Interview with Nicole Bassett from the Renewal Workshop
I get so excited that there are more and more examples of people creating circular systems. These SME's help well known brands fill in the gaps to start going circular through partnerships. The Renewal Workshop works with big brands such as Prana, Toad & Co, and others to provide a second life to returned items. How it works is that when a return is made at these brands, it is sent to The Renewal Workshop where it is cleaned, repaired, and/or upcycled and resold on their partners websites and their own. Nicole, one of the founders commented that she is working with the perfect sized brands because they are small enough to still want to take risks, but large enough that they have a recognized product. We discussed this idea that being a "fixer" or a upcycler for brands that are too big or too inflexible need "gap filling" small businesses to provide these services. Angles to creating these services to deal with the waste produced by big brands still using the linear take, make, waste model, involve thinking about logical offerings that work for all parties involved including the costs of transportation in terms of money and the environment,
Take back program design can help as well as service design, experience design, and creating partnerships to be mutually supportive of programs to reduce waste, increase customer loyalty, and recoup resources to grow profitability by way of multiple uses of that resource, This is the goal and these are the skills needed for businesses to get on board. We can help. Textiles are the second most wasteful, resource intensive, and toxicity producing industry second to the oil and gas industry. Working to reuse clothes, extend the life of them by designing them well and with durable materials, and creating business models such as leasing clothes for special occasions or through company take back programs to recapture and reuse the textiles into other products are all ways to start shifting this industry to go circular. There are plenty old world examples of this, but we need new modern stories of resourcefulness that works at bigger market levels.
What's great about the Renewal Workshop model is that they have created partnerships that give them a branding angle with a demographic that has environmental ethics. They found a friendly playground to thrive with this idea. They also use a state of the art cleaning method that minimizes water use, and they have made a smart resale channel with their partnerships and with their own brand. One thing that I love is that they are also a small business in a small town and are creating jobs where they are sorely needed.
There are many small designers using sustainability methods in their processes and choices of materials, but the overall impact is small. Finding that sweet spot to work with medium sized brands that are agile enough to partner for circular program or service design is key, not just for impact but to show the big clothing brands like H&M etc. a downstream reuse method that they could implement and a upstream redesign that could shift their product and distribution, the latter takes more innovative leadership and a stomach for change.
As I work and write in this field I really want to to help and highlight companies without customers with environmental ethics create systems that are efficient, effective, and so well designed that anyone with any ethics can see the value, this is the goal. I'm super grateful for entrepreneurs like Nicole Basset at the Renewal Workshop for working the angles to be a stellar example for circular economy strategies that work. We need more successful stories that are grounded, common sense, and networked to be mutually beneficial. The future, the present, is collaborative and resourceful.
People get easily overwhelmed by the big picture or whole systems thinking, and the possibilities of what could be done especially in regards to new business models or the circular economy. When you draw out the system of your product or business and you see all the connection points, relationships, logistics, processes, flows, and barriers - it can give you analysis paralysis. This process allows you to see where you are and where you could go and it can overwhelm you into thinking that the problem is too big or you are powerless to make any real change. Sadly, this is where most people give up and settle or think that this theoretical exercise is a good idea, but not practical. This is also where the innovative, patient, and self-assured step back and look deeper into their spheres of influence, leverage points, and business and service models and start to think deeper.
The big picture is the map for you to see your territory and what you can really do in your situation. Having whole systems thinking done first is a tool for discovery not for discouragement to find your route. Once you have it, you have something beyond the typical to strive for that will help you and the environment in which you are a part of to thrive more.
First, you see what the current scene is and you then imagine the possibilities. This is where the design process and strategic doing comes in. Then you narrow your focus to what you can do and you do one thing every day that will build steps toward the creating the conditions to get you where you want to go. You start asking the right questions. How might we create a product that won’t be thrown away? What relationships can I build now that will help me create a business in the circular economy?
Looking at yourself in relationship to other things is about connectedness, not powerlessness. Seeing what could be rather than placating to what has been lets imagination and innovation liberate your mind from destructive stagnant suppression. Being down to earth and making your actions count to build the world you want to live in takes patient strategic doing found in practical daily steps such as that phone call where you talk about a different way of doing something.