Circularity on track in the fashion industry?

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This is an interview with Professor José Teunissen, Dean of the School of Design & Technology. 

Do we already see an impact?
“I think circularity is being added more and more on the agenda in the business nowadays,”says José Teunissen, Dean of the School of Design & Technology at London College of Fashion. “We are working very closely with industry, and we are trying to bring sponsored projects in for students. More and more sustainability and circularity have become the main topics. The industry faces many challenges and we try to tackle these issues. For example, years ago we did a project with upcycling of returns for H&M. We also worked on footwear, on how to apply new and more sustainable materials. We are looking into more sustainable production with Zara and Inditex, or proposing a shift to digitalization. That’s another way to think and act more sustainable, next to just preventing the waste of materials.''

“Looking at sustainability and circularity I would give the fashion industry a nine out of ten in understanding the challenges and defining them, but a five for actions taken. There is still a lot of work to do.”

“Today, we see students and younger generations more engaged in sustainability and purpose driven impact. Students are very aware of what is happening in the world today. Climate change is a major topic for them. They really want to make a difference. Especially our MA course, Fashion Future, which deals with sustainability. And in our new MA Innovative Fashion Productions, the students really are trying to find solutions to make supply chains more sustainable on all levels. They are really committed and I think that's also a reason why the industry likes to work with young and creative people. In that sense, they are the hope for changing the industry, and the industry really listens to them. It’s great to see alumni from MA Fashion Futures currently sitting in high important positions for brands such as Stella McCartney and Alexander McQueen. So our students can really make an impact. Our alumni are our champions.”

“We also support a couple of young designers who are working in a more sustainable way through optimizing their production, packaging, travel, and reducing their plastic waste such These choices are not always offered to agents. So on all levels these alumni make great examples for our younger generation designers, to enable them to kickstart a sustainable business. Bethany Williams is one of them. She's quite famous now and received a green medal from the late Queen and has won the fashion Fund of the British Fashion Council.”


“There is also one Indian designer - Vishal Tolambia - thats truly creating an impact. He completed a MA in Fashion Production and started reusing and recycling fabrics. We now see more brands coming from India to make fashion more sustainable. And even though it’s not always big business yet, it gives people directions and hope and shows that things can be done in a different way in this industry. On the other side, consumers also need to be more aware, more educated on sustainability and circular approaches. Personally I believe we need to shift away from the idea that we need new fashion products overnight and every week something new. We don’t want to throw away any product because it's out of fashion. You need to know where it comes from, and what impact it made on this earth.”

In an industry where big brands encourage ‘fast fashion’ and quarterly collections, there is a lot to be done to change business models.
“I think business models should change, which they definitely will. Young designers are in a different position because If you start a sustainable brand and you sell online, you have to work smart and cut out the middleman, to keep pricing cost effective. But big brands really need to rethink their businessmodel. Not only looking at waste reduction and what to do with returning materials, but also looking at fair wages for workers and how to inform consumers. And I also think that prices of clothing will have to go up. There is an end to endless consuming and people need to learn again to see the value in these products and where they come from.”

How do you see the role of Control Union in moving towards a more circular industry?
“I think they play an important role because there needs to be more awareness, which can be guided by front runners who actually can set up a sustainable business. Media is very important but education is more important. Policymakers play a key role, while Control Union works’ as a certifier now. To provide both consumers and designers assurance that their products are certified sustainably, we know that Control Union does an excellent job and can provide trust and validation. They are a very important player in this field.”

Then about the event beginning of October, what are your expectations of this?
“I think it's it's amazing that our partner What Design Can Do is exploring the circular economy, bringing fashion on board for the first time! It might be the case that in fashion we have different challenges and different issues than in design and architecture. But I'm looking forward to it, together with Control Union and our students from the MA innovative fashion production and MA Fashion Futures to explore where we are with circular economy, in fashion. And also with industry guests to find out where the pressure points are. It’s also a reality check for us and for the industry. To see where we should focus. I know Control Union is actively engaged in implementing ESG frameworks to ensure that cirularity initiatives are carried out effectively and making a clear impact in our fashion industry. And to explore a little bit. To learn what is actually at stake in the industry they came on board in this workshop. So maybe to develop new tools, go into new directions or maybe just to update their way of working and support. To be in the forefront, ahead of things.”

Is there one thing you see that is a big challenge that you would like to change in the industry?
“I think the most important thing is to ensure that products last longer periods of time and enhancing their lifecycle, trying to avoid putting old clothes into a shredder. To keep them in the loop. We need longer lasting products first instead of fast fashion items. To reduce waste. Repair, adjust and recycle. Circular does not mean that there’s no end to it. We need to make people aware of their behaviour and habits and try to change them for the better. The industry has been talking about sustainability since the 90’s, which started with a focus on  sustainable fabric production. Today, we are aware of and discovering new possibilities. Nonetheless, taking immediate action now is needed. I see in our education a role for permanently updating the curriculum, because the focus is all the time shifting. Now everything is very much related to climate change. So where are we now as an industry? I think in our understanding we are maybe at 9 and in actions at a level 5.”

Professor José Teunissen, Dean of the School of Design & Technology, at the London College of Fashion. The School is dedicated completely to fashion. From textile design to footwear, design, fashion, jewelery, sportswear and apparel. It has about 2.400 students of which 50% from 140+ countries. “We are working very closely together with the Fashion industry, so students are well prepared to start their own business or jobs in the industry.”



This is an interview with Professor José Teunissen, Dean of the School of Design & Technology. 

Do we already see an impact?
“I think circularity is being added more and more on the agenda in the business nowadays,”says José Teunissen, Dean of the School of Design & Technology at London College of Fashion. “We are working very closely with industry, and we are trying to bring sponsored projects in for students. More and more sustainability and circularity have become the main topics. The industry faces many challenges and we try to tackle these issues. For example, years ago we did a project with upcycling of returns for H&M. We also worked on footwear, on how to apply new and more sustainable materials. We are looking into more sustainable production with Zara and Inditex, or proposing a shift to digitalization. That’s another way to think and act more sustainable, next to just preventing the waste of materials.''

“Looking at sustainability and circularity I would give the fashion industry a nine out of ten in understanding the challenges and defining them, but a five for actions taken. There is still a lot of work to do.”

“Today, we see students and younger generations more engaged in sustainability and purpose driven impact. Students are very aware of what is happening in the world today. Climate change is a major topic for them. They really want to make a difference. Especially our MA course, Fashion Future, which deals with sustainability. And in our new MA Innovative Fashion Productions, the students really are trying to find solutions to make supply chains more sustainable on all levels. They are really committed and I think that's also a reason why the industry likes to work with young and creative people. In that sense, they are the hope for changing the industry, and the industry really listens to them. It’s great to see alumni from MA Fashion Futures currently sitting in high important positions for brands such as Stella McCartney and Alexander McQueen. So our students can really make an impact. Our alumni are our champions.”

“We also support a couple of young designers who are working in a more sustainable way through optimizing their production, packaging, travel, and reducing their plastic waste such These choices are not always offered to agents. So on all levels these alumni make great examples for our younger generation designers, to enable them to kickstart a sustainable business. Bethany Williams is one of them. She's quite famous now and received a green medal from the late Queen and has won the fashion Fund of the British Fashion Council.”

“There is also one Indian designer thats truly creating an impact. He completed a MA in Fashion Production and started reusing and recycling fabrics. We now see more brands coming from India to make fashion more sustainable. And even though it’s not always big business yet, it gives people directions and hope and shows that things can be done in a different way in this industry. On the other side, consumers also need to be more aware, more educated on sustainability and circular approaches. Personally I believe we need to shift away from the idea that we need fashion overnight and every week something new. We don’t want to throw away any product because it's out of fashion. You need to know where it comes from, and what impact it made on this earth.”

In an industry where big brands encourage ‘fast fashion’ and quarterly collections, there is a lot to be done to change business models.
“I think business models should change, which they definitely will. Young designers are in a different position because If you start a sustainable brand and you sell online, you have to work smart and cut out the middleman, to keep pricing cost effective. But big brands really need to rethink their businessmodel. Not only looking at waste reduction and what to do with returning materials, but also looking at fair wages for workers and how to inform consumers. And I also think that prices of clothing will have to go up. There is an end to endless consuming and people need to learn again to see the value in these products and where they come from.”

How do you see the the role of Control Union in moving towards a more circular industry?
“I think they play an important role because there needs to be more awareness, which can be guided by front runners who actually can set up a sustainable business. Media is very important but also in the end education is very important. Policymakers play a key role, while Control Union works’ as a certifier now. To provide both consumers and designers assurance that their products are certified sustainably, we know that Control Union does an excellent job and can provide trust and validation. They are a very important player in this field.”

Then about the event beginning of October, what are your expectations of this?
“I think it's it's amazing that our partner What Design Can Do is exploring the circular economy, which is bringing fashion on board! And it might be the case that in fashion we have different challenges and different issues than in other sectors. But I'm looking forward to it, together with Control Union and our students from the MA in fashion production and MA Fashion Futures to explore where we are with circular economy in, in fashion. And also with industry guests to find out where the pressure points are. It’s also a reality check for us and for the industry. To see where we should focus. I know Control Union is actively engaged in implementing ESG frameworks to ensure that cirularity initiatives are carried out effectively and making a clear impact in our fashion industry. And to explore a little bit. To learn what is actually at stake in the industry they came on board in this workshop. So maybe to develop new tools, go into new directions or maybe just to update their way of working and support. To be in the forefront, ahead of things.”

Is there one thing you see that is a big challenge that you would like to change in the industry?
“I think the most important thing is to ensure that products last longer periods of time and enhancing their lifecycle, trying to avoid putting old clothes into a shredder. To keep them in the loop. We need longer lasting products first instead of fast fashion items. To reduce waste. Repair, adjust and recycle. Circular does not mean that there’s no end to it. We need to make people aware of their behaviour and habits and try to change them for the better. The industry has been talking about sustainability since the 90’s, which only covered sustainable fabric production. Today, we are building awareness and discovering new possibilities. Nonetheless, taking immediate action now is needed. I see in our education a role for permanently updating the curriculum, because the focus is all the time shifting. Now everything is very much related to climate change. So where are we now as an industry? I think in our understanding we are maybe at 9 and in actions at a level 5.”

Professor José Teunissen, Dean of the School of Design & Technology, at the London College of Fashion. This college is dedicated completely to fashion. From textile design to footwear, design, fashion, jewelery, sportswear and apparel. It has about 2.400 students of which 50% from 140+ countries. “We are working very closely together with the Fashion industry, so students are well prepared to start their own business or jobs in the industry.”

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