Supply Chains: Can They Be Circular?

SUPPLY CHAINS: CAN THEY BE CIRCULAR?

GUESTS FOR CHANGE WITH EDWIN KEH
PART 2

“Our world is circular, you know, with or without us. That's how nature operates. It’s not something that we clever human beings came up with,” shares Edwin Keh, CEO of the Hong Kong Research Institute of Textiles and Apparel. “If we think of all things in biological systems - more complex, more subtle, and in many ways, much more elegant systems - then yes, things could be circular. What we need to do is to participate in that system, rather than create or engineer the system. We just need to operate in harmony with our system rather than try to oppose it.”

Specialising in supply chains, Edwin has a wide and varied background that you cna read about in the first part of our conversation with him. Speaking into circularity specifically, he agrees that as a collective, we can certainly be more circular in our approach to life. “But then, it brings up some of the more awkward things that we have to do,” he warns. “It brings up some of the things that we do today that we know we have to change but we don't want to deal with.”

"It brings up some of the more awkward things that we have to do,” he warns. “It brings up some of the things that we do today that we know we have to change but we don't want to deal with.”

“A great example of that,” he shares, “Is polyester - the most broadly used material. It is the fastest-growing material that we use. It is in 60-70% of clothing that we make today. It's made from fossil fuel, it's made from petroleum products. We are basically taking stable resources, making them unstable, and throwing them in the air. We create this unsustainable chaos in these natural cycles. And we have to figure out a way to say that we can't use materials like this anymore. We have to use more cellulosic base solutions, some protein-based solutions. We have to wean ourselves off the plastics.”

One of the fundamental shifts in the textile or fashion industry is that we have to begin to think of this more of a science and less of an art."

 

“All those behavioural changes happen when we begin to change our worldview and fundamental assumptions about how we see the world,” he shares. And a possible way in which such changes can be made is through education: “One of the fundamental shifts in the textile or fashion industry is that we have to begin to think of this more of a science and less of an art. At least we have to incorporate scientific thinking and knowledge into the curriculum - so that we have the tools to deal with the challenges that we see that we have been attracting. It is as if we are communicating to our students that their highest aspiration in this industry is to be the next Coco Chanel, or the next big designer. So we attract people who have that artistic bent, who have that creative desire. And yet, what we're finding is that today that addresses one aspect of the industry - the aesthetics. But, there are a lot of other things that this industry can have an impact on. It can impact culture, it can impact society, and it can impact our environment. That has not been addressed - and those impacts are much more pressing at this point in human history.”

"But, there are a lot of other things that this industry can have an impact on. It can impact culture, it can impact society, and it can impact our environment. That has not been addressed - and those impacts are much more pressing at this point in human history.”

“Right now, what we have is a multi-disciplined challenge,” Edwin outlines. “Because it's an environmental challenge, there are material scientists that can help us. It is a manufacturing challenge so industrial engineers can help us. And what you have to look at is how things are made, so it also becomes a logistics challenge. And then, more and more, it is a data challenge. You must know and understand what the marketplace is, the complexity in the marketplace - what to make, when, and how to price it appropriately so that it sells.  All of that speaks to a much broader approach to the textile industry.”

“You have to spend a significant amount of time and effort on working on things like teamwork, collaboration and effective communication and other tools like that - so that we can all bring our piece of the puzzle to the table and collectively solve this rather complicated challenge that we find ourselves to be in right now.”

He outlines, “There are more technical understandings that we need to be aware of. Otherwise, we will forever be in supply chains, trying to fix problems somebody else created."

He outlines, “There are more technical understandings that we need to be aware of. Otherwise, we will forever be in supply chains, trying to fix problems somebody else created. We will be in the backside trying to plug all the holes in the gate, hoping that we're fast enough. But it will be much more efficient if we just begin by having a deeper understanding of the impact of our design decisions, and have much broader design choices that are circular in nature - that takes these into consideration.”

"The reality is a little bit more complicated, and we're not going to solve the 3000 problems that we have to solve today, but as long as you move in the right direction - it's okay. We don't have to have closure for everything." 

Within this lies a world of opportunity and possibility within the textile and fashion industries. Ending off with some sage words, Edwin reminds us, “The reality is a little bit more complicated, and we're not going to solve the 3000 problems that we have to solve today, but as long as you move in the right direction - it's okay. We don't have to have closure for everything. And part of what we need to learn to do is to relax a little bit.”

Within this mix of urgency and the necessity to take things slowly is the overarching notion of collaborating, diversifying and creativity. Indeed, as Guests to this Earth, each playing our part towards a more, beneficial future for all, the most important thing is to keep moving in this direction. Read more about Edwin’s insight in the first part of our conversation with him here.

All images via Getty Images.


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