Fashion waste is huge. How can we reduce it?
Our one-day designathon to make fashion more sustainable
Another year has passed (quite a weird one) and once again we find ourselves discussing climate change. It’s been a much discussed topic for some time now, with governments making pledges to take action, companies changing their plans and people recycling here and there. But we all probably still find ourselves wondering: what concrete actions have governments actually taken in the past year to lessen our impact on the environment? What have companies done to help? And have we, as individuals, done enough?
We, the Product Design Team at Depop, took the Climate Change Conference in Glasgow as an opportunity to discuss those questions and to reflect on what we could do to embrace more environmentally sustainable practices in our sector: fashion. We hosted a day-long designathon (a design sprint-like event where those involved collaborate to achieve a specific goal), taking ‘sustainable fashion’ as our theme.
What we wanted to do
Since we had just one day — and because fashion and sustainability are rather broad topics — we wanted to be as focused as possible in our brainstorming. So when considering our goals for the designathon, we thought about:
- What impact we’d like to make on the company
- What we should produce throughout the day to help us achieve our goals
- What we’d like to take away from the day as a team
Regarding the first point, the main goal for the designathon was to think and develop a design solution that could help to reduce fashion waste to zero within the Depop experience. Ambitious, sure, but we’re ambitious designers here at Depop.
Regarding the “design solution” itself, we wanted to keep things as open-ended as possible so that designers could explore ideas beyond wireframes and digital flows: physical objects for example, or services, experiences or installations.
So the only key ask was that the solution be relevant to the “Depop experience” ie. applicable not necessarily just to the app itself, but the whole Depop journey beyond the digital product.
Finally, from a team perspective, we wanted to use the day as an opportunity to better learn how we think, collaborate and design as a group and as individuals. Because many of us joined during the pandemic and we’ve been working from home for quite a long time, we never really had a chance to brainstorm and work closely together, and this felt like the perfect occasion to do so.
How we did it
We divided the day into three main parts:
- Part one: A quick icebreaker and problem spaces exploration
- Part two: Idea generation
- Part three: Concept development
Identifying the problems
To start the day with some positive vibes, we kicked off with a quick icebreaker. We asked everyone to bring with them what they felt was the most sustainable thing in their wardrobe and then spend a few minutes sharing the story behind it.
Thanks to this exercise, we had the pleasure of discovering a leather purse from Elsa’s grandmother, a shirt from Jacek’s dad, a pair of earrings that have been passed down through several generations and also learned about Everlane’s sustainable approach to fashion (thanks Jackie!).
Next, we started to explore the problems related to our brief: design a solution that could help reduce fashion waste. We spent a couple of hours discussing what we thought are the main issues that cause fashion waste, focusing on three specific stages in the fashion chain:
- Production. The production of clothes and accessories.
- Retail and use. The storage and usage of clothes and accessories.
- End of life. What happens to clothing and accessories once someone decides they’re no longer fit for wear.
We had many interesting conversations, discovered things we weren’t necessarily aware of and captured all the problems and topics on a massive whiteboard (which wasn’t so white by the end). You can read more about the facts here.
Once we’d identified key problems, we split into three groups and moved to the ideation phase.
Each group had to choose three issues (from the ones we came up with in the previous activity) to focus on and come up with ideas to address each of them. At this stage, following the double diamond approach, the focus was on the quantity rather than the quality of the ideas: we wanted to facilitate creative thinking and to push designers to think out of their comfort zone. Therefore, we also explicitly asked everyone not to think of Depop at this point.
We generated lots of ideas ranging from art installations to futuristic delivery options. So many in fact, that we needed to hone in on the ones we felt could be most impactful.
Make it Depop
Although having crazy and unrealistic concepts is exciting and refreshing (it felt a bit like being back at uni), we felt it would be just right to think about how to actually make them work. That’s why we then tasked each group to select just one idea to develop in more detail.
This meant thinking about user needs, journeys and the actual design of the solution. We also asked designers at this stage, to make their design solution applicable to Depop, not necessarily to the app itself but rather to the whole Depop journey. Finally, each team came back together to present their concepts back to the group.
Here’s what they came up with and their process in their own words …
Team: Jacek, Elsa & Ting
Our ideation process
“After discussing within the team, we explored the three problem spaces and highlighted the issues that resonated with us most. For us, the four most pertinent issues were:
- The lack of visibility of the environmental impact of buying an item
- Lack of awareness on how to make an item last longer
- How to combat the destruction of items by fashion houses
- How can we effectively reuse and upcycle clothes
We were particularly interested in issues that have a feedback loop throughout the ‘production — retail — recycle’ journey, like overproduction and overconsumption.
We felt strongly that without one single source of truth, it’s very difficult for consumers to make conscious sustainable buying choices. We also decided to look at the entire lifespan of a fashion item, because we believe every small decision along people’s ‘buying — consuming — recycling’ journey can make a difference and will ultimately accumulate into a bigger impact.
Our initial ideas included a fashion karma score calculator (where our project name originated from) and a visual AI photo scanner. They evolved into an app that helps people to make better decisions throughout a fashion item’s lifespan.
At the ‘Buying’ phase, the app allows people to scan an item and get a ‘Green score’ showing them the environmental impact of buying that item. Post-purchase, the app suggests repairing and caring tips so that the item can last and be worn for as long as possible. At the end of the item’s lifespan, people can find the most suitable reuse or recycling options that don’t lead to landfill. Recognising we only had limited time to develop this concept, we decided to focus on the ‘Buying’ phase.”
“Our final product is a mobile app called ‘eCarma’, inspired by our ‘Karma score calculator’ idea. It aims to provide a single source of truth for people to understand the impact of buying from brands. We believe that if people have a quick way of understanding at the purchasing moment (whether in store or online) what is a good or bad purchase and why, they can make better decisions and help reduce fashion waste.
The app starts with a scanner that scans a product code to identify an item or RN code to identify the brand. When no code is available to be scanned, the scanner utilises visual AI to match the item with its database.
It then gives an overall ‘Green score’ and a full breakdown of the score based on predefined criteria like material, item equality, labour condition, and possible recycling route. After showing the score, the app follows up with recommendations of similar items with a higher score from sustainable brands or from resale platforms like Depop, so that the buyer can make a better choice that reduces their footprint.
If the user chooses to buy from alternative brands or platforms, the app will lead them directly to the buying page. If the exact product can’t be found inside the database, the app will access the item based on the brand and give a more generic ‘Green score’. We developed key wireframes from whiteboard sketches and prototyped them in Figma to give the app a visual presentation.”
Team: Enchun, Caroline, Jackie and Oren
Our ideation process
“After discussing the problem areas, we identified three topics we were most interested in:
- How might we combat the overconsumption of firsthand fashion driven by the increased turnover of collections from retailers and influencer culture?
- How might we reduce the rate of returned items? These items are usually disposed of upon their return.
- How to create value from clothes that aren’t in a good enough condition to be resold?
To address these issues, we thought we could help people make more rational and sustainable choices when shopping for clothes by answering these questions:
- How do you divert people from buying fast fashion? (Decrease demand for firsthand fashion.)
- How do you make sustainability tangible? (Lack of knowledge around sustainable clothing.)
- How do you make sustainable fashion easy to access? (Finding sustainable choices takes time.)
First of all, we wanted to enable people to make better choices by helping people find fashion that they won’t return. We noticed that many returned items are immediately disposed of in environmentally damaging ways.
Another idea was trading clothes in for credit. We believed that creating a system of reward could positively reinforce sustainable actions. Moreover, we also thought about providing a sustainability grading to inform users of the cost of unsustainable actions in fashion.”
“Since we wanted to leverage Depop’s influence on sustainable fashion, we started to brainstorm the ideas we could execute within the Depop product.
We decided to intervene at a key point in the buying cycle. Due to the habit of overconsumption we know that many people go straight to fast fashion retailers in order to find trending fashion that they see within influencer culture.
Our intervention is called Depop Zero, a browser extension that informs people about the sustainability rating of the product they wish to buy, while also aggregating and recommending sustainable alternatives. This reduces the work needed to find sustainable alternatives, therefore making it a more accessible option.
With Depop Zero, people can easily see the gradings of a fast fashion item based on its materials, production, labour practices and usage. This makes the environmental effect of their choices tangible and easy to compare while shopping. With this browser extension, people can find immediate sustainable alternatives. The consumer is informed of the impact of their purchase decision while being nudged towards more sustainable options, thus reducing the consumption of firsthand fashion.”
Team: Cillian, Karolina and Lara
Our ideation process
The problem areas we chose to focus on were:
Low-quality fashion and disposability, specifically the fact that as soon as clothing becomes damaged or worn it’s often thrown away rather than repaired.
A lack of awareness of the environmental impact of fashion. If people aren’t necessarily aware of the knock-on effects of their fashion choices, how can they make sustainable choices?
No standardised sizing in the industry. A lack of standardised sizing increases the risk of people buying items of the wrong size that they might then end up throwing away.
We chose these areas because we felt A) they are some of the most damaging issues within the fashion industry, and B) solving them is generally more about empowering people to make responsible decisions and form sustainable habits rather than directly intervening in corporate culture and government policy.
Our most interesting ideas were:
1. An improved ‘Find your fit’ experience. We thought about reinventing the traditional online size guide / fit finder experience in the following ways:
- Introducing a series of shapes or symbols (rather than S, M, L etc.) corresponding to body shapes.
- Integrating AR into the experience ie. virtual try-on at home.
- A full-body scanner that accurately takes your measurements and then recommends you clothes and accessories that are a perfect fit.
2. A colour-coded / traffic light POS system that lets shoppers know the environmental impact of an item they’re considering buying.
3. A website / in-product recommendation module / plugin that lets shoppers know about more sustainable alternatives to items they’re considering buying.
We chose to focus on low-quality fashion and disposability, and how we might prevent people from throwing their clothes away and repairing them instead.
Our final concept was ‘Fix it’ — a new way to shop on Depop that slows the fashion cycle. It’s essentially a cross-channel campaign with in-product elements that promote the good habit of repairing your clothes and accessories.
‘Fix it’ helps:
- Sellers to sell clothes that need to be repaired
- Buyers to buy clothes at a cheaper price and learn how to fix them so they can love them for longer
‘Fix it’’s in-product elements encourage circularity. They include:
- A ‘Needs repair’ option in ‘Condition’, allowing sellers to list items that need repair (likely at a significant discount to attract buyers)
- A ‘Needs repair’ signal / nudge so buyers can easily identify items that need repair in their discovery journey
- A ‘Restore and repair’ product category, where sellers can list items used to bring tired and worn clothing and accessories back to life eg. fabrics, trims, needles etc.
To promote these features, the ‘Fix it’ campaign includes:
- In-person workshops. Led by experts such as tailors and cobblers, here the Depop community can learn how to fix their wardrobe favourites.
- Video content. A series filmed with influencers and experts, showcasing how they take care of their clothes.
- Collabs. Partnering with sustainable brands (Patagonia, Stella McCartney etc.) on exclusive capsules of repaired and upcycled items.
- Social. Instagram and/or TikTok competition for the best fixes / DIY repairs.
As you can see, at the end of a day brainstorming ideas to tackle fashion waste, we came up with a decent amount of ideas and three fully-developed concepts:
- An app that provides ‘a single source of truth’ for people to understand the impact of buying from brands
- A browser extension that lets people know how sustainable an item they wish to buy is, while also providing more sustainable alternatives
- A campaign with in-product elements to promote circularity
Sometimes it’s easy to forget that climate change is very real and we all have a role in tackling it. As the day drew to a close, we realised just how big the impact of fashion waste is and how much more we as a design team, and as a company, could do. We hope that this designathon can encourage the design community, both at Depop and beyond, think greener solutions, helping people find and love fashion that doesn’t harm the environment.