THE LIFECYCLE OF THINGS
How does a circular fashion label who professes to be with you for the lifecycle of the garment actually do that? Especially one that has decided to stop making new clothing?
Image by Lily Clatworthy
The Lifecycle of Things
You may have seen the recent news that we made the decision to wrap up the clothing making aspect of A.BCH, and if not you can see my full post here. While this is true and happening imminently, as promised in my last post, I wanted to give an update on how we'll be approaching the lifecycle of the garments we've put into the world.
Circularity was never an afterthought for A.BCH. Nor was it an add-on to our products post design or creation. Circularity was the very tenet and central thesis of the brand. Circularity is not a nice idea or a philosophy alone. It has practical, real world implications that must be set into motion in the design phase. The sooner the industry realises this, the sooner there will be something resembling a circular economy. Until then, we can serve ourselves up as a case study.
Critics will say that circularity can't be about recycling and I agree that it's not the only focus, but - and it's a big but - if we do not consider end of life and prioritise it as a design strategy hand-in-hand with life extension and producing less - then we simply can't achieve the low carbon, low waste future we need to transition to. For example, what's the point of an endlessly durable pair of underwear made from plastic that's more than likely to only have one owner? Shall our undergarments outlive us in landfills? Shall we all start exclusively wearing nylon ripstop boilersuits in the name of durability? No of course not - no more than we should wear single use garments from paper, or create an illusion of endless textile recycling in order to fuel a guilt free faster-than-ever fashion.
Circular design is the harmony of two things – Slowing the Flow and Closing the Loop. Go to the extreme in one or the other and you get examples like above and countless others that make no sense in light of the garment's purpose.
Circular Flow for Clothing - © Courtney Holm / A.BCH Circular Design
Circularity includes the WHOLE lifecycle - birth, life and afterlife. So of course we've thought about what would happen in the case that we would no longer make clothes. What if there was a war? Material shortages? Or I got hit by a bus? Or we just decided one day, that there were enough clothes in the world? We aren't gods, and nothing is impervious to drastic climate, societal, economic or political upending.
We always needed a plan for the lifecycle, with or without A.BCH the brand.
I've mentioned that after we turn off the online store, that the site will relaunch as an educational tool, and this will include an archive of every A.BCH garment we made with a full bill of materials and lifecycle plan per piece. Simply search by your garment style or A. Number to find yours. We'll also have general guides available, repair instructions, resale suggestions and continue offering our recycling take back.
Our products were designed to be taken back and retain material value even once the product value had declined. For example, your well loved t-shirt might be beyond repair and reuse, but those materials, a print and plastic free, monochrome, mono-material organic cotton is one of the most valuable and recyclable textiles on the planet. I'm confident that if any garments are to be recycled after a long life of use, reuse and repair, that our garments are the most ideal candidates. Why? We planned for afterlife value in the design phase. Our pieces will be desirable and most sought after by a recycler - and that's by design.
Even now, I'm working on an ongoing pilot project (years in the making!) that would see all the offcuts we ever created, as well as any garments that come back to us through the take back program, decommissioned and mechanically recycled into new yarns. These yarns can be made into really good quality fabrics, like canvas, terry and even denim. So while they might not have come full circle through our brand, rest assured this project is far from over. With the launch of Seamless, Australia's National Product Stewardship Scheme for Clothing, of which I contributed to last year, we will need many such pilots and projects to prove the business case for textile recycling in this country. So this isn't stopping and we aren't going anywhere when it comes to Afterlife.
Bill of Materials
Never underestimate the usefulness of creating a digital archive of the garments you make. Each one should outline the exact bill of materials and ideally decommissioning instructions. Without this information prominently displayed open source or in the future, imbedded into the garment with digital product passports, you can not and should not refer to yourself as circular. Back to the practical implications of circular design – who will know what to do with your unknown garment with 12+ materials within it at the end? No one, and they wont bother to find out either. It's just not worth it. So if you are a brand or label reading this, my number one piece of advice is to create a digital product archive with each item's full bill of materials, today.
As I mentioned, we will have an enduring archive open source at ABCH.WORLD. This is for owners of A.BCH garments, current and future recyclers of A.BCH garments and for brands to study as a blueprint for the future of clothing design.
For the time being, the A.BCH factory will remain in commission. This will allow us to continue to offer our free repair service on all existing A.BCH garments. We have more to announce on the future of our space, but we are planning to transform it into an affordable and flexible community space for co-sewing and small scale manufacturing specifically for independent designers. Stay tuned for announcements on that later.
As for the long term future of free repairs, we will need to play that by ear, but rest assured the service will continue until further notice. We'll keep you updated on all the usual channels if anything should change and always provide resources for what to do next.
You might be curious about what will happen to our leftover fabrics and trims. We also have a plan for these and our precious materials will never go to waste. All leftover trims will be used in the future co-working factory or sold as surplus on our trims site Circular Factory.
As for our much loved, beautiful, traceable fabrics that we've so proudly kept "liquid" by only making stock as we need it, this will all eventually go onto the Circular Sourcing platform. I'm excited to share more about Circular Sourcing too, but that will be another post.
While lifecycles naturally progress and things change, know that our mission and purpose has not. This is still my life's passion and however the mode evolves, I hope you will join me.
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All my best,