#009 The missing link to the fashion industry to become fully circular

Ina Budde, co-founder and CEO of the Berlin startup Circular.fashion, saw the need for a platform that connects the dots for circular fashion. With a strong vision, sharp eye for detail and a drive that never ends, Ina is building the business, network and team to make it happen. 

Watch circular.fashion’s Circular Story here!

By combining state of the art data and the input from all stakeholders in the field, circular.fashion can capture this valuable information on a scannable label: the ‘circularity.ID.’ This label provides us with the right stories and information to close the loop. 

“The circularity.ID transparently holds the full story of the garment from raw materials to finished product, to identify recycling possibilities” says Budde. Hearing these stories, we would probably value all the energy, hard labour, materials and much more and think twice of disposing them mindlessly after only a few times of wearing, simply because we want something new.

Coming up in this Circular Story

  • What circular.fashion does – and how the unique garment label enhances circularity and the importance of it to close the loop

  • How this social impact initiative became a business and why corporates like Zalando and H&M are so eager to learn from them

  • How Ina has grown from designer, to an award winning leader and what she does to keep in shape and keep growing

A circular system enables products of today to become the resources of tomorrow

This requires smart design, new technology for production of garments, and a new infrastructure to recycle clothes and the materials needed to create them. However, most importantly, a circular system requires knowledge sharing and transparency.

And that is where Budde and her team come in. circular.fashion provides training and tools for designers, a material library and their unique label to identify garment materials. Their methods and infrastructures enable closed loop recycling.

Ina, What is your definition of the Circular Economy? 

“Products and materials are designed and produced from the beginning to be able to circulate between people and in defined systems while maintaining their value through reuse, repair, updating and finally recycling. 

Also I believe linear business models will not exist in the future since their reason for being (relying on virgin resources) will not be existing in the future.”

What does circular.fashion do to combat the problems faced by the industry?

“Our mission is to provide the missing link for the fashion industry to become fully circular. By supporting all stakeholders to overcome the three biggest challenges that are currently holding back the transition towards a circular economy:

  1. Products need to be  designed for recycling 

  2. Customers need to be encouraged to wear their garments for longer and return them for reuse and recycling instead of disposing them 

  3. Sorting companies need to be able to identify recyclable products and guide them to the right recycling system

     

It’s fantastic that more than 12% of the fashion market aims to become circular. To get there we know sustainable and especially circular design can be challenging and requires more research and resources. That is why we created the platform for spreading knowledge, sharing data, and providing the infrastructure needed for fashion to circulate!”

Circular Fashion Loop

“Essentially it was transparency and interconnection that was the missing piece on all levels. Data transparency is needed to support smart and responsible decision making along the entire product life cycle. It is very motivating to see that this was indeed a part of the missing link and the industry picking this up and moving forward.”

Why did you feel the urge to start your company?

“Resources are not distributed fairly around the world causing social inequality and affecting the people and the planet. While we use an immense amount of water to irrigate cotton, people are still lacking drinking water. This is so absurd and wrong that I could not work a single day in the industry as it is today. I felt the urgency to dedicate all my time to make the fashion industry better. I would feel incredibly relieved if we can make a difference for the people suffering from the current system.”

“Being a sustainable fashion designer I soon realised that we do not only need more sustainable products. What we really need is a systemic change from the outdated linear model towards a circular economy. I started researching what is missing for a successful and early transition and found structural barriers that all fashion brands face: lack of knowledge and the right infrastructures for materials and products to circulate.”

Budde began her journey with a holistic approach, and it was during her studies: ‘Sustainability in Fashion’, that she first had a vision for a concept that would support the ecosystem on all levels.

She imagined in the future this platform could be a brand known as ‘the platform making impact for many different fashion companies, spread around the world.’

And she didn’t give up on her dream!

The platform explained in 3 steps

Circular.Fashion enables each stakeholder within the ecosystem to overcome challenges to circularity and provides the exact information for them take the right action to close the loop. This information is stored on a scannable label, the ‘circularity.ID’ which combines all knowledge and data.

1. Circular Material Library as a starting point

First of all clothing needs to be designed and manufactured for recycling, using the right materials. Sustainable textile producers offer their materials in the ‘Circular Material Database’ where they are checked for their recyclability. Designers & manufacturers are empowered to create circular designs by trainings and the circular design software, guidelines for recyclable and long-lasting product design and a material library to easily find the right circular textiles and trims.

2. Circularity ID label also educates customers

Customers need to return garments for reuse and recycling instead of disposing them. The scannable label, informs and advices customers on where and how to return or recycle their clothing for reuse and recycling.

3) Sorting companies can identify recyclable products

The ID helps sorting companies to identify products and material types, and guide them to the right recycler to sort for better reuse and recycling. They now can guide the products to fibre-to-fibre regeneration, finally enabling closed loop recycling. Recycling companies provide their feedstock requirements and take suitable textiles and used products back for recycling

Circular Quote
of the day:

It’s not a question if a company needs to turn circular, it’s only a question when they do it and take it as an advantage.

Ina Budde
Founder and CEO of circular.fashion

You describe your team culture as Zebra’s. Why and how does it affect working with partners in the ecosystem?

“Zebras are mutualistic: by banding together in groups, they protect and preserve one another. Their individual input results in stronger collective output. Zebra companies are both black and white: they are profitable and improve society. They won’t sacrifice one for the otherAlso, very much like us and my team, zebras are very collaborative, help each other and always seek for win win situations with their partners. The perfect skills to enable the transition towards circularity” 

“We work together to create collaborative impact, and we love to partner with great like-minded and purpose driven initiatives. We always try to identify the areas where we complement each other and create a holistic solution instead of competing on our sustainable mission. The fashion brands we work with are true collaborators, aiming to build mutual and long lasting partnerships, to achieve our common goal.”

What bad recommendations do you hear in your area of expertise? 

“In the start up scene you hear advice like: don’t show weakness, just pretend you know it all, your business model is clear, your products are ready, you have big investors secured etc.

I think it is very important to be honest and embrace uncertainty in a volatile world. We are all on a journey and are building the ship while sailing. We simply don’t have time to wait until we have built the perfect solution, resources will be gone by then. The important thing is we are on the journey, towards the right direction and we are all in it together.”

Also people love to give advice to invest early on to get a big team finalising the product asap, to be faster than any competitor. But what about long term security and stability for the existing team that is dedicating so much to the organisations success? We are happy that we did not listen to those pieces of advice and that we were able to safely navigate through crises like the current pandemic without losing anyone from our team on the way.”

How did your social business idea become a company?

“We founded circular.fashion as a social business – a purpose and impact driven company using our profits to grow and increase our impact. 

Our purpose is to solve the inefficient resource use by spreading knowledge and providing the infrastructure needed for fashion to circulate!

Together with our values they form the guiding stars for all strategic decisions of the company. Integrity is possible through our ownership strategy: Even today 100% of the company’s equity is owned by the founders. We only accept non-dividend investments. Based on this principle, Zalando and H&M Foundation supported the company with a total of €450.000 through grants. Profits are not paid as dividends to the owners but will stay in the company to grow and increase our sustainable impact. 

Sometimes people ask why we are going down this more difficult route and why we are not simply looking for an investor or why we never want to sell the company. But will not re-consider this idea to assure full decision making power according to our purpose and values and long term impact.”

How polluting fashion corporates backup sustainable start ups

Surprisingly many fast fashion companies have foundations that support startups who have the mission to solve their problems. With all the best intentions this does feel like greenwashing, but from our own experience as a start up we know how important it is to raise capital to really get your impact innovation going forward to scale. If you are you a startup then take a look at this:

Why are corporates like Zalando and H&M so eager to learn from start-ups?

“In our opinion it is absolutely necessary and of the highest value to transfer the knowledge and spirit of start ups eager to work on circularity to corporates and brands willing to take a step forward. 

Due to differences in culture, technology, knowledge and organisational structure it can be hard for these bigger companies to keep up the pace and start innovating. By connecting these two worlds, both parties can benefit and speed up.”

Ina’s expert tip for other entrepreneurs

“Be yourself and help others be themselves. Discover your personal passion and it will drive the change: Identify the problem that you personally can have the biggest impact on and that you are really passionate about to solve. This will give you the greatest energy back from all your efforts you will dedicate to this!”

Did we get you interested in fashion and want to see more?

Check out the Circular Story of Kings of Indigo and Colorifix.

Or check out the website of circular.fashion

Agency

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