At circular.fashion we created a digital platform for material suppliers, fashion brands, sorters and recyclers, where tools and resources can be accessed to ensure circularity in every step.
The circular design software, consisting of a material library, design guidelines, and a product development tool, supports fashion brands to design circular and sustainable products. By providing a digital tag, a circularity.ID, to be integrated into a garment, we aim to collectively set a standard for transparency and traceability enabling reverse supply chain intelligence for customers, sorters and recyclers to ensure that each piece is recycled into new fibre again.
What is the mission of the project in a sentence?
The circular.fashion system spreads knowledge and provides the infrastructures needed to enable the products of today to become the resources of tomorrow.
Where and when did the project start?
circular.fashion is a Berlin-based social business, which was founded in 2018.
The launch of the new online training, The Circular Design Sprint, was in October 2020 and the launch of the Circular Design Software was at the end of 2020.
Where (in which countries) is the project offered today?
It is offered worldwide, with a focus on Europe.
To whom is this project aimed? Who belongs to your target group?
We’re supporting fashion brands and designers on their journey toward circularity by sourcing sustainable and circular materials, consulting in the design process and providing an infrastructure for recycling. Therefore, we also work with material suppliers as well as sorting and recycling companies to build a reverse supply chain infrastructure.
Interview with Ina Budde, Co-Founder
Why was circular.fashion started? What was the background or the initial situation?
Nowadays a considerable number of companies in the fashion industry are aiming for circular business models, but the implementation of these models is associated with great challenges, especially for companies in this sector. Based on this background knowledge I prepared the basis to found circular.fashion seven years ago while identifying barriers and developing solutions. I realised that the lack of transparency and the lack of networking between the players were the main criteria.
Therefore, I saw the solution in the development of a platform that addresses these issues. Finally, I built up a network of recyclers to address their needs and requirements. Three years ago, I finally founded circular.fashion together with Mario Malzacher and built up a team of great passionates. In turn, we translated these into design criteria and subsequently developed various tools and offers.
What is your vision? What would an ideal state look like for you?
On the one hand, designers should have access to all the information, materials, technologies and other “ingredients” they need to design recyclable products at any time, anywhere. This is what we want to achieve with our Circular Design Software. On the other hand, the real value of things, whether new or worn, should be more identifiable. We always say: “Waste is material without identity.” So if we know the components of a material, we can find a different use for it and it is no longer waste. Thus, products should be equipped with product identification tools, such as the circularity.ID.
How exactly does the circularity.ID work?
When we have developed a product with fashion brands, they receive a unique ID in which all relevant product and material data for the entire life cycle is stored. This ID has various interfaces on the one hand, for end consumers. They can scan the ID and trace where and with which materials the product was produced. This indirectly gives them the opportunity to extend the life cycle of the product. Where can I return the product if I no longer wish to wear it? How can it be reused or recycled? The sorting companies get a different interface. In other words, our sorting software calculates which recycler the product must go to. Who is the best recycler, for example, if it is a cotton T-shirt or a polyester jacket?
How do you solve the customer’s problem?
Although an increasing number of textile companies are now interested in recycling management, they often fail to find a clear approach to integrating and implementing the concept within the company according to their individual DNA. With our trainings, which are based on the Design-Thinking approach, we offer fashion brands support and guidance. Product checks are an equally important need of our customers. Companies come to us to check the recyclability of their materials and products, and can find out what they need to change. Moreover, material suppliers can offer their textiles via our Circular Material Library and find selling markets with fashion brands which are interested in exactly such materials. For sorting companies, it is particularly important to remain innovative. Their sorting needs to be more target group and material specific. We are currently working on this with our Intelligent Sorting Workplaces as well.
Your main focus is on digital services. To what extent does it show that the environment benefits from them?
I believe that digitalisation is an “enabler”, making information available in a decentralised and location-independent way and thus enabling more sustainable decision making. This is a great way to create transparency and offer a large amount of information.
What helped you to establish your offer so successfully on the market? Do you have any tips?
First of all, networking and cooperating with others. We have established an ecosystem of many companies, material manufacturers, sorters and recyclers, and involved them closely in the process of developing the solution, to make sure it addresses their needs. Exchanging experiences is helpful to develop an understanding for the different wishes and requirements and thus to find holistic solutions. We see ourselves as a purpose company. In order to achieve our common goal, it is extremely important that we combine our strengths and find fellow initiatives that pursue similar goals. Otherwise: remain flexible. Industry is changing fast. Needs and challenges change over time. Staying flexible and adaptable means that it is natural that a business model and a solution might evolve over time to remain relevant. Apart from that, what has brought us so far has also been the supporters, such as the Global Change Award from H&M, the Accelerator from Fashion for Good and the zIMPACT Programme from Zalando. We are extremely grateful for their support.
What are you particularly proud of?
First and foremost our team! None of this would be possible without the expertise and passion of each of our 12 team members. We are also proud of what we can influence in the meantime. We work with large companies because we really want to make a difference. For example, when we train 50 designers of Hugo Boss, it has a huge impact. When a plastic-free collection is launched afterwards, it suddenly becomes clear that the results are bearing fruit. The same goes for our brand clients and collaborators like Bestseller, H&M, Zalando and others. Once organisations with this kind of reach actually implement such concepts, it’s like a knock-on effect. And credits go also to the people in those companies who are actually driving the change and bringing those topics forward!
What more should politicians do to promote the circular economy?
On the one hand, a quota should be established, which determines a recycled share for products. A separate collection for textiles will be established in 2025, which is quite a step forward. Nevertheless, we need a labelling obligation that goes far beyond the Care Label, which is more detailed and ideally can be read automatically. This would be a helpful measure, not least for the sorting plants but also to assure to phase out harmful substances of the material flow. There should also be a tax reduction on recycled fibres, as these have already been taxed and we need a more equal playing field enabling economies of scale for sustainable and circular products.
How would you like to develop your offer further?
We have just received a subsidy decision for the development of innovative sorting of worn clothes. In cooperation with the two universities, TU Berlin and FU Berlin, we will now research on AI powered spectroscopy technologies for sorting machines. Furthermore, we currently announced a Call for Action for further pilots with interested fashion brands who, like Zalando, would like to equip products with the circularity.ID.
Due to the Corona pandemic, we have recently developed a digital version for our training and the Design Sprint. Using the lessons learned from our previous physical and digital events, we are very excited about this new, very engaging virtual format and look forward to expanding our offer even further in the future. The Circular Design Online Training is open to register for brands or independant designers on our website.
What is your key message?
Let’s join forces and drive impact with a collaborative and holistic approach to close the loop!