This research undertakes an interdisciplinary exploration of customer interactions in circular economy (CE) fashion retail systems. Viewing retail sites as both the “means of consumption“ (Ritzer, 2005) and as platforms for consumer meaning-making, it explores how retail services and experiences might be designed to redefine customer participation in value co-creation in a CE.
Material consumption is integral to our culture and identity construction. Yet, the scale of resource use and waste is unsustainable. In fashion, brands and designers are embracing the ‘circular economy’, a system in which products and materials are kept in use and waste is designed out. New materials, manufacturing processes and business models to enable longer product lives, reuse and recycling at the end-of-life are all areas of research. Yet, the human experience – how customers access, use and derive value – is under-examined.
In industry, research and innovation is directed towards a hedonic consumer experience which is ‘frictionless’ and ‘delightful’. Complex emerging behaviours see consumers making omnichannel journeys – e.g. browsing online and buying in-store. Yet, these services are based on a linear consumption model, where goods flow from producer to consumer to waste. Little attention has been paid to how retail services might promote the circular flows envisaged by CE models.
This project explores new possible roles for the retailer (as a service provider) connecting producers and consumers in a CE. It is informed by interdisciplinary design experience and further underpinned by theoretical bases across design, consumer behaviour, sociology, sustainability and behavioural economics.
The project adapts methods from design and management practice, while remaining rooted in a creative tradition which is concerned with human experience, meaning, identity and well-being. It endeavours to critically challenge the prevailing utilitarian vision of the CE, by focussing on human experience, and creativity as the driving force for paradigm change.