Talking Circular Fashion with Ellen MacArthur

One of my old friends, Ellen MacArthur, is working with industry, big brands and famous designers to build a circular economy. She very kindly agreed to an interview so that I could find out more for my readers.

Me:  Working with global fashion brands seems a world away from competitive sailing, what got you into working with fashion?

Ellen: When you sail a boat around the world non-stop you develop a true understanding of what it is to have finite resources. What you have is all you have – there is no more. This understanding of finite led me to think much more broadly, and I began to relate the reality of finite resources on a boat to our global economy. I soon realised that if our economy uses resources up, we do not have an economy that can run in the long term, and I became fascinated by what the solution could look like. In 2010 I launched the Ellen MacArthur Foundation with the goal to accelerate the transition to a circular economy.

Me:   The circular economy sounds very complicated, what is it and is it achievable?

 Ellen: In its essence its incredibly simple. It’s the difference between a straight line (the linear economy we have today) and the circle of a circular economy. The three main principles are :

-Design out waste and pollution
-Keep products and materials in use
-And regenerate natural systems. 

The idea behind a circular economy is that you build an economy which is designed to work in the long term. Products are designed so that even when they reach the end of their use period, they are able to be disassembled and the raw materials recovered and fed back into the economy. In order to do this successfully, different business models, design, marketing, and financing often come into play. Materials are split into two cycles – either biological (those which biodegrade) or technical (plastics and metals for example). It also needs the economy to be powered by renewable energy. 

 Me:    In such a throwaway society, what suggestions do you have to my readers to bring more circularity into their everyday lives/how can people get involved with it?

 Ellen: Our job at the foundation is to ‘shift the system’, so that we can all operate differently in our everyday lives. So that we don’t have to make difficult, and often impossible decisions about what to do with products or plastic waste for example. If everything were designed to fit within a system, be it a plastic bag or a t-shirt, then it’s easy to do the right thing. ‘Throwaway’, I guess, is not ‘away’ if the material has another life afterwards!

Me: After Blue Planet II people became much more aware of plastic pollution, what are your thoughts on education and information to raise awareness of such issues?

Ellen: Awareness raising is important, as much work needs to be done, but at the Foundation we see our role as being the catalyst to help to change the system so that plastic packaging for example, never becomes waste. That means for example working with businesses to make sure that plastic is designed differently, to fit either the technical or biological system.

Me:   I am attempting to buy much less and avoid packaging to reduce waste, but how much impact do you think these individual choices really have? 

Ellen: Everyone can help to shift the system for sure, but ultimately we need to go to the root cause, and change the materials which enter that system. That means bringing all the organisations involved in plastic – producers, retailers, city leaders, waste management companies – to work to change the system together. Cleaning up the beaches and buying less cannot fix this globally, they are essential, but we need to change how plastic is produced and used, so that it can always have value. 

Me:  What are the main barriers currently to a circular economy in your opinion?

Ellen:  State of mind! Once we establish that the economy can run in a different way, and be regenerative, then no young person would leave university or school and follow in the linear footsteps we have pursued for so long… Once you ‘get’ circularity, you think differently. 

Big thanks to Ellen for giving me this interview. We are very inspired by her work to change the system and wish her all the best with it. If you want to read more about this subject try What is being Done to Fix Fashion? or Can Fast Fashion Be Sustainable? At Boy Wonder we incorporate circular design principles into our products and business. You can find out more on our sustainability page here.


#makefashioncircular #circulareeconomy #ellenmacarthur


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