A circular, rather than linear, economy may be the solution to many of our environmental problems. A circular turn requires businesses to rethink how their business operations are organized. When striving for circularity, businesses have to take into account where their resources come from and what happens to their products after use, i.e. the end-of-life of products. This is all good. Since the circular economy has become so popular lately, however, we also find some myths within this debate. I’ve found at least three.
Renting or leasing is more circular than owning. Circular companies sell services (or ‘functionality’) rather than products. This is not universally true, as Agrawal, Ferguson, Toktay and Thomas (2012) have shown. Renting or leasing is not automatically more environmentally friendly. Moreover, changing your business to a service instead of selling a product may be costly for the business, as discussed at a workshop for Vinnova-funded research projects in January. Most importantly, whether you own or lease a product says nothing about the circularity of the product itself i.e. if it is recyclable. The electric scooters that people rent are a prime example of this fact.
Companies need a ‘circular business model’ to become circular. To the opposite, in our Vinnova research project, we found that most companies did not change their business model. Instead, they collaborated with others to achieve circularity for some part of their business, to achieve circular packaging or waste flows, for example. In many cases, companies depend on markets for circular materials, what some call ‘open loops’.
Circularity is achieved through technical solutions. We definitely need technical solutions but they also require that customers and consumers behave a certain way, in order to close the loop. For example, when products have been used, they have to be returned somehow to be able to be reused or recycled. Financial incentives, such as deposit-refund systems, are efficient and get customers to return used products, but convenience is equally important and not least learnt social behavior. Thus new technical solutions have to be matched with necessary behavioral change to work. This is quite often overlooked in the circular economy debate.
It’s a tradition now, to summarise my slow fashion year. I started this tradition the first year of my no-shopping challenge and while doing so I also made a wardrobe audit i.e. calculated all the clothes in my wardrobe and put them into an excel sheet. Since then, I have a very good overview of what I own and keep track of how much is added to and leaves the wardrobe each year. But my wardrobe statistics do not stop there, in fact this was just the beginning. The second year without shopping I started keeping track of how much time I spent mending clothes each month as well as how much money I spend at the dry cleaner (paying for mending and cleaning) and also at the shoemaker.
As if this was not enough, during 2018 I also started using the app Cladwell, inspired by slow fashion guru Elizabeth Cline. This app took my wardrobe statistics to another level as I now know how many times I wear each item in my wardrobe, which colors I wear more and which combinations of clothes I wear the most. I log my outfits, as on the picture, in the app daily and check my statistics unnecessarily often (so proud that I wear 98% of my wardrobe!).
Do you need all of these statistics and apps to do slow fashion or for a year no-shopping? Of course not. It’s absolutely not necessary. I didn’t start this way either. But on the other hand, if like me, you are the type that enjoys numbers and statistics, or also admired Alicia Silverstone’s computerized wardrobe in Clueless in your teenage years, then go ahead and do a wardrobe audit and/or use a wardrobe app that keeps track of the wardrobe and suggests outfits for you. Slow fashion should be fun and stress free. Not shopping reduces stress and saves time for me. The app helps me to get creative with what I own and to come up with outfits I didn’t think of before.
So what did I learn from all these numbers and tracking, what happened in my wardrobe during 2019? On the inflow side, I made two items. I sewed an Ogden cami in some silk fabric I bought and a Twiggy dress from a torn Laura Ashley duvet and dyed it with onion skins. I didn’t knit anything for myself, quite an achievement for an avid knitter. I was gifted some stockings from family members who know that this is always welcome as I don’t shop but wear a lot of stockings. I inherited four items from my mom. New this year is that I bought a bit of underwear for myself, choosing more sustainable alternatives such as Swedish Stockings. As I noted at the beginning of this year, it’s silly to ask others to buy for me just to keep the no-shopping record. Moreover, this year, like previous ones, I overestimated the need to buy clothing and apart from underwear, I’ve kept the no-shopping habit. In total, 28 items were added to the wardrobe, which is similar to last year.
On the outflow side, 38 items left the wardrobe, 8 more than last year. I sold a few items (on tradera, on commission at second hand stores and Vestiaire Collective) and gave a few to family members. I recycled some (mainly stockings in Swedish Stockings recycling program). I wore out and threw away 25 items (always after already mending), which is also similar to last year. I unravelled two knitwear, using this tutorial, and recovered the yarn so I can use it to knit with. In total, I am finally under 540 items, at 538, in my wardrobe, which feels like an achievement. At this rate, I will wear out my wardrobe in 54 years’ time, by the age of 90.
In the mending department, I spent approximately 3h mending during the whole year. It’s half the time I spent mending last year. This is very much a sign that my mending pile is now of a reasonable size. When I got interested in slow fashion, I had years of accumulated mending needs, i.e. lots of clothing in the wardrobe that needed mending in some measure. These past two years, it’s seemed as if mending is never ending. At some point, I decided to prioritize clothes in season when mending, as a season could go by and I couldn’t wear certain items because they were stuck in the endless mending pile. But, finally, things have changed and I’m up to date. I only have three or four items waiting to be mended, also an achievement.
As for outsourcing of mending and cleaning, I have spent 3800 SEK at the dry cleaner, also less than last year. A big part of those 3800 SEK went to changing the lining of a 1980s coat I once inherited from my mom. Basically, I could have bought a new cheap coat at the same price but chose to hand in the old one to get a new lining. It’s a decent coat, made in England, you couldn’t get that today for the 1600 SEK I spent on the lining. In terms of shoe repair, I only spent 500 SEK which is also less than last year.
To summarise, my friends, things are looking good. I am getting closer to a manageable size wardrobe that I might even wear out during my lifetime. I’m getting closer to a number of items that might actually fit in my cabinet and drawers. I wear most of my clothes on a regular basis. I spend very little money and time on the wardrobe. When I do spend time on it, it’s because I enjoy sewing/knitting things for myself. And, to tell the truth, I have been looking forward to writing this review of my wardrobe/slow fashion year for months. It’s one of my favorite end-of-the-year things to do. So big thanks to you people who read and ask how my no-shopping commitment is going, as I love to tell.
Lively discussion of the week: researchers debating the climate impact of meat. A large group of researchers at Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU) wrote that ruminants, such as cows, have an important role in food production in Sweden and criticized the life-cycle analyses the climate calculations often are based on. Today Chalmers researchers responded. The SLU researchers study animal husbandry, whereas the Chalmers researchers belong to a space, geoscience and environment department at Chalmers. Despite this fact, the engineers accused the agricultural researchers for speaking about things “outside of their expertise” when discussing food and climate impact. The engineer researchers, one of them a former animal rights activist, also called the SLU researchers “animal researchers”. The debate is getting heated.
Swedish sustainability manager of the year was awarded yesterday to Anna Denell at Vasakronan. My researcher colleague Tommy Borglund was part of the jury.
While Tommy was handing out prices, I attended the release of SB Insight report of the Nordic market for circular economy. The report shows some interesting trends, for example that the awareness of what circular economy is is much greater in Finland than in Sweden.
It’s October and breast cancer awareness month. And every year some of us wish that there would be a discussion about carcinogenic and hormone-disrupting substances in products instead of selling these products under the pink ribbon label. I can’t find a word on the Swedish site about carcinogenic substances. In contrast, I think we need to discuss this issue much more. Such a discussion would benefit the companies that face out harmful substances proactively, before regulation forces them to do so.
Overall, EU might do a better job than the US in regulating harmful substances but is still far from perfect. Sometimes the replacements are not necessarily better than the original substance, as these researchers discuss. Interestingly, the researchers found that people eating out are more exposed to the harmful substances because for example restaurants use packaging not allowed for individual customers.
What else can we do? Be careful about personal care products. Avoid packaging when possible. Here I see the zero waste movement as an inspiration. Using refillable mugs, you avoid the BPA in paper cups. Shopping at the farmers market, you get your vegetables in paper bags instead of individually wrapped plastic. And obviously, not buying new stuff, when you don’t really need to, is not only cheap but reduces your chemical exposure too.
‘I own so many things, I probably don’t need to buy anything for the rest of my life’.
This thought hit me while looking into my wardrobe yesterday. Unable to shake off this thought, I made up my mind. I will only use what’s in my wardrobe for a year. Then I will see if it is true. If I really don’t have any need for ‘new’ items. If it is only desire, identity and social impulses that make me buy new things (which this podcast discusses so well).
I used to be a passionate shopper, although somewhere in the back of my head aware about the issues in the fashion industry. I guess I thought buying more expensive items meant less environmental and social issues. I’ve since learnt that it isn’t necessarily so. Price isn’t a good indicator of quality production.
I finally decided to do something with the knowledge I had. I took on a sustainable fashion challenge during Autumn 2015, and since then I only buy sustainably produced garments. You can find how I defined ‘sustainably produced’ here. Acting in new ways during six month efficiently changed my habits. Of course, I’ve had at least one relapse (staying away from the sales still requires self-discipline!). But otherwise, how I acted during the sustainable fashion challenge describes well my current purchasing behaviour. As a result, I buy much less clothing (maybe five in a year) and I’ve saved money, a bonus.
Since Autumn 2015, I’ve learnt a lot more about the textile trash issue in society. From what I’ve read, throwing or giving away what you’ve once bought is not sustainable. So personally, I want to limit my contribution to the textile trash problem. This means taking responsibility for what I own by using it, mending it or refashioning if it doesn’t fit anymore.
How will I practically manage a year without clothes shopping? I will use what I have and if there is a clear need for something, I am allowed to make it myself. Making it myself means knitting or sewing or some other technique I haven’t learnt yet.
But as visualised in my homemade ‘Sewarchy’, focus should really be on the lower parts of the pyramid: on mending what I have. Making new items from scratch should be rare events. Luckily I am a very slow maker. I am not able to sew or knit so many things in a year.
The only exception to the no-buying rule is gifts to others. And then I will aim for sustainably produced items.
Has anyone similar experiences? Please share your thoughts!