#009 What if your clothes could talk?

What would they say? Would they tell you something about their creators? Would they disclose what is in their DNA?  They will sure tell you how they want to be treated, but perhaps won’t easily disclose that the textile industry is responsible for 1.2 billion tonnes of greenhouse gas emission a year. That is more than all international flights and maritime shipping combined! 

‘circular.fashion’ has found a way to open up the circular stories of fashion-items

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. 

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.

Watch circular.fashion’s Circular Story here!

Coming up in this Circular Story

  • What is Fast Fashion? Some insights about the problem this industry is facing and creating

  • 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

  • 4 Things you can do yourself 

Take a look at these Circular Stories, about other pioneers in the field of circular fashion:

Someone is paying for the way we consume

Consider this: for each cheap produced item, somewhere someone has to pay the price. And that price can actually be priceless due to irreversible damage to our planet, or the health and lives of the people who make it. Many well known fashion brands are still using child and forced labour. The working conditions in many countries which produce are clothes are very unhealthy and in some places dangerous. 

4 x Impact on Environment

  • The Fashion industry is responsible for 10% of global carbon emissions due to production, manufacturing and transportation.
  • Water (mis)use: growing 1 kg cotton, takes up to 20.000L of water, leaving the land and local communities suffering from drought.
  • Toxic chemicals are used endlessly for growing cotton with fertilisers, garment dyeing, bleaching and much more. The chemicals end up in the soil, our water system and eventually on our skin while wearing the textile.
  • Microplastic pollution: Every time we wash a synthetic garment (polyester,nylon, etc), about 700.000 individual plastic microfibers are released into the water, making their way into our oceans, which can then be eaten by fish thus introducing plastic to our food chain.

3 x Impact on People’s lives

  • Unfair, inhumane and toxic working conditions in producing countries are more common than you know. Read more about social fairness and the importance of ethical fashion here
  • The constant pressure that makes us feel we have nothing to wear and we need more clothes every season.
  • Our skin is our largest organ. Wearing toxic clothing on our skin daily can have significant effects on our health. 

What’s the problem here?

The fashion industry is stated the second most polluting industry in the world, taking its toll on raw materials like cotton, water, and the environment. The industry has a huge impact on the health of our planet and on people’s lives. To produce a simple t-shirt, raw materials like cotton are grown, processed and shipped all over the world. 

Fast Fashion. Overproduction of cheap and low quality clothing, and pushing new collections every month the fashion industry encourages us to buy more and more, while many people dispose of a garment on average after just five times of use. Some garments can’t survive the laundry, and others have simply ‘run out of fashion’.

Fast fashion is creating a huge amount of waste, and worldwide generally only about 13% of all textile is recycled. The rest is incinerated leaving a gigantic carbon footprint all over the industry. 

Circular thinking would lead to more sustainable fashion 

In an ideal circular fashion world, there would be no need for new materials and there would be barely any waste. The materials used to produce our clothes would stay in the loop forever and will be recycled and reused over and over again. 

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!”

“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.”

The platform explained

circular.fashion has developed a platform which provides a one-stop solution for fashion brands to find all knowledge and also a partner network to transition their whole business into a circular one. They can find all resources and infrastructures needed, from design to retail and then recycling their products. The centre of it all is the ‘circularity.ID’ scannable label that combines all knowledge and data and makes it transparent to stakeholders to overcome the 3 challenges. Each stakeholder within the ecosystem can take the right action to close the loop.

Challenge Solution
1) Clothing needs to be  designed for recycling  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.

Circularity.ID

The lack of information is being solved with the cirularity.ID

A scannable circularity.ID label that stores all product and material data
and makes them available to all stakeholders across the whole product life cycle

2) Customers need to return garments for reuse and recycling instead of disposing them Customers are transparently informed and get advice on where and how to return or recycle their clothing for reuse and recycling
3) Sorting companies need to identify recyclable products and guide them to the right recycler Sorters

The ID helps sorting companies to identify products and material types, to sort for better reuse and recycling. They 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

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!

How would you describe the culture in your team and how does it affect working with partners in the ecosystem?

Ina claims to think of her team as zebras. 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 other

“Also, 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.”

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

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.”

Things you can do yourself

Learn more! We found these resources very useful and informative for the conscious consumer and professionals

  • Everything you need to know as a consumer explained on a deeper level: Sustain your style 
  • The fashion design learning section that the EllenMcArthur Foundation created is especially interesting for fashion designers and brands that want to explore circularity
  • Circular Tools created for designers and the industry by Circular.Fashion are very useful to design garments and find the right materials.
  • The Fairwear Foundation gives insights about social fairness in the industry. You can look out for their label on the websites of your favorite brands and decide if they will still be your favorites when they align with your values, or not.

Rethink your clothes and laundry

60% Of the microplastics in our wastewater may come from doing our laundry, because the fibers come off during washing and drying. You can avoid this by:

  • Clothing: buy sustainable clothing and pay attention to the textiles used
      • Pure cotton, silk, linen: does not contain plastics
      • Acrylic, polyester blends do contain plastics
  • Doing laundry:
      • Use a ball that attracts microfibers
      • Wash synthetic clothing in a filter bag
      • Install a filter at your water system at home if possible

Try these sustainable marketplaces

  • IVALO Nordic marketplace for sustainable fashion.
    Making ethics fashion sexy and exciting
  • THE GOOD APPAREL Ethical and transparent fashion, from brands you can trust. Based in UK. 

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

Circular stories:

Circular Quote of the Day

Do something that makes your kids proud.

Dr. Sebastian Porkert, Founder ECOFARIO

Circular People

Walk the talk. Our professional community is helping brands to go and grow circular. People like you and me. Driven to make a positive impact.

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