Sharing economy and circular economy have been some of the most trending buzzwords in the startup community – the business models that industry after industry is adapting. Yet fashion seems to be quite slow to take full advantage of these innovative ways of distribution and consumption.
Even though sharing and circular economy may seem like two different concepts they definitely intertwine with each other. In simple terms, sharing economy utilises recourses that have unused capacity. Like when you rent your spare room on AirBnB or take Uber or Lyft. However, circular economy can be understood in the framework where products are used as long as possible whilst extracting the maximum value from them and simultaneously recovering and regenerating the materials at the end of each service lifetime.
For someone new to this it would mean fully rethinking the way we consume, utilise and purchase things. But in the world that is becoming increasingly environmentally conscious it presents a strategy that does not make businesses to choose between sustainability and financial gains because sharing and circularity would mean that you can have both.
This is reflected through more durable and easily disposable product design which would also provide longer lasting service aka more user cycles. It would allow to reuse already existing recourses and raw materials instead of paying for extracting new ones. In three words – it makes sense.
Clearly like any change it takes time for technology to advance and consumption pattern to change, therefore, it is vital to nurture the young startups that are innovating and tapping into this new way of consuming.
This is where we met Sara Arnold, the founder of Higher – a subscription based clothing rental service. She explains company’s ethos as follows: “Essentially a clothes rental that works as a subscription where you decide how many items you want to access at a time, either 1,2 or 3, and then you can swap those as often as you like. The idea is to have a new way of consuming. It is almost like having a library access. But the reason why I didn’t want to go for straight forward rental was because you are always thinking about it as a cost that you compere with buying something,” points out Sara.
What I am hoping and what I think is going to happen in the future, also what you have seen happening in many other industries now is that we don’t want to own so much stuff but we still want to have a lot of choice and that is what is holding back the clothing industry but through this it is possible to have that.
Whilst being one of the Business Of Fashion Future Voices and graduate from two prestige universities – Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design and Imperial College London she has gained vast knowledge in both sectors – fashion, entrepreneurship and innovation that she urges to consolidate in order to have a refreshing attempt on creating more sustainable fashion industry but this time through innovation.
We shouldn’t be selling a sacrifice, instead we should be selling something that is more desirable, a more progressive product. Through the circular business model and renting it all points to the efficiency of your recourses rather than obsolescence. I hope that it is what would happen in the future that all brands would rent stuff instead of selling it; and what I could be is the platform on where to do that.
“I am quite a sceptical person. When I thought about how do I make the industry more sustainable to me this seemed like the optimal way to do it but I was like… hmm will anyone really want to do this? So yeah, I was sceptical of my own design.” In this case it was essential to market and test the idea and also hear the feedback which was more positive than Sara expected. “I had one person that did it for 6 months consistently. Because she works in a gallery and she likes to go to work looking good. Before she would be saving up and spending her money on one statement item each season. What renting was enabling her to do was to come back to me every few weeks to change her items and every few weeks she was going to work and they would be like: “Oh wow what are you wearing?” So you get that social approval which is quite addictive and before you were waiting 6 month to get that kind of feeling and now you are getting it every few weeks.” Another observation was that people became more experimental because there wasn’t that commitment anymore. “When we shop we have this thinking, ok, this costs this much, how many times am I going to wear it. It is like a big commitment which often makes us to make more conservative choices of what we buy.” As being passionate about fashion design Sara would also see the advantage from the designers point of view. This model would give space for the designers to be more creative and less thinking what would be simply commercially viable.
Sara explains that the sustainable fashion industry often has this stance that they are working slightly against the establishment. However, what she noticed whilst participating in the Business of Fashion Future Voices is that everyone wants a change. “There was really a lot of feeling that even the big companies – everybody needs to be innovating, everybody needs to be agile of things. This is the time to really do things differently.”
Find more about circular economy: Ellen MacArthur Foundation