We live in ephemeral societies where the change is constant and deep. Design and Designers are permanently confronted with complex transformations, both at the level of information networks as the whole phenomenon of Globalisation (Ono, 2004). The place of Design, its objectives and fields of action are not defined: they are themselves in evolution. Calvera (2006, p.97) adds that “it is becoming an activity that works the application of knowledge, it does not limit itself to Project”.
Historically, the concept of Design appears in the occidental societies during the 19th century, in the context of the Industrial Revolution (Ono, 2004). The fast development of technology, socio-economics and culture allows the appearance of a new profession, the Industrial Designer (see definition by Bonsiepe, 1992). A new form of consumerism appeared (Smith, 1983).
Fashion Design is intimately related with the consumption of clothing and accessories. It works as a mirror of the society’s values (MacDowell, 2000). Like Eco (1989, p.12) refers, “it is not surprising that a science of fashion can exist as communication and a science of clothing as articulated language”.
The multidisciplinarity in Design became an important vehicle for its incorporation in social life. Through the accountability of its actions it assumes the consequences, both socio-economically, politically, environmentally and culturally (Brandão, 2000).
Currently, we live in a society where consumption is of abundance (Baudrillard, 1995). The conventional industrial practices don’t take in account the risks and ecological impact involved in the production of goods and services, normally recurring to finite natural resources (Leggett, 2006). Industrial waste becomes a major question, as well as the degradation of bio-systems and biodiversity. The socio-economical unbalance between the developed and under-developed countries increases. We witness climatic changes and global warming (Gore, 2006). Within this scenario, Papanek (1995, p.29) defends that “the design response must be positive and unifying. Design must be the bridge between human needs, culture and ecology.”
As a reaction to these unbalances new concepts emerge, such as fair trade (www.ifat.org/index), responsible design (http://www.csr.gov.uk/), eco-design (http://www.unep.org/), sustainable design (//go.to/sustainabledesign/) and sustainable development (http://www.unpd.org/).
With the increasing trend of sustainability, new markets appear. In this context, “As a concept, recycling has it all. If you’re a philosophical kind of consumer, for example, you’ll know that “new” products aren’t really new” (Siegle, 2006, p.11). Recycling has several advantages, from the reduction of waste, to the decrease of the production of prime-materials themselves, and their extraction.
In the last decade, there has been a 60% increase in the sales of new clothing (http://www.infortextil.com/). It is estimated that more than a million tons of textiles are discarded per year in United Kingdom and Northern Ireland, most of them through domestic waste. At least 50% of these are recyclable.
The inexistence of statistical data in many countries, as in Portugal, probably reflects the absence of ecological policies and an indifference towards the consequences of leaving textiles in open landfills.
Textiles aren’t yet recognized as harmful waste to the environment and its re-utilization is not seen as an advantage or priority in the fight against waste and pollution.