Genia Mineeva - June 2020
WHAT GOES AROUND, COMES AROUND
In 2018, we made the decision to start an accessories company that didn’t take any natural resources from the earth, but instead reused materials that were already in the system. We pushed ourselves further by trying to make our products ‘circular’, but what does this mean?
What is a Circular Economy?
The basic principle of circularity is simple. It’s about moving away from the usual ‘take-make-dispose’ system, which is ‘linear’, to a more circular one, where products last long, get reused and repaired, and when this is no longer possible, can be transformed into something new.
There are four key principles:
1. DESIGN OUT WASTE. Stuff only becomes waste when it's not used or needed. So we decided to divert that waste, by only using recycled materials—post-consumer things like plastic bottles, used textiles and leather offcuts and trimmings. This significantly lowers each bag’s environmental footprint (because it didn’t need virgin resources) and actively reduces the waste in the system.
To really limit the amount of waste we create, we took the slightly scary decision to make our bags rectangular. This means we create almost zero offcuts in our studio. Yes, a bit of a design limitation, but also a beautiful creative challenge!
2. DESIGN FOR DURABILITY. Compared to 15 years ago, we buy more clothes, bags and shoes, and we wear them for less time. Things are cheaper and, in wealthier countries, so accessible that many clothes and accessories sometimes get just a couple of wears!
Our thinking here is simple.
> Design seasonless, timeless pieces that will still look amazing after a few years
> Use materials that really last (our recycled leather has been so abused in testing that we know it can withstand being bent on itself 5,000 times without cracking or changing colour)
> Fix things. We’re launching our free repair service to make sure that your BEEN London bag stays as good as new for as long as possible
We don't cut corners: square and rectangular patterns
3. GET MAXIMUM USE OUT OF PRODUCTS AND MATERIALS.
One of the coolest things happening in the fashion industry right now is the rise of rental. The idea that a bag can be used by hundreds of people and get a proper use out of it is beautiful. In 2020, for example, we partnered with our friends at ByRotation to create a unique one-off piece for London Fashion Week in order to support this cause.
4. DESIGN FOR END OF LIFE.
The most challenging part is the ‘end of life’. And here I’d like you to have a look at the shoes you’re wearing, or the bag next to you. My guess is that it has roughly 10-15 different materials all glued together. Looks great, but makes it impossible to deconstruct and reuse the materials.
We’ve tried to preempt this problem by stitching our lining to bags and by using water-soluble glues. This means that after years of wear, when reuse and repair is no longer an option, you can send the bag back to us: we’ll dismantle it for you and recycle all the materials.
One day there will be kerbside recycling for things like shoes and bags and everyone will be able to do it. But for now, we’ll take care of it—and keep that circular economy spinning...
Vogue's first sustainability editor Clare Press wearing the ByRotation BEEN London bag