"Sustainability is being discussed everywhere these days. Yet, it needs societal implementation. In my opinion, we are in the first phase of the development of the circular economy in fashion."
The world population is growing and this is affecting the environment. To ensure there’s enough food, water and prosperity in the future, the world will need to make moves to switch from a linear to a circular economy. Fashion and recycling have worked in tandem for decades through upcycling, vintage and charity shops, but now clothing designers are becoming increasingly adventurous and creating new designs from a variety of waste products.
C&A Foundation has cottoned on to the latter fact. It is a philanthropy foundation with a mission to support programmes and initiatives that it claims will transform fashion into a fair and sustainable industry that enables everyone from farmer to factory worker to thrive.
Here, Liz Gyekye, senior content manager for Bio-Based World News, catches up with Douwe Jan Joustra, C&A Foundation’s (@CandAFund) head of circular transformation.
Liz Gyekye (LG): What’s the story behind C&A Foundation?
DJJ: We have close connections with the retail giant C&A, but we are an independently-funded foundation here to transform the fashion industry into a force for good. We are operating circular fashion, helping brands and retailers to transition to a circular economy, and we are creating better working conditions and living conditions for those working in the fashion industry. We also help to boost the use of sustainable materials, and we aim to help eradicate child and forced labour.
LG: What were you doing before taking up this role?
DJJ: I began my career in the nature management sector. Here, I worked on nature, environment and sustainable issues. Then I came into sustainable development, mainly local projects. After doing a sting here, I came to work on Cradle to Cradle in 2006, based in Dutch government. Whilst working on Cradle to Cradle, I learnt to work on circular economy issues. I then introduced this circular economy concept to the Netherlands. From that moment on, I started working on as an independent professional on circular economy. Since September 2017, I have been working for C&A Foundation as head of circular transformation. Prior to this, I have also worked for NGOs, governments and independently.
LG: Do you feel that the sustainability agenda is moving forward?
DJJ: Yes, absolutely. There are a lot of initiatives at the moment to optimise the traditional ways of working in the fashion industry. The focus on using less water, more clean energy, and using better materials. Currently, discussions are ongoing about fundamental changes in the fashion industry. There is an enormous push to get more bio-based materials in the fashion industry. From a sustainability perspective, everybody likes bio-based. There is an enormous amount of technology improvement to create a more socially acceptable, clean industry. Technical innovations are happening. A lot of process innovations are coming through.
Some small-scale examples of the process innovation, are already here. For instance, MUD Jeans is a sustainable and fair-trade certified denim brand based in the Netherlands. The main business concept of the company is to lease its bio-based jeans to the consumer. This is in order for them to keep track of where their resources and products are. They use organic cotton as feedstock and are able to regenerate the feedstock in new products. So, they see the value of their resources and take responsibility for their resources. This is an example of a new business model. And there are a lot of discussions going on at the moment, on how to transition from the linear fashion model to the circular business model.
The industry is currently looking at it, but not yet implementing it in full force. It takes time to accept these new business models.
LG: What challenges does the C&A Foundation face?
DJJ: The biggest challenge is the existing business model. There is a lot of competition going on in the fashion industry. This makes it really difficult for businesses to change their traditional business models to new business models. For some companies, it is difficult to change their business models because they are more or less in the daily rat race for existence. The competition is enormous, and this makes it very difficult for companies to change and take the time to rethink and redesign their business model. This is the main difficulty at the moment. On the other hand, consumers are also used to the existing models of fast fashion. Therefore, we are not sure how fast consumers will adopt new business models. The change can be characterised as the development of service-based concepts.
In order to create a service-based industry, you need people who are able to provide services to consumers to point them in the right direction of what type of clothing they need. The management of my wardrobe can be done by a professional, but at the moment these professionals are not yet around in the service-based industry. For example, with one of the shops I go to, the salesperson in the shop knows exactly what I want and can help me find the right things. These people have the capacity to service me, but they only do it in the shop at the moment, and not in my house. Changing the business model also changes the habit of the professional. It needs proof of concept that these will be good business models.
Sustainability is being discussed everywhere these days. Yet, it needs societal implementation. In my opinion, we are in the first phase of the development of the circular economy in fashion. The discussions are there, but some mainstream organisations are still struggling with the way they can adapt to it.
LG: What is coming up next for the C&A Foundation?
DJJ: We want to facilitate the implementation of circular business models. We also want to collate more data that shows companies that these models can be economically viable. Facilitating this implementation is our first strategic objective. The second aim is to create conditions for change, which means that we want to work out policy developments at EU level and national government level. We want to help the businesses to transition to the circular economy.
An example of a potential change that would support the development of Circular Fashion, could be the Ex’tax project. This is an independent Netherlands-based foundation that is striving towards a fundamental tax shift from labour to natural resource use. Essentially, it is a new tax system that is helping to tax resources and account for any damage to nature or the wider environment. Its aim is to spread to national governments and the rest of Europe. Consequently, companies will take more responsibility and this will help with the reuse of materials.
This will be a system change that will really develop the circular economy. In an economical sense, the service will become cheaper and materials will become more expensive.
LG: What advice would you give to somebody starting out in the sustainable fashion industry?
DJJ: You have to start with design. This is probably why I was invited to speak at your conference. You have to look at the resources that last. It’s like a tree that lasts for at least 100 years. Clothes need to be designed so the products can easily be recycled and reused. The fashion industry needs more focus on design. They need to question the quality of the product and how its fit for use and reuse. Many innovations are identified and brought together in Fashion for Good, which is an accelerator of circular fashion for many brands and industrial partners. The Fashion for Good Museum (Experience) also connects to a broad group of visitors. See: Fashion for Good
LG: What is your favourite sustainability product?
DJJ: Can I select more than one? MUD Jeans are one of my favourite bio-based products. In addition to this, C&A Cradle to Cradle jeans are great as well. These are beautiful products of a high quality. They use organic material and are dyed in a way that they benefit ecology. You are also able to reuse them again and again and again. My public transport card is also great, as I can use it in all trams, trains and metros. I can also rent a bike at every station. In a country like ours, there is no need to have a car because public transport is very efficient. That fits into a more or less sustainable lifestyle.
Douwe Jan Joustra will be speaking at this year's World Bio Markets Conference, the leading assembly for the bio-based economy, which takes place from 1-3 April in Amsterdam, the Netherlands.