Trend Space exhibit titled “Textiles Matter” which brought four perspectives of circular textile economies to life. The preceding is a collection of excerpts from her Heimtextil 2023 Trends presentation.
Melange Check | Luum Textiles
Woman-owned design studio Luum Textiles has worked alongside a woman-owned mill to develop Melange Check, Wool Fleck and Graph Speck with 100 per cent pre- and post-consumer recycled garment waste blend of 51 per cent recycled wool, 39 per cent recycled acrylic, and 10 per cent recycled polyester, and using European fiber recycling traditions. Developed by hand on the Tick Studio loom, each colourway begins when discarded garments and post-industrial textile waste are shredded back into fiber which are then spun together to create complex mélange yarns.
Outdoor Hemp | Marzotto Interiors
Taking the “Textiles Matter” slogan of 2023 Heimtextil to heart, two new collections of technical fabrics aimed at the world of contract were debuted, with the focus on the word “world.” Blue Islands is made in recycled polyester and intended for the hospitality and cruise sectors, while the new Outdoor Hemp collection utilizes the intrinsic properties of its natural material namesake, such as resistance to rain, UV radiation, as well as changes of temperature and humidity.
Air Baffle Nike Grind | Kirei
Inspired by Nike’s classic Air Max shoes, Michael DiTullo designed these acoustics baffles to combine the performance of exterior PET felt, made from recycled water bottles, and its interior textile fluff made from manufacturing scrap and end-of-life shoes from Nike Grind. The baffles feature windows inspired by the shoe’s classic air bubble to view the shredded substance. “In my career, I have worked on hundreds of shoes for Nike, Jordan, Converse, and other brands. It was a real joy to design a product that helps rescue those shoes from the landfill at the end of their useful life as footwear and find a new, long-lasting use case for them as a visually striking architectural acoustic product,” says DiTullo.
The French modern furniture brand has partnered with biotechnical firm, MycoWorks, to introduce the world of luxury furnishings to this natural, sustainable material made from mycelium, the root structure of mushrooms with the feel and performance of fine leather. First adopted by the fashion industry with recent expansion into automotive, this is the first use in home decor and furniture. “Decades ago, my co-founder Phil Ross and I explored using mycelium to create molded chairs and stools as part of our art practice,” said Sophia Wang, MycoWorks co-founder and Chief of Culture. “Furniture demonstrates the beauty, utility, and performance of materials.”
Dover| Carnegie Fabrics
Four new patterns have been added to the expanding line of Biobased Xorel fabrics, which are resourced from rapidly renewable sugarcane and have a significantly lower environmental footprint than fossil fuel-derived products. Constructed of 100 per cent polyethylene, each addition to the collection is made with 25 per cent-50 per cent of biobased content, all PVC-free. With names like Ashford, Windsor, Dover (shown) and Galway, the new collection pulls inspiration from classic wool and tweed textile interior surfaces of 11th-century manor houses.
Leatherly | Architex
Harvesting leather waste produced from crusts and scraps and using a solvent-free and low carbon emission process creates an upcycled leather upholstery alternative. Thirteen colorways are sold by the yard allowing for ease in specification and furniture manufacturing, and are bleach cleanable for disinfection protocols.