We have just returned from Paris and immediately joined the round table discussion in the House of Representatives about circular textiles as listeners. Circular textiles are a hot topic, but still far from reality, as it turned out again in Paris. During the Paris Fashion Week, little is happening around sustainability, let alone circular working in the fashion industry. Apart from some use of post-consumer materials, the main fashion world is still stuck in old linear business models. Fortunately, it also appears that more and more retailers are embracing circular textiles and the round table discussion in The Hague also shows that steps are indeed being taken in the right direction.
A blog post by our Managing Director Sebastiaan Kramer about the round table discussion in The Hague which took place on March 9, 2023.
It was member of parliament Kiki Hagen (D66) who initiated this round table discussion about making the clothing industry more sustainable. In addition to Hagen, politicians Eva van Esch (Partij voor de Dieren, and also chairman of the afternoon), Erik Haverkort (VVD) and Stieneke van der Graaf (Christenunie) were also present to ask questions to the fashion parties present.
Those fashion parties, parties that, like Hul le Kes, are committed to a circular and/or sustainable fashion system, were: United Repair Center (Thami Schweichler), The Swapshop (Monique Drent), WEAR (Lorenzo van Galen), Ioniqa (Jeroen Bulk) , i-did (Michiel Dekkers), Loop a Life (Ellen Mensink), Plastic Soup Foundation (Jeroen Dagevos), Fair Wear Foundation (Femke den Hartog), NVRD (Wendy de Wild), Sympany (Erica van Doorn), Textiles2Textiles (Hans Bon), Het Goed (Auke van der Hoek), Wolkat (Kimberley van der Wal) but also Zeeman (Arnoud van Vliet), C&A (Christina Seidler-Lynders) and H&M (Hendrik Heuermann).
The meeting of all these parties resulted in an unprecedented crowd at the door of the House of Representatives and an interesting 3.5-hour round table discussion. Each fashion party mentioned above was given the opportunity to make a short statement about their personal or more general developments in the field of sustainable fashion.
Several parties endorsed how complex the fashion system is, especially when we are talking about a circular fashion system that also includes post-consumer waste. Repair, recycling, fiberization and more were discussed thanks to all those present. Unfortunately, fashion labels, such as Hul le Kes, were not included in the conversations, but it was mainly about all the processing of textiles around it and about the ‘big boys’ in the fast fashion chain. Not illogical of course, that is also the core of the problem; at the same time, I am convinced that the innovative ideas are more common with, often smaller, autonomous players. Despite that lack, there were plenty of problems that ‘we’ as autonomous designers also encounter when it comes to circular working.
For example, Loop a Life made it known how difficult it is to find investors for innovation and experimentation, the importance of a clothing passport for each item of clothing and how the Netherlands is also internationally regarded as a pioneer in the field of post-consumer waste processing. I-did told how difficult it is to work on a smaller scale within the fashion system that is set up for gigantic masses, and about which knowledge about industrialized fashion has often disappeared in the Netherlands. WEAR indicated how difficult it is to obtain a clear circular revenue model. Sympany about how difficult it is to properly sort post-consumer waste, Textile2Textile and Wolkat about the difficulty of transporting post-consumer waste internationally (even if it is intended to be recycled into new yarns). Fair Wear foundation emphasized that the importance of working conditions should not be forgotten within the circular philosophy. I can fully understripe all of these thoughts from within our own experience as a circular fashion label.
Many suggestions for new regulations have been reviewed. About minimum percentages of post-consumer waste in clothing to the example of Denmark, which was put forward by United Repair Center, where there is a two-year warranty on every piece of clothing. There was a demand for more national policy on textile collection and processing so that not every municipality would have its own way of working, and in particular much reference was made to the Extensive Producers Responsibility that is being developed for the fashion industry.
Personally, I believe that we as people, especially in the Netherlands, think too easily that more rules ensure that we can actually arrange or control things. In practice, however, it often appears that with the arrival of new rules, new additional rules have to be made to tighten the rules, etc. This quickly leads to a vicious circle of rules that have to guard other rules. This, in turn, ensures that compliance with all those rules becomes a day job in itself and people quickly have to be appointed within companies to be able to enforce it and civil servants to control them. That might be a possibility for large companies (although even H&M and C&A also indicated that they are not waiting for all kinds of regulations that differ per country and would rather see an EU policy). However, it quickly causes more problems for the, usually smaller, autonomous and innovative players in the field; no matter how well-intentioned their intrinsic motivations are.
Adding all sorts of rules, no matter how well-intentioned, will, in my opinion, make the competitive position of those autonomous players in the field even more difficult. Even though it is often the autonomous players who play an important role in the transition of a system, and therefore should be stimulated to continue its path. In my opinion, the world would benefit more from encouraging and rewarding good behavior.
An example of rewarding that was mentioned is a VAT/tax benefit for circular initiatives; and I can totally agree with that. Clothing repairs (such as our Mending Service and Dyeing Service) also fall under a lower VAT standard. It therefore seems only logical to me that recycling and upcycling should also fall under the lower VAT rate.
I hope that politicians in the Netherlands understand why more rules within a complex system often only lead to more ambiguity. I would once again like to recommend Walter Baets’ book ‘Wie orde zaait zal chaos oogsten‘. I did that once before via nu.nl and meanwhile I was also included in the foreword to the new edition that appeared last year. Highly recommended to understand why extra rules within a complex system quickly have the opposite effect. Choose just a few very clear guidelines and encourage good behavior; I am convinced that that will help to develop a long-term approach.
For those who want to read more about the Hul le Kes approach to circular working, I would like to refer you to my previous blog posts: ‘There is more to circularity, part 1‘ There is more to circularity, part 2‘, ‘a circular and social enterprise‘ or ‘No to Discount, Yes to Circularity‘. Or go to our general page about our sustainable and circular vision.
Last but not least, I would like to say a big thank you to Kiki Hagen and all parties involved in last week’s extremely interesting round table discussion. Only together can we change the system! Click here to watch the full round table discussion (mainly in Dutch).
All pictures from Sjaak are made at 2Switch for our Museum Arnhem x Hul le Kes project by Very Rare Agency and Jama Media.
Sebastiaan Kramer (37) is the managing director and co-founder of Hul le Kes. Together with Sjaak Hullekes he graduated from ArtEZ University of the Arts, Fashion Design, in Arnhem. They have been working and living together since graduating. Although Sebastiaan started his career as a fashion designer, he now works on the management and strategy of the company. He studied Business Administration and Management, focusing on non-Western and alternative ways of doing business. In addition to his work at Hul le Kes, he is also the artistic director of the FDFA Foundation (Fashion + Design Festival Arnhem and Sustainable Fashion 025).