How to Design a Circular Brand

Entering your brand into the circular economy is easier than you may think. Start here.

September 25, 2023

Sustainable products and services are becoming increasingly more important for consumers and the environment. From circular clothing brands to tech brand designers creating phones that never have to be fully replaced, companies are working to create a circular economy and eliminate global waste to preserve the planet.

Research has projected that global warming will reach dangerous levels in the coming years — at least by 2042, but possibly as soon as 2027.

As the importance of taking care of the planet grows more each day to prevent irreversible damage, products with a circular design become more and more prevalent.

Although it may seem complex, if you’re looking to evolve into — or launch — a circular brand, knowing the basics of circular design and how it plays out in a circular economy will set up your company for success.

Why Circular Design?

Rather than a standard design, a circular design is one that does not contribute to global waste and keeps products and services in a continuous cycle of recycling, repurposing and use.

Standard design means:

  • Products go from cradle-to-grave.
  • The typical life cycle goes from creation, to use, to disposal.
  • After the consumer has used the product or it breaks, that’s the end of its life.
  • Biological elements — those that come from the earth, like wood and plants — are not replaced at the rate which they are used.
  • Technical elements like plastic, glass, and metals — go to the landfill.

Products and services that contribute to this cycle add global waste to the environment and exhaust resources that can’t be replaced at the rate at which they are used.

With a circular design:

  • Products follow a cradle-to-cradle cycle.
  • This means that items are created, used by the consumer, broken down and recycled or repurposed, and then the cycle starts again.
  • Items never go to the landfill, and products and services are refurbished and constantly being re-designed to continue their life.
  • Biological elements are put back into the earth and replenished.
  • Technical elements are broken down, recycled, and reused.

This design does not contribute to pollution or leave a carbon footprint. Products are meant to be constantly updated, reused and put through the cycle again.

A circular brand that creates products with a circular design is not just better for the environment. When your brand has products or services with an environmentally-friendly driven design, it sets the opportunity to engage with customers who are committed to shopping sustainably and to create partnerships with other businesses.

Circular Design by the Numbers

In a circular economy — where companies all make products and services with a circular design and products are going through continuous cycles — it’s estimated by The Ellen MacArthur Foundation that brands in the European Union could save $630 billion per year. Fast-moving consumer goods, meanwhile, could save around $700 billion each year.

Additionally, a report from IBM found:

  • Approximately 77% of consumers want sustainable products
  • 76% of consumers want recyclable products
  • Nearly 60% of consumers are willing to change their buying habits for products that lessen environmental impacts
  • More than 70% of those that said they’d change their buying habits said they would pay more for brands focused on sustainability

The environmental benefits, cost savings, and appeal to consumers who care about supporting brands focused on bettering the planet all make a convincing case for companies to have a circular design model for their products and services.

How to Design a Circular Brand

Creating a circular brand begins with ideas.

Brainstorm. What products or services are you creating that satisfy a consumer’s need? How can you create these products or services in a way that serves the planet at the same time, and don’t contribute to global waste or pollution?

When creating a circular brand, you should be mindful of the steps of the circular design process.

Steps in the circular design cycle include:

  • Resources: Biological and technical elements are gathered for the product or service
  • Manufacturing: The product is made
  • Use: The consumer uses the product or service
  • Recycling: Products are broken down. They’re returned to the earth or recycled and repurposed for more use

The cycle continues in a loop, with materials being continuously re-used, recycled, repurposed, and returned to the Earth.

As you implement these steps in your circular brand, be mindful of the principles of the circular design process:

  • Design products and make them without waste or pollution
  • Keep products and services in constant use and rehabilitation
  • Regrow the earth’s natural systems

By knowing the key steps and principles in the circular design process, you’re ready to begin your journey as a circular brand.

Launching Your Circular Brand into Action

Once you’ve created ideas for products and services and laid plans for your circular brand, it’s time to launch it into action.

As you gather materials, look for other brands or manufacturers to partner with who are committed to a circular economy.

For example, if you’re launching a circular fashion brand, search for farms and manufacturers that are fully transparent and track all steps of the design process — from sourcing organic cotton, to minimizing water use, to ensuring no harmful chemicals are released into the earth’s natural systems.

The fashion industry is one of the biggest contributors to global waste. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates:

  • Textiles accounted for 11.3 million tons of municipal solid waste (MSW) in 2018 alone.
  • Textile waste in landfills in 2018 accounted for 7.7% of all MSW.

The United Nations Alliance for Sustainable Fashion estimates:

  • The fashion industry accounts for 20% of global wastewater each year.
  • Around 500 million tons of synthetic microfibers are released into the ocean each year by the fashion industry.
  • Consumers buy around 60% more clothes compared to 15 years ago — and keep their items half as long.

As you source cotton or other plant-based materials for your circular fashion brand, ensure you’re replacing the earth’s natural systems and not exhausting resources. Leave the earth better than you found it.

Appeal to consumers and build a relationship

When you manufacture and release your products, make sure you’re connecting with your consumers and building a relationship. What sets you apart from other brands? Why should they care about your product or service?

Consider how long your customers are going to be using their products, and design them so they can be fully repurposed, reused, or return to the earth.

Staying with the example of a circular fashion brand: don’t contribute to the fast fashion cycle. Design clothes and other products that are meant to last a lifetime — and even far beyond that.

If clothing items wear down over time, what will happen to them? Ensure you have a way cotton shirts can be recycled by the consumer and the material can be fully reused and/or remade into other products.

Examples of Fashion Brands in the Circular Economy

There are several circular fashion brands that are already working to create sustainable clothing that doesn’t contribute to global waste.

Some circular economy fashion brands include:

MUD Jeans

  • Fashion brand creating jeans with a circular design
  • Jeans made with organic cotton and 40% recycled denim
  • CO2 Neutral
  • Factory recycles 95% of laundry water
  • Short supply chain
  • Offers a lease-a-jean program, where consumers can rent jeans and swap them for a new pair the next year to keep them used by multiple people
  • Aiming to make the first jeans from 100% recycled denim

Girlfriend Collective

  • Clothing made from recycled materials — like plastic bottles, fishing nets, and recycled polyester and spandex
  • T-shirts made from cupro, a waste fiber from the cotton industry
  • Yarn for shirts made in a zero-waste, zero-emission facility
  • Uses eco-friendly dyes and cleans water before releasing it
  • Donates dye mud to a pavement facility where it’s turned into stones

Elvis and Kresse

  • Making accessories with recycled materials from items that would be otherwise thrown out
  • Using firehoses, parachute silk, printing blankets, coffee sacks, shoe boxes, tea sacks, and auction banners to make items like belts, bags, tags, and wallets
  • Partnered with Burberry Foundation in 2017 to save 132 tons of leather from going to landfills

When circular fashion brands work with other companies to create partnerships, it helps a circular economy flourish.

Continuous Design and Innovation

As your product and/or service continues through its life cycle, you should be constantly updating, innovating, and re-designing them.

Because the life cycle is continuous, your design process should be too. Find ways to update your products and services, and make them even more environmentally friendly.

Some questions to ask yourself include:

  • How can this product or service better serve the consumer?
  • In what ways can the design or materials be updated to be more environmentally friendly?
  • Is there room for collaboration with other innovative companies to improve the life cycle or the consumer’s experience?
  • How can we design so that this product or service — or the biological and technical elements — can still be used 10, 20, and 50 years from now?

By continuously innovating and updating the design of your products and services, you’ll ensure you’re keeping customers satisfied and being as environmentally forward as possible.


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