Design for eternity


Did you know?

Decisions made during the design phase are responsible for 80 to 90% of the environmental and economic costs. 

In our contemporary (post-war) society, ‘planned obsolescence’ has become an important strategy to ensure sufficient consumption. Consumers are steeped in the idea that they always need something a little newer, a little better and a little sooner than is absolutely necessary. Planned obsolescence has led to overconsumption and the fast fashion movement. Production volumes have doubled in the last fifteen years, and more than half of all fast fashion items turn to waste within the year.

In this part, we take a closer look at the different to avoid 'planned obsolescence' and to evolve from a linear design (take-make-waste) to a more circular design (close the loop). 


As a designer, you are responsible for what you create. And we're not (only) talking about materials, styles, colors and shapes here. The design approach that you adopt should take into account the entire life cycle of your product. Every step is important: from resources to design, production, retail, consumption and end of life.

Let’s start by doing the reverse of planned obsolescence: make sure you design to last. Quality is the key here, but you should also try to work with designs that outlive trends and hypes.

If clothing does not last long, make sure it gets a second life in one way or another. Design for rebirth by contemplating every possibility in terms of re-use, repair, redesign and recycling. Think of the environment too: maybe you can use an organic material that is biodegradable and simply returns to nature?

In any case, and for every design, the golden rule is to avoid waste or surplus as much as you can. Go for a design that minimizes waste through smart production solutions, reuse of someone else’s waste or multifunctional designs.

On a more abstract level, there is ultimately one goal: avoiding fast consumption oroverconsumption. You can also achieve this by focusing on the services you offer to the people who buy your product. By devoting attention to the experience and to customer involvement, you can strengthen the relationship between the user and his or her piece of clothing. Think of service models as interactive/cooperative design, customization, timeless aesthetics and emotional design, to name just these.

In conclusion, it is not unimportant to design techniques that generate much less waste than some that are more currently used. Have you given (fly) knitting, 3D printing, 3D weaving … any thought?

strategies for Design

Design to last

Sustainable or circular fashion starts with the design. Whereas fast fashion has no qualms about something falling apart after a few washings, circular fashion resolutely steers clear of waste. The initial aim is to create products that last; things that we’re dying to have and to keep. Timeless design and above-average quality are important prerequisites here.

You probably have a few items in your closet that you’ve been wearing for years. Some special item handed down from grandmother to granddaughter, the first pair of leather gloves that your father got you or those unique designer shoes that you just can’t part with. These are of course not your average items (you don’t usually have twenty of them hanging in your closet), but that does not mean they should be overlooked in a sustainable fashion industry. These days there’s a strong movement that strives for sustainability in the sense of ‘lasting long’, thus focusing heavily on quality. This movement, which we not only come across in the premium, but also in the mid-range segment, is called ‘slow fashion’ and it’s here to stay. 



As a designer, you have the choice to go for sustainability, to create products that last, and to make quality and customer satisfaction your top priorities. It’s all about making clothes that lasts and that people want to take good care of. You can read more about the values of slow fashion here.

In Close The Loop's Guide ‘Clothing Design for Longevity’, you get concrete recommendations to extend the lifespan of new collections. Per clothing type, you will find minimum values, target values as well as technical guidelines to avoid common defects or wear and tear.


Supporters of slow fashion denounce the excesses of the fast fashion industry. While two to four collections per year used to be the norm, the industry has evolved to a point where trends seen on the catwalk can be bought in the stores within a mere six weeks. Big fashion chains aim for thirty to fifty collections a year.

The slow fashion movement believes that a loss of quality is inevitable in fast fashion, which does not shy away from deplorable working conditions either. Moreover, its speed encourages a throwaway society.

To avoid clothes going ‘out of fashion’ in a flash, you could try to avoid following hypes and trends, and to work with timeless or classic designs instead. This design strategy is adopted by, for instance, Flippa K and the Belgian brand Furore.


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Design for rebirth

What are the options for repairing or recycling textile products? Is it possible to design for rebirth, time and again?

A good item is designed to last and puts quality first. Unfortunately, this does not guarantee that it will never wear out. Acknowledging this, you can incorporate the possibilities for repair into your very design, for instance. In addition, you can start thinking about the recycling options right from the start of the design process.


While people used to take good care of their belongings, the second half of the twentieth century saw a huge shift in this attitude. Everything was available in large quantities and at unbeatable prices, so an entire generation lost touch with fixing things. The current generation, however, is once again finding its way to sewing machines and repair cafés. As a designer it can be interesting to offer repair services. The fact that this will enhance customer loyalty is a nice plus.


For a designer, a silhouette or a choice of fabric is often what gets the creative juices flowing. Yet already in this phase it’s important to take the end of a product’s life into account. Check which fabrics are easy to recycle. Yet not only fabrics matter: the way a piece of clothing is assembled is just as crucial. At this stage you can keep in mind that your product should be easy to take apart and sort. A design that caters to these needs is designed for disassembly.
A few pointers:

  • Fiber blends slow the sorting process down and turn recycling into downcycling – meaning items lose much of their quality in the process. Go for one material to facilitate the sorting process. Use for instance 100% bio cotton rather than 50% polyester and 50% cotton.
  • Quality fabrics lead to higher quality recycled fabrics.
  • Check which materials are easiest to recycle. Read more about recycling fabrics here.
    Pay close attention to bindings and seams. Avoid permanent bindings and opt for threads and haberdasheries that you can quickly remove.
  • White textile can be redyed after recycling. By contrast, flashy colors and prints are a challenge to recycle.
  • Consider modular designs, so you can replace parts that wear out quickly. Think of detachable white collars for shirts or new soles for shoes, for example.

For more information, check End of life - Recycle textile.


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Design to minimize waste

The circular economy regards waste as a product of bad design. Traditionally, waste has always been considered a necessary evil of production. But lately, we are seeing a shift from this point of view to, for example, cradle to cradle thinking (C2C).

This part focuses on the widely supported no-waste philosophy that entails renewable energy sources and minor design interventions such as zero-waste pattern cutting, virtual prototyping and design on demand.

The idea of zero-waste fashion is hardly new. Clothing used to be made from an entire piece of fabric – a decision dictated by economic reality, because fabric was very expensive. Today, the focus is less on making maximum use of pricey fabrics: the term ‘zero waste’ suggests avoiding waste altogether. In the light of the increase in production, consumption and use of resources, both sides of the question are of course relevant.



In a linear approach, discarding a piece of clothing is seen as the final phase. However, waste does not exist in the cradle to cradle approach. Everything that was ever made has to return either to nature or the industry without damaging the environment. Natural products are a source of inspiration here, as they are also absorbed by the soil or serve as food for other organisms.

The fashion industry is picking up on this philosophy. We see more and more innovative experiments with biodegradable textiles. Biodegrading or composting means breaking down fabric fibers with the help of microorganisms, light, water or even air. In contrast to synthetic fabrics, vegetable and animal fibers are quite easy to degrade. Unfortunately, however, some phases of the processing cycle, such as dyeing and coating, can spoil the fun. Clearly, there’s a need for innovation in these respects. Moreover, research into the addition of nutrients to textile, for instance, could ensure that decomposed clothing actually feeds the soil. A lot of opportunities to look forward to, right?

Be sure to take a peek at Fashion Positive’s website for more information on cradle to cradle (certified) materials.

JBC and C&A, among other brands, have been experimenting with cradle to cradle certified collections.

Yet even without a C2C certificate you can get cracking with the underlying principle. Yuma Labs, for instance, makes sunglasses from recycled PET bottles. When customers’ sunglasses are past their prime, they can simply be returned to Yuma Labs for recycling.


Waste does not only result from clothing that’s worn out or that the owner has grown tired of. The production process also costs a lot of energy and resources. When a pattern is cut from a piece of fabric, for instance, the remaining material is often thrown away. Thus, on average 10 to 20% of the fabric lands on the floor! By avoiding these cut-offs or pre-consumers spills, you make sure the water, energy, dyes and chemicals that went into this piece of fabric weren’t wasted.

Zero-waste design is one way to eliminate these cut-offs and to optimize fabric use. This is the time to shine for pattern design – in contrast to traditional processes, where pattern sketching merely follows from the idea a designer has in mind. Designing clothes by draping on a stand also allows designers to come up with silhouettes that are made from an entire piece of fabric.

In case there are leftovers, collect them and reuse them. Read all about this in the section on reusing waste.

Eager to find out how this principle is translated into zero-waste knitting or weaving? Make sure to go to the part on avoiding waste and surpluses during the production phase.

What happens to pre-consumer waste is often out of your hands, because this type of waste is mainly generated by your suppliers. However, you can always talk to them and raise awareness to make sure that leftover fabrics are reused or recycled instead of incinerated.


Designers, pattern makers and producers can all benefit from 3D virtual prototyping to limit the number of physical samples. This has its advantages in terms of speed (you can make on-the-spot decisions and instant changes) and avoiding waste.


Design on demand has both economic and ecological benefits. First of all, you can be sure that your design really appeals to someone and will be purchased. While you are looking at on average 30% overstock with a normal process (design, followed by production and then retail), design on demand will help to reduce that number.

Second, it’s only a small step to incorporate made-to-measure applications, allowing the client not only to pick the design, but also to select the right size. This immediately creates the right patterns and reduces the risk of a bad fit.

You can apply this strategy to two different stages of the creation process. On the one hand, you have design on demand, where the entire design is still a question mark and you can cater to preferences in terms of color and taste. When you are entirely sure of your design, you can also opt for production on demand in a later phase – another eco-efficient strategy in which production doesn’t start until you are certain your items will get sold.


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Design to reduce the need for rapid consumption

Digging through the discards of other people’s closets, we seldom find clothes that are completely worn out. Rather, we usually come across pieces that are still perfectly usable. We could argue that products have two potential expiry dates: when they break or fall apart, and when their owner is tired of them.
This brings us to the question: how can you integrate emotional aspects into your products to make sure the customer’s feelings for them last? What could stimulate users to hold on to things a little longer and to temper the need for new?

The value of a product is often said to lie mainly in the momentary satisfaction we get from buying it. Yet these positive feelings fade quickly. Long-term satisfaction seems to be much harder to attain, and once the fun has gone, the itch to buy inevitably returns.

By adding the right extra’s, the customer’s positive feelings can be extended, so he or she will enjoy your product for a longer time. That’s why buzzwords like ‘co-creation’, ‘consumer engagement’, ‘storytelling’ and ‘customer experience’ are heard more and more during product pitches. They all come down to giving the customer an experience he or she will want to talk about. The new generation of entrepreneurs assumes that today’s clients not only want to be complimented on the perfect fit of their pants, but also like to get some praise for their interesting choice and the story behind it. Make a product attractive in this respect, and it is likely to stick around.

Though at first sight this may seem like playing tricks on the customer, this development often happens bottom-up. After all, consumers have become more assertive, asking questions about how and where their clothes were made. In business terms, this approach is called ‘multiple value creation’, which means focusing on more than just the value of the physical product itself.

A few examples of multiple value creation are:



We see more and more experiments or even full-fledged business models that meet the need for participatory or interactive design. This approach is predicted to increase in popularity or even to announce the new era of the creator economy, as futurist Paul Scaffo puts it more strongly. Scaffo is convinced that maximizing the interaction between designer and customer creates the emotional attachment that today’s and tomorrow’s customers are looking for.

In his view, the process of making and creating has become a new status symbol. Being able to say ‘I made this myself’ or ‘I contributed to this project’ is highly satisfactory. By involving the customer in the creation process, the product will automatically acquire a deeper meaning and will be cherished for a long time.

In fashion, co-designing often takes the form of digital platforms or user interfaces that enable customers to submit their preferences in terms of style, cut, print … While the options used to be limited to picking a color (remember Nike Air Max?), it has now become possible to incorporate children’s drawings, photographs or even emotions into a print.


Storytelling or emotional design revolves around telling how (well) someone has made something. The time and care that have gone into a piece of clothing are highly valued, as well as the circumstances in which it was made, the size of its ecological footprint, its innovative character or any other beautiful story that lies behind it.

The American brand TOMS, for instance, donates a third of its profits to social initiatives and successfully markets the formula ‘one for one’: for every product sold, TOMS donates a useful equivalent to a person in need. So, purchasing a pair of glasses corresponds to giving someone ‘the gift of sight’, which could be prescription glasses, sight-saving surgery or medical treatment. As long as it’s fun to tell this story, you’ll probably take good care of your glasses and perhaps wear them more often than others.

The circumstances in which something is made are a conversation starter too: those studios crowded with grannies and young Peruvian mothers knitting scarves for Ellen Kegels? That story never gets old.



Offering a unique creation process is one thing, yet the act of buying is another phase that can be spiked with an experience: the tale of the hunt. As a fashion entrepreneur, it is therefore worthwhile to ponder those possibilities that add a dash of excitement to the moment of purchase.

Was it a dark corner at a flea market? A once in a lifetime find? Did you haggle over the price? Today, these happy coincidences that we love to talk about are professionalized and incorporated into the business model.

Think of companies such as Suitcase, which offers you a personal style adviser. You just tell them who you are, and a couple of days later a suitcase full of carefully selected clothing is waiting patiently on your doorstep. And then there’s Café Costume, where you have your measurements taken and leave with a tailor-made suit. Such experiences will surely be discussed and shared widely.

Read more about service-oriented business models in retail.



Offering a unique creation process is one thing, yet the act of buying is another phase that you can spike with an experience: the tale of the hunt. As a fashion entrepreneur, it is therefore worthwhile to ponder those possibilities that add a dash of excitement to the moment of purchase.

Was it a dark corner at a flea market? A once-in-a-lifetime find? Did you haggle over the price? Today, you can incorporate these happy coincidences that customers love to talk about into your business model.

Think of companies such as Café Costume, where customers have their measurements taken and leave with a tailor-made suit, or JBC, which recently opened an experience story that takes children on a trip around the world of sustainability and recycling.

Read more about service-oriented business models in the ‘Retail’ section.


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Design with new technologies in mind

New technologies are developing rapidly. Who knows, some of them might replace or complement your traditional production processes, thereby reducing your ecological footprint.

After all, new technologies might need less energy, water or chemicals, or allow you to skip certain harmful steps altogether (like transportation). They may facilitate local production, or enable smaller editions. Perhaps it’s even possible to work on demand, which is the golden rule to avoid surplus.

Some techniques that are already quite common:

  • Digital printing/finishing
    While conventional printing techniques involve large quantities of chemicals and dyes, digital printing can do without those. What’s more, traditional industrial rotation techniques require test print sheets to get everything right, and these imperfect pre-printings can get up to twenty meters. So what’s to gain from digital printing? A few crystal-clear facts:
  • Energy use: - 60%
  • Water use: - 80%
  • Ink use: - 90%
  • Color use: - 90%
  • Laser cutting 
    Laser cutting is exactly what it says, namely using a laser rather than a blade to cut into a surface. The benefits include a cleaner, more accurate cut, as well as a higher quality finish.
  • Digital 3D samples
    Designers, pattern designers and manufacturers can use 3D virtual prototyping to reduce the number of physical samples. This has its advantages in terms of speed (you can make on-the-spot decisions and instant changes) and it helps reduce waste. Hugo Boss and Tommy Hilfiger already use 3D sampling.
  • Artificial intelligence (AI)
    More and more companies use AI to enhance the customer experience. They analyze the enormous amounts of data that can be gathered from social media, e-commerce and smartphone feeds to anticipate purchasing decisions. This allows them to avoid overproduction. The smart mirror and virtual dressing room are other interesting new technologies that could help reduce your fashion footprint.
  • Blockchain
    Increasing transparency is key in a more sustainable fashion industry, and blockchain can help to make that happen – from fabric choice to end product. The Belgian company quiFACTum is on a mission to make fashion chains more transparent through blockchain.



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