Courtney Holm (pictured), the founder of  A.BCH + Circular Sourcing, unpacks the key reasons why she stopped her brand from making new clothes, and shares her hopes for the future of fashion.

A.BCH launched to the public just over seven years ago. A circular fashion label and concept brand who dedicated half our time to education and upcycling, our world was a laboratory for sustainable experimentation, execution and commercialisation.

Over the years, we built a circular factory, produced thousands of biologically circular and plastic-free garments, disclosed every source and supplier detail and stuck with our customers through the lifecycle of their garment through customisations, garment alterations, advice, free repairs and takeback. At the end of a garment’s useful life, we’d recycle or compost it because it was designed and made with the right materials to do so.

We attempted to design clothing to retain value through the material choices we made and by selling direct, ensuring that future lifecycles and recycling would be more likely to be achieved. During this time, we developed, tested and applied a circular design methodology to every single product that left the building. 

Now, we find ourselves in a moment of strategic transition. This year I decided that A.BCH would no longer make new clothes. There is a certain sadness in that. I’m a maker, designer and creative after all, and I’ve loved making clothing for people. I’ve also loved the challenge of circular design but after years of practicing it while witnessing what’s going on in the industry - I simply can’t do it alone anymore.

The past seven years have been ones of tremendous growth and change in the sustainable fashion space. Circular design has gone from a totally novel concept to something almost every brand will aspire to achieve in the very near future. There are truly positive signs of this becoming a reality. Seamless - Australia’s Clothing Product Stewardship Scheme is one of them. However, there are signs that show business as usual will prevail so long as shareholder profits remain the number one driver of success. The rise in popularity of ultra fast fashion and greenwashing are no small examples. I believe we need more people who aren’t afraid to challenge business as usual, who can demonstrate an ambitious and beautiful future for clothing, one where greenhouse gas emissions are drastically reduced, waste is a thing of the past and the people who make our clothes are valued and respected.

As a reference group member and a Transition Advisory Group member for Seamless, I had the privilege of being part of the work in shaping the scheme, offering a small business, design and manufacturer perspective. The entire process and where Seamless is now has given me hope that our industry is ready to make bold moves towards a circular economy. This has helped drive my decision to shift from the microfocused, head-down circular design work (though it was immensely valuable for me to do for so long) and move into a more strategic space, where I can deploy my connection with design and manufacturing for circular systems beyond that of an individual business. Circularity is a team sport, and I want to help coach.

So what will we do now? Circularity was never an afterthought for A.BCH. Nor was it an add-on to our products post-production. Circularity was the central thesis of the brand. This is why we’re still offering repairs on all our clothes and we’ll still take back any of our garments we made. For now, we’re doing that ourselves with a pared down team, though in the future we may work with external partners. ABCH.WORLD will continue to exist as an archive and education platform for all the information on how a customer can do their part for circularity as well as other resources we’ve created. I think this level of responsibility should be a minimum requirement for anyone who makes a product to sell. But until that’s the reality, we’ll serve ourselves up as a case study.

We’ll continue to ramp up our climate tech startup, Circular Sourcing, connecting surplus materials from one business to another, keeping textiles and other raw materials in their highest value for longer. I’ll also be consulting on various circular design projects including creating industry guides, sharing our methodologies and material flow strategies. There is so much work to be done in this space. 

One thing I recognised early in my career is that if we are serious about a circular economy, we must approach design in a completely new way. Circularity isn’t a nice idea or philosophy alone - we have to walk the talk. There are practical, real world implications that must be set into motion at the design phase that carry through the entire lifecycle and end of life (or afterlife) of a product. Without this kind of responsibility and planning, we don’t stand a chance at realising circularity or reaching Net Zero by 2050. We need designers, product developers and C-Suite decision makers to collectively transform how they produce and that’s not an easy task.

My hope is to be able to contribute to an acceleration of the ‘how’, to provide practical tools to help the fashion industry transition to a circular economy in a way that’s meaningful, equitable and sustainable. My dreams have to grow beyond business as usual at A.BCH to make that happen. As they do, I expect the spirit of A.BCH will achieve far more than what we could have imagined when we first began.

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