Study trip to Netherlands boosted confidence in our work
The research team of the Telavalue project of Turku University of Applied Sciences went on a study trip to the world’s leading circular economy hub in the Netherlands in May 2022. The purpose of the trip was to increase know-how and to network with operators in the field. The research group members were enchanted by the promotion of biodiversity seen in the streetscape, the massive parking garage for 12,000 bikes and the charming LENA the fashion library – service for sharing clothes.
Finnish innovations as examples of responsible actors
The first day of the trip included a visit to Fashion for Good museum. The museum, which consisted of three floors, presented the past, present and future of responsible fashion. Responsible fashion is a relatively new term. Still before the 1990s, the consumption of clothes was more moderate and the quality of the materials was more sustainable.
“Before, it wasn’t so much that something is sustainable consumption. It has been more or less the norm to wear out clothes and buy less,” says Eerika Heinonen.
With fast fashion becoming more common and the problematic background of it getting more space in the headlines, more attention has been paid to responsibility. In the museum, on the floor dealing with the present of fashion, the issues which should be considered in each phase of garment’s value chain to make it more responsible, were highlighted. Examples of responsible players in the clothing industry were presented, among others, the Finnish companies Pure Waste, Metsä Group’s Kuura-fiber and Infinited Fiber Company. Bio- and recycled fibers play a big role in the future of fashion, in order to get rid of the use of virgin raw materials.
The COVID-19 pandemic had also made the big fashion houses reflect their own role as a promoter of a more sustainable fashion industry. In the future, for example, fashion weeks may be held entirely in Metaversum, in order to avoid unnecessary travel and construction related to the event.
The research group was surprised by the collector roller in the museum, in which visitors could leave not only discarded textiles but also other items. The museum did not know how to answer, when the group asked, where the donated products eventually end up and what will be made of them. Also, no information was found about the origin of the recycled materials of the products on sale at the museum, whether the products were made, for example, from discarded textiles from consumers or companies. Inka Mäkiö considers such information to be very important from a consumer’s point of view because the appreciation for products increases when you know the story behind them.
“In Finland, the starting point is to tell quite thoroughly, what material the product is made of, and also mention the partners, sort of opening up that value chain,” says Mäkiö.
New partners to explore the true effects of business models
On the second day of the trip, the research group visited the Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences AMFI, where the students’ rental wardrobe project was presented to them. The project was carried out in small groups, where each student is responsible for one area, such as design, sewing or communication. Each group manufactures one garment, which is then made in a few different sizes. The idea of the rental wardrobe project lies in the fact that the number of clothes for rent expands year by year, as the groups complete their projects. The clothes are available for rent to both students and outsiders, and the customer can write about their experience, diary-like, in the passport that comes with the clothes.
“For example, has the garment been worn on a date or abroad,” says Mäkiö.
The research team discussed, with colleagues from the fashion institute AMFI, about the possibilities of blockchains in monitoring social and environmental impacts. For example, a social material passport would enable the employee of each production stage to be able to add information to the passport with the help of blockchains, i.e. the value chain would become transparent in this way.
“Perhaps through its social chaining, the environmental perspective could also come out better, if those people only have the opportunity to talk about it openly”, reflects Mäkiö.
At AMFI, the research group found new partners with whom to explore the genuine environmental and social effects of new business models in the textile sector.
Product as a service business model polished to perfection
Lena’s Clothing Library was established in 2014. The company started by renting vintage clothes, but today the selection also includes new clothes from bigger and smaller brands. The company has various agreements with brands, for example they may have bought an older collection, and are renting it out now. Some of the designers receive a commission for the clothes rented through the library. During their eight years in business, they have had time to experiment with what is the most profitable business for them.
“The clothing rental company was really lovely and colorful. As soon as the store opened, the store was full of people,” says Marketta Virta.
The price of membership in a clothing rental company is a one-time payment of €10, and after that clothes can be rented for a daily price of €0.25–€1, depending on the item of clothing. Virta praises Lena’s Clothing Library as interesting, precisely because borrowing does not require a monthly membership. If you suddenly in need of a shirt, for example, you can just go and rent one. The store owner that their customers rent clothes for an average of €50 per month.
During the trip, arose a reflection on how important it is to consider fashion in the circular economy – whether it interests you or not. Piia Nurmi suspects that the Telaketju network has perhaps focused too much on technical solutions and the conversation with the fashion world has remained minimal.
“Since consumer demand must change, the fashion world cannot be the enemy, but change must be made together,” says Nurmi.
During the trip, the research group also visited SDG House, where more than 60 different companies, NGOs and organizations promoting circular economy. Operators working in a castle-like office building are required to commit to the UN’s sustainable development goals.
At SDG House, the research team met the employees of Circle Economy’s Textiles Program, with whom they have collaborated for six months in the PaaS Pilots project. The Circular toolbox developed by them, was utilized in the construction of the project pilot.
Finland is at the forefront of circular economy
Before the trip, the Telavalue research group had looked up to the actors promoting circular economy in the Netherlands, and considered Finland in the position of a “little sister” in relation to the Netherlands. However, the trip made them realize that even though there are really great things being done in circular economy in the Netherlands, the difference compared to Finland is no longer so great. On the contrary, in some matters we are even ahead. In particular, cooperation between different organizations seems to be more wide-ranging in Finland than in the Netherlands.
“Really interesting things are being done in Finland and our activities are internationally significant,” says Nurmi.
The trip served as a reminder of how useful it is to meet other people working in circular economy. You don’t always have to go abroad, because there are plenty of people in Finland from whom you can learn something new.