How SUSS Circle Helped Us Redefine Our Purpose

Twenty individuals braved Zoom fatigue on February 20, 2021 to discuss the ways in which they could collaborate to build a sustainable fashion industry together. They represented some leading names in the niche space occupied by fashion brands trying to be ethical, including Swara — Voice of Women, Tamarind Chutney, Conserve India, AltMat, and Kosha Travel Wear. In this piece we look back on our first ever SUSS Circle.

Last year, we took a break to gather information and re-evaluate our mission and priorities (like almost everyone else caught off-guard by the pandemic-induced lockdown). We spoke to several of our community members, attended virtual bootcamps and talks, and read what we could find about similar communities around the world. One key finding that emerged from this exercise was that fashion brands in India that are trying to be ethical aren’t collaborating enough. They’re solving common problems but are not talking to each other, thus limiting potential impact. This realisation planted the seed for the SUSS Circle.

Watering the seed

The solution, to our mind, was to bring people who are trying to reimagine the fashion industry in sustainable and mindful ways together. To enable them to identify common pain points and share their learnings with each other. But the big question around execution was how can we bring them together and stir meaningful, actionable discussions for everyone involved? Being a fierce advocate of design thinking, having used it to solve real-world problems in many contexts before, we decided to use this creative problem solving process. However, design-thinking is a linear, problem-solution approach. While it works well in some cases, it can’t always fit complex, non-linear environments where many problem-solution loops exist and interact with each other. So we added futures thinking — an informed reflection on the possibilities beyond today — to the mix.

The day of

Our first ever SUSS Circle took place on February 20. We enlisted two expert facilitators to moderate a group of 13 participants who had been familiarized with the basics of design thinking and futures thinking through pre-readings. Over the course of three hours we divided participants into smaller groups to take them through a series of brainstorming activities and exercises designed to help unlock ideas.

In the first half of the session, we brought out a card game which tested our participants with different scenarios. The prompt format was:

In a world where <State of the World> how can fashion brands collaborate with <Industry Name>to create a mood of <Mood>

All teams worked through three prompts, spending close to 15 minutes brainstorming, sharing individual ideas for each.

The second half was about convergence when each team picked one idea that aligned with their collective goals, to flesh it out further — especially looking at aspects of feasibility, viability, and sustainability impacts.

The final ideas included developing a board game on plastic waste and recycling, using post consumer textile waste for food packaging, and a media campaign to encourage sustainable practises such as buying second-hand.

The plant continues to grow

In the spirit of SUSS Circle, a space designed for learning, we’d like to share some key takeaways from the event. Most importantly, the first step towards actionable collaboration is to bring the right people to the table. However, what follows as a result of this is equally important. Ideas are important but execution moves things along. At SUSS, we’re committed to lending a hand. We are internally discussing if we can make these meet-ups a regular feature of our programming. One of our community members, and the co-founder of Tamarind Chutney, Tanvi Bhikchandani suggested viewing these SUSS Circles as a brain trust to solve everyday problems suggested by participants around sourcing, materials, and marketing.

Lastly, there’s nothing like a three-hour brainstorming session about causes you wholeheartedly believe in, to re-energize you. Nandini Misra, the founder of clothing brand Studio Meera, summarized it perfectly when she said, “At a time when creative blocks and stagnancy are common, SUSS Circle was a brilliant way to get those creative juices flowing. It was heartening to be a part of this group of people trying to unlock potential sustainability solutions.”

And it was then, through SUSS Circle, that we were able to identify our own guiding force, our mission.

SUSS works to create learning opportunities for people looking to build a better fashion industry.

And, hopefully, that means you.

This article has been written by Lavanya Garg, the co-founder of SUSS.