“The waste of one industry can be the raw material of another one”


Interview with this year’s Sustainable Challenge curators: Verónica Kuchinow, specialist in industrial symbiosis, and Elizabeth Cardwell, fashion stylist.

Sustainable Challenge is an annual project inspired by a commitment to create solutions that will make the fashion industry sustainable and will be applicable to other sectors. This year’s challenge, open for entries from students of any design discipline until October 12, is titled “Industrial Symbiosis, a Booster to Circular Fashion” and has been curated by Verónica Kuchinow, specialist in industrial symbiosis and resource efficiency, and Elizabeth Cardwell, fashion stylist. We have talked to them to learn more about their proposal.


How would you explain Industrial Symbiosis in a simple way?

Elizabeth Cardwell (E) – A simple way to understand it is to remember that one person’s trash can be another person’s treasure, which is the basis of my work as a designer, but Verónica is an expert in the topic and can explain it better.

Verónica Kuckinov (V) – The principal behind it is very simple: the waste of one industry becomes the raw material of another one. It works with waste but also with water, energy, transportation, warehouse, knowledge… whatever resource! It’s like the second-hand market but with industrial resources. The paradigm encourages industries to work together and exchange material, water and energy streams between companies, which increases resilience and economic gains while reducing the environmental impact and expenses.


Can you describe an example of Industrial symbiosis?

V – For example, coffee manufacturers generate jute coffee bags and this material can be perfectly used to manufacture shoe soles.


How does the concept differ from Circular Design / Economy?

V – Circular economy is a very wide and general concept and industrial symbiosis is a very effective way to apply this concept in a specific sector, that is, the industrial sector.


Between who is the symbiosis? Only between industries or between industries and everything else?

V – Not only between industries, but consumers also need to play a big role. It requires everybody: manufacturers, providers, customers, users, social initiatives, projects… A systemic approach is needed to address this. We need to view manufacturing processes as part of a larger picture, taking into consideration the industrial ecosystem and its resource management with an inter-sectoral approach: industrial symbiosis is only possible in close collaboration with consumers.


The industrial world seems very detached from our everyday lives, seems like it has almost been invisibilized. Does this need to change? Is industrial symbiosis a possible way to change it?

V – What needs to be changed is the perception of our impact. Not only as designers, as producers, manufacturers, also as consumers, users, citizens.. We need to know why eating meat, for example, is environmentally worse than eating vegetables. It’s a matter of cultural change, of making people more conscious of us as a part of natural life. More than the concept of Industrial symbiosis being able to change anything, I believe in education, in training people and professionals to make them part of this big change.


How can designers contribute to it?

V – Designers can be facilitators. Facilitation between companies and stakeholders is a key concept to make all these things happen! And designers have a great opportunity to be these facilitators and become frontrunners with real impacts promoting all these changes.


How can non-designers contribute to it?

E – By realising we are all designers in some capacity. Creation is not just making things but it is a way of thinking. In order to communicate any symbiotic conversation it’s about every person contributing and not just ‘doing their part’. We all consume, we all have conversations, and thinking about this in a more holistic way is incredibly important. A lot of designers work freelance across many sectors, yet the sectors themselves are rigid. So it’s about sharing information even when it’s not obvious or necessary, or your ‘role’ or occupation. We all have a responsibility to provide the energy that change on a global scale requires: EVERYBODY across all cultures, class and geographies.


How can you be sure that a product is made sustainably?

E – It’s important to be able to explain the full story behind the product or service designed. For example: it’s not the same, a “shoe with recycled content” than a shoe sole made of 25% of coffee bags that come from a specific brand or industry. It’s not the same, a recycled cork textile than a textile made from the wine taps collected from the restaurants in a specific city; it’s not the same, a recycled rubber bag than a bag made out from bicycle tires; it’s not the same, a recycled T-shirt than a T-shirt made out of jeans.


How will the challenge work?

E – In this edition, 48 design students from different disciplines from all over Spain, the United Kingdom, Italy and Portugal, advised by experts related to the fashion industry, will work in mixed and heterogeneous groups. The idea behind this edition of the Sustainable Challenge is that, through their designs, students will act as facilitators of Industrial Symbiosis between businesses. They will explore how designers can contribute to the circular economy using fashion as a market driver for resource efficiency and recycling through industrial symbiosis.


Who are some of the experts that will be mentoring participants?

E – The design experts are all polymaths in their individual fields. We hope to give instant insight to the breadth of skills and span of creative thinking that these people have nurtured over their careers. Also (unlike more technical subjects) to show the reality there is no right or wrong when it comes to innovation, design and communication. Designers and communicators often work as freelancers and consultants. By not being directly involved with any one corporation or business, they provide a voice for the unexpected and original ideas from a peripheral point of view.

From the UK, mentors will include Mark Shayler (director of the innovation and environmental consultancy Tickety Boo), Tash Wilcox (Graphic Designer and Motivational expert speaker), Andrew IBI (designer, artist and academic, co-founder of FACE which stands for Fashion Academics Creating Equality), Gemma Cairney (BBC broadcaster and media personality).

V – The Spanish mentors are: Celina Tamanini (from a company called Circular, that works on sustainable working clothes made of reused textiles and recycled fabrics), Enric Carrera and Heura Ventura (from Intexter, a textile research centre and industrial corporation institution linked to the UPC, and training professionals in sustainability in the Textile Sector), Francesc Solà (from Hilatures Arnau, a manufacturer of yarns and fabrics that has been working in recycled yarns for many years) and Carlos León (from We Sustain, a consultancy firm that promotes the application of circular economy concepts).


What kind of proposals are you looking for?

E – Proposals can be developed in different areas of fashion such as design, pattern making, marketing, retail design, photography, styling, etc. All of them focusing on the process, the storytelling and the potential offered by industrial symbiosis.


Is there an award for the best proposal?

E – The challenge is not a competition between teams, therefore there will be no winner or loser. What is expected is that interesting proposals will arise in line with the objective of the challenge and that it will be an enrichment at the level of knowledge and as an experience for all participants. Upon completion of the challenge, the projects will be exhibited at Disseny Hub Barcelona and a certificate of participation issued by the organizers will be delivered to each participant.


For more information and to apply, click here.