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Levi’s Paul Dillinger Says Circular Design Needs the Government’s Help

The fashion industry is embracing circular fashion as the concept that could save both the environment and their bottom lines. A closed loop cycle is a practice that environmental organizations such as the Ellen MacArthur Foundation have been spearheading for years.

In an interview with Fast Company, Paul Dillinger, Levi’s head of innovation and one of Rivet’s 50 most influential people in denim, underscored the importance of this concept and added that a closed loop cycle starts with a circular design—and calls on the help of progressive governments.

If clothing manufacturers design textiles that they know will be easy to recycle, it will set the industry up for success and enable positive changes to be made on a larger scale. Levi’s is one major brand putting this practice into place with its sustainable concept collection, Wellthread. For the collection, Levi’s teamed with surf brand Outerknown to design garments that can be easily processed by an industrial fabric recycling plant.

“We are building a design practice to re-train designers to design clothes that can be more efficiently taken back, recovered and turned into next-generation materials,” Dillinger told Fast Company.

Similarly, earlier this year, British clothing manufacturer Teemill launched a line of circular T-shirts that can be returned after use for recycling. The garments are made from 100 percent organic cotton, making it easier for recycling plants to re-manufacture. The moment other materials are included in a fabric, the process of removal becomes as difficult as “taking an egg out of an omelet,” according to the brand.

Even as more companies embrace circular design, according to Dillinger, the real change will take place when progressive governments get involved.

“It’s a type of infrastructure that is too large for a single company to take on,” he told Fast Company. “The companies that are investing in fabric recycling technologies are generally doing it at a loss. It’s too big a lift for a single company to execute, and it’s not anything that a citizen or consumer can do either.”

But by embracing circular design now, fashion companies will be situated to make significant progress when, for instance, the U.S. adopts a textile waste program that’s as routine as garbage pick-up.

“At a macro level, we need to rely on progressive governments to lead the way,” he added. “But as a company, we need to be much better at designing the product that will be optimized for that infrastructure in the future.”