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”The participants aren’t allowed to buy any new clothing during nine months”

The Swedish town of Borås carries a long history of textile and design. Today, it’s a creative hub for world-leading science, education, innovation, and business connected to the same fields. Or, simply put, the capital of textile in Sweden. One of the most recent projects raising eyebrows is called F/ACT Movement, where the idea is to inspire people toward a more sustainable consumption behaviour related to fashion.

— It’s rooted in the ideas of circular economy, where an important principle is to prolong the lifetime and optimize the usage of products, as opposed to the current mainstream fast-fashion model, tells Project Manager Adrian Zethraeus. In circular economy, business models are redesigned to support and enable circular material flows, for example through new products and services related to reuse, upgrading, and sharing of resources. With F/ACT Movement, we want to help stimulate demand for these new circular offerings.

Can you tell us, why is this project so important?

— Because the fashion and textile industry, as well as the entire economic system, is very resource-intensive. There is a steadily growing demand globally for textile products. The extraction of raw material and processing into a textile product requires a large amount of water, chemicals, and energy, and leads to huge co2 emissions. The resource extraction itself also has a heavy impact on the ecosystem. From an environmental point of view, subsidizing a fiber with another fiber, or improve a certain process, will not be enough. We need to slow down the rapid production rate. Or at least use what is produced in a smarter way. This calls for both a change in consumer behaviour as well as how we conduct business.

Last year, the project started in the Västra Götaland region on the Swedish west coast, where Borås, as well as the country’s second city of Gothenburg, is located.

— We did a pilot with ten participants who weren’t allowed to buy any new clothing for six months, tells Zethraeus. The idea was to explore alternative ways of fashion consumption and self-expression, starting with what we already own. We developed a mission; activate your wardrobe! Our homes are full of clothes we don’t really use. Either you can create new expressions by styling or remaking, or you can pass it on to someone else. To inspire the participants we took help from professional stylists, designers, and sustainability experts. The participants, or f/activisits, also shared their experiences on Instagram to inspire others and create a ripple effect.

This year’s edition expanded and Borås has collaborated with six other cities in Sweden — from Luleå in the north to Visby in the south — to set up local f/activist-hubs.

— We’ve also increased the number of f/activist to approximately 65 and expanded the shopping-free period to nine months. Due to the pandemic, a lot of the group activities had to be done digitally, which was a pity since much of the energy and positivity that is developed in the project derives from the social dimension and the feeling of belonging to a community. But we were well prepared when we started in August, and we have managed to create a really good vibe in the groups, even though a lot had to be done through Zoom.

And your idea has also attracted interest from other countries?

— Yes, we presented the project at a digital event called EU Design Days in Brussels, where representatives from different EU countries meet and share experiences from design-related projects and research. My impression is that in Sweden we are early on working with the consumption and lifestyle issues related to sustainability and that it is a quite new perspective for many countries. We got a lot of interest from the participants at the event, especially since F/ACT Movement is very much endorsed by the fashion business community, and we have a lot of dialogue with brands and retailers about how they can help their consumers make better choices and prolong the lifetime of clothes. 

What are your future plans for this project?

— We just submitted a project proposal with a group of partners to the new EU Green Deal application. It is quite tough international competition, but we keep our fingers crossed it will be granted.  

— But either way, the industry dialogue in regards to these issues will be the focus onwards. A growing number of companies understand that the future of fashion and textile cannot be based on current linear fast-fashion models. We see signs everywhere, especially in new policy agendas and legislation. But also when looking at market development. The global re-sell market is already growing multiple times faster than the fast-fashion market, and in the coming seven to ten years or so, the global market for re-sell businesses is expected to double in size. To come out of this transition as a winner the companies need to embrace and enable a new consumer behaviour, and by doing that, find new revenue streams. I think one key is to build close relations and learn from the consumers. Here, F/ACT Movement can be an inspiration.

What else do you have coming?

— In F/ACT Movement’s ”sister-project”, re:textile, we seek to understand how the circular products and services can be designed and conceptualized in order to be attractive for consumers and users, as well as scalable business models. This spring we are launching an online Circular Design course together with Nordiska Textilakademin (The Nordic Textile Academy) in Borås and a ”Circular Business Toolkit” that will help companies in their development towards a circular business approach.