Interview with INA BUDDE, circular.fashion Interview with INA BUDDE, circular.fashion
Ina Budde, 32, became more and more deeply involved in the topic of sustainability in fashion over time. She discovered her passion for imparting knowledge and connecting people early on. circular.fashion, her young company, is regarded as one of the most promising sustainable startups and earned her the Global Change Award in 2019.
Interview: Uta Gruenberger
How did you get into sustainability?
When I was studying for my master’s degree in Sustainability in Fashion, I gradually came to realise something: although it would be great if all of us designers thought in terms of sustainability and designed garments that reflect that, the actual production of those garments in our existing linear system shatters all those virtuous dreams in an instant, like bursting a bubble.
I came to understand that it’s about more than just the product design. While that may be the first step, there’s a deficit at the fundamental level in that we don’t have a well-structured circular system that rescues and recycles textile waste. The basic problem is the lack of an infrastructure and appropriate business models.
What did you do next?
I dedicated my thesis to developing a holistic concept for a sustainable circular system for the fashion industry. I realised what’s missing is a platform that allows all players within the product cycle to work together and that also establishes transparency.
That’s all well and good, but then there’s the question of actually making it happen. I started building a network of possible contributors by working as a freelance consultant for sustainability and recyclable design. At the same time, I began teaching Sustainable Design and Circular Economy at various universities. Thanks to that topic, I was suddenly in high demand with various companies, universities and sustainability summits. For about five years I was constantly on the road, travelling to cities between London and Melbourne.
So sustainability was already a big talking point at the universities and in the relevant communities at that time?
Yes, but more the theory of it and the golden vision for the future. I enjoyed teaching a lot, especially being able to freely develop revolutionary concepts based on today’s industry practice. At the same time, I felt the urge to create a platform that unites all my experience and my contacts and gives me the impact to truly bring about a change. As a consultant, I’d already built up a large network of innovative, sustainable material suppliers, exceptional textile recyclers and many other stakeholders. They could hardly wait to see their ideas put into practice.
And it came home to me that my focus had to be on establishing connections and finding practical solutions for circular design and recycling infrastructures. So I put together a team, looked for a co-founder and finally established circular.fashion as a startup with Mario Malzacher in 2017.
And your slogan is “Products of today become the resources of tomorrow” …
Exactly. That’s basically circularity in the best sense of the word. If you think that only 1% of the more than 100 billion fashion items that are produced annually are looped back into new materials in a fibre-to-fibre recycling process, then you get the picture of where sustainability stands in the fashion industry today. 12% are recycled, in inferior quality at least.
And what exactly do you offer?
We offer companies everything related to recyclable fashion, from knowhow and contacts to our Circular Design Software and workshops – basically an all-round package with the latest solutions and technologies. It starts with the sourcing of materials. Our database contains hundreds of carefully selected and screened recyclable fabrics, trims and sustainable suppliers. Customers can also visit our showroom or one of our workshops if they want to see and feel the materials for themselves. Designers can get inspired by our Circular Design Guidelines and explore some best practice showcases. And when they’ve finalised their designs, we help them with the product development. This includes our Circular Product Check, which verifies that the garment is truly recyclable.
“From the circularity.ID to the interface – open data standard.”
Then, in 2019, we presented our own recycling system. It uses a so-called circularity.ID, a scannable label that can be sewn into each garment and serves as a kind of product passport. The circularity.ID allows each garment to be traced in an instant – from the origin of the raw material to its production and distribution – and is 100% transparent. Consumers can use the corresponding smartphone interface to get this information. And sorting facilities can use the circularity.ID in conjunction with our intelligent sorting software to fish out recyclable garments and pass them on to the industry for reuse or recycling.
That means it’s possible for fashion consumption to be a fully circular system. How is the market reacting to that?
We are in the fortunate situation that we don’t need to go looking for customers. The big players in the fashion industry have finally realised that sustainability is an unavoidable topic for the future. They are now investing in innovative technologies, which has brought great impetus.
Zalando, one of our major customers, is a good example. We are helping them to play a truly pioneering role on the market. In return, they can be a catalyst, an ambassador and knowledge broker for their 3,000 brands in the retail sector. In this way, a new form of collaboration is emerging for collaborative impact. After all, we all have one big, shared goal. And we put it into practice with all our partners and solutions providers. You don’t have to reinvent the world – just implement uniform standards.
So what’s still getting in the way?
There are two aspects of sustainable management that companies are often not clear on. First, they don’t get that circularity already generates real economic benefits in the medium term, on top of the essential social and industrial change. And whoever fails to catch the wave will soon realise that the era of linear business models is a thing of the past.
Second, they often lack foresight. If lots of companies started using the sustainable future technologies now, and more and more brands joined in, then the so-called “economies of scale effect” would quickly come into play and make these excellent new production and recycling methods much cheaper for everyone.
If you had one wish …
I’d send this message into the world: We already have such excellent solutions for a sustainable circular system. What we don’t have is the luxury of hesitation. We need to be bolder right now!
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