'WE ARE BECAUSE EARTH IS.'
Next to learning from pioneers in the fashion world, we at Good Brand Guru, are keen on learning from experts in other industries too. Many industries grapple with similar issues regarding technology, improving logistics, developing more sustainable services and systems, and more. Christina Vestey, founder of platform CoEvolve, keeps her eye on all types of companies that seek to offer products or services that fit into a circular economy. Although her background isn't in fashion, it is always insightful to hear her vision and experiences looking into what is going on in other categories. This month, we asked Christina a few questions to share with you.
Tell us about yourself, your past, present and your future ambitions? How are you driving change through the projects you initiate or are involved in?
For many years before moving to Switzerland, I designed and produced clothes and homewares in India, working with small communities led by women using traditional textile methods. There I saw first hand the impact of the urban pull that drives many families apart, often leading them into greater poverty. I also saw the impact of educating women in such communities and the social and economic upliftment it brought.
When we moved to Switzerland, I was unable to continue my business and decided to focus my energies on giving young women access to education by providing interest free loans so they could go to university. I founded Seed Community . By chance, I was given the opportunity to pilot this project in Johannesburg, which changed the course of my work for the past nine years. As I got to know the students on the loan program, I came to see the challenges facing girls in South Africa. It led me to take them on a road trip to explore other young women's experiences, and we made a documentary film called GirlZtalk. What struck me most was the silence, that for many, it was the first time they had the opportunity to share their stories and challenges. We started GirlZtalk, an online platform for girls where we share information with girls so they can make informed choices. It has become the fastest growing platform for girls in Southern Africa.
Alongside my passion for education is a deep respect for the environment. In 2017, I set up a small training college in Johannesburg with the support of the Hilti Foundation. Our focus has been teaching the underemployed practical skills that have a positive environmental impact and how to turn these skills into a business. Now CoEvolve has emerged as I feel it is also time to do something locally.
"CoEvolve is just another way I can create a pathway to connect people to sustainable living and to support a growing shift towards the circular economy. "
I continue to lead a double life with my work days split between working on these projects. During these past few months I have set up another project in Johannesburg to address the growing issue of food security. We have been creating organic, food gardens with vulnerable families in communities. It is called the Ubuntu Project. The word ‘ubuntu‘, resonates a lot with me. It means, ‘I am because you are.’ I like to extend it to, ‘ We are because the earth is.’ We cannot separate ourselves from one another nor from mother nature. It is with this belief that I approach all of the projects I establish and CoEvolve is no exception.
About CoEvolve. What does your platform do and what was the main driver for you to launch this platform?
Living in Switzerland, I have struggled to find a place where I can access businesses whose core focus is sustainability. Whether it be fashion brands, food stores, homewares, sharing platforms, or even business consultants, there was nothing that had it all in one place. I believe there is a growing community interested in such businesses. CoEvolve is an online hub where people can engage and learn about what is happening here in Switzerland and beyond, whether it be through the businesses and interviews we feature, the events we share or the marketplace where people can connect.
I also feel the general view of sustainable brands is they are lacking in terms of design and quite behind in terms of current trends. I wanted to share a different image that showcases what is current and sustainable. I am quite passionate about the circular economy as I feel it is the way forward if we want to have resilient societies, a fair economy, and a planet that can thrive. I understand we are a long way from this, but the more people gain awareness and invest in sustainability, the sooner we will get there. That is why I also share interviews with people across industries who are driving the circular economy.
What kind of companies and events do you feature and how do they help drive the circular economy?
All companies featured on Coevolve fulfill certain criteria that reflects their focus on sustainability. I understand a shift to the circular economy will not happen over-night and so not all businesses are circular. We share a lot of events that are happening related to the circular economy that are relevant for businesses and individuals. This ranges from talks, workshops, festivals, and clothes swapping events. Over the past few months a lot has been cancelled but as with Good Brand Guru, some events were able to take place online.
Your platform is focused primarily on consumers? What role do you feel consumers play in closing the loop?
I believe consumers play the most critical role in closing the loop as we are the ones with the power to change the demand. Every time we buy something, we are making a clear statement and investment, ultimately influencing how companies produce what we consume.
About Circular Economy & Fashion. Within the fashion retail industry, we see the rise of circular initiatives on different levels in the supply chain. Most of them are still in the pioneering phase. In your opinion, what are key differentiators for future success?
"I see a lot of fashion companies pursue sustainability with a linear mindset. Unfortunately, it is a short-sighted approach that will not reap real rewards. "
Circular design thinking demands us to change the way we think inherently, and when we do, the opportunities come to the fore. One of the things I love most about the circular economy is that it demands collaboration, the sharing of knowledge to achieve solutions and drive further innovations. Without collaboration it is almost impossible for companies to succeed.
When companies start to look at resilience, it pushes them to a more holistic systems thinking approach that demands they look at their supply chains as part of a complex web of interconnected elements that thrive as a collective. You cannot work in isolation, and companies that continue to do so will miss out and be left behind.
Could you mention one example of a fashion (retail) company that you feel successfully builds on circular economy principles?
I think Wolford is an outstanding example of a company that is successfully transitioning to the circular economy. They set ambitious goals and have managed to produce stockings, which are the single waste plastic of the fashion world, and other luxury apparel that have achieved the cradle to cradle gold standard in both the biological and technical cycle. They have committed to producing at least 50% of their range to be cradle to cradle by 2025. A game-changer for the fashion industry is they have managed to produce a polyester that does not contain PET, which is a known carcinogen. The best part is they are sharing their know-how openly.
A much smaller company that I admire is Orlando Maroquinier, who makes beautiful leather handbags and accessories in Zurich. He takes a very holistic approach to his production and challenges the linear path of seeing growth as the mark of economic success.
In your vision, how can an established fashion retailer (or company in general) best invest in circular solutions?
It is definitely a process that can take time. I think that one really needs to change one’s mindset and make the shift from a linear approach to a systems approach. Then one can start seeing where the intervention points are, the feedback loops and integrate changes. It is an iterative process and it requires flexibility to reach your end goal. One thing I have realized is that companies and individuals using circular solutions are very open to sharing information, strategies, and innovations. Do not be shy to reach out and engage with the broader community. Albin Kälin from EPEA Switzerland and Andreas Röhrich from Wolford are perfect examples.
You have interviewed some frontrunners in circular fashion and textile. What valuable insights do these pioneers offer?
Andreas Röhrich really impressed upon me to start out with big goals and a big vision and work backwards from there. In their move towards cradle to cradle processes, Wolford actively sort out to make the most difficult fashion item, the bra. They have yet to make a cradle to cradle bra but they have created so many other products on the way. He actively sort out partnerships and continues to do so as he sees that it is critical to Wolford’s success. Albin Kälin holds such a wealth of knowledge and in depth understanding across industries. He understands the challenges, the time required to develop new materials and to put systems in place. It is a change in mindset that is key. For the health of humanity and the planet we need to start ‘looking at every ingredient as a nutrient.’ Through his company EPEA Switzerland, Kälin works with companies globally on creating circular solutions, openly sharing material formulas and innovations. Both Röhrich and Kälin understand the value of sharing knowledge to drive innovation
CoEvolve is an online destination/hub to discover, be inspired, engage and support the people, companies and organisations committed to the development of the circular economy through the products and services they offer. Find out what’s available in your local area or further afield, events you can attend and read featured interviews with the people who are the force for change in the circular economy around the globe.