We sat down with sustainable fashion leaders that are shifting paradigms and implementing a closed loop life cycle - from supply chain to recycling and repurposing. Here are a few key take aways on what other brands are doing, from design to supply chain to creating new products. We talk to Gonzalo Pertile of Madewell, Maggie Marilyn of Maggie Marilyn, Natasha Franck of EON about reducing textile waste at small, medium, and large supply chains - moderated by Sarah Spellman of Vogue. By gaining multiple perspectives in deadstock, innovation, and sourcing, we challenge the traditional linear economy model. Here are a few of our standout moments and key takeaways. The panel transcription has been edited and summarized for clarity.
How do you define a circular economy?
Natasha: A circular economy is a system of use and reuse - it is a business model that enables businesses to design into a circular system.
Gonzalo: Parting ways with a traditional linear model of use and discard and making sure that you are able to keep the materials in use as much as possible. Once you reach end of life of product, look for ways to reuse and recycle old materials into a new material. Design is the first mile of the product, if you're incorporating ways from the beginning that a model can be designed out - so once you get to the end you can reuse it again.
Maggie: Circularity is designing to a system that's restorative. For our new line, we had to go back to school and ask ourselves: how do we design a product keeping in mind a full life cycle of a garment?
Natasha, could you walk us through what EON does?
Natasha: Eon is an end-to-end product digitization platform. Essentially, for a business, we identify every item. When we treat products as assets, we identify it. Brands have always categorized products for supply chain, but once that product is sold, they remove the identifier from the product because there's no way to track its and there's no end of life system. What EON does is we work with the brand to ID that product and embed that identity of the product such that it can be ID'ed beyond that point of sale. we view circular economy as the largest global logistics challenge. we know we all play a part in ensuring that - and EON believes it starts at identity.
Stuart and Chloe, in the recycling process for Thousand Fell, how much of the shoe do you estimate that you lose in turning one into another?
Stuart: About 80% of the shoe gets recycled into a new shoe. The other 20% are things like the foot board that's made from palm tree leaf and coconut husk that gets composted. The most important part of the design process is that we started with our recycling team - the recycling partners on the R&D team selected every material starting two years ago.
Chloe: The way that a circular economy is ever going to work on a large scale is if both the consumers and the business benefit by something being returned and so we have to change the mindset of a consumer with a product saying, for example my sweatshirt is Nike, "I own this" to "I co-own this with Nike". I'm owning the product as long as I want, but when I'm ready to turn it back Nike wants the value of this material back because they designed into it, they sourced it, they can make something new with it and maybe make something new with it with the costs of goods sold.
Gonzalo, for a company like Madewell with so much name recognition, what does circularity look like with a company that didn't start as a circular company?
Gonzalo: What we're looking at in particular are ways that we can keep denim out of landfills and help our customers to use their denim as long as possible. So we offer repair services in store. That's how we see the circular economy making sure you're able to make the best use out of one product and extend the life cycle of product. But then we also know that customers fall out of love with product - so we give consumers an adoption to return old denim to us so that it doesn't end up in a landfill. It's call (link to this landing page)Blue Jeans Go Green. Through this program we've been able to recycle 1 million pairs of jeans.
Maggie, how do you approach pricing somewhere as a sustainable line but also as an accessible diffusion line?
Maggie: We learned a lot from predominately beginning as a wholesale business and not much revenue came from DTC prior to our new line - there are challenges in the wholesale system of partners that are 'clipping the ticket', making it more expensive to the end consumer. I started receiving emails from customers about how much they love Maggie Marilyn and wanted to buy into our shared values but it wasn't something they could afford. That was a lightbulb for me - that I had created a brand with sustainable values but not a brand that everyone could afford. Why should sustainability be a luxury? I knew I wanted to create a line of affordable essentials. Our Somewhere line is a DTC offering so we managed to get that price point by simplifying each product and cutting out the middleman of traditional retail model and going straight to the consumer.
What are you planning next for MM?
We're doing a new release this September - but what I wanted to focus on is slowing down the cycle of producing new and putting out new product which was one of my frustrations with our main line. It doesn't allow for fabric innovation and product innovation. For our Somewhere line we've decided we're only going to do one launch a year so we have a whole year of R&D.
What are some of the roadblocks that brands face in transitioning to a circular business model and what are some of the limitations of circularity?
Gonzalo: From a large brand perspective, there are some technologies that aren't ready for implementation at a larger scale. Although there are solutions, they aren't market ready. What we do at Madewell is we follow very closely innovations but we know that our brand wouldn't be ready to implement technologies at a large scale. We try to adopt things that easy to incorporate in our collections - there are little steps that help in moving towards a circular future.
Natasha: The customer is a stakeholder in the value chain. We talk about supply chain transparency and its about tracking that product through design, development, logistics, to point of sale. Now, the custodian of the product is the consumer. We have to ask how do we engage the customer and ensure that they have the right information so that they can make sure the product gets to the right place? How do we make them care?
Chloe and Stuart: The main issues we ran into as a small company was scale and price. When we started our sourcing journey for materials, we probably tested 40 different versions and our eighth iteration of leather. We landed on that option because it could allow us to affordable create the product.
From large to small businesses and everything in between, circularity isn't just about recycling. Anything that diverts a product from a landfill is a step in the right direction towards the circular economy. That's anything from repair to keep products in use longer, resale and being able to keep value within the product as long as possible, as well as recycling. To view how Thousand Fell is committed to social responsibility.