Interview with sustainability expert Arianna Nicoletti

Arianna Nicoletti works for Circular Berlin, is co-founder of the A-Gain Guide and a true expert in the sustainability segment. We talked to her about the circular economy, green washing and slow fashion.

You work for Circular Berlin, which is a pioneer in sustainability – what motivates you in your daily work?

At Circular Berlin we have a hands-on approach to the topic of circular economy. I guess one of the biggest motivations for me is definitely this practical way of implementing circular concepts, which also means that we get to see actual results.

You are also co-founder of the A-GAIN GUIDE project: can you tell us something about it?

Sure!  The A-GAIN GUIDE is a digital platform for a more sustainable use of clothes. I get much to often questions like: “What can I do with my old clothes?”, “Is it better to donate stained clothes to a charity or to give them to a second-hand store?”, “I would repair more my clothes, if I knew how”.

With the A-GAIN GUIDE we want to answer these questions and help all Berliners to prolong the lifespan of their clothes. The platform includes a mapping of second-hand stores, upcycling designers, textile collectors, clothes containers, and textile recyclers. Through the filter the visitors can find the best options close by or directly select the services they want to find.
In February 2022 a proper interactive guide will complete the platform and we are thinking to add a CO2 saving calculator as well!

Was there a key moment for you that prompted you to bring A-Gain to life?

Working 4 years long in the sorting centre and in the second-hand stores of the Berliner Stadtmission (a local charity), I experienced so many times the situation in which people get rid of their old clothes without even reflecting about where and in which conditions they are donating them. Some examples: donating teenager size women clothes to a Kleiderkammer, where mostly only man clothes in bigger sizes and warm materials are needed. Or donating bags full of wet clothes from the cellar. Or even clothes covered in cat or dog hair. The idea of the A-GAIN GUIDE generated from these experiences. I wanted to create a space where citizens could check in advance what are the different options for their used clothes, but also what kind of garments are accepted by the resellers or recyclers.

What do you think are the most important actors and initiators in Berlin when it comes to circular economy?

Berlin´s circular economy ecosystem is vast. From zero waste concepts to resale businesses over waste management and logistics, sometimes I feel this city is simply made out of innovators!
Looking at the textile sector, there are a couple of businesses that are aiming to make the difference on a bigger scale, such as with their Circularity.ID and their transparency software or Kleiderly, recycling synthetic garments. Beside the bigger actors, there is a multitude of pioneers carrying out brilliant work on different levels. Some examples: the Textilhafen offers a material pool for upcycling designers to buy second-hand in the needed quantities and qualities. Urban fibers transform discarded garments into recycled yarns. New Blue experiments with an innovative technique to recycle denim. Besides the innovators we then have the more than thousand independent businesses involved in repairing, upcycling, altering, cleaning, collecting, sorting and reselling of garments and accessories. All these actors are equally important, since they need to keep working synergically for the functioning of the system.

Since there is more awareness for environmental protection and sustainability, greenwashing is also increasingly practiced – how can consumers inform and protect themselves about this? 

Greenwashing is actually becoming one of the biggest issues when looking at sustainable consumption. It is incredibly hard for consumers to untangle the jungle of fake claims and information on shop windows and clothes hand-tags. My advice is to always ASK. Asking questions directly to the staff at the shop where you would like to buy clothes can very easily show if the company´s culture includes transparency and education about sustainability issues. Also in smaller ateliers and independent stores you can ask about materials, manufacturers, and location of production. In this way you are not only making an important statement – that as consumer you have the right to know – but at the same time you are developing a connection with the clothes you are buying and the stories behind them.

How can slow fashion and fashion trend awareness be reconciled? How can companies still remain profitable?

The concept of “profitability” must be reconsidered. If we want to preserve the life and resources on our planet, we need fashion companies to be driven by a new set of values. Profit should be connected to regeneration of nature, decarbonisation, a profounder connection to our own cultures and heritages. We need an industry that works holistically to become beneficial to societies and natural worlds. We can´t go around it.