Can 5 jackets save the world?

How you dress defines you

Have you ever thought that the way you dress affects your mood or personality? Well you’re right! Recent research has shown that we act differently depending on what we wear, or even what we think we wear. It so happened that participants of this study who wore lab coats made fewer mistakes than those without one. In the second test, surprisingly those who wore lab coats also performed much better than those who were told that the lab coats were paint smocks. In other words, when we dress smart we will think and behave smart, and if we don’t… Well, then we make more errors.

Recently CIRCO asked us to deliver five photos to get designers and manufacturers interested in the basics of the circular economy (more on this later)… So guess what we thought of? Clothes!

A set of colorful and uniquely designed jackets photographed in a storytelling concept. Applying bright, funky colors and graphics makes something “theoretical” into something much more tangible to look at. Surely you wouldn’t have guessed that these designed jackets were about the circular economy at first glance.


The idea of the jacket is simple. Depending on which jacket a person wear, you view the world and your situation in that perspective while acting the role. It’s kind of similar to the saying “watching through rose-tinted glasses”; but instead of glasses we made 5 jackets.

Each jacket was designed specifically in accordance to the five business models grounded in the circular economy. Bicycles are the main feature in the design because it is a familiar product that can gain values in different ways when you look at it.


So look at the picture above and think to yourself, “what am I seeing?”.

After a couple of seconds, you’ll easily identify that there is a woman wearing a striking jacket who is standing on a pavement with bikes aligned in a slightly rounded ensemble.

But did you know that you are looking at the access model?

Instead of selling products, there is a way where people make a living by providing short-term access to it. For instance renting out bicycles. This is what we call the access model. By doing so, these bicycles are being used extensively, rather than collecting dust in your shed. In this way we are saving our environment by manufacturing less products and have it be (re)used by multiple people, slowly making our world a better place.

This image represents just one of the five business models of a vision and methodology called The Circular Economy (reading tip: Products That Last). The principles of this methodology are quite simple, yet less obvious and tangible to those unfamiliar with it.

CIRCO wants to bring manufacturers and designers to work together towards applying the circular economy in public. But how can we make it possible for two very different professions and fields sit together in a room, and use their skills to create something unexpectedly good?

Business people “talk money”, and designers… well they talk about a lot. Not often do they talk together. Let alone make a positive impact on the world. So what happens when you give shape to business language?

Let’s have a look at other business models and see how this idea unravels.


This is the the Gap-Exploiter Model, named after gaps similar to the one you can literally identify in the photo by the missing wagon tire. This gap is being “exploited” with the wheel of an obsolete children bike. What you’re looking at is not just a woman creatively using old things; it is also a business model.


Surprise! Someone close to you just gave you a great hand-me-down: an ‘omafiets’ or ‘granny bike’. It’s older than you are, but still works perfectly fine because of its high-quality features. This is the idea behind the classic long-life model, making a business by selling high-quality products with a long endurance. Because of how good the product is, you will have your products be recommended from door to door!


Have you ever disposed your bicycle because it had a worn out, flat tire? Most probably not. Your bike is purposely designed so you can easily (well, sort of) replace your bike tires. If you manufacture and design products this way, you are actually applying the hybrid model. Look at your refrigerator, oven, or toaster and witness how many products are not manufactured this way. Yet.


With the performance model you don’t make money by selling or giving access to a product, but you provide a quality service. For instance, having someone deliver a package to you quickly by bike, rather than you having to take the package yourself.


It’s not all about recycling

The world that we live in continues to face environmental issues such as waste energy and pollution. As you know, recycling is an impactful act to save our world and there are so many different ways on how we can recycle.

But wait, the circular economy is not a recycling method and people would often consider it the opposite. If you literally interpret the term “circular economy”, it’s possible to assume that it is a continuous, circular process of recycling where, for example, a plastic bottle was disposed, flattened, crushed, melted, molded, marketed and so the cycle repeats.

On the contrary, the circular economy actually refers to a continuum of goods in which we can always apply an alternative way to reuse our belongings without losing any values. Just like renting out bicycles or starting a delivery service using bicycles.


Wrapping it together

To date, not much is known about the circular economy and those who know about it are very few. We think we can make a difference by starting with the “visual identity” of the topic. Current illustrations of the circular economy were not the most attractive design we’ve ever come across—it’s either too complex or dull.

The question that leaves us is: can five jackets really save the world?

CIRCO only asked us to make five photos. Instead, the end result became something much more than just photographs. Today the graphic-patterns, originally made for the jackets, are being used as a corporate identity. The photos are exhibited in the Netherlands and works as conversation starter. And the jackets? They are worn during training camps to make manufacturers and designers see the possibilities within their companies and the circular economy. The jackets act as a fundamental point of view to guide people to think and behave in a different way. Did we save the world? Not exactly. But we did start a new beginning in system- and design-thinking. And in the end when these five jackets do stop global warming and save the world, we can put them to good values by keeping us warm!

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