Going Circular by Design

A guest article by Dr Mark Wade, Sustainability Advisor, Textiles Centre of Excellence & Event Facilitator.

Posted on: 15/11/2022

Design is central to achieving a circular economy. That was the recurring message at the Innovate UK KTN’s on-site event held on 26th October in partnership with the Textile Centre of Excellence at their base in Huddersfield, part of the wider Ignite Labs series.

The purpose

Themed around the textile and fashion industry, the event attracted a wide representation of companies and industries. From multi-national automotive to haut couture, from 7th generation manufacturers to purpose-founded start-ups, all were there to learn, share and network.

There was a spirit of “we know it is hard, but we must succeed. We have to move from the linear economy of ‘take, make, waste, deplete’ and move to ‘eliminate, circulate, regenerate’ if we are to tackle climate change and achieve a sustainable world.”

The highlights

An impressive range of inspirational speakers and panellists presented and explored the topic. From the pioneering Ellen MacArthur Foundation who led the UN Global Commitment on Plastic Pollution to the community-based Daisy Chain Project’s repurposing of waste fabric into fashion items, the message was the same. We can make change happen.

This was exemplified by Revolution Zero who showed that it is possible to displace single use medical textiles with more effective zero carbon focussed reusable alternatives – and engage 50 NHS Trusts in the process. How? By breaking down barriers, fostering partnerships, collaborating, and communicating success. Innovation is critical – everything must be questioned, and where necessary redesigned using a total systems approach.

Luxury bedmaker Harrison Spinks showed that vertically integrated companies can make systems thinking work in-house and, together with likeminded customers, take big strides towards circularity. Key to this is daring to think what circularity means to every aspect of component provision and manufacture to consumer experience and round again. Having the courage to question and then reimage the business model – ‘do we make beds, or do we provide a sleeping service?’ is leading to radical possibilities.

The Agency of Design showcased examples of their elegant circular design solutions from vacuum chamber disassembly of complex components, low impact affordable toasters lasting generations to circular alternatives to throwaway lightbulbs.

The founder-owned, The Smockworks, brought a compelling series of insights into how the fashion industry is changing and needs to change; the challenges; the power of the innovators of new business models (the rise of rental, resale, reorder); the dangers from green washers; how the authentic can prove their credentials through developments in traceability; and digital fashion offering a step-change in material efficiencies and consumer experience.

Throughout the day topics and issues were explored in depth through panel discussions and table conversations. Guest academics joined the conversation adding expertise and perspective.

What comes next?

Nobody was under any illusions that change is easy. The economics are not always favourable yet. Legislation is behind the curve. There are massive challenges in enlisting and aligning lateral supply chain players in designing their parts to fit a circular ecosystem.

There is a need to inform consumers and help them see the value in circularity and embrace new models of ownership. But who is controlling the narrative: the media, the influencers, the big companies? It was agreed that there is a need for a shared message and to get more major retailers to show they really care, to come on board with commitment and use their influence in the marketplace.

For smaller companies funding in the form of grants and investment was needed for research and trials in new ways of working. A general labour shortage, particularly among those having the right skills was highlighted.

Undaunted and invigorated, participants signed-up to be part of a growing network of likeminded and determined change makers and to continue to learn and share and shift together.


Dr Mark Wade, Sustainability Advisor, Textile Centre of Excellence (TCoE) & Event Facilitator – Helping companies and institutions integrate sustainability into strategy, operations, markets, leadership and culture.

Textile Centre of Excellence is a private, not for profit business. The Board of Directors is made up of local business leaders from textile manufacturers that, both locally and globally, supply the world’s premier fashion houses and technical fabric markets.


Event Feedback

“Thank you for organising such a great event yesterday. So many interesting topics were discussed.”

“Thank you so much for facilitating so much fascinating discussion.”

“Cross industry communication is an important focus for us, so it met our needs as well.  It was an excellent event and attendance.” 

“It was great to hear the inspiring examples from quality manufacturers in the UK despite the challenges they face to implement in difficult market conditions. “

“I thought the conference brought together a very interesting mix of individuals and companies all with varied perspectives and challenges. I really enjoyed it!”

More resources

Would you like to get involved in the discussion? Join the Design Innovation Platform to network and collaborate with experts across the Design community.

Got a design-related question? Book a 1:1 drop-in session with the Design Team at Innovate UK KTN to discuss your business and discover more about how to get involved with the Design Innovation Network community.

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