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Nike’s New Circular Design Guide is a Call to Action for Industry Improvement

When it comes to adopting sustainable processes, Nike is encouraging competing brands to Just Do It—and is taking things a step further by showing them how.

The world’s top-selling footwear brand is also looking to lead when it comes to environmental stewardship, and has released a sustainable guideline for both brands and consumers.

Nike’s Circular Design Guide was created in collaboration with Central Saint Martins, a London-based design school. It centers on the footwear and apparel industry’s role in addressing climate change, focusing on 10 principles, like cyclability, waste avoidance, green chemistry, disassembly and refurbishment, among others.

Each topic comes with Thought Starters that encourage brands to examine their current practices and consider how they can change them. Case studies from industry stalwarts, like Levi’s, Patagonia and Christopher Raeburn, illustrate successful implementation or innovation in each area of focus.

Examples like Nike’s innovative Flyknit uppers emphasize how new materials and processes can limit waste, ultimately saving brands money and reducing impact.

The one-piece knitted uppers, which Nike debuted to massive fanfare a handful of years ago, subverted the traditional “cut-and-sew” techniques often used to create sneakers. Instead of snipping pattern pieces out of leather or textile (and leaving behind scraps in the process), yarn is woven precisely into a continuous unit based on the shoe’s specifications.

Patagonia’s Worn Wear program is highlighted as an example of product refurbishment, extending the life cycle of items that would otherwise be bound for landfills.

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The brand implemented the program, designed to encourage consumers to reuse, repair or ultimately recycle their garments, in 2005. In 2015, Patagonia launched its first Worn Wear tour, traveling in a truck and trailer across the U.S., repairing clothing along the way. The tour has now extended to Europe, Japan and South America. Patagonia’s expert technicians will repair any brand of clothing, free of charge.

Worn Wear began buying back Patagonia gear from consumers in 2017, launching a separate “re-commerce” business. Consumers can purchase re-purposed gear for a fraction of the original price.

“We have an obligation to consider the complete design solution, inclusive of how we source it, make it, use it, return it and, ultimately, how we re-imagine it,” John Hoke, Nike’s chief design officer, said in a statement.

“The guide and its related workbook share principles that support a universal call to action for our industry: We must all come together and have a more positive impact on our planet,” he added. “Design has the opportunity to take on a powerful role in making the world a better place.”