Techstyler X BOTTLETOP: Designers Reshaping ‘Luxury’ Driven by Sustainability and Ethics

Rounding off our speaker series for 2018 was our panel discussion on the role of designers in shaping and influencing sustainable brands and changing definitions of ‘luxury’.  Much of what is discussed in the realm of sustainable fashion and lifestyle brands is in the context of materials, supply chain and waste management, but what of the impact designers have in making design  decisions that influence most aspects of the supply chain and the product life-cycle? Can brands achieve sustainability if their designers are oblivious, or have little visibility, of the impact their decisions make?

BOTLLETOP Regent Street Store.  Image: BOTTLETOP

The panel consisted of a cross-section of creatives from multiple backgrounds, spanning finance, textiles and music.  The thread linking them was a pioneering point of view and the fact that their design work and research has begun with identifying a problem to solve and harnessing design to do so.  Design as a tool for change.

Opening the conversation was Dr Kate Goldsworthy, Co-Director of the Centre for Circular Design at UAL where she oversees research and live industry projects that challenge current linear methods of design – that is where resources (including materials) are used to create objects that have a single lifecycle and are disposed of at end of life without recouping any of the resources/components of the product to re-use or recycle.  In order to challenge this linear system, designers work with all other members of the industry on projects that bring together all points of view – from retail to manufacturing to design to waste management, in order to redesign not just products in a circular manner, but the system itself. A striking example of how successful this can be was the case explained by Dr Goldsworthy where a team at Filippa K questioned the lifespan of garments and consumer appetite for longevity of garments. They hypothesised that the average white t-shirt is worn around 22 times before being thrown in landfill, a figure Kate deems generous.  

Dr Kate Goldsworthy, Cyclability Diagram

As a result, a concept for a paper t-shirt that looks and feels like a cotton one was devised.  The paper version could not be washed, but could be worn up to four times and then disposed of in household waste to decompose safely in landfill.  Analysing the total resource use and environmental impact across all areas of creation, delivery and consumption of the product, the disposable paper t-shirt had a fraction of the impact a t-shirt worn 22 times has, debunking the idea that simply wearing clothing more times reduces environmental impact.  The bigger picture here is that every action we take has an impact, including washing our clothes. Therefore a future wardrobe containing some clothing that is disposable by design may, in fact, be more sustainable.

Kresse Wesling MBE isn’t a designer.  She is the co-founder of lifestyle brand Elvis & Kresse and entered into their venture by way of a waste management consultancy career.  Reappropriating what is deemed ‘junk’ by many, Kresse and her partner Elvis set about turning waste into desirable goods by flexing their design approach and conducting ambitious research and development.  They conducted this R&D on whatever materials they could develop partnerships to rescue, diverting them from ending up in landfill. The design process, driven by Elvis, is reliant on the material inputs and strives to maintain the longest life possible of the goods by adopting modular design techniques that allow customisation and re-use of the component materials.  The most recent example of this is their partnership with the Burberry Foundation, from whom they take all of Burberry’s leather waste (which will amount to 120 tonnes over a five year period) and hand-weave it into new products, including wallets and cosmetic cases. Kresse explained that the core of their brand is the agreement to work with all stakeholders in the design, production and waste processes to ensure the work they do is beneficial to all involved, as well as the planet.

Elvis & Kresse, rescued fire hose. Image: Elvis & Kresse

Elvis & Kresse, rescued leather Image: Retail Gazette

Elvis & Kresse rescued firehose and leather products.  Images: Elvis & Kresse

This way of working started in 2005 when the discovery of the disposal of fire hose into landfill triggered their desire to make use of this beautiful material, but also to secure the waste input stream to ensure production requirements could be met. This bore an agreement for Elvis and Kresse to agree to take all the decommissioned fire hose “waste” generated by the London Fire Brigade and turn it into lifestyle products, donating 50% of profits to the Fire Fighter’s charity in the process.

Completing the panel was Oliver Wayman, Co-Director of BOTTLETOP, who unwittingly launched a sustainable brand during the promotional campaign of a record he was working on in Brazil.  The catalyst from a career in the music industry to fashion accessories and social enterprise was his mum. Visiting Oliver in Brazil, she bought a locally made bag made from disposed ring pulls, connected using a crochet technique.  To promote the record in his campaign, he had bags made using this hand craft technique, which, it turned out, generated more interest and sales than the record itself.

The original BOTTLETOP bag in collaboration with Mulberry. Image: Bukowskis

At that point, the power to harness a design technique that utilises local materials and generates income for local communities from waste was what drove Oliver to turn this process into a range of products fit for the global luxury accessories market in 2012.  BOTTLETOP now boasts a flagship store on Regent Street, London, a recent pop-up in Dallas, Texas, and has future sights on Asia.

 

The BOTTLETOP brand funds the Bottletop Foundation, which was founded by Co-Director Cameron Saul and his father Roger (Founder of British luxury fashion brand Mulberry) in 2002.  The foundation empowers young people with health education and technical skills training to enable them to make healthy choices and build their future.  It also supports musicians from around the globe to create collaborative work and showcase it through the ‘Sound Effects’ album series, poetically closing the creative loop on where it all began.

Bottletop Foundation.  Image: BOTTLETOP

In discussing the business models and design approaches of Elvis & Kresse and BOTTLETOP, alongside the design research driven by the Centre for Circular Design, new definitions of luxury emerged that encompass transparency and ethics.  The recent revelation that Burberry burnt millions of dollars worth of leather goods as a way of disposing of unsold stock caused a very public scandal, arguably threatening the image of luxury the brand aims to exude. This incineration is by no means limited to Burberry – it is common practice across the fashion industry at the value end right through to luxury.  In line with changing views of luxury from a new generation of consumers who value experiences at least as much as acquiring ‘stuff’, brands that create a community and engage in dialogue with consumers, including those on the panel, are increasingly valued and held in higher prestige than ‘faceless’, out of reach “luxury” brands, that in comparison, can feel out of step and dated.

Stay tuned for details of the next panel discussion during London Fashion Week in February, 2019.

Happy New Year!

More on Fillipa K’s sustainability efforts can be found here

Follow Techstyler on Instagram and Twitter

Bottletop’s Flagship Store – A Symbiosis of Sustainability and Tech

I know I’m not alone when I say it takes more to get me into a retail store these days than ever before.  Shopping online is the ultimate convenience, so stores have to go bold and offer something really special to get shoppers through the door.  Enter Bottletop, the sustainable luxury accessories brand with a newly launched flagship store on Regent Street sporting a KUKA robot in the window along with films telling the story of their responsibly sourced and produced products projected onto the store walls.  When it comes to fashion brands, this isn’t your average sustainability story.  Let me take a leap back and explain exactly what makes Bottletop a sustainable luxury brand and how their ethos extend from the product, to the store and then the engagement of cutting-edge robot technology in the form the KUKA LBR collaborative robot.

Render of final store – Image:  Bottletop

The Bottletop Fashion Company journey began in 2012 with co-founder Oliver Wayman’s mum picking up an up-cycled ring-pull and crochet bag in Salvador, Brazil – a neat way to fuse readily available waste and the craft of crochet, making a light and strong bag – and led to a partnership with artisans in Brazil that has grown into an atelier producing the brand’s signature products and developing new materials for future product lines.  Bottletop bags are made from discarded ring-pulls sourced in Brazil, along with locally sourced yarns for crochet and responsibly produced Brazilian leathers that are certified ‘Amazon Zero Deforestation‘, guaranteeing zero impact on protected forests from cattle farming and grazing.  Underpinning Bottletop’s fashion brand is the Bottletop Foundation, founded in 2002 by Oliver’s co-founder, Cameron Saul, which raises funds for social enterprise initiatives across Africa, Brazil and the UK.

So what spurred a sustainable fashion duo to delve into the world of robotics and 3D printed interiors for the launch of their flagship store in December this year?  At least in part, for reasons mentioned in my opening paragraph – retail needs to offer customers an experience and tell a story – but also because they wanted to do something different and juxtapose the hand-made natural elements of their products with a very high tech interior, according to Oliver.  “Using natural, sustainable materials would have been an obvious thing to do” he explained, but they wanted to be more ambitious than that, and offer their customers something unexpected.  A brain-storming session between Oliver and a friend Paolo Zilli at Zaha Hadid led to a discussion with KRA– USE ARCHITECTS, who were already exploring robotic manufacturing, and inspired the Bottletop team to delve into this brave new robo-tech retail world.  The team of collaborators then grew to include AI-build who are 3D printing interior surfaces designed by KRA– USE ARCHITECTS and Reflow who created the 3D printing filament from 100% recycled plastic.  The primary purpose of Oliver and Cameron’s tech-led shop fit and KUKA installation is to use technology as a storytelling tool and to foster an understanding amongst consumers about the place that new technologies have in our world and within their business – in this case facilitating the use of a new and exciting recycled plastic material in their store design and build.

A 3D printed wall panel shaped to hold bag handles for display

The instore storytelling of the Bottletop brand begins from the window display, featuring signature Paco Rabanne-esque ring-pull ‘‘bellani’ bags and the enamelled ‘Mistura’ clutches developed in collaboration with Narcisco Rodriguez, amongst which moves a KUKA robot 3D printing bag charms from 100% recycled plastic.  This recycled PET plastic was created from plastic bottles rescued from the ocean and processed into a thin printable plastic tube – a 3D printing filament.  The concept is akin to Parley for the Oceans collaboration with Adidas, which used plastic yarn in trainers and clothing, but instead of spinning the recovered plastic bottles into a yarn, Bottletop collaborators Reflow have processed the plastic into a continuous plastic filament, which the KUKA robot heats and extrudes through a 3D printing ‘gripper’ attachment fixed to the end of the robot arm that prints the bag charms by depositing successive layers of molten plastic – known as additive manufacturing.

In store, working alongside the robot was Daghan Cam of AI Build, who explained that in contrast to usual 3D printing filaments made from non-recycled plastic (including PLA), the recycled plastic filament is trickier to work with and has slightly different structural properties;  And here lies the commonality between Bottletop’s sustainable hybrid ring-pull/crochet/leather materials and this new recycled filament  – the experimentation to develop these new materials is a long and complex process, requiring considerable R&D and bags (pardon the pun) of passion and perseverance.  Oliver and Cameron have it in droves and as they talk me through the store’s 100% recycled rubber flooring and show me samples of the interior walls currently being printed at AI Build, to the products themselves, their dedication to both sustainable hand craft and cutting-edge technology, symbiotically, is inspiring. See how the product is made here.

It was a fitting choice to select a KUKA LBR robot to 3D print the bag charms in the shop window.  Working harmoniously alongside humans in a collaborative manner is the exact purpose of the KUKA LBR, with its inbuilt sensors to stop on contact, preventing it from causing injury to humans and with the absence of trap hazards for human hands, allowing easy and safe collaboration.  We undoubtedly have a growing dependence on technology and robots (although they are usually behind the scenes, carrying out repetitive manufacturing tasks unbeknown to most consumers), so seeing the KUKA LBR used as a creative tool to produce 100% recycled (and recyclable) products was a lovely example of cutting-edge tech enabling sustainable manufacturing.

KUKA LBR with Daghan from AI Build

The store interiors will be installed over the coming weeks, acting as a live installation, punctuated by the official launch last week at the Regent Street Store.  Attended by Mira Duma of Future Tech Lab FTL, Livia Firth of EcoAge and Professors Sandy Black and Dilys Williams of the Centre for Sustainable Fashion at London College of Fashion amongst other instrumental fashion and sustainability pioneers, the launch demonstrated how fusing fashion, technology and sustainability requires a commercial, creative and academic effort.  It was an interesting and enlightening night, with Oliver and Cameron proudly declaring Bottletop the first sustainable luxury brand on Regent Street.

party shots Image top: Left – Oliver Wayman, Right – Cameron Saul.  Above, the Bottletop Store launch party

Oliver and Cameron are excited about building the interior walls as a live installation that shoppers can see evolve, and I went behind the scenes to see some of the 100 wall panels being 3D printed by the KUKA KR90 6 axis arms at AI Build in East London.  The panels each take 7 hours to print and are individually sanded along the edges before being joined to create a unified wall panel for the store.  700 kg of 100% recycled plastic are going into the printing of the interiors at what Oli confirmed was the equivalent of around 60,000 recycled plastic bottles.  I also saw a demo of the 3D printed ceiling structure which is embedded with reclaimed cans in the store and captured in the shots below.

Behind the scenes at AI Build

The interior installation in store is expected to continue into mid-January, so be sure to pop in and see it evolve, alongside the KUKA LBR busily 3D printing  bag charms in the store window.

Header image and all images not otherwise credited: Techstyler

Follow Techstyler on Twitter and Instagram