Closing the loop for system change

Karina Seljak, Samantha Seljak, 29 June, 2020

We’re living in a time of great complexity. Amidst climate change, a global pandemic and an increasingly polarised world, it feels like a monumental task to move towards the more sustainable world that ensures justice for people and the planet.

We’ve been encouraged to see grassroots organisations and citizens around the world take matters into their own hands and protest the lack of action taken by society, and those holding power, on issues like racial justice and climate change. Which, as we learn more about intersectional environmentalism, are inextricably linked.

It’s been proven that if 10% of the population holds an unshakable belief, it becomes the tipping point for social change (Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, 2011). So protesting is key to system change. But it’s all facets of society that need to work together to create a just and fair future.

While there are many ways to contribute and we really do believe change requires a whole-of-society approach. As designers and purpose-driven business owners, the year 2020 has offered time to reflect on the best possible contribution we can make.

We established Seljak Brand in 2016 to design out waste and make beautiful waste-to-resource products. Seljak Brand believes that waste is a design flaw. A carefully considered product will be without waste by nature because every resource is too precious to lose and therefore will be regenerative by design.

Globally, 50 million tonnes of clothes are thrown away each year and 80% ends up in landfill. Textiles in landfill emit harmful methane gases into the atmosphere (25 times more harmful than carbon), accelerating global warming. So Seljak Brand’s mission is to keep textiles waste out of landfill.

Seljak Brand’s first product was the closed loop, recycled merino wool blanket. It’s made from 70% recycled merino wool and 30% recycled mohair, cashmere, cotton and polyester. Using waste reduces carbon emissions two-fold; it reduces the extraction of new resources and the emissions associated with landfilling waste.

Not only is the blanket made from recycled materials, a process that mills around the world have been practicing for decades, it’s also recyclable at the end of its life. Once our customers no longer want their blanket, we’ll collect it and remanufacture it into more blankets. This process what is referred to as ‘closing the loop’ and exemplifies a circular economy system. A system that rejects the take-make-waste paradigm that we see all around us, and instead integrates the whole life cycle of the product so it never has the “waste” component. Our customers shouldn’t need to think about how to get rid of a Seljak Brand product. We do that.

But for us, it’s not only about closing the loop but making something that will last a long time in the first place. So we’re working with the oldest mill in Australia, where blankets have been known to outlive their owners. We don’t want to be part of a circular economy that justifies mass consumption and exploitative industries like fast fashion. We want to encourage quality over quantity and create for longevity.

Finally, we donate one blanket for every 10 sold to the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre (ASRC) in Melbourne where asylum seekers are made to feel welcome, safe and supported. Providing job training, access to health services and legal advice, as well as food and household goods (and warm blankets!), ASRC offers the support and opportunities asylum seekers need to live independently. Our grandparents were refugees from Slovenia and we know the impact of supporting asylum seekers making a home in a new country.

Along our journey with Seljak Brand we’ve realised that solving complex problems doesn’t exist in a vacuum, and that collaboration for innovation is key. Our latest project, Pressing Matters, is a collaboration with Sarah K of supercyclers to find a practical use for a by-product from the mattress recycling industry. The partner organisation recycles almost 1000 used mattresses a day in New South Wales alone. While they can recapture the timber, steel and foam, they are yet to find a solution for the textiles waste, which ends up being 5kg per mattress.

The mattress waste, or shoddy, is a combination of synthetic and natural materials, which are too difficult to separate at a fibre level when recycled. After joining forces in 2018, supercyclers and Seljak Brand tested the possibilities of using the waste and a hydraulic press to create a sturdy material suitable for furniture. Through a unique moulding process, a solid form was created with no additional chemicals added… and The Pressing Matters Floor Lounger was created.

While we hope to design our way out of job some day – that is when there is no more waste to work with – Seljak Brand remains active in finding ways to use waste as a resource and remanufacturable design solutions that create fair outcomes for both people and planet. The great news is that many others around the world are doing the same. But beyond that, millions of people are finding other ways to put pressure on unjust systems. And that’s what gives us hope.

Seljak Brand bio

Seljak Brand was co-founded by two sisters who imagine a world without waste. Karina and Samantha Seljak are finding new ways of making and using beautiful things that are regenerative by design. Seljak Brand's award-winning closed loop merino wool blanket is proving how small business can accelerate the transition to a circular economy and design for limiting global warming. Both sisters recently participated in Al Gore’s Climate Reality Training to develop Seljak Brand’s contribution to climate justice.

Karina Seljak is a trained fashion designer and marketer (Bachelors of Business and Bachelor of Fine Arts (Fashion)) obtained at QUT) with experience in brand management, design and entrepreneurship. She completed the Centre for Sustainable Leadership program in 2017. She spent over two years as a Digital Marketer for Australian Ethical (Australia’s first ethical superannuation company) and she’s currently Marketing Manager at B Corp-certified Nico, an LA based neighbourhood investment company.

Samantha Seljak is a social entrepreneur having started multiple community-driven initiatives in Brisbane. Alongside Bachelor of Business and Bachelor of Journalism, she obtained a Masters in Sustainability Leadership in Sweden in 2017. Samantha has experience in the purpose-driven business space having cut her teeth as the Project Manager at Gilimbaa Indigenous creative agency for three years. She also worked in Sweden as a Digital Marketing Consultant with clients like IKEA and organic skin care company Weleda.

Find out more about Seljak Brand on the Seljak Brand's blog.

Authors

Karina Seljak

Karina is Co-Founder of Seljak Brand and holds a double degree in Business and Fine Arts (Fashion Design) from QUT.

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Samantha Seljak

Samantha is Co-Founder & Director of Seljak Brand and holds a double degree in Business (Economics) and Journalism from QUT.

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