It all started with a walk along a beach…
It all started with a walk along a beach…
After many years of persuasion Sophie finally took her family on a visit (or perhaps more of a waste pilgrimage) to one of the most plastic polluted beaches in the world. At this point in 2012 not many knew about the plight of Kamilo beach, a small volcanic edge of Big Island in Hawaii and the closest piece of land to the Pacific Garbage Patch. Now, the sheer volume of plastic that sits in our oceans, flowing in through rivers and streams across the globe is much clearer and more alarming.
90% of the world’s rubbish that floats in oceans is plastic and currently only 5% of the world’s plastic is recycled. We cannot just cut out plastic from our lives – it is the ‘workhorse material of the modern economy’ but we need to find ways to deal with it. Marine litter is also one of the most visual impacts of a resource inefficient economy. These objects that litter our beaches and fill our seas should be captured for their value before they reach the oceans.
Sophie sent back a collection of objects picked up on a short walk along Kamilo beach (including 18 toothbrushes that were found in ½ hour) with a view to use these extraordinary pieces of sea-worn but still recognisable plastic household objects to open the eyes of others on the plight of our oceans. These, plus other items found along various coasts around the world now appear in this new collection of products.
Our aim was to create a textile product series that not only told a story of plastic pollution within the pattern but also pushed us to produce the most sustainable and circular that we could. We used our experience, network and technical understanding to scrutinise our supply chains, dig out new materials and question waste assumptions.
We have designed this product range by researching materials and methods of production that would give us the most beautiful outcomes with the smallest of environmental footprint.
It is the result of multiple deep dives into our material supplies. We asked ourselves many questions; where did it come from? What was it made with? How was it made? What would happen to it after its useful life had come to an end? How much water is used? Where does the waste go? The answers we got back helped define the products we designed.
We set our goals. Our bottom line would be that our product range would be made from one material known as ‘mono-material’. This meant every thread, zip, textile and filling had to be made from one material. Where possible we would go post-consumer, (i.e. already 2nd life and recycled) minimum carbon and as close to circular as possible.
We worked with Ralf Waterfield, a systems engineer who helped us to crunch the carbon data which, in turn informed our design decisions. Some things we thought would have a big impact made little difference and visa-versa.
It was important that this wasn’t just a set of lovely products, there was a story behind Clean Up Camo. We want to live in a world where no plastic ends up in our oceans and none of our work is responsible for waste, because waste is a design flaw. With every piece sold from this collection 10% of the sales goes to Surfers Against Sewage (SAS) to help the fight against pollution in our oceans. We have also worked to create three new T shirt designs for SAS through our Clean Up Camo + Teemills collab. You can see and order them here.
Here are our principles in more detail:
Minimum parts in mono materials
Each zip, liner, thread, textile, filler and label has been optimised and aligned to be the same material together. This is important because it means that at the end of the use life when you have had enough or it’s been used so much there is no more repair to be done we can take it back and put it into a polyester recycling stream.
Ocean plastic in the pattern and in the material
Our velvet and linen fabrics are made from post-consumer plastic, re-spun into polyester. Our zips are made from waste plastic, our filling post-consumer plastic too.
Where we could not source a post-consumer material, we made sure all were mono-material – no poly cotton or mixed fibres.
Minimum water use
Our material choice was also influenced by the water footprint in the material and the printing. The textile industry is notorious for its water polluting processes. Using Polyester allowed us to print using dye-sublimation processes that has minimum water usage.
And we chose not to create a cotton product (though we did do some lovely tea towel designs!).
Waste not want not
Waste was considered at every stage of the design and process. Minimum fabric was ordered, our suppliers worked to get the most out of the rolls, very little was wasted. We even grappled with the packaging. We got the printers to send us the leftover paper from the dye-sublimation process and we created bespoke packaging from it. The labels (and string) are paper, pre-existing and rubber stamped. These can be recycled too.
Designed through the lens of minimum carbon
We tracked our suppliers, ordered as close as we could to the UK to minimise transportation and printed and made the products in the UK. We badgered suppliers for data about where the fabrics, inks, thread, packing, print paper comes from. Some of it we just couldn’t get and as with all carbon foot printing we went with a global average. Then we ran the numbers and compared it to ‘business as usual’.
What comes around goes around
So, after years of wearing it, sitting on it or stuffing pens/make up/bits and bobs in it and when you feel like a change send it back to us. We know exactly what is in it (one material) and know who wants to recover it. It’s as close to a circular product range as we can make it right now. When we crunched the carbon data it was amazing to see what a difference recycling could make in reducing the footprint. By creating the beginning of a circular product we can literally half the impact!
One last thought
We really hope you love Clean Up Camo and can see the care and attention we have put in to make it as ‘impact light’ as is currently possible. To make sure your actions don’t add the kgs please look after them too by keeping washing to a minimum and avoid dry cleaning (full of nasty solvents).
From Ella and Sophie
Ella is an award winning designer with extensive experience in textiles, product design and photography. Her current focus is the exploration of new approaches in circular design that offer practical artistic solutions to address the challenges of product creation in society where resources are finite. Her recent solo show and documentary on material circularity and transparency, ‘Sheep to Seat, Fleece to Floor’, was held at Yorkshire Sculpture Park in the summer of 2019. With sensitivity to the complex relations between cause and effect in product design, Ella seeks projects that draw on innovative technologies to help push the industry towards a carbon neutral economy.
Sophie is an unusual mix of creative campaigner, practicing designer and chartered waste manager. She is an established leader in communication and design, and in the investigation and promotion of circular economy design principles, helping companies and governments around the world to shift towards better solutions.
“As a designer I’ve spent the last two decades fascinated by the way advances in manufacturing have blithely generated waste as a by-product of consumption. I investigate materials through a number of creative processes. Through the use of waste as raw material - ink from waste carbon, vessels from waste glass. Through environmental science; dismantling shoes, laptops, oil rigs etc and analysing lifecycles (being the first designer to be awarded chartership in waste management). And by being a design garbologist; investigating why design encourages wasteful habits”.
Visit SAS website here
Visit Sophie Thomas's website here
Recycled Polyester uses PET as a raw material, which is the same as that which is used in clear plastic water bottles. These bottles get recycled into pellets, in the following steps:
1.The collected PET bottles are sterilised, dried and crushed into small chips.
2. The chips are heated and passed through a spinneret to form strings of yarn.
3. This yarn is then wound up into spools
4. The fibre is then passed through a crimping machine to create a fluffy wooly texture
5. This yarn is then baled, dyed and woven into a polyester fabric
This is a great National Geographic short film illustrating the process.
This process of converting PET into recycled polyester requires much less energy than in the case of normal polyester. Apparently it's between 33-53% less energy