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Top signal spotter feature - May 2017

Sensemaking / Top signal spotter feature - May 2017

What makes a top signal spotter? Find out in our interview with Gwyneth Fries, top signal spotter of May 2017.

By Gwyneth Marcelo / 09 Jun 2017
Photo from Gwyneth Fries, Art by Dorothy Ng

Our hearty congratulations to Gwyneth Fries for taking the top signal spotter of the month award for submitting our most-read signal of change: “Infinite designer wardrobe app enables sustainable fashion future”!

Gwyn, tell us a bit about who you are.

I’d say I’m a mom, first a foremost, a life-long learner with a passion for supply chain and logistics, a bit of an athlete and a Senior Sustainability Advisor at Forum for the Future. 

How did you first start spotting signals?

When I started working at Forum, I began spotting signals. At first, it was tough. I kept coming up with things that the Futures Centre team had already spotted months ago, which was a bit discouraging. Over time, I’ve gotten a bit better and am able to recognize when something is completely new and when it has the potential to transform our world.

It’s a great exercise and one everyone should be involved in, because it keeps you asking good questions about what’s next and thinking at the frontier. The whole practice of looking for signals helps me to think in more innovative ways. It’s even become a fun family activity as well: my husband searches around for signals to surprise me and share with me over dinner in the evenings - though he’s not very active on social media platforms, so I often get to take credit for his good signal spotting!

Do you scan for a specific area?

Yes, indeed. I believe that logistics companies have a big role to play in enabling a sustainable future, particularly when it comes to the circular economy. Because of that, I assign myself the responsibility of tracking what’s happening in supply chain and food logistics innovation for sustainability. We’re starting to see self-driving cargo trucks and automated cargo vessels, which is really exciting, as well as new modes of transport like the hyper-loop and personalized flying drones, which will supposedly make their debut in Dubai this year. I also see lots of potential for the use of blockchain to level the playing field for traders from developing countries - if only the regulatory bodies will accelerate their process to accommodate it.

Signal spotting is a great exercise and one everyone should be involved in, because it keeps you asking good questions about what’s next and thinking at the frontier. The whole practice of looking for signals helps me to think in more innovative ways.

Why did you feel that “Infinite designer wardrobe app enables sustainable fashion future” was a signal of change?

Style Theory is a subscriptions-based ‘infinite’ wardrobe, the first in Singapore. I was so excited to get off the waiting list and start using it. While there are other similar models in the US, I was really struck by the importance of partnership to this model – HonestBee, which originated as a grocery delivery service, and the door-to-door dry cleaning service, are an integral part of the business: there is no way Style Theory can exist without these partners! It’s exciting to see small businesses leveraging their expertise to create new solutions, so part of this signal is about the future structure of the economy.

The other part of this signal that stood out to me was how it may solve a global sustainability problem, which is fast fashion. Our increasing desire for greater diversity of affordable, interesting and new clothing fuels an unsustainable clothing market, with huge global chains with economies of scale producing cheap materials and cheap labour. I think a lot of people want to buy more sustainable clothing from small designers, but it’s unaffordable. Style Theory satisfied that desire for a constantly changing wardrobe – you never get tired of anything – and allows one item to be used more often.

Now, each individual item does have a huge carbon footprint, especially if you factor in the dry cleaning, and I’m still not sure what they do with the clothes when they’re gotten too tired to wear.

The fact is, though, the basic model is the beginning of a completely new way of engaging with your wardrobe, enabling more diversity and choice at potentially lower cost.    
What are your hopes for the future?

So many hopes! Most importantly here, I’d like to see circular business models go mainstream, so that it becomes routine for everyone to expend as much energy and resource disposing of things properly as they do acquiring things. I’d like to see a future in which everything we own is modular and interchangeable, easy to update, and there’s as little packaging as possible.

What might the implications of this be? What related articles have you seen?

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