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Social Design Institute - Meet the practitioner: Professor Rebecca Earley

Rebecca Earley in a workshop working with shirts on mannequins and images laid out on a table
Rebecca Earley in a workshop working with shirts on mannequins and images laid out on a table
Image courtesy of Rebecca Earley
Written by
Cat Cooper
Published date
16 July 2021

Professor Rebecca Earley is a design researcher, UAL Chair of Sustainable Fashion Textile Design; and co-director/founder of the Centre for Circular Design. She uses textile design and making to open up conversations about unsustainable economic systems. She is co-founder of World Circular Textiles Day: a collaborative platform to promote the collective vision of achieving full circularity by 2050: a time when there is dignity, equity and equality.

From Sustainable to Circular to Social Textile Design Research

In 1999, as a fashion textile designer hand-printing seasonal collections under her ‘B.Earley’ label for London Fashion Week, financial necessity led Rebecca to begin collecting old polyester shirts that she could remake into new garments.

20 years on and 100 upcycled shirts later, what started as a personal textiles recycling project has underpinned Professor Earley’s longitudinal practice research project: Top 100.  It maps a sustainable design landscape and circular design framework for the textiles sector – focused on new materials, social models and user mindsets (Materials, Models and Mindsets).

Rebecca’s position paper ‘From Sustainable to Circular to Social Textile Design Research (PDF 726KB), commissioned by the UAL Social Design Institute, explains the thinking behind her research and how shifting from a linear to circular production system drive a fairer and more responsible society.

Using textile design approaches to keep polyester in use for as long as possible has become my mission. We can make durable, flexible and light materials, and we can recycle them. However, they operate within outdated and damaging systems which, whilst being profitable for industry, remain exploitative for workers and excessive in terms of over-production and overconsumption. We need design to create and test new, more equitable and socially balanced models”

— Professor Rebecca Earley

Rebecca recently presented her work as part of discussions on the topic ‘Beyond sustainability’ at the UALxNEB event unbauhaus [1.17]


Championing research and practice in social design and design for sustainability, UAL Social Design Institute develops and uses research insights to inform and change how designers and organisations design. Its mission is to make a positive social and environmental difference.

The Institute’s focus areas are value and valuation through design, systems and design, and policy contexts and implications. It works closely with colleagues across UAL including the Centre for Circular Design, Centre for Sustainable Fashion and Design Against Crime Research Centre.

The Social Design Institute is working with BOP Consulting to develop the methodology for the Design Council’s Design Economy 2021 and recently launched its online learning series, including Introduction to Social Design.

The Institute's Publications include a series of open position papers sharing diverse research perspectives from UAL practitioners on social and sustainable design; and working papers offering new research insights. The material reflects the wide scope of social and sustainable design across different contexts and subject areas at UAL -from fashion and textiles to cultural practices and crime prevention. To date there are 15 papers to date authored by 16 UAL academics, and more will continue to be added.

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