Systems thinking

Be transparent and work together

introduction

Did you know?
Belgians and Dutch are not willing to work for 1 euro a day. Yet this is the minimum wage in Bangladesh.

It’s only common sense that one party (be it an NGO, a designer, retailer, producer or even a consumer) can’t possibly make a change that affects an entire system. This chicken and egg issue comes up in every conversation with people from the fashion industry. The only possible conclusion is that no one has the right to be a follower, nor the explicit duty to be the first mover. We’ll have to work this out together, preferably simultaneously and while keeping the conversation going.
 

SO, WHAT CAN I DO?

All of this may perhaps seem self-evident, but in reality it’s not. The fashion sector is not (yet) used to collaborating, though things are starting to change. At the same time, there is a growing awareness of these matters among customers and in society in general.

Awareness and the will to change are key. Yet what about other prerequisites for turning the entire supply chain around? How can you prepare for this as an entrepreneur?

It’s crucial to know everyone that’s involved in your story. Producers, manufacturers, designers, retailers, recyclers, but also the government, investors, clients, researchers … they all have their effect on your final product, no matter how small. When you take a good look, you’ll start seeing connections you previously missed, which facilitates changes in terms of impact, interdependencies and so forth. Stay in touch with trends in the industry and find out how they will affect your business. It’s not hard to see why transparency and an open communication will help you gain insight and make changes.

In a chain system we’re quick to point the finger at the other and accuse them of slowing down change. Talking to each other and finding out there’s a structural problem often helps, as does collaborating. For a collaboration to succeed, members have to be on the same page and have to be able to trust each other completely.

The circular economy is all about producing differently and producing for a better future, keeping materials and resources in the loop as long as possible and giving them more than one life. All of this has to be done without causing any harm to the environment -- or to be more precise: it has to have a positive effect on the environment. This kind of circular thinking can’t do without corporate social responsibility.

To conclude, the supply chain obviously consists of numerous players that have to be connected to each other. You can also make a difference by looking into the way these connections are organized (like logistics, transportation and other practical matters you just can’t ignore in the fashion business).

strategies for Systems thinking

Know the entire lifecycle of your product

In the circular economy it’s important to design with long life in mind. You can do this either by keeping your product in the loop as long as possible, or by providing possibilities for a second life. These are actually decisions that you make right at the start of the design process.

All too often, however, designers restrict themselves to only one aspect -- a beautiful design -- without having an overview of the entire lifecycle of a garment. Clothes go through various phases in their lives: from choice of resources and design, to production and retail, and eventually consumption and end of life. Obviously, each phase affects the next, making it worthwhile to obtain at least some basic knowledge of every phase in the process, such as the recyclability of certain materials, for instance. As a designer or maker you’re at the very heart of the creation of a new item; the way clothes are designed and what they’re made of greatly influences the rest of their lives -- perhaps even more than you might think.

In the circular economy, then, you need to keep every phase in mind while designing, creating added value by means of a few well-chosen strategies. So it pays off to look over the fence every once in awhile, rather than limiting your focus to your own part of the chain. Therefore, two main principles of the circular economy are collaboration and transparency.

tips&tricks

  • Know your product inside out - be critical
    Make sure you know exactly how your product is made, from beginning to end. Go through all the steps, which are also listed on the homepage of thi…
    Read more

  • Organizations, nonprofits, research and learning centers
    Subscribe to the newsletters or follow these organizations on social media: Belgium:     Netwerk Bewust Verbruiken     Schone Kleren Cam…
    Read more

  • Tools for entrepreneurs
    Higg Index - Sustainable Apparel Coalition De Higg Index is a tool developed by the Sustainable Apparel Coalition for the purpose of measuring…
    Read more

  • Shopping guides
    Rank a Brand Rank a Brand is an online platform that helps consumers in their search for sustainable brands (from clothing to electronics, tel…
    Read more

  • Trainings and workshops
    Royal College of Art (London) Textiles Programme The Royal College of Art or RCA is a public research university in London that offers 26 dis…
    Read more

  • Fairs, conferences and events
    Copenhagen Fashion Summit Strawberry Earth Fair - Amsterdam Future Fabrics Expo - London Greenshowroom - Berlin Ethical Fashion Show - Ber…
    Read more

Discover the other tips & tricks

Co-create, cooperate, collaborate

Rather than an NDA (non-disclosure agreement), a DA (disclosure agreement) is typical for the circular economy. After all, there’s so much we can learn by talking to others. Though it’s perfectly fine to be creative on your own, collaborations often generate a bigger innovative impact.

Collabs between companies, brands and designers are hardly new, but they are gaining strength these days as a principle that’s heartily embraced by the circular economy and its systems thinking. This makes perfect sense: if you want to influence every part of the chain, you just can’t do it alone.

This new idea of collective design has interdisciplinarity written all over it. Clients are getting more and more outspoken, frequently challenging enterprises to invest in several aspects. For instance, quality is no longer the sole requirement; an honest production also counts. Or do you want to go for that second life, or do something with surpluses? Perhaps someone else specializes in these matters, so you don’t have to reinvent the wheel.

A collaboration tends to have a positive effect on a brand’s creative reputation and relevance. In addition, every partner brings his own audience, which is bound to result in an increased market share and can generate big changes. Moreover, such a new concept or product will often have a value that is greater than the sum of both parties.

From Somewhere is one of these small labels that have gained recognition thanks to successful collaborations. The brand works with every possible type of leftovers: production cut-offs that they get straight from producers and manufacturers, stocks, discarded fabrics … They turn this ‘waste’ into new, fashionable clothing. In collaboration with Top Shop, they’ve launched Reclaim to Wear, a concept that has turned out well for both parties. The small label has gained ground, while the popular capsule collections provide Top Shop with an answer to a growing group of critical and conscious shoppers.

Yet cooperating is not just a matter of course; it should be all about creating a good and sensible match. Moreover, efficient, streamlined communication is also important.

This platform-based way of working comes in many different shapes, such as Makersrow.com, which helps you find all the people you need to carry out your idea, from pattern maker to manufacturer. This new idea of ‘collective’ design has interdisciplinarity written all over it.

tips&tricks

  • Explore possibilities for collaboration
    A sustainable economy asks for collaboration. As a small player, think about how to facilitate things by working together with your friendly rival…
    Read more

  • Maker’s Row - American production platform offering tips & tricks
    The American platform Maker’s Row not only makes it easy to find manufacturers within the USA; it also offers tips and tricks on issues related to…
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Work towards the right infrastructure and logistics

Ecological and economic profit often lie in small things you may not immediately think of. A change in shipping methods and means of transportation, or even in the energy source used at the office, can make a huge difference.

RETAIL AND E-COMMERCE

The market share of e-commerce continues to grow; consumers are ordering more and more online, with the number of sales via smartphones growing even faster than those via laptops or pcs. Click-and-collect systems are also gaining in popularity. The idea is that customers can order their products online, but still collect them in physical stores. In case they can’t make it to the store, they do expect home delivery at little or no extra cost.

It’s not hard to see why some labels can no longer be bothered with opening physical stores. Reformation, for one, asserts that e-commerce requires 30% less energy as compared to traditional retail stores. In addition, you need just a small space to put your items on display, making it possible to share bigger spaces with other businesses.

When you decide to go for a clothing boutique after all, it’s a good idea to use energy efficient devices and recycled clothes hangers, to work with reusable shopping bags … you name it!

In addition, coming up with a strategy to reduce stock levels or surpluses can also make a difference. Perhaps production on demand is an interesting option? You might also give your stock a second life by cooperating with other companies. (See End of life.)

 
OFFICE OR STUDIO

Try to implement the most eco-efficient technologies available. As a circular entrepreneur, make sure to go for a building that’s as green as possible, and to reduce waste as well as water and energy use to the absolute minimum.
Perhaps you can also literally go green, or grow your own vegetables for lunch.

 
PACKAGING AND MARKETING

Little details like office supplies, paper, pens, furniture, packaging materials and cleaning products all have their impact, no matter how small. It makes sense, then, to insist on using products made from recycled materials, or that are themselves recyclable or biodegradable.

 
LOGISTICS 2.0?

Some enterprises take it one step further, selling patterns instead of products. This computer-driven process enables them to produce locally, and to stay close to the consumer. What this means is that customers can print their patterns at home (or at least have them printed not far from their homes) and then get to work with them.
The popularity of this technology is expected to increase. What’s to gain? Production can be crossed off your list of things to worry about, as well as logistics. Create one pattern, and let the world wide web do the rest.

tips&tricks

  • Sustainable printing
    There are a few no-effort options to reduce the environmental impact of your printing. Keep these quick wins in mind: Print only when nece…
    Read more

  • Take the CSR-test
    To get an idea of where your company stands in terms of respect to sustainability or corporate social responsibility (CSR) -- and to find out if t…
    Read more

  • Don’t lose sight of your transportation costs and infrastructure
    While it is crucial to think about the entire lifecycle of the products you make, there are a few additional things that you’ve got to keep in min…
    Read more

  • NICE - Code of Conduct
    The Nordic Fashion Association provides online guidance to attain a more ethical, responsible and sustainable textile and fashion industry. To…
    Read more

  • SUSTAINABLE MARKETING: FROM STUFF TO STORY
    Sustainable marketing probably reminds you of environmentally friendly labels and packaging materials, or recycled paper leaflets. Such initiative…
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CSR is a must

The European Commission has defined CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) as ‘a concept whereby companies integrate social and environmental concerns in their business operations and in their interaction with their stakeholders on a voluntary basis’. According to the EC, corporate social responsibility concerns actions by companies that go beyond their legal obligations towards society and the environment.

Seeing that CSR requires an engagement of both internal and external stakeholders, it helps organizations anticipate and respond to the changing demands of clients, who are becoming more critical about working conditions and other factors. For companies, CSR has become the point from where to start bonding with their customers.

For instance, ever since the Bangladesh factory disaster, working conditions in the fashion industry have come under scrutiny. As a retailer, you’d better be prepared to discuss such matters with your clients.

The Ethical Fashion Forum steps it up a notch: They define ethical fashion as ‘an approach to the design, sourcing and manufacture of clothing which maximizes benefits to people and communities while minimizing impact on the environment.’ Going beyond a passive do-no-harm principle, they feel the right approach is an active one; your enterprise has to take an active role in poverty reduction, sustainable livelihood creation, as well as minimizing environmental impact.

Their criteria for ethical fashion entrepreneurship are:

  • Countering fast, cheap fashion and the damaging effects of fashion consumption
  • Defending fair wages, working conditions and workers’ rights
  • Supporting sustainable living environments
  • Addressing toxic chemical use
  • Using and/or developing eco-friendly fabrics and components
  • Minimizing water use
  • Recycling, addressing energy efficiency and avoiding waste
  • Developing or promoting sustainability standards for fashion
  • Launch awareness-raising initiatives
  • Protecting animal welfare

Due to increasing globalization, the production process is often scattered across the world, with production, logistics and distribution sometimes concentrated in completely different countries and regions. Global retailers have a hard time maintaining one global standard for safety, working conditions and ecological sustainability, while also keeping an eye on the quality of their product. And yet more and more retailers are taking on this challenge.

tips&tricks

  • MVO Vlaanderen (CSR Flanders)
    Go to the website of MVO Vlaanderen (CSR Flanders) to find out all there is to know about corporate social responsibility.
    Read more

  • Take the CSR-test
    To get an idea of where your company stands in terms of respect to sustainability or corporate social responsibility (CSR) -- and to find out if t…
    Read more

  • Terminology
    Bio-eco-vegan-fairtrade … What’s in a name? When you’re lost in semantics, make sure to check the website of Eco Fashion World or the glossary of …
    Read more

  • Ethical Fashion Forum - The SOURCE - Global Platform for Sustainable Fashion
    The SOURCE is an online platform launched by the Ethical Fashion Forum. It offers a range of tools and services for professionals in the fashion a…
    Read more

  • NICE - Code of Conduct
    The Nordic Fashion Association provides online guidance to attain a more ethical, responsible and sustainable textile and fashion industry. To…
    Read more

  • Better Cotton Initiative - global standards for cotton
    The Better Cotton Initiative (BCI) is a nonprofit organization that strives for global standards for better cotton. With headquarters in Switzerla…
    Read more

  • Trainings and workshops
    Royal College of Art (London) Textiles Programme The Royal College of Art or RCA is a public research university in London that offers 26 dis…
    Read more

Discover the other tips & tricks

Be transparent

The circular economy puts supply chain collaboration center stage. In an ideal world, everything is shared and reused: not only energy, resources and people, but also knowledge, capacities and technology. As a fashion entrepreneur you usually direct your energy to one specific part of the chain, yet collaborations allow you to create a product that scores well on all fronts.

More and more often, organizations are confronted with consumer questions about their concepts, products, services, supply chain and cost structure. Everything has to be transparent and needs to be traceable to its source. Less transparency arouses suspicion in today’s critical and outspoken clients and is thus likely to result in customer churn.

So if you, as is customary in the circular economy, take full responsibility for the entire lifecycle of your product, or if you want to invest in corporate social responsibility throughout the supply chain, you’ll have to team up with organizations with a similar mindset and way of working. This calls for a certain transparency regarding procedures, chains, rates.

However, don’t be naive and work out an agreement on intellectual property rights (and plights). Good agreements make good friends.

tips&tricks

  • Explore possibilities for collaboration
    A sustainable economy asks for collaboration. As a small player, think about how to facilitate things by working together with your friendly rival…
    Read more

  • NICE - Code of Conduct
    The Nordic Fashion Association provides online guidance to attain a more ethical, responsible and sustainable textile and fashion industry. To…
    Read more

  • Know your labels
    Labelinfo.be offers a useful overview of sustainability labels. You can select lifestyle and clothing to limit the scope to those labels that are …
    Read more

  • Know your product inside out - be critical
    Make sure you know exactly how your product is made, from beginning to end. Go through all the steps, which are also listed on the homepage of thi…
    Read more

  • Tools for entrepreneurs
    Higg Index - Sustainable Apparel Coalition De Higg Index is a tool developed by the Sustainable Apparel Coalition for the purpose of measuring…
    Read more

  • Shopping guides
    Rank a Brand Rank a Brand is an online platform that helps consumers in their search for sustainable brands (from clothing to electronics, tel…
    Read more

  • How transparant are the labels you wear?
    Fashion Transparancy Index A review of 100 of the biggest global fashion brands and retailers ranked according to how much they disclose about…
    Read more

Discover the other tips & tricks

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