Switching Gear: Inside the first masterclass of Circle Economy’s new circularity project

Circularity is one of the most important topics in the fashion industry
at the moment, as brands, suppliers and manufacturers alike look to remedy
the industry’s issue of excessive waste. According to research by the Ellen
Macarthur Foundation, global clothing production has approximately doubled
in the past 15 years, while the average duration people are wearing their
garments has decreased by 36 percent in that same period.

As the industry and consumers become increasingly aware of the immense and
damaging effect the fashion industry is having on the environment, new
circular business models are being introduced, such as rental and
recommerce, to combat the problem head-on.

Extending the life of a garment is considered one of the most effective
ways to reduce the overall impact of the clothing industry, on two fronts.
Firstly, optimizing the use of clothing through circular business models
can contribute to a decrease in production and consumption of new garments
and secondly, can reduce the growing volumes of textile waste that are
generated every year.

The impact potential is clear, as is the business opportunity. Market
forecasts indicate that both the recomerce and rental markets are expected
to grow much faster than the traditional retail market. Nevertheless, while
many brands see the potential of these new models, they struggle to
practically apply them.

Launched in November in Amsterdam, the Switching Gear project is looking to
tackle just that. With the mission to accelerate the practical uptake of
circular business models in the apparel industry, the two-year project, led
by impact organisation Circle Economy and part funded by the C&A
Foundation, will support brands in the design and launch of a rental or
recommerce pilot by 2021. Participating brands will follow a circular
innovation process; consisting of a year-long masterclass programme, and
supplemented by online ‘scrums’ to make sure the brands are staying on
track with their development.

The first of the four full-day masterclasses kicked off on 21 November at
the Impact Hub just a stone’s throw from Oosterpark in the east of the
Dutch capital. As strategic media partner to the project, FashionUnited was
invited to attend the masterclass and meet the brands, partners and
organisers involved in the project.

“Our very mission is to slow down
consumption and overconsumption.”

“The day has been really good, it’s been very inspiring and we’ve seen a
lot of cases and applications of various archetypes within circularity
which really emphasised the urgency of implementing in,” said August Bard
Bringéus, the co-founder and CEO of Swedish online-only menswear brand
Asket. His brand, which he founded in Stockholm in 2015 along with Jakob
Dworsky, champions slow fashion and focuses heavily on traceability and
transparency across the supply chain.

“Our very mission is to slow down consumption and overconsumption. We want
more people to buy fewer items and have them last longer. So joining this
project was a natural step for us,” Bard Bringéus said. “My feelings about
the fashion industry right now is that we are at a bit of a turning point
and a paradigm shift where consumers are becoming increasingly conscious
about its impact on the environment – they’re joining the dots between
purchase and climate change and we’re really feeling it right now. I feel
like Switching Gear is another step in the right direction.”

Swedish fashion chain Lindex, which was founded in Alingsås in 1954 and is
part of the Finnish Stockmann Group, is another brand involved in the
project. In April, as part of a wider sustainability promise, the retailer
pledged to implement a more circular business approach, which included
ensuring 100 percent of its materials are either recycled or sustainably
sourced by 2025.

“We decided to get involved in Switching Gear because it’s part of our
sustainability promise to have a circular business approach and of course
we naturally saw the business opportunity that it also offers,” said Malin
Kemi, the brand’s strategy and business development project manager. “I
found the day to be really inspiring, motivating and high-energy, and we’re
leaving with lots of things to think about going forward. We’ve learnt a
lot from the first masterclass; I think the sense of urgency surrounding
the subject of circularity has become even more obvious and we’ve gotten
really good models to take forward that we can work with and build on.”

The challenges of creating a circular business model

But developing and launching circular business models doesn’t come without
its challenges, especially for larger brands, something that Kemi
acknowledged. Lindex currently operates around 460 stores in 18 markets, of
which nine are franchise markets. “I think the challenge for us is that we
are a fairly big company with structured processes and ways of working and
here we have to think in an entirely new way. It’s the challenge of working
with more of a startup mentality and being willing to try new things and
not get stuck in our old ways,” Kemi said.

Dutch corporate wear specialist ETP was the third brand to get involved in
the Switching Gear project. Founded in 1995 as a division of McGregor
Fashion Group, the company specialises in the Dutch corporate wear trade
and creates outfits for companies such as travel and tourism company TUI,
bank ABN Amro and T-Mobile Nederland.

“Switching Gear offers a great opportunity to connect with a lot of
business partners and other brands who can help us share and explore
information together – to work together in the journey towards full
circularity,” said Esther Oostdijk, director of product operations at the
brand. “The best part of the first masterclass was meeting a lot of brands
already working on circularity so we could learn from their insights and
also getting to meet a lot of business partners like PwC who are working
with financial business models which can really help us develop as a brand.
It was just the start today – we’re excited to see what happens in the
coming two years.”

In partnership with Amsterdam-based sustainability initiative Fashion for
Good, the project has also established the Switching Gear Enabling Network,
a network of over 30 rental and recommerce solution providers, frontrunning
brands and topic experts, who can help the participating brands in
operationalizing their new business model. Members of the network include
companies such as ThredUP, RePack, Eileen Fisher, Style Lend, Lizee and The
Renewal Workshop, and Stuffstr.

Stuffstr is a London-based company that partners with fashion retailers to
buy-back unwanted products. “We want to be able to help companies that sell
to consumers to be able to to be more circular and to be able to get their
customers the tools they need to recirculate things,” said CEO John
Atcheson. “One of the biggest problems with that is getting companies to be
able to work through various pilots and experimentations that will lead to
trying out new circular models so we looked at Switching Gear as this
critical step to figure out how to best approach that.”

Commenting at the end of the first masterclass, Gwen Cunningham, lead of
the Circle Textiles Programme at Circle Economy, said: “Today has been
really great. The goal of this project is to help brands move away from
traditional, linear ‘take-make-waste’ models towards a new circular form of
consumption, and it’s been really exciting to see the collective ambition
during the kickoff today. We’re really excited to see what’s to

This is the first of a series of publications on Switching Gear that will
follow the project’s progress as it unpacks the challenges and opportunities
of circular business models in the apparel industry.

Photo credit: Simona Tomms

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