Impact Weighted Design. How to design fashion based on real time impact data
Designing for fashion has up till now been a linear process, full of point of no return decisions. Cost has prevailed, and impact data has – in the best of cases – been presented at the end of the design phase when reverse engineering no longer is an option. With a new digital tool, this way of work is disrupted, giving the designers access to primary data and enable them to make weighted decisions based not only on cost and design, but also on impact. In real time.
Today, a growing amount of design work within fashion take place in a 3D environment and through software such as CLO, Browzwear and Style3D. Virtual garments are fitted directly upon avatars, simulating drape, look, reflections and wear in the most spectacular and realistic ways. Designers click and drag virtual materials, from digital libraries right onto the avatars, thus creating the digital twins of the garments, vividly simulated onto our virtual stand-ins.
At the same time, it´s commonly perceived that up to 80 % of a garment’s climate impact is determined at the end of the design phase. Even though this figure cannot be verified, it is probably in that ballpark and amounts to a serious impact. The textile industry is responsible for nearly 10 % of global carbon emissions, and of the 100 billion garments produced each year, 92 million tons end up in landfills.The energy comes from fossil based raw materials and energy waste occurs within each part of the value chain.
A stand-alone tool for instant impact data
To meet this challenge, we at the design and innovation agency Guringo Design studio and Engage Studios have – supported by the Swedish Energy Agency – explored the potential with a stand-alone tool that make sustainability impact data available already in the design phase. A design module for impact weighted design decisions. A tool that can be connected to various software for virtual design and pattern construction of textile products, as well as with PLM systems and cloud-based servers.
A user-centered, digital tool that enables designers and producers to evaluate the climate impact of products within the textile industry while designing the garments. Such a tool - designed with an intuitive interface that supports ease of use - has great potential to radically streamline resource use and energy consumption within the textile industry while also enabling data-driven sustainability improvements. Further it could facilitate environmental performance enhancement, optimize supply chains and enhance sustainable product creation through data collection, analysis, and utilization. Not to mention the hygiene factor of compliance with EU regulations.
A user analysis to minimize blind spots
During the last year we have also carried out a qualitative user analysis of design teams within the fashion-, sport- and outdoor industry.
The analysis consisted of 10 open interviews with nine brands and one agent for textile exporters. Design, sustainability, and innovation departments at brands in the textile industry was interviewed to understand the needs, utility, and market potential for the envisaged tool. Both Swedish and international brands participated. Several follow-up interviews were also carried out to create a higher understanding of the workflow of the designers.
The questions were of qualitative nature and the interviews were conducted as discussions about the solution and its benefits. The analysis sought answers to what the design process looked like at the various companies, which actors are involved, which actors within the organization responsible for decision making and which trade-offs that became possible (between financial, sustainability and design KPIs).
The study led to higher understanding of the 1) designer journey, 2) the differences in workflow and specific needs from unique actors and fields, 3) the use of different software during the design phase and 4) integration to PLM systems and how to optimize for interoperability.
The study confirmed the potential of the tool, but also emphasized the need to engage all stakeholders in the development to understand how to create value for all, (including our planet) as well as to minimize the risk for blind spots.
A tool that enable trade-offs between KPI:s
With a higher understanding of the designer journey, and the growing access of primary data, the business case of the design tool by now seemed to have quite a potential. But during the work, we also discovered an interesting aspect we did not anticipate. For companies that claims that they already are compliant with DPP(Digital Product Passport) and other legislations, the proposed tool could still create value by enable important trade-offs that up till now was unmeasurable. And thus, hard to argue for.
An executive at a major sport brand stated:
“A supplier can be fully circular, with no impact on water and be super green, but this information is lost during lots of different stages of transformation towards a complete product. Someone can criticize the product out of the high CO2 impact, but the argument regarding water reduction is lost on the way. Material costs go up maybe 50% but they can´t up the price towards customers, this leads to a trade-off regarding lower sustainability.”
By visualizing both impact data and financial data, the tool not only enables the designers to make better choices, it also enables a possibility to weight the KPI.s of finance, sustainability and design. In other words, it becomes visible that a product might cost 10% more, but reduce the climate impact by 40%.
Given the fact that a 2017 poll by CONE found that 78% of U.S. consumers want businesses to pursue social justice issues, while 76% said they would refuse to buy a product if the business supported an issue contrary to their beliefs, this aspect become more and more important for brands to be financially successful.
Measuring the unmeasurable
With this design tool, we might finally be able to measure how much impact is determined during the design phase and thus validate the claims of 80%that is stated in the beginning of this text. The tool might therefor also be a tool for academia and research. >Measuring the unmeasurable can thus become slightly less impossible.