Sustainable retail ideas take form at ‘boot camp’


Vlaanderen Circulair’s week of special events culminated in a boot camp for young people, where ideas to tackle rampant consumerism were launched and given shape

What to do with all the stuff

Last week, 34 young people in Flanders worked on ideas to make the retail sector more sustainable. During the “boot camp for the circular economy”, they pitched concepts to a jury of experts and will receive further assistance to develop concrete innovations.

The boot camp was part of a week-long series of events organised by Vlaanderen Circulair, the Mechelen-based agency introducing business and the public to the concepts of a circular economy – one in which resources are used more efficiently and generate less waste.

The participants, generally between 18 and 28 years old but from very diverse backgrounds, worked together in teams on a circular retail project. The mix of profiles is a main asset of the boot camp, according to participant Karen Decavele, who graduated in industrial product design and now works as a project researcher at West Flanders University College (HoWest).

“Among my team members are a graphic designer, a bio-engineer and a commercial scientist,” says Decavele. “This combination of visions helps to have a broader view on a topic.”

Keep it moving

Decavele’s team searched for uses for thrift stores items that don’t sell. “More and more people are bringing belongings they don’t need any more to a thrift store, which is a good thing, but the shops are having trouble dealing with the increased flow of goods.”

The team’s idea is to set up projects that would see second-hand homewares, like furniture and dishes, used in cheap temporary lodgings – student rooms, for instance. Decavele: “Why would you buy an expensive new couch for just three years?”

Among the other challenges dealt with at the boot camp were the reduction of food waste at supermarkets and the development of re-usable packaging. One team, for example, considered using funny internet memes to encourage consumers to buy unattractive food, like “deformed” tomatoes.

We help develop their know-how and confidence so they can become more aware of what they want to do and how to achieve their targets

- Yolan Gielen of Vlaanderen Circulair

The participants also had to achieve specific goals, such as to bounce their ideas off of a certain number of people in Leuven. They also heard experts talk about a variety of topics, like business models, and got practical advice from experienced entrepreneurs.

Among the visiting entrepreneurs was Niki de Schryver, who founded the sustainable and ethical kids fashion brand Kioko Kids and is now working on the launch of COSH! – an app to help online shoppers make sustainable choices. The boot campers also visited businesses on site, such as the bulk food shop Content in Leuven, which uses no packaging.

“We strive to develop the youngsters’ know-how and confidence so they can become more aware of what they want to do and how to achieve their targets step-by-step,” says Yolan Gielen of Vlaanderen Circulair, who co-ordinated the boot camp. “They learn to network, negotiate, sell their idea, analyse problems and break a chaotic challenge down into feasible goals.”

Next steps

The participants pitched their ideas for the first time last Thursday during the Community Night, a networking event for the partners of Vlaanderen Circulair, and a big test took place during the boot camp’s closing event on Friday. A jury of experts analysed the concepts and provided advice.

But the guidance doesn’t stop once the week is over: Vlaanderen Circulair will continue to help them with crowdfunding campaigns and the chance to showcase their projects early next year at the prestigious World Resources Forum in Antwerp. They will then have the opportunity to convince start-up incubators to take on them and their ideas.

Vlaanderen Circulair’s boot camp has already led to concrete results. Some participants at the first edition last year in Antwerp established the project B/old Branders, which shares stories about the circular economy – especially concerning furniture – to create awareness around the topic.

This is the final article in a three-part series on Vlaanderen Circulair’s special week of events, meant to introduce the concept of the circular economy to the public and industry

Photo: Alpha Photography