Circular Apparel Design and Manufacturing

Detailed overview of innovation with sample startups and prominent university research

What it is

Circular design and manufacturing in the fashion industry involve rethinking the entire lifecycle of garments, from material selection and design to production processes and end-of-life management. This approach prioritizes durability, repairability, recyclability, and the use of sustainable and recycled materials, creating a system where clothes are designed to be reused, repaired, and recycled, minimizing waste and resource consumption.

Impact on climate action

Circular Design and Manufacturing in low-carbon textiles and fashion can significantly reduce emissions by minimizing waste and resource consumption. It fosters a closed-loop system where materials are reused, recycled, and repurposed, decreasing the industry’s carbon footprint. This innovation promotes sustainability, driving positive change in climate action efforts.


  • Design for Disassembly: Garments are designed for easy disassembly at the end of their life, allowing for the separation of different materials and components for efficient recycling or repurposing. This often involves using easily removable fasteners, standardized components, and mono-material construction.
  • Design for Durability and Repairability: Clothes are created with longevity in mind, using durable materials and construction techniques that extend the lifespan of garments. Design considerations also prioritize ease of repair, enabling consumers to mend clothes instead of discarding them.
  • Material Traceability and Transparency: Technologies like blockchain and digital product passports are being used to track the origins and composition of materials, ensuring transparency and accountability throughout the supply chain, which is crucial for effective recycling and material recovery.
  • Sustainable Material Selection: Prioritizing the use of sustainable and recycled materials, such as organic cotton, recycled polyester, and innovative bio-based fibers, minimizing reliance on virgin resources and reducing environmental impact.
  • Closed-loop Manufacturing Processes: Implementing circular production practices within factories, including water recycling, waste reduction, and energy efficiency measures, to minimize the environmental footprint of manufacturing.

TRL : Varies widely, ranging from 3-8 depending on the specific technology and application.

Prominent Innovation themes

  • 3D Design and Virtual Prototyping: Utilizing 3D design software and virtual prototyping to reduce the need for physical samples and minimize waste during the design process.
  • On-Demand and Localized Manufacturing: Employing on-demand and localized manufacturing techniques, such as 3D printing and micro-factories, to produce clothes closer to consumers, reducing transportation emissions and enabling customization while minimizing overproduction.
  • Textile Recycling Technologies: Developing advanced technologies that can effectively recycle complex textiles, such as blended fabrics, into high-quality fibers for new garments, closing the loop on material use.
  • Modular Design: Creating garments with interchangeable components that can be easily updated or replaced, extending the lifespan of clothes and reducing the need for complete garment replacement.
  • Rental and Resale Platforms: Facilitating clothing rental and resale through online platforms, promoting the reuse of existing garments and extending their lifecycle.

Other Innovation Subthemes

  • Disassembly-Oriented Design
  • Durability-Centric Fashion
  • Transparent Material Sourcing
  • Sustainable Material Innovation
  • Closed-Loop Manufacturing Systems
  • Virtual Prototyping Solutions
  • Localized Manufacturing Techniques
  • Advanced Textile Recycling
  • Modular Garment Design
  • Clothing Rental Platforms
  • Digital Product Passports
  • Blockchain for Transparency
  • Circular Economy Initiatives
  • Recyclable Clothing Materials
  • On-Demand Fashion Production
  • 3D Printing in Fashion
  • Micro-factories Implementation
  • Interchangeable Component Garments
  • Clothing Resale Strategies
  • Consumer Education in Circular Fashion

Sample Global Startups and Companies

  • The Renewal Workshop (USA):
    • Technology Focus: The Renewal Workshop specializes in circular economy solutions for the fashion industry. They focus on repairing, renewing, and upcycling clothing and textiles to extend their lifespan and reduce waste.
    • Uniqueness: The Renewal Workshop offers a unique combination of textile expertise, innovative repair techniques, and scalable manufacturing processes to enable brands to adopt circular practices seamlessly.
    • End-User Segments: Their solutions cater to fashion brands and retailers looking to minimize their environmental footprint and embrace sustainable practices while maintaining product quality and brand reputation.
  • Unspun (USA):
    • Technology Focus: Unspun is a denim company that utilizes digital design and robotic manufacturing to create custom-fit jeans on-demand. Their focus is on reducing waste in the apparel industry by eliminating the need for inventory and mass production.
    • Uniqueness: Unspun stands out for its innovative approach to personalized manufacturing, using data-driven design and robotic technology to create jeans that fit perfectly while minimizing material waste.
    • End-User Segments: Their target audience includes consumers seeking custom-fit clothing and environmentally conscious individuals interested in supporting sustainable fashion initiatives.
  • Circular Fashion (Netherlands):
    • Technology Focus: Circular Fashion is likely focused on promoting circularity within the fashion industry through innovative business models, sustainable materials, and supply chain transparency.
    • Uniqueness: Circular Fashion may differentiate itself through its emphasis on holistic sustainability, addressing not only product design and manufacturing but also consumption patterns and end-of-life solutions.
    • End-User Segments: Their solutions may appeal to fashion brands, retailers, and consumers seeking sustainable alternatives to traditional linear fashion practices. They may also work with policymakers and industry stakeholders to drive systemic change towards circularity.

Sample Research At Top-Tier Universities

  • London College of Fashion (UK):
    • Technology Enhancements: The London College of Fashion is pioneering the integration of digital design tools and sustainable materials in circular fashion production. They are utilizing advanced software for virtual prototyping and 3D modeling to optimize material usage and minimize waste in the design phase.
    • Uniqueness of Research: Their research stands out for its emphasis on collaborative and interdisciplinary approaches to circular fashion design. They engage with stakeholders across the supply chain, from textile manufacturers to garment recyclers, to develop holistic solutions for closing the loop in the fashion industry.
    • End-use Applications: The innovations from the London College of Fashion have applications in various segments of the fashion industry, including apparel, accessories, and footwear. By adopting circular design principles, fashion brands can reduce their carbon footprint, extend product lifecycles, and promote a more sustainable consumption model.
  • Parsons School of Design (USA):
    • Technology Enhancements: Parsons School of Design is at the forefront of leveraging emerging technologies such as blockchain and RFID in circular fashion manufacturing. They are developing digital platforms for tracking and tracing materials throughout their lifecycle, enabling transparency and accountability in the supply chain.
    • Uniqueness of Research: The research at Parsons emphasizes the role of design thinking and user-centered approaches in circular fashion innovation. They collaborate with consumers, designers, and policymakers to co-create solutions that prioritize environmental sustainability, social equity, and economic viability.
    • End-use Applications: The insights from Parsons’ research inform the development of circular fashion strategies for both established brands and emerging designers. By adopting circular business models and embracing new technologies, fashion companies can drive positive change towards a more regenerative and inclusive industry.
  • Aalto University (Finland):
    • Technology Enhancements: Aalto University is exploring the use of advanced material science and biotechnology in circular textile manufacturing. They are developing bio-based fibers and eco-friendly dyes that have minimal environmental impact and can be easily recycled or biodegraded at the end of their lifecycle.
    • Uniqueness of Research: Aalto’s research is characterized by its focus on biomimicry and nature-inspired design principles. They draw inspiration from natural systems and processes to develop innovative materials and production methods that mimic the circularity found in ecosystems.
    • End-use Applications: The bio-based textiles and sustainable fashion solutions developed at Aalto University have applications across various sectors, including fashion, home textiles, and automotive industries. By embracing circular design and manufacturing practices, companies can reduce their reliance on finite resources and contribute to the transition towards a more sustainable and resilient economy.

commercial_img Commercial Implementation

Circular design and manufacturing are being implemented by a growing number of fashion brands and retailers, although widespread adoption is still in its early stages. Some notable examples include:

  • Patagonia’s Worn Wear program: This initiative encourages customers to repair, reuse, and recycle their Patagonia clothing, extending the lifespan of garments and promoting circularity.
  • Adidas’ Futurecraft.Loop shoe: This shoe is designed for complete recyclability, with the upper and sole made from a single material that can be ground down and used to create a new shoe.

These examples highlight the increasing interest and efforts from leading brands to incorporate circularity principles into their business practices.