Please email email@example.com to get you the API key - apologies to anyone who tried the other email address on the DP site, it's working now but was down for a while. Thanks for all your interest so far.
Broadly speaking, the challenge is this:
Using the API, build a tool that lets anyone select materials beautifully, simply, and accurately, based on sustainability. Let’s put this data in the hands of makers everywhere.
Our specific problems are:
The audience (designers, materials experts, makers) decides on materials based on price and performance: sustainability is almost always a secondary consideration. We think this data would be really useful right at the point of materials selection, for example comparing organic cotton from an average supplier to non-organic cotton from a better supplier – they want to quickly know which is better.
We have great data about the sustainability of materials. But we don’t have great data about the suppliers. We want to create a tool that tells people about the sustainability of materials. But we also need a platform that gives our audience the ability to input and aggregate information about the suppliers themselves. And ultimately we want to combine these tools to give people access to better materials decisions.
Currently designers choose materials based on price and performance.
By the time they're ready to make a design decision, they've usually refined down to a handfull of materials: say, organic cotton from an average supplier, conventional cotton from a great supplier and 98% organic cotton with 2% Spandex from another great supplier. At this stage, all of their options would give them roughly the same result in terms of an end product, but they want to make a better materials decision. Right now, they have nowhere to turn, so they make a guess (or more likely, go for the cheapest one).
This data let's designers stop the guesswork and choose better materials for their products. The tools you make will let them quickly compare the material content of their materials and the quality of their suppliers to come up with a simple answer on which material is best for the planet.
Imagine you were trying to work out how sustainable your cup of coffee is 20 years ago. You can work out what the cup is made of, sure. But it's much harder to find out where and how the beans were grown. Today, Fair Trade and other coffee labels let you know how your coffee was made, and the barista is much more likely to know where the beans came from.
Right now, materials buying is a bit like coffee buying 20 years ago. Some parts of material sustainability are easy to find out - material composition in apparel for example, because by and large, suppliers let you know what's in the product you're buying. But other parts are as obscure: finding out the supplier of your materials is about as common and easy as asking the server at your local 1990's coffee shop where the beans from your coffee came from. They might make something up, they will probably give you a funny look, and a small pioneering minority might pull out a sustainability report.
We have a huge opportunity to change the materials story so that in the future materials buyers will be just as informed as coffee drinkers are today. That will let us make better materials decisions, and give suppliers the incentive to change their practices for the better to remain competitive in the new informed landscape.
So the main constaint of this problem - that it relies on partly obscure information - is actually the biggest challenge, and the biggest opportunity for impact on materials.
Having spoken to designers and developers over the past 6 months, we’ve learnt that they’re looking for a tool that fits naturally into their hectic, complex, design process: something that is simple, mobile, beautiful and accurate. We’ve also found that there’s not yet a compelling offering in this space.
Through industry partnerships, both with other apparel and footwear manufacturers, and with industry leading design tool and software developers, we plan to share the best tools on the material supplier and product designer side to gage potential for a much broader uptake.
We have contacts with the London College of Fashion, who will be using the best of your tools to make better products and will be able to provide feedback from September till November 2012 on the real world application of your vision for this data.