Muji panel discussion promotes circular design
Muji Fifth Avenue this month held a panel discussion on circular design that included Naoko Yano of Muji, Minä Perhonen designer Akira Minagawa and fashion consultant and sustainability enthusiast Julie Gilhart.
Journalists, bloggers and student designers hustled to the Japanese retail company’s Midtown location across the street from Bryant Park on Saturday May 18, and sat amongst Muji products like beds and bed linens to serve as the audience for a zen-like conversation about one of the world’s major problems: waste.
The Environmental Protection Agency said in 2012 that 84% of unwanted clothing in the US went into a landfill or an incinerator and 15.1 million tons of textile waste was generated in 2013 (12.8 million tons were discarded). Many fashion companies and brands introduced sustainable production methods and textiles to curtail its environmental impact, but to no avail.
Gilhart is very familiar with this subject, after having been in Copenhagen for the Copenhagen Fashion Summit, where great minds in the fashion industry, policy makers and academics, meet to discuss critical issues facing the industry and Earth. The topic at the Copenhagen Fashion Summit this year was 'Circularity,' which is also the purpose of Muji’s concept Idée Pool.
Minagawa said, “Talking about circularity, that has been on my mind from the beginning. Muji is a huge corporation. I imagined there must be some unwanted fabric and whatever it is in the process of manufacturing. What can we do to give a new life to those otherwise been wasted.”
Minagawa designs with circularity in mind not only for Pool but also for Minä Perhonen. Founded in 1995 as Minä, which means “I” in Finnish, the brand produces clothing that is designed to not lose its appeal over time. Minagawa in 2003 renamed the brand to Minä Perhonen, which means “I, butterfly” in Finnish.
“First, we have to be very careful to not produce waste,” said Minagawa, who was in New York City for the first time to take part in the discussion. “Lots of consideration must go into how to not produce any waste.”
The designer’s approach to production made him the top candidate to work with Muji on Idée Pool.
“We asked Mr. Minagawa to handle this, because he is a designer who works very closely with craftsmanship, with the people that make this with their heart,” said Yano. “The second reason is because he is a designer that never wastes fabrics. He donates some of the things, makes new things with things that would’ve been thrown away.”
Muji this month debuted Idée Pool (pronounced ee-day), a sustainable clothing collection from lifestyle brand Idée. Founded in 2015, Pool is an ongoing sustainable product series created in collaboration with different designers and companies.
The collaboration titled, Iroiro No Fuku, or ‘Various Clothing,’ was supervised by Minagawa and is made entirely of Muji fabrics. The 7-piece collection is comprised of unisex coats, wide-leg pants, blouses, jumpsuits and a tote bag in linen and cotton and various vibrant colors.
“We are very careful, but we cannot avoid having all of those fabric waste," said Yano. "With Pool, we gather all of the unwanted fabric and connect that into “loop” to make it to a circle. To make the unwanted fabric into a circle with new value.”
Yano, Muji’s GM of Planning and Design, is very passionate about Idée Pool, even wearing pieces from the collection to the discussion.
“Idee has two brands. It is under Muji, but we look at Idée as opposite of Muji,” she explained. “Muji is the creation of the basics of life, so it’s just like creating the landscape, background, no colors. But Idée is more about putting the color—one rose, one art—to make the landscape into something more artful. That is how Idée was born.”
She added that Muji partnered with welfare facility Shobu Gakuen, where mentally challenged people live and work, to design and create products for Idée (all proceeds from the sales of the products go to Shobu Gakuen).
“Recycling is beautiful and that is what we want to do, but we also want to make something that you don’t have to recycle,” Minagawa added. “That was the important challenge for me, to make something that people do not want to let go and put it as a recycled good.”
Gilhart recognized the noble mission, but as the former Fashion Director of Barneys New York, she inquired about what this could mean for businesses, in terms of profits.
“Companies do have profitability goals to make,” she said, in which Minagawa rebutted, “We have to look at the pace of the manufacturing. How the pace can be implemented so it can be cost effective as well.”
Minagawa also proposed that companies work together to reduce waste. “There’s a possibility for sharing with other companies using the waste of Muji, or maybe Muji will use the waste from another company. It doesn’t have to be within the company but we can all work together with outsiders as well.”
Gilhart agreed saying, “the only way we can change the world is with sharing.”
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