Some of our daily habits, such as shopping for clothing items or something for the house, can have a huge environmental impact on the planet hosting us. An impact, we aren’t aware of, or better we do not take into account yet - as much as we should at least -.
Outsourcing, underpaid labor forces and waste resources are only part of a larger mosaic of destruction and exploitation, headed by highly environmentally damaging and resource intensive processes. The rate at which we are producing and consuming is not (or maybe has never been) sustainable.
And even worse, it’s hard to definitively quantify the industry’s impact. According to a recent scientific review published in Nature Reviews Earth and Environment, the fashion industry consumes 79 trillion liters of water, produces 92 million tons of waste and is responsible for 8-10 percent of global CO2 emissions (about 4-5 billion tons per year). In addition, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation estimated that approximately $500 billion is lost each year on garments that, when barely worn, are neither donated nor recycled, ending up in landfills.
So, I think we can all agree that behind the creation of skirts, jackets and handbags and much more there is a world of waste and consequently of pollution that could be avoided. And someone is already doing so, opting for greener alternatives.
Vintage shops, flea markets or apps such as Vinted are indeed changing consumers’ sensitivities regarding environmental impact, social sustainability, reduction of waste and wardrobes that despite Maria Kondo’s method, still remain overcrowded. Concerns that are guiding both consumers in their purchases, and founders in their business propositions. Among the latter, Nilofer Christensen, Australian by identity and Indian by heritage, who currently is based in Amsterdam, where she recently initiated her 3rd startup, called Swap-studio.
After teaching sustainable infrastructure systems at Melbourne University, Nilofer has since her early years been into sustainability and tech, or as she defined herself “I am the kind of person thinking of technology as a means by which to solve sustainability issues”. From working in product management at TomTom, contributing to the launch of their next generation navigation products, she landed into a cleantech startup as COO, an experience that marked her upcoming future.
“My time as COO in a cleantech startup actually showed me that the tech industry, especially the new tech, can be such a boys-club. It’s an industry still lacking a female perspective. Although the majority of the consumer decisions in the household are still taken by women. And that’s when I became aware that if I wanted to be in the driver seat, I just had to do it by myself.”
From awareness to action
And so she did and the idea came to her during the pandemic, while being in the throes of renovating their apartment. How many of you while doing spring cleaning realize that too many things have been accumulated throughout the years, things you might not even use anymore but still feel connected to. I am sure many of you already had such a feeling. And that’s exactly what triggered Nilofer to start her own swap community.
“I looked around and I realized I had so much stuff. From good clothes to wooden toys for my kids, who are growing out of their things very quickly. Not to mention my entire professional wardrobe I was not using anymore since I was no longer going to the office. But I didn’t want to throw away or sell them. All I wanted was for somebody else to use them and getting as much as joy that my kids or I got out of it”.
So what is Swap-studio? It's basically an online platform allowing people to swap items, from clothes to household items, they don't need anymore without any financial transaction involved. Surely most of you might be wondering right now, and where is the gain? Well, there is no gain, at least no for the swapping aspect. You give for kudos and you take for Kudos.
Kudos, it is a means of exchange with no financial value attached to it. “We’re not trying to make it into another form of currency” specifies Nilofer.
Basically, kudos is what permits you to swap with one another, but before starting to swap you need to give. And you can give in multiple ways. As soon you sign up and you upload your products, for each uploaded product, you gain 5 kudos.
Once completed the first step, you can decide how many kudos you would like in exchange for an item. “We have some guidelines to follow for the kudos, but generally it is just a means of exchange: so in the end the more you swap, the more kudos you can get and the more items you can swap in return” says Nilofer.
"FCK NEW, EMBRACE THE SWAP"
"Fck new, embrace the swap" states clearly the logo. Indeed Swap-studio is not only about swapping items, but the purpose behind it is far more rooted in the green revolution, closely linked to the so-called latest trend of recommerce.
A revolution that sees the progressive overcoming of the classic approach, found in the purchase of a new garment an almost obligatory choice. Second-hand business models are growing exponentially, putting re-use at the center of the economic dynamics. From the exclusivity of the traditional ownership principle to new ways of accessing the product, while still respecting social and environmental needs.
"We are constantly told to trade up. And I think we need to realize that we can trade up, but trading up doesn't mean buying something new. You could still be getting something vintage or something that's new to you, but not necessarily newborn in a store"
The latter is also one of the reasons why money has been left out of the transaction, permitting anybody to participate with low entry barriers, reveals Nilofer. "We really need to work hard to combat the high elevated status still associated to new things, if we want to make a change".
But what if we change consumer behaviour, but meanwhile retailers still continue advertising their products? Swap-studio got also the B to B side covered, offering a zero waste Partnership program for brands.
"There is so much waste in the industry, majority of our stuff ends up in landfills and brands have a lot of power in this. When it comes to the supply chains of their own products' and circularity the decision-making power lies in their hands and most of them do not have a sustainable liquidation strategy for their excess stock yet."
For now several brands, among them Studio Henk, already committed to circularity, putting their excess stock for members to swap for Kudos. "And business love it because their brands are not being devalued" she says proudly.
For now, Swap studio is available all over Netherlands, but the ambitions of making it grow and export the community elsewhere are already in Nilofer's head.
"If we could extend the life of each piece of clothing, by just 5 or 10% we could save millions of tones of CO2, so much water and really have a massive impact on climate change. You can still participate in fashion, but just don't be so quick to dispose of your things. Make sure you can pass on their value to somebody else"
The RISE team is deeply grateful to Nilofer Christensen for granting us the interview, but above all for sharing her contagious determination and strength not only with us, but all the RISE members.
Stay tuned, the next month is around the corner, remember each month is a different story. For any interview suggestions or requests, don't hesitate to contact us.