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Countries involved: France, Italy, Finland

As result of the synergy between the French design studio Arkellia, the Sicilian SME Eithne and the Finnish arts and crafts association Modus, WEAR-ABOUTS creates clothes for children connected to a specific geographical place and interactive so that they can be “read” through a dedicated app.

This project wants to explore what would happen if the illustrations could get out of the books and turn into textile designs on clothing, what they would say about the intriguing stories that inspired them and how they would speak to the wearer.  WEAR-ABOUTS explores new educational approaches based on intelligent illustrated models such as interactive cultural products that operate on the border between illustration, education, tourism and fashion.

“WEAR-ABOUTS – says Laetitia Barbu of Arkellia (France) – creates clothes for children that are inspired by a specific place and act as intelligent experiential tourist products that establish a deep connection between that place and the wearer. They allow young people and families to discover a region / area visited in a new and unconventional way, in particular using augmented reality.”


Countries involved: Sweden, Spain

The partners who worked on this project – Diana Svensson, founder of the Swedish children’s clothing brand Peek-A-Poo – and the Spanish clothing and accessories company RAPIFE – have created the first brand of premature baby clothes capable of simplify the interaction in the hospital environment of parents with their children. The design was created based on the feedback and experiences of the parents of premature babies and nurses working in the neonatology wards of Scandinavian hospitals.

In particular, the garments have been designed giving particular importance to parent-child contact. Parents no longer have to juggle complicated closures, buttons and zips: a series of strategically placed holes and a patented soft velcro allow them to get skin-to-skin contact quickly and easily with their children. “When designing these garments, we also paid particular attention to their sustainability, in addition to providing them with a unique and innovative design. In fact, we will work with a mix of bamboo and natural chitosan, which is designed to avoid irritating the delicate skin of babies and is also completely recyclable, “says Diana Svensson (Sweden).

WEARABLE PLAY: a balance between time on a screen and physical play!

The innovative WEARABLE PLAY project is all female! Researchers and designers Michaela Honauer, (Germany) Secil Ugur Yavuz (Italy) and Kristi Kuusk (Estonia) have come up with a way to create a balance between the time children spend in front of a screen and physical play. Thus Worm-e was born, the prototype of a soft and interactive puppet capable of involving children by encouraging them to interact. The toy, soft and colorful, acts as a link between the physical and digital world thanks to a specially created app that monitors the game modes and records the results, issuing a notification when the child spends too much time in front of the screen.

Worm-e was born to the realization that the little ones interact more and more with electronic devices that allow them to play, learn and communicate through a screen. All this, however, can create problems regarding their well-being as being in front of a screen reduces movement and the possibility of interaction. “To improve the well-being of this generation of increasingly technological children, we must not neglect the existence of digital technologies, but on the contrary, it is necessary to find new ways to make them coexist with the physical world that we perceive and experience through our body”, says Michaela Honauer.


WALKYTALKIES: A new product combining children play-socks and augmented reality


Countries involved: Holland, Germany

The collaboration between WALKYTALKIES, a Dutch brand that has created a series of socks for the little ones that turn into cheerful puppets and the German designers of bachHOCH2, has resulted in a unique project, designed to stimulate the imagination of the little ones. By scanning the illustration on the sock package, it turns into an augmented reality world where children can experience the adventures of the WALKYTALKIES characters thanks to 4 interactive stories. The stories are fun and not too long at the same time, so that little readers can easily follow them. Thanks to interactive reading, it becomes possible to actively participate in the story and contribute to creating the plot, making decisions that can influence it. Sailing on the seven seas, traveling in the age of the knights and walking through a magical forest … there is no limit to imagination!

“Recent research has shown that children tend to avoid reading, instead favoring the use of multimedia content, for example on YouTube. This is an evolution that worries educators about the implications it could have in the future “, explains Nelleke van der Burg, founder of the WALKYTALKIES brand. “Thinking about this, we decided to combine the importance of reading, the inevitable presence of electronic devices within each family and our WALKYTALKIES to create something new that was able to stimulate the desire to read in children from 5 years up. ”

This project has already been marketed and is available on the website

This project was developed within WORTH Partnership project, a project funded by the EU.

With 152 selected projects involving 345 partners from 34 EU-COSME associated countries – from France to Germany, Spain, UK, Italy, The Netherlands, Slovenia, Moldova, Estonia, Sweden, Finland, Montenegro, Serbia, etc – WORTH Partnership Project is the Europe’s largest creative incubator: this European Commission project is a unique laboratory where European designers can experience the advantages offered by transnational collaborations and by the participation in an internal market of over 500 million people.

WORTH Project in VOGUE

The success of the projects born within WORTH project is gratefully proved through their resonance in world’s most popular fashion magasines.

The article refers to the leather bags collection of Lydia Muro, as part of the project called “The Eastern Side Of Riviera” and is a capsule of folding bags handcrafted in upcycled leather and natural materials. The partnership was born thanks to the WORTH Partnership Project network , funded by the European Commission under COSME in which designers, SMEs, manufacturers and technology suppliers work together to develop innovative and business-oriented ideas.

All the components in natural fiber tulle worked as lace are handcrafted in Sofia, Bulgaria, and transformed into stunning leather creations at Lidia’s atelier in Ubrique, Spain, by the expert craftsmen she collaborates with.

For more information please visit the link in Vogue!

S4Fashion | Sustainability for Fashion Press Release

The S4Fashion project has officially kicked off. The project is co-funded by the COSME Programme of the European Union and is being led by the European Creative Hubs Network (ECHN) in partnership with Envolve Entrepreneurship Greece, DataScouts, Instituto Europeo di Design (IED) and ZIPHOUSE of the Technical University of Moldova.

S4Fashion is empowering designers, start-ups, scale-ups and businesses identified as SMEs to introduce new sustainable and circular economy solutions for the fashion industry. The project aims to identify and amplify the best and up to date practices for a greener fashion sector.

In May 2021, S4Fashion will launch an open call for SMEs to form transnational teams, from at least two European countries, and collaborate for the creation of sustainability solutions, practices and business models for the fashion sector.

Selected pilot projects will benefit from a bespoke support programme including mentoring, networking opportunities and financial support. Beyond the pilot projects, a much larger number of organizations will be supported building a system of transnational sustainable fashion laboratories for the testing and measurement of new methodologies.

The project brings together a consortium with partners coming from different fields, expertise and locations such as: the creative hubs ecosystem (ECHN,Greece); creative and knowledge hubs for the fashion industry (IED,Spain and ZIPHOUSE, Moldova); expertise in support for start-ups and businesses (Envolve Entrepreneurship Greece) and a data-driven business development company (DataScouts, Belgium).

The newly formed consortium presented S4Fashion for the first time at the joint kick-off event with the other three grant awarded projects (Circular Inno Booster, Fashion for Change, Small But Perfect) which was organized by the Executive Agency for SMEs of the European Commission. The four partnerships had the opportunity to interact, share knowledge from previous experiences and initiate a dialogue on how to build synergies amongst them.

Stay tuned for more updates, opportunities and best practices knowledge sharing from S4Fashion through our social media channels.

Contact Details:

European Creative Hubs Network (ECHN)


Pireos 84 & Salaminos 13, 10435, Athens, Greece


Exploring UK Design Companies with Environmental Commitment

Design Thinking: New Challenges for Designers, Managers and Organizations

International DMI Conference 14-15 April 2008, ESSEC Business School, France

Raija Siikamäki Fiskars Iittala Group, P.O. Box 130, 00561 Helsinki, Finland

Nina Seppälä UCL University College London, Gower Street, WC1E 6BT, UK

Raija Siikamäki graduated from the University of Art and Design Helsinki with a Master of Arts degree in 1992 and with a Doctor of Arts degree in 2006. She has worked in her alma mater as a researcher and part-time teacher between 1993 and 2002. Her research interest lies in the areas of environmental issues in design business and research. She graduated from Kingston University with MBA degree in 2007 and works at the moment as a research manager for Fiskars Iittala group.

Nina Seppälä holds a PhD from Warwick Business School. Her research interests lie in the areas of stra tegic management and corporate social responsibility. In the area of strategic management, she is study ing the concept and development of strategy in non-profit organisations, especially the agencies and mis sions of the United Nations. In the area of corporate social responsibility, her research focuses on explor ing and framing the boundaries of responsibility between companies, states, and individuals. She cur rently works for the Department of Management Science and Innovation at University College London.


Design industries are facing the challenging situation to improve their environmental performance. The focus has mainly been on making the practices of existing enterprises more environmentally friendly, but a growing amount of companies has had an environmental commitment as a starting point for their business activities. However, only a few studies have focused on these businesses. This comparative case study aims to fill some of this gap by exploring the special features and strategies of three micro-size, United Kingdom based design enterprises that use recycled materials in their products. The underlying assumption was that the cases would bring out unique features from eco-design companies – features not common to the small and micro scale enterprises in general.

It was found out that the studied micro-size design companies were entrepreneurial and used design in an innovative way. As is typical for the young and/or small organisation and entrepreneurial strategy, the owners had the control leading the companies with personal vision. Entrepreneurial strategies were deliberate: this type of strategy is characteristically flexible, creative and having first-mover advantage. The studied companies had successfully passed the first life-cycle phases of small companies. All of them viewed growth as an important objective. While growth was important, it was not pursued at the expense of environmental or design considerations. Further, the quality of design was seen as a characteristic that should not be compromised because of environmental or economic aims. The study therefore suggests that even though ecopreneurs may be classified according to their desire to change the world and desire to make money, the latter is only pursued if the former is satisfied. From the prioritisation of design and environmental values follows that growth was not only evaluated in economic terms. Influence on the market was identified as a sign of success e.g. direct competition was even welcomed when it was seen to promote the values of the company. Moreover, the studied companies did not analyse their business in relation to that of competitors, but their own values and expectations of growth. Design expertise was an important asset for the companies studied and it formed the basis of their differentiation strategy. The differentiation strategy was based on the advocacy of certain values and ways of thinking rather than the anticipation and accommodation to customer needs and desires. However, demand has this far exceeded supply.


During 1960’s and 1970’s there were initiatives against the modern manufacturing methods and con sumption behaviour. In early the 1990’s designers adapted these principles of Design for Environment (DFE) (Mackenzie 1997). Various terms, such as terms ecodesign, sustainable design, life cycle design and green design the have been used depending on the tradition from which they developed, to describe a phenomenon which is understood to be a systematic integration of environmental considerations into design process across the product life cycle (Bhamra 2004, Charter and Chick 1997).

Both external and internal influences can be driving organisations towards implementing ecodesign. Bhamra (2004) identifies the following ones: cost savings (eg. less material used), legislative regulations, competition, market pressure, industrial consumer requirements, innovations (e.g. new market op portunities by integrating environmental issues to the product development), employee motivation, cor porate social responsibility and communications. According Bhamra (2004) approaches to ecodesign can incremental or innovative. Incremental approach uses exiting products, business models or forms and incorporates environmental issues to those. The innovative approach uses environmental considerations as the driver for new concepts. As Bhamra describes, it can be viewed “as a marriage of technology, culture and nature” which deals with innovation, creativity and effectiveness. Also cultural and lifestyle factors are important for this multidisciplinary approach. An innovative approach is more likely to achieve targets set to the environmental performance but this approach is little understood and practised (ibid.).

Van Hemel (1998) and Brezet (1997) proposed a series of ecodesign strategies and principles described as a wheel of Life-cycle design strategies (LIDS). This wheel is a collection of descriptions from various thinkers and “it is to provide an exhaustive overview of the options for improving the environmental profile of a product throughout the different stages of its life cycle…”. Van Hemel classifies ecodesign strategies as the following: selection of low-impact materials (eg. recycled materials), reduction of material use, optimisation of production techniques, optimisation of distribution system, reduction of impact during use, optimisation of initial lifetime, optimisation of end of life and new concept development. This integrated tool aims to represent strategies from both the incremental and innovative approaches to ecodesign. The principles and strategies are represented as a directional wheel in hierarchical order, which relates to the various stages of the product development.

The recent study, Richardsson et al (2005) identified as drivers for sustainable design practices among UK designers to be the following: competitive or economic advantage, regulations, market and consumer demand, personal motivators and alignment of ethics with profession. The willingness for mate rial reuse among UK designers and architects was studied by Chick and Micklethwaite (2003, 2004). Findings identified that there are obstacles, such as lack of information, unfamiliarity, supply of recycled materials, costs related to the recycled materials use, concerns related to the quality, practical constrains and concerns about the markets for products made out of recycled materials. Recycling is part of the linear product process chain in the product lifecycle. The material product has a lifecycle of sequences of processes in a product’s life: production, consumption and waste processing. Steps in products process, include the production phase, subdivided into three subsequent steps: material production, parts production and assembly. After consumption and possible repair, product are dismantled, separated and discharged. The linear product process chain can contain three different steps of reuse: re-use as a product, parts re-use and material recycling. When materials are considered, waste is generated in the production process and part of materials becomes waste at the end of the product lifecycle. (Lambert 2001, Stead and Stead 1992, McDonough and Braungart 2002).

Recycling, reverse logistics, of complex products gives diverse challenges. This have been defined by “Seven Rights”: ensuring the availability of the right product, in the right quantity and the right condition, at the right place, at the right time, for the right end-user, at the right cost” as cited by Martin (2001).

Research approach and design

A qualitative research design was applied to pursue the exploratory aims of the study. The findings are based on interview and document material collected from three London-based design companies. Each company was treated as a case in line with Yin (1994) and Eisenhardt (1989). A pool of companies using recycled materials to create design products was identified through a survey of literature and public organisations working in related fields. As a result, 18 companies were found. Half of them operated in the fashion business and their products involved the recycling of diverse materials including textiles, glass and plastics and/or recycling of products or their parts like clothes, tyres and computer chips. After an elimination of some of the companies based on similarities in business concepts, ten of the companies were contacted via e-mail to inquire about their interest to participate in the research. In the end, three companies were included in the study.

As seen in Table 1 below, the companies share number of characteristics beyond the use of recycled materials and focus on design.

Table 1. Comparison of case companies

Company 1 Company 2  Company 3
Established  2003  1997  2000 
Employees   2 + project workers  5 + project workers 2 + project workers 
Production   Design in the UK; manufacturing in China Design and manufacture in-house in the UK Design in the UK; manufacturing in the UK and Spain
Sales channels  Stockists, Internet Own shop, Stockists Major department stores, Internet


Interviews were identified as the main source of information (Kvale 1996). They were held in September-November 2006; and took a semi-structured form because of the exploratory nature of the research (Fontana & Frey 2000). The questions were designed to gear the discussion towards strategic topics such as drivers to start the business, objectives of the company, key challenges, management of demand and supply, growth, rivalry and performance.

Views on future trends were also sought. Interview data was first studied within each case and then across cases. The cross-case examination involved the identification of similarities and differences between cases so that propositions going beyond the characteristics of a single case could be formulated (Eisenhardt 1989).

Business concept and strategy

An interest in producing environmentally friendly design products was, in some form, a starting point for each of the three companies studied. Some found recycled materials as a source of inspiration, while others had identified an increasing demand for environmentally friendly design products. The design aspect was given particular significance: products had to be “cool” and “beautiful” and noted for that quality, not only for the underpinning environmental thinking. The quality of design was therefore seen as a characteristic that should not be compromised because of other aims.

All the companies pursued a differentiation strategy based on design and environmental thinking (Porter 1980). As is typical for this strategy, the companies had been first in their product categories to offer design items made from recycled materials and thus experienced usual first-mover advantages and difficulties. Expertise in design was an important asset for all the companies studied and it formed the basis of their differentiation strategy. The founders also had a strong personal commitment and interest in recycling and related technologies were developed to differentiate the products from other design products. The combination of ‘design’ and ‘green’ therefore provided a basis for differentiation within both product categories: environmentally friendly design products and designed green products. As will be discussed later, this mix appealed to two groups of customers and contributed to the success of the companies. Further, the combination of design expertise and ability to make use of recycled materials enabled the companies to develop their strategies from ‘inside-out’ as opposed to ‘outside-in’ which places the market and the competition as starting points for the strategy process (McGee et al. 2005). Strategy was therefore driven by a set of internal resources and values rather than external factors as suggested by the resource-based view on strategy (Wernerfelt 1984; Rumelt 1984).

The studied companies were highly entrepreneurial and the owner-managers led the companies with personal commitment and vision. This is characteristic for start-up companies that seem to need personalized leadership to establish their basic direction and strategic vision (McGee et al. 2005; Mintzberg et al. 1998). In all of the studied companies, leadership was visionary and, as is typical for a growth phase, also practical.

The companies did not analyse their business in relation to that of competitors, though one of them acknowledged the threat of competitors in the absence of barriers to entry. Even though the companies did not think about their products and strategy in relation to competitors, they all had rivals representing mainstream manufacturers and retailers. The lack of attention on competitors resulted from the perception that their own products were unique and thereby lacked direct competition. Further, as promotion of ethical consumption and the use of recycled materials were seen as important aims, competition was welcomed rather than approached in antagonistic terms: getting more entrepreneurs to adopt their business concept was viewed as a success from the viewpoint of environmental thinking.

The companies did not focus on long-term plans. According to Lasher (1999), SMEs are typically orientated towards the short-term. This focus is often due to a lack of resources: lack of time and possibly also lack of knowledge about how to plan for the long term. The importance of long-term planning in SMEs has also been questioned. Mintzberg (2005), for example, argues that “sometimes lack of strategy is temporary and even necessary…Eventually all situations change, environments destabilize, niches disappear. Then all that is constructive and efficient about an established strategy becomes a liability. That is why even though the concept of strategy is rooted in stability, so much of the study of strategy focuses on change”.

Mission to change society and competitors

All of the studied companies sought to influence the way in which recycled materials were perceived by consumers. This desire was expressed as an aim to “inform” and “change consumer perceptions”. The recycled products were experienced to have a stigma of being something less valuable than products made out of virgin raw materials. The companies sought to address this stigma by designing products that were both functional and aesthetically pleasing. Design was therefore used as a way to make recycled materials more appealing to the market. From this followed that the quality of design was not compromised at the expense of environmental or economic considerations.

The companies also sought to have an impact on their sector as a whole. As a result, adoption of their ideas by more established companies and the emergence of direct competition were welcomed rather than viewed as a threat.

“How can we change consumer perception? If what they buy, where they buy, where it came from, how it was made – all of that for me is really important…our company is small but we can have an influence in the market, that’s really our big goals. “

Nevertheless, the companies experienced some resistance in marketing their goods as the variation that recycled materials bring to the product was found to be obstacle for selling the products through some retailers that were used to standardized and mass-produced items. These retailers regarded variation as a fault rather than a sign of high quality. Some of the products were still sold through well-known retailers, while others were brought to the market via shops specialised in selling design and/or ethical products. All of the companies also used the Internet to sell their products. Further, the companies found it challenging to source sufficient amount and quality of recycled materials. Sourcing of recycled materials has been a major obstacle for designers and architects who have sought to use such materials (Chick and Micklethwaite 2003, 2004). As a result, some of the companies had developed technological solutions to address problems relating to the quality and durability of the products.

In sum, the companies studied therefore differed from other SMEs because of their uncompromising focus on design and environmental values. Because of this, they assessed their success not only in terms of demand, sales, and turnover, but also in relation to their influence on society. This influence was mainly interpreted as the perception that consumers have of the use of recycled materials, but also in terms of their impact on other businesses. As Shaper (2002) notes, green entrepreneurship is not only important because it provides new opportunities for businesses, but also because it can contribute to an overall transition towards a more sustainable business paradigm; Shaper referred to this as the “pull” factor of green entrepreneurship.

Growth without compromises

Growth was regarded as important by all the companies studied. It was generated by the expansion of the volume of production and/or the product portfolio. The companies paid special attention to environmental issues, such as the miles materials or products travelled, while seeking to expand production. For example, one of the companies that had outsourced its manufacturing to China was looking for an environmentally committed logistics company for reducing its overall impact on the natural environment. It was also looking for a manufacturer in the UK or Europe to decrease the need for long-haul transportation. The companies also found local sourcing an important aspect of their operations.

Nevertheless, growth was not pursued unconditionally. As already seen, the companies did not want to compromise the values of environmental thinking and design at the expense of growth. Moreover, growth was seen as a way to influence the market as illustrated by the following quote from one interviewee:

“I think it has to be with any successful project but how we do that…as long as we are not sacrificing our values, as long as with growth we can improve all of our ethical aims, we cannot loose sight on that. With growth we can grow our influence.”

The companies therefore viewed growth and influence on competitors as inherently interlinked. Their overall strategy is with regard to their aim to grow in economic terms and change societal values. Other trajectories are also possible, but they would involve some type of strategic failure to reach desired goals.

Growth was enhanced by the avoidance of some of the typical difficulties encountered by young companies. Marketing, which Lasher (1999) identifies to be one of the biggest problems for SMEs, wasn’t a challenge for the companies studied. Their products had reached customers with little marketing effort. The companies identified the word of mouth as the most important channel through which their products were advertised. What’s more, their growth was enabled by the Internet and other electronic communication tools that made the transmission of information fast. All of them had also benefited from the attention of the media and public organisations that had been interested in ecodesign products.

As a whole, the studied companies demonstrate that economic rationality is not the only factor that drives business. Linnanen (2002) studied ecopreneurs and categorised them on the basis of two factors: their desire to change the world and their desire to make money and grow as a business venture. According to the findings of this study, design companies that use recycled materials in their products could be typified as ecopreneurs. The desire to change the world and the desire to make money are both present in their expressions for why they are doing business. However, the findings of the present study suggest that one element could be added to Linnanen’s model: non-compromise in the quality of design while environmental and economic aims are pursued.

One of the companies had also reviewed its business concept as competition had increased by offering the customers an opportunity to bring in materials that could then be used for new products. This service was established to have a unique feature on the market after there had been followers to the company’s original concept. It had proved successful as customers enjoyed being included in the sourcing and production process. As Grönroos (1998) states, the image of the service provider has an impact on the overall perception of quality. In this way, the company was able to address the stigma that recycled materials have and strengthen its business concept.

Figure 1. Common features of studied eco-design companies (adapted from the basis / as cited by McGee, Tomas and Wilson 2005)

The three studied micro size design enterprises each had features unique to them when comparing them with each others. These features were related mainly to structure and operations. However, it was possible to detect some special features common to the companies relating to value proposition, inputs, Value proposition, Transformation and Nature of customer. Values of manufacturing of environmentally sound design products and promoting recycling: by combining these aspects entrepreneurs believed in their ability to have an impact on consumer behaviour and to have an impact on the scale of this interest. With value proposition, the information about products with unique features had reached customers orientated to ethical consuming through word of mouth. They were served through own shops, dedicated retailers and internet selling.


This study explored the special features and strategies of three micro-size, United Kingdom based design enterprises that use recycled materials in their products. The underlying assumption was that the case study would bring out unique features from eco-design companies – features not common to the small and micro scale enterprises in general. In this explanatory, small-scale qualitative case study focusing on practice, the principles of grounded theory were adopted. The main source of primary data was interviews of companies’ key personnel.

It was found out that the studied micro size design companies were entrepreneurial and used design in an innovative way. Important starting points for the businesses were design expertise and utilisation of recycled materials. The owners had the control leading the companies with personal vision. Entrepreneurial strategies were deliberate and characteristically flexible, creative and having first-mover advantage.

The studied companies were already established in their fields and had successfully passed the fist lifecycle phases of small companies. Each of them viewed growth as an important objective and it was pursued through the expansion of the volume of production and portfolio of products. The growth strategies could therefore be seen as organic and low-risk. The analysis of the companies suggests that while growth is an important objective, it is not pursued at the expense of environmental or design considerations. All interviewers stated that the values of the company should not be threatened by growth. The companies had also taken action to ensure that the values were maintained. For example, materials were sourced locally and environmentally committed transportation companies were sought when one of the companies had manufacturing in China.

What is more, the quality of design was seen as a characteristic that should not be compromised because of environmental or economic aims. The study therefore suggests that even though ecopreneurs may be classified according to their desire to change the world and desire to make money, the latter is only pursued if the former is satisfied. From the prioritisation of design and environmental values follows that growth was not only evaluated in economic terms. Several interviewees identified influence on the market as a sign of success. The awareness that customers had of recycling was seen as particularly important, but influence on the products and practices of other companies were also seen as an indicator of success. This finding highlights the lack of relevance that some of the key concepts in the area of strategic management have for the analysis of ecopreneurs. Such basic concepts as ‘competition’ and ‘competitor’ appear particularly irrelevant for understanding the way in which ecopreneurs view their environment. Direct competition was even welcomed when it was seen to promote the values of the company. Moreover, the studied companies did not analyse their business in relation to that of competitors, but their own values and expectations of growth. Strategies were therefore planned “inside-out” opposite to the “outside-in” approach which places the market and the competition as starting points for the strategy process. Design expertise formed the basis of their differentiation strategy. As is typical for the differentiation focus, the studied companies had been first in their product categories to offer design items made out of recycled materials and thus experienced usual first-mover difficulties and advantages. Also typically to the differentiation strategy, the studied companies produced “unique products perceived to be superior in value”. The superior value was a created by a combination of design quality and ideological values.

As noted above, the basis of differentiation was sustained by the personal commitment of ecopreneurs to the values underpinning their business. The differentiation strategy was therefore based on the advocacy of certain values and ways of thinking rather than the anticipation and accommodation to customer needs and desires. This type of differentiation is possible when the values promoted by the company have appeal to a certain group of consumers and when the products are able to transmit certain meanings.

Finally, although the processing of materials requires detailed attention and the manufacturing process is labour-intensive, the companies were not particularly concerned about the followed pressure on pricing of their products. Demand has this far exceeded supply.


The writers would like to express their deepest gratitude to the entrepreneurs who gave some of their time in the midst of their busy schedules. It has been a great privilege to have an opportunity to talk about their businesses for this study, which was carried out at the Kingston University during academic year 2006-2007.


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Yin R. K., Case Study Research, Design and Methods, Second edition, Sage Publications, USA, 1994

Sustainability vs Circularity

Almost 35 years have passed since the first time that sustainable development was discussed, when in 1987 the World Commission on Environment and Development approved the preparation of the Report “Our Future in Common” led by Dr. Gro Harlem Brundtland, Prime Minister of Norway by then. In this report, what many already knew was recognized: ” It is in the hands of humanity to make development sustainable to ensure that it meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own “, that is, the need to change the approach with which economic activities were developed in a system at that time, based on the belief that growth has no limit. A new development model arises that proposes to be that “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”.

Image: “Gro Harlem Brundtland presenting ‘Our Common Future’ at UN”.


However, in this time the world situation has radically changed. “Sustainability” is no longer a new word, much less, unknown or alien to the majority of the population. But as in most cases when something becomes popular, its indiscriminate use has left it empty of meaning. What really is sustainability? How can you be sustainable? From an ecological point of view, sustainability refers to the balance of a species with the resources of its environment. By definition, for this to happen, three principles must be met:

  1. Never consume a renewable source at a rate higher than its natural renewal.
  2. Never consume a non-renewable source without having used part of your energy to develop an alternative source that meets the same needs.
  3. Never generate any waste that cannot be assimilated in the corresponding sump and naturally inert.

However, the definition itself is not sufficient by itself: How can one guarantee that equilibrium is maintained when the magnitude of what is being measured is unknown? Sustainability by itself is not an adequate objective, especially when we ask ourselves the questions “What should we sustain?”

From a systemic perspective, what we are trying to sustain is the pattern that connects and reinforces the entire system, but what elements are we considering? Differentiating between a linear system (such as the current “make-use-throw” production system) and a circular one (known as “from cradle to cradle”) is essential, since the results that we will obtain by maintaining these two systems they will be radically opposite. With the first we will be able to not cause more damage than the current one, however, with the second we will be able to redirect the situation in which we live to generate conditions that make possible the future towards which we really want to go.

The key to understanding this comes from the hand of biologist Daniel Wahl, developer of a concept that has been gaining momentum in recent years: regenerative development. From agriculture to economy, from design to urban planning … the main idea is to create the conditions conducive to life with our performance. An idea taken from the functioning of nature itself and its ability to develop increasingly complex and diverse ecosystems, at all levels and scales, from the local, to the global, passing through the regional.

Image: “Degenerative systems and regenerative cultures”.


We are so used to solving problems that rarely do we stop to rest, take a breath and gain momentum, much less do we stop to question our way forward. However, dreaming is one of the most important activities to do when we talk about being sustainable. Dreaming, imagining a future and visualizing what do we really want to achieve? Well, if we do not change the model, no matter how much we change the origin of the raw material or measure our impacts, we will not truly achieve a future compatible with life.

But to create a true regenerative economy, we need to delve into the problems that are studied and the processes that are being improved in order to create changes that are truly transformative from current models to circular models. It is at this time that the Circular Economy is presented as the next link in this discovery process in which we find ourselves. Defined as “a regenerative system in which resource input and waste, emission, and energy leakage are minimized by slowing, closing, and narrowing material and energy loops. This can be achieved through long-lasting design, maintenance, repair, reuse, remanufacturing, refurbishing, and recycling”, the circular economy allows us to consider a future in which what is excluded from design is the generation of waste, something so important in the fashion industry.

The Circular Economy was described for the first time in the nineties by Pearce and Turner with the aim of clearly defining the existing relationships between the economy and the environment, around a fundamental concept: reduce, reuse and recycle; however, time and its application have contributed to the enrichment of this school of thought and today its complexity is greater: Redesign, Reduce, Reuse, Repair, Renew, Recover and Recycle.

How do we want the fashion of the future to be? Or even how do we want the future to be? These questions are the cornerstone on which new projects are drawing strength and inspiration to find the perfect balance between humanity, nature and technology. The economic as well as environmental advantages of these circular systems have contributed to the fact that more and more companies are structured around circular business models and with their implementation, the social aspects, one of the main weaknesses of the Economy. Circular is gaining relevance. Even more so in a sector such as fashion, in which so many industries are involved and whose consumption is increasing at a dizzying rate due to the increase in population and the rate of production.

So back to the initial question: is sustainability enough? The answer is no, but it is a very good starting point to be able to create new societies and new models. Thinking about a healthy and healthy future is almost as important as correcting the excesses that have brought us to this situation. Everything else is our desire to innovate, to create, to discover; and that is within our reach.

By Blanca Gomara,

Sustainable Fashion Consultant, Blanca Gomara | Spain

Sustainability / Fashion

Founder of 360flab

Blanca is founder of 360flab, a consulting firm for sustainable materials for the fashion and textile industry specialized in circular design that collaborates through training and consulting with new brands that are born with a sustainable heart as well as with established brands that want to make the transition like Inditex, OMINA Foundation, Gioseppo, etc.

After graduating as a fashion designer, Blanca specialized with a master’s degree in Fashion Product Management at IED Madrid and an MBA, and is currently pursuing a Master in Business Innovation and Project Management at the University of Mondragón. She has developed several cooperation and development projects in the business field within the circular economy framework, among which Patata Collective and The Hopy Project stand out (a modular pattern system to enable the training of illiterate women in Tailoring, a profession of tradition male and forbidden to women, in the district of Calcutta).

She was named Ashoka Emergent Innovator in 2019.

Functional fashion for wheelchair users: the social enterprise doing good business

When it comes to clothes, the options for people with disabilities can often be sparse.

Impractical, ill-fitting, styleless garb is frequently all that is available. Slovenian-Croatian startup UCQC is attempting to change that by creating functional, trendy and affordable fashion for wheelchair users.

For more information please visit the link.

Digital printing: the green alternative for the textile industry

There’s no doubt that the textile industry is one of the most environmentally damaging industries. And textile printing is the reason why.

One of the biggest issues of traditional textile printing is the massive amount of water and energy it consumes. For example, it takes about 2,700 liters of water to make just one cotton t-shirt.

Hence textile production is one of the most harmful things for the environment. And that’s not only due to the dying process, but also due to the manufacturing of the fabrics. However, in the past few years, the global textile industry has been focusing on becoming more and more sustainable.

One of the biggest revolutions in the industry has been the incorporation of digital textile printing technologies.

Digital printing saves huge amounts of water and it also generates fewer toxic chemicals. Yet those are not the only savings for the environment. The electricity used by digital printing is way lower than the produced by screen printing. Over 60% less. Fast fashion brands such as Inditex have started taking advantage of this technology.

Nevertheless the digital printing technique has also reached smaller businesses within the textile industry.

Allca, a rug brand, is one of those businesses that has joined the green alternative. The brand was actually born with the aim of exploring new creative possibilities. The challenge was to develop a desirable product through a sustainable process. Being a pioneer within the rug industry, Allca doesn’t only digitally print its rugs designs. The innovative rug brand also weaves them in a single mono-material: recycled post-consumer plastics. Those two characteristics of the brand reduce the water expenditure even more than digital printing does on its own. On the one hand, digital printing avoids the dying process saving loads of water. And on the other hand, using recycled plastic means there’s no need for irrigating the crops.

Also being a mono-material product means that its recycling is really feasible, serving for the creation of other polymeric products. The plastic can re-insert itself in the consumption chain. Therefore Allca uses recycled plastic that can be recycled again. Perfect way to give a new life to those plastics threatening our marine ecosystems worldwide. But those are not the only benefits the brand gets from digital printing. It also allows them to reduce its stock since they print the designs based on the interest of the clients. That way Allca can produce minimum quantities and be very flexible with customer demands. Moreover the technique offers a limitless color spectrum, so the graphic possibilities are endless. It definitely amplifies the expressive potential. And these are just some of the multiple advantages the technique offers.

So one thing is clear: digital printing is the future of the textile industry.

It is good for the planet, good for the customer and good for textile brands.

It is just a matter of time that little and big textile companies start joining the revolution.

For more information on the article please contact:

Haizea Nájera

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