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Development of a Sustainable Product-Service System to Engage Belgian Shoppers in Circular Economy Fashion

Published onJun 21, 2023
Development of a Sustainable Product-Service System to Engage Belgian Shoppers in Circular Economy Fashion
Casper Van Herzele1*, Francesca Ostuzzi1, Fatima Khitous2
1Ghent University; 2University of Oulu
* [email protected]

Extended abstract

Purpose research

10% of global carbon emissions come from the fashion industry which is more than the emissions of international flights and maritime shipping combined (Worldbank, 2019). Further, due to the dominance of the fast fashion trend, global clothing consumption has doubled over the previous 20 years, while average wear duration has decreased by 50% (Worldbank, 2019). A possible approach to decrease this impact is the implementation of Product Service Systems (PSS), which revolves around combining intangible services with tangible products (Tukker, 2015). In some PSS, the so-called sustainable PSS (S-PSS), the goal is to use resources more efficiently to increase the product’s life cycle (for example by renting or sharing). Currently, 40% of Belgians have not engaged with any PSS for fashion (Khitous et al., 2022). Combining this and the aim of this study is to develop an S-PSS to engage fashion shoppers in a circular economy.


This research relies on a design thinking (DT) methodology which consists of 4 phases: discover, define, develop, and deliver (Design Council, 2004). DT gained momentum as an innovation method that allows organizations to reach breakthrough innovations (Dell’Era et al., 2020). Moreover, recent research suggests that DT plays a central role in driving innovation (Dell’Era et al., 2020; Verganti et al., 2021).

As such our methodological approach revolves on the following steps. First, the here presented study started by benchmarking Belgian and foreign fashion PSS besides ‘traditional’ stores. These can be categorized as fast fashion, ultra-fast fashion, buying sustainable fashion, buying second-hand (product-oriented S-PSS), fashion rental (use-oriented S-PSS), peer-to-peer renting (use-oriented P-PSS), and digitization of wardrobe (result-oriented S-PSS). According to Eisenhardt (1989) and Saha et al. (2021), studying polar or extreme cases, such as these business models, facilitates the identification of unique patterns that are critical for novel findings. Second, based on these benchmarks, consumers (N=125) have been surveyed and businesses (N=2) have been interviewed to make a SWOT analysis for each business model. Third, these findings provided the basis for iteratively brainstorming 32 concepts in the development phase. Fourth, ideas were converged and iterated to one final concept based on the weighted ratings of its feasibility, desirability, viability (IDEO Design Thinking, n.d.), and circularity by interviewing five experts in the circular economy.

The study is now in the last phase of the development stage, where an iterative design process is being held to design an S-PSS for a digital product passport in the fashion industry. I am designing a prototype of the DPP tag and will test it with potential stakeholders.

Preliminary findings

The European Commission is aiming to introduce Digital Product Passports (DPP) regulations for several product categories, such as clothing and shoes. This can be framed into the Ecodesign for Sustainable Product Regulation (ESPR) (European Commission, 2022). It can be implemented as a QR code in a fashion label or through other data carrying technology such as a NFC tag (European Commission, 2022).

Viewing this proposal through a desirability, feasibility, viability, and circularity viewpoint creates several hardware design requirements that need to be addressed whilst designing a DPP tag. These requirements have been verified with several actors within the hardware development (N=5) community.

  • The identifier is non-removable by certain stakeholders such as fashion consumers. It needs to be present throughout the whole life-cycle of the product without losing its data-carrying potential. Otherwise, the effort and benefits for a DPP are wasted. This eliminates the idea of printing a unique QR code on a label that is sewn into fashion items. Some consumers like to remove labels from clothing because they are long, itchy, and not aesthetical (Murphy 2013).

  • On the other side, it needs to be removed by certain stakeholders, such as recyclers, upcyclers, and repairers to increase circularity of the DPP tag.

  • The size and visibility of the DPP in clothing may influence the comfort to wear this.

  • A low production price (materials, manufacturing, assembling) is preferred.

  • It’s applicable on different materials and it doesn’t damage textiles.

  • The identifier can withstand wear and tear of everyday use. It’s for example waterproof and heat resistant. The overall reading capacity should not degrade over time.

Designing a DPP tag with these requirements creates the following physical design. A pin locker is a small (6mm diameter, 5mm height) stainless steel cylindrical object that mechanically locks a pin in place with a tiny screw.

Figure 1: Pin locker

An outer shell, which houses the pin locker, is created because of two reasons. The first reason is to implement a small NFC tag that can store the DPP data. The second reason is to house a screw with a special head. Only authorized stakeholders, such as recyclers have access to the right tools to unscrew it, allowing quick and easy disassembly. Furthermore, the DPP tag is designed to be waterproof and can survive in a temperature range between 20° and 85°. It’s 8mm in height. Depending on the thickness of the textile, a larger needle can be used. Depending on the textile material, a different needle head can be used. The pin head can be designed in different colors, materials, and/or finishes. Compared to regular fashion labels, this DPP tag can be placed almost anywhere on clothing.

Fashion companies and fashion upcyclers will be able to acquire this DPP tag through a PSS. Whenever clothing is acquired by a customer, the tag stays in the ownership of the original fashion company. A service is provided for recyclers and upcyclers to send these tags back to the original owner, thus the fashion company. Therefore, this tag enables reuse (Ellen MacArthur Foundation, n.d.). Furthermore, feedback is sent back to the original fashion manufacturer when why and how an item is for example repaired and recycled. This information may be used to objectively increase sustainable production (European Commission, 2022)

When fashion manufacturers and consumers are willing to implement and use this DPP S-PSS, and other important stakeholders such as recyclers and upcyclers are engaged, then the aim of this study will be fulfilled.

Expected results

The findings of this study will further contribute to the PSS literature, by outlining not only the process of new PSSs design, but also how DT allows to consider the benefits that actors expect. In doing so, we highlight a process allowing for engaging actors in PSSs. Furthermore, the results will allow practitioners/ professionals to gain further understanding on how to implement (S-)PSS fashion. Indeed, the final results will be a business idea that could increase customer engagement for a S-PSS. Overall, the result will further enrich the design thinking literature and the literature on (S-)PSS fashion.

Major conclusions

This research will provide a deeper understanding of the DT mechanisms that allow to innovate the current fast fashion business model. The aim is to increase consumers with S-PSS, which ultimately will lead to decreasing the environmental footprint of the fashion industry. It will outline a clear and innovative business models that decrease the impact on the environment.


Sustainable Product Service System (SPSS), Digital Product Passport (DPP), business model, fashion, design thinking.


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European Commission. (2022). establishing a framework for setting ecodesign requirements for sustainable products and repealing Directive 2009/125/EC. Angewandte Chemie International Edition, 6(11), 951–952., 0095, 10–27.

Framework for Innovation: Design Council’s evolved Double Diamond. (2022). Design Council.

IDEO Design Thinking. (n.d.). IDEO | Design Thinking.

Khitous, F., Urbinati, A., & Verleye, K. (2022). Product-Service Systems: A customer engagement perspective in the fashion industry. Journal of Cleaner Production, 336(April 2021), 130394.

Murphy, K. (2013, February 7). Snipping Out Annoying Clothing Labels. The New York Times.

The butterfly diagram: visualising the circular economy. (n.d.).

Tukker, A. (2015). Product services for a resource-efficient and circular economy - A review. Journal of Cleaner Production, 97, 76–91.

Verganti, R., Dell’Era, C., & Swan, K. S. (2021). Design thinking: Critical analysis and future evolution. Journal of Product Innovation Management, 38(6), 603–622.

World Bank Group. (2019, October 8). How Much Do Our Wardrobes Cost to the Environment? World Bank.

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