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Over the previous a number of years, the condemnatory buzz that surrounds PFAS has grown louder. Recognized formally as perfluoroalkyl or polyfluoroalkyl compounds and informally as “ceaselessly chemical substances,” the roughly 5,000 human-made compounds that fall beneath the PFAS umbrella are extremely persistent, linked to a wide range of antagonistic well being results and alarmingly current in consuming water, meals and even blood and breast milk throughout the nation.
And it’s no surprise they’re seemingly in all places. Due to their distinctive repellent properties, PFAS are used extensively in a wide range of items — all the pieces from magnificence merchandise to attire to meals packaging and past. Simply final week, a brand new examine by Poisonous-Free Future revealed practically 75 p.c of merchandise labeled as water- or stain-resistant include ceaselessly chemical substances, a discovering that tarnished retailers from Walmart to REI.
Elevated scrutiny has led to some promising developments: The EPA has lately established a strategic roadmap to check and deal with PFAS and a patchwork of state rules are tackling ceaselessly chemical substances in issues resembling consuming water and packaging. In the meantime, within the personal sector, a large number of companies have dedicated to phasing out PFAS use within the coming years. However some organizations are forward of the curve.
That’s why I sat down with Jesper Danielsson, head of design and product at Houdini Sportswear, a small outside attire firm based mostly in Stockholm, Sweden. Leveraging Atmos — a hydrophilic membrane made with recyclable polyester — and a biomimicry-inspired, water repellency remedy by Organotex, Houdini’s water-repellent outside merchandise have been PFAS-free since 2018.
However that’s not the place their round credentials cease. From materials choice — 100% of their materials are recycled, recyclable, renewable, biodegradable or Bluesign licensed — to the implementation of rental, subscription, resale and restore enterprise fashions to the round design rules that information their ethos — Houdini goes full steam forward in the direction of a completely round system. In actual fact, their objective is to have all services and products be round by design this yr, and for the whole Houdini ecosystem — throughout its worth chain and consumer phases — to be designed for circularity by 2030.
If we take a step again and have a look at nature because the blueprint, the objective is a system the place one piece feeds one other, feeds one other into an even bigger circle: a systemic strategy.
Right here’s my interview with Danielsson, exploring the quite a few sides of Houdini’s round aspirations. It has been edited for size and readability.
Suz Okie: PFAS are clearly high of thoughts, however Houdini has been PFAS-free since 2018. Inform me a bit in regards to the motivations that led to this technique, and what it took to attain it.
Jesper Danielsson: Phasing out PFAS was one step in our journey in the direction of making a round system. It is actually a query of preserving our merchandise and assets clear to allow them to go from one use to the following.
We began the method again in 2012 and it’s been an extended, lengthy journey. From the chemistry to taking a look at how totally different supplies bind collectively — there was plenty of trial and error. As a small firm, we would have liked to set a transparent path of what the win-wins have been. We wished to steer by instance and work with our suppliers to push ahead in that path.
Okie: What have been the largest obstacles when it got here to this transition?
Danielsson: Efficiency and training. The primary huge hurdle was to uphold the efficiency side of what we do. Relating to water repellency we really feel that we will ship an identical if not higher efficiency, however while you begin taking a look at oil repellency — it isn’t fairly in the identical ballpark.
In order that’s the academic half. We have to assist our finish customers perceive how you can keep and care for his or her clothes. And by doing that, we will then ship an expertise that’s on the identical stage or larger to what they have been getting earlier than. I feel it is necessary for us to actually ship on each elements. To not turn into a model that’s clinging on to previous requirements, however one which showcases that expertise in nature can work in symbiosis with our merchandise and the system they’re inside — if we will accomplish that, we will get extra folks to leap onto this journey with us.
Okie: Zooming out only a bit, I’d love to speak about your design course of. What does that appear like in apply?
Danielsson: Nicely, earlier than we even put pen to paper, we undergo our designer guidelines. It’s about eight questions, beginning with, “Does this product deserve existence?” Has another person already created the proper recipe, and if that’s the case ought to we simply level our clients to that different model so we will put our assets elsewhere?
We additionally ask, will it final lengthy sufficient? Is it versatile sufficient? Will it age with magnificence? Will it’s simple sufficient to restore? All the way in which right down to is it sturdy sufficient for our rental program? And does it have a subsequent life answer?
When a brand new designer on the workforce faces that final query, it actually shifts their deal with why we’re doing what we’re doing.
Okie: Are you able to share a bit about how this design guidelines was created and the thought course of that went into establishing it?
Danielsson: We see our guidelines as a practical software that was born from our 4 guiding rules.
First, much less is extra. Discount, at its best, creates versatility. And if we handle to create really versatile merchandise, we have to personal much less merchandise. We are able to have smaller wardrobes and lots much less affect typically. However much less is extra can be relevant to what goes into the product. Merchandise which can be much less complicated — don’t include PFAS, for instance — are extra pure and simpler to recycle.
“Much less is extra” additionally permits us to make clothes that final for an extended time frame, which leads us to our second precept: Constructed to final. That applies to each high quality and to creating clothes that work time and again and once more. The sturdiness of our merchandise is one thing that we’re very pleased with: Not too way back we carried out a survey the place we discovered finish customers wore our clothes 1,287 occasions within the product’s lifespan, in comparison with an business normal of seven to 10 occasions. At first we went again to that quantity time and again and once more, as a result of we thought it didn’t make sense. However we additionally know that some outside guides have been utilizing these merchandise for 10-plus years, they usually’re nonetheless tremendous excited with them. That sturdiness is essential to our philosophy.
The opposite a part of “constructed to final” actually comes right down to type. If you wish to have one thing which lasts for such an extended time frame, it must be designed to age nicely, to look modern now but additionally in 10 years time. It is by no means been about creating the newest “new,” however about creating one thing that by no means will get previous.
The third precept is about holistic consolation. As an outside model, that begins with the creation of microclimate merchandise that work very well, however expands to embrace individuality in thoughts, physique and soul. We attempt for merchandise that evoke confidence, you could be ok with having and sporting — which incorporates ensuring that the individuals who produced it have a excessive way of life and high quality of life.
The final precept is, after all, making it round — beginning on the product stage going all the way in which as much as the enterprise fashions.
Okie: Talking of your online business fashions — from restore to resale to rental and subscription, you’re pursuing plenty of methods directly. Are you able to share a bit about your motivation for pursuing all these fashions concurrently, moderately than selecting a lane?
Danielsson: If we take a step again and have a look at nature because the blueprint, the objective is a system the place one piece feeds one other, feeds one other into an even bigger circle: a systemic strategy.
So we begin with creating actually distinctive, sturdy merchandise. That sturdiness lends itself to a rental service the place our finish customers turn into caretakers in our system. However at a sure level these rental merchandise don’t really feel as crisp, in order that they’re prepared for resale. These two companies naturally match collectively in that manner. Financially, it’s additionally necessary to us to ship accessible, uncompromised merchandise at totally different worth factors. So resale turns into an necessary a part of that ethos as nicely.
Our restore service additionally naturally matches into this technique, prolonging the product’s lifespan so it may be rented longer or nonetheless be resold. We provide a lifetime guarantee — a assure that every product and all its elements ought to maintain up throughout the lifetime of the product. If it doesn’t, we restore it for you. In order that’s plenty of stress right down to the design workforce to create clothes which can be in stability and symbiosis — to verify this matches along with that.
The following stage faucets into the recyclability — as we undergo all of those cycles, we wish to have saved them pure sufficient to be recycled. Very often we will restore one thing and produce it again to life a primary, second or third time. However then in the long run, we have now a sorting system within the warehouse to separate out the artificial and pure supplies that return worth to the system.
Earlier than we even put pen to paper, we undergo our designer guidelines. It’s about 8 questions, beginning with, ‘Does this product deserve existence?’
Okie: How do your linked items match into this multi-pronged technique?
Danielsson: We have at all times tried to construct communities. Communities the place folks can reconnect to nature, but additionally perceive what we as a corporation are doing. We see this as a necessity to make the round financial system work at scale. At any cut-off date, an finish consumer can throw considered one of our clothes away. Now we have no management over that, so we have to construct engagement for finish customers. We have to transfer from a transactional financial system, the place our merchandise are bought and the connection ends to at least one the place the dialogue continues.
A linked good is a gateway. A door that enables for two-way communication. We are able to use that door to coach folks on how you can look after the clothes and how you can get probably the most out of them. However it will possibly additionally allow different elements of our system. It will possibly allow our clients to boost their hand once they’re able to resell their garment, or when one thing has gone astray and desires a restore.
It’s actually useful in linking our system collectively, but additionally in creating that emotional sturdiness. By dialogue, we will create a connection between you and your clothes.
Okie: Lastly, how do you concentrate on your affect as a model?
Danielsson: To attempt to make it pragmatic, we quantify our affect by a method, which reads out P x V + L = I.
P is our manufacturing, or our product — making our product and our manufacturing as lean as potential and bringing down the power utilization. That is the place plenty of corporations begin. However for us, this meant making all the pieces 100% recycled, recyclable, renewable, biodegradable or bluesign licensed with out compromising sturdiness or efficiency.
V is quantity, which implies creating fewer, smarter merchandise. In the event you can go out of your bouldering health club to satisfy up along with your in-laws after which end off having a beer with your mates with the identical jacket, we have introduced down the quantity of merchandise you want. Our clothes turn into wearable multitools.
By that, these multitools can allow and encourage one other way of life, which leads us to L: life-style. If we as a model can allow adventures, that reconnection to nature that creates reminiscences you wish to cling on to — that is what results in the largest affect.