DESIGNwith: a first-of-its-kind community space that explores the circular economy through design

DESIGNwith: a first-of-its-kind community space that explores the circular economy through design

Cadillac Fairview opens design incubator for social good at CF Toronto Eaton Centre in partnership with DESIGNwith and OCAD University

Photo by Katya Koroscil

At a new Toronto design incubator, members of the public can learn to appreciate what goes into making shoes by creating their very own pair using upcycled fabrics and other repurposed materials. Led by footwear designer Nelson Silva, this five-week workshop is just one of many hands-on ways visitors can learn about closing the loop between consumption and better societal and environmental health via an exciting new collaboration between the social enterprise DESIGNwith, OCAD University and Cadillac Fairview (CF).

Photo by Katya Koroscil

DESIGNwith is an incubator space where we can explore and experiment with ways to disrupt the circular economy with innovative ways for production and consumption,” says DESIGNwith founder, Ranee Lee.      

“This is a first-of-its kind experience for Cadillac Fairview and we’re excited that one of our largest retail properties can purposefully serve our community as the common ground for thoughtful design, research and knowledge sharing,” says Jason Anderson, CF’s senior vice president of brand and marketing.

What’s old can be new again

Located on the second level of CF Toronto Eaton Centre, the incubator is part artist studio and part exhibition space, entirely devoted to the concept of circularity, a process model that’s as focused on the product as what happens to it after its initial usefulness wanes. 

“Learning about circular design is everyone’s business,” says Lee, “because the future of this planet is up to all of us. DESIGNwith allows for space to share knowledge and publicly disseminate university learnings through exhibitions and workshops. For example, how might we, through learning about the process of making, value how products are made [beyond their useful life cycle], thereby making us take better care in production? Or how might we better appreciate local makers or change how we think about designing for disassembly?”

Sustainable design across many mediums

Photo by Katya Koroscil

In addition to Nelson’s upcycled sneaker workshop, DESIGNwith hosts an exhibit of furniture by DESIGNwith intern Katya Koroscil and Ernesto Ramirez, an OCAD student from Durango, Mexico, co-designed with Ranee Lee and Toronto-based industrial designer Lee Fletcher. The collection is made entirely from dimensional lumber and readily available fasteners, meaning that it can be easily and affordably produced and adapted to different spaces. 

The incubator will also be a place for groups such as the Regent Park Sewing Studio, a community-based social enterprise that teaches immigrant women sewing skills as a way to connect with others and build sustainable incomes. 

Even the 635-square foot studio itself subscribes to the principles of circularity: nearly half the space was built using materials repurposed from other CF sites, including the doors, windows and lighting. 

Participatory design means new ways of thinking

Photo by Katya Koroscil

Lee hopes that what happens at DESIGNwith will challenge people’s assumptions about design and production and for designers specifically, promote longer-term thinking about all aspects of the creation process. 

“What sparked DESIGNwith was a need for space and time for co-creation without the constraints of a classroom,” she says. “We cannot design in a vacuum. It is in the small things that we can sometimes have the answers to large problems, and also through experimentation and disruptive design methodology that we can produce innovative, new and sometimes surprising outcomes.” 

Anyone interacting with the incubator space stands to give and gain something meaningful.

“Everyone has lived experience and can contribute. There’s so much we can learn from each other, especially when we join diverse groups, different experiences and backgrounds. Design process is a great tool for innovation and new ways of thinking and learning, and we’re so grateful to partner with CF to create a dedicated space that allows us to connect, inspire and collaborate, together.”

Visit to learn more about the new DESIGNwith incubator, including upcoming events and workshops.