Why we need localised and community-led supply chain networks for clothing

Regenerative Fashion Hub
Regenerative Fashion Hub at LabE20, photo by Ezzidin Alwan

Żaneta Muranko, Senior Postdoctoral Researcher in Circular Supply Chain Systems at the Textiles Circularity Centre, Sharon Baurley, Professor of Design & Materials, and Director of the Materials Science Research Centre, explore the opening of The Regenerative Fashion Hub.

The UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) Interdisciplinary Textiles Circularity Centre (TCC), funded by the UKRI NICER programme and situated at the Materials Science Research Centre, is undertaking fundamental research into a circular textiles economy for the UK SME apparel-fashion industry.

Regenerative Fashion Hub
Regenerative Fashion Hub. Photo by Chris Lee.

An academic consortium led by the Royal College of Art (RCA) (including Cranfield, Cambridge, Leeds, Manchester, UCL, and York Universities), the TCC seeks to create couplings between innovations in materials science to propose an alternative model for fashion that will reduce the consumption of material resources, associated pollution, and improve well-being – whether that is economic (equitable prosperity), human (identity, self-actualisation) social (community, cohesion), or environmental (enhancing the health of our planet and its capacity to support life).

The Supply Chain research team investigates a distributed system that promotes cultures of cooperation in a localised Social Production Network. This research explores new system configurations, drivers to change and benefits of the localised supply chains where, through interaction with each other and aided by novel techniques, local communities can adopt a circular economy for clothing.

This research aims to address the issues of the current supply chains, which are linear, inequitable and polluting. The new system configurations incorporate the TCC’s novel product life extension strategies, such as modularity and 3D-printing techniques for repair, alteration and reconstruction of garments, researched and developed by the Materials Circularity and Consumer Experience research teams.

Circular supply chains as social production networks

Circular economy

At the TCC, we recognise that changing the existing system of supply chains to a system that is localised and community-led is crucial for a circular economy to be realised.

Our Social Production Network concept builds on the complex systems theory and describes a network of diverse, interdependent, and connected human entities that emerge through interactions which can produce circular economy outcomes that exceed the capacity of an individual actor in the system.

The actors (people, technologies, products, or tools) and places interact with each other in ways that can achieve a circular flow of resources, develop system conditions that support the circular flow, as well as produce value for other individual actors and the broader community network.

One such example of value exchange in a Social Production Network is between gatherers who collect, sort and store materials locally for access by others, and upcyclers who use these materials to reconstruct garments for local consumers. This symbiotic relationship can produce mutual economic, social and environmental benefits.

textiles
Assemble, illustration by Amber Anderson

Economically, gatherers are paid service fees and upcyclers can access affordable materials. A fostered sense of community, mutual support and well-being developed through interactions between them are among the social benefits. The environmental benefits include reducing waste and the need for sourcing and production of new materials.

While the relationship between gatherers and upcyclers is interdependent, it is not exclusive. To maintain the exchange of value between them, and by extension, their co-existence, both need interactions with other system actors. For example, the gatherers interact with actors who deposit materials to them for redistribution, and upcyclers interact with those actors who acquire garments from them.

We envisage the social productive network as a collaborative circular business model where specific configurations of actors are necessary to achieve a particular goal of a circular system, specifically an increase in the reuse of apparel textiles and a reduction in the consumption of new apparel.

How we build knowledge on Social Production Networks

Reuse

The Supply Chain research team uses participatory community-focused system design research approaches that are useful for guiding insightful discussions between various system actors motivated to adopt circular economy principles in their day-to-day practice, including citizen-consumers, businesses, start-ups and freelancers (e.g. designers, makers, repairers, upcyclers, brands, non-governmental organisations, recyclers, local authorities and policymakers).

Recently, in November 2023, during the Regenerative Fashion Hub showcase at the Royal College of Art, we held system design research workshops with groups of diverse system actors, to identify hyper-local circular system configurations for clothing, and associated benefits for local communities.

These workshops focused specifically on how the Social Product Network situated in the centre of a town can assemble to share resources, information and value in a collaborative community that uses components and biomaterials available locally to repair, alter or reconstruct a garment.

We are continuing this important knowledge-building this year when again we have gathered with groups of system actors at research workshops to further understand how localised circular supply chains for clothing can network on a distributed scale, what the drivers and value of the network scaling up, and how information, resources and value could be produced and transmitted through those networks for the new system to develop, grow and sustain.

In March 2024, we will be furthering our understanding of what needs to happen to influence and support, as well as what hinders, the development of a circular supply chain for clothing in local economies by bringing a range of system actors together again to a discussion at the Regenerative Fashion Hub on Shoreditch high street.

Regenerative Fashion Hub

Regenerative Fashion Hub
Photo by Ricardo O’Nascimento.

The Regenerative Fashion Hub is an on-the-high-street showcase of the academic research of the Textiles Circularity Centre on sustainable apparel-textiles, to engage the public, industry, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and government in discussion, research and knowledge exchange. The Regenerative Fashion Hub hosts talks, “open house” sessions, and research and knowledge exchange activities, directly on the high street to connect with consumers.

We hosted the first Regenerative Fashion Hub in 2022 with a six-week residency at LabE20, where we showcased our research into bio textiles development, and product and consumer experience designs. The exhibition brought to life the journey of biowaste from the source of waste through to the consumption of apparel. Learn more and watch a video here.

The showcase returned to the Royal College of Art in November 2023 and is coming back to the high street in February and March 2024. We are inviting consumers to visit us and interact with changemakers on important issues relating to the circularity of apparel-textiles, and explore new ways to experience materials and each other in the fashion system.

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The Regenerative Fashion Hub will take place from 23 February to 21 March 2024 at Rich Mix in Shoreditch, London, with a selection of open house days – visit TCC’s website for opening hours.

The post Why we need localised and community-led supply chain networks for clothing appeared first on Circular Online.

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