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Nellie Cohen

Nellie Cohen is the Director of Circular Revenue Models at Anthesis.

Nellie holds over 15 years’ sustainability experience and is widely recognized as a leading figure within the circular economy movement. She spent nearly a decade at Patagonia as the architect of the brand’s precedent-setting and award-winning circularity program, Worn Wear.

Prior to joining Anthesis, Nellie founded Baleen. There she consulted with notable apparel brands to develop circular business models, product systems and the related marketing and communications.

A former lecturer in Industrial Ecology at UC Santa Barbara, she holds a BA in Environmental Systems from UC San Diego and a MS in Biological Oceanography from Scripps Institution of Oceanography.

Listen to the episode

Tune in to find out about:


  • Nellie Cohen and her inspiring journey and experiences in the circular economy space.
  • Circularity examples of Nellie’s work at Anthesis.
  • Why Nellie emphasises the importance of making circular economy concepts more commonplace and accessible across industries.
  • The need to align incentives in buyback schemes to genuinely reduce the production of new garments and promote circularity.
  • The challenges of convincing company management to participate in circular practices while ensuring positive impacts and brand loyalty.
  • How integrating circular options such as buying used or renting products seamlessly within the online shopping experience will help scale circular practices.
  • And much more!


S7E15 Audiogram image

Barry O'Kane  00:10

Hello, and welcome back to HappyPorch Radio. This is season seven. And in this episode we're speaking to Nellie Cohen. Nellie is the director of Circular Business Models at the Anthesis group, which is a leading global pure play sustainability advisory and solutions firm. And they're also a certified B Corp, and they're spread across 22 countries globally. Emily, I really enjoyed this conversation with Nellie, I think she's really inspirational. I love that she's got this opportunity to work within Anthesis on circular business models and has broad experience and is able to share that with us in a very eloquent and articulate way. And it was just brilliant.

Emily Swaddle  00:44

Yeah, she was a pretty impressive person. In general, I thought, you know, like hearing about her professional experience, the things that she's done in her career. And also, we had some nice conversation, sort of, about the bigger picture stuff, which you know, I love about where does like ethical responsibility lie? Does it lie with the individual consumer? Does it lie with the company that's producing it's products and sort of that dance when it comes to circularity where that sort of plays into that? So yeah, it was a really good one.

Barry O'Kane  01:13

We're also seeing some of the recurring themes across the season. Again, now we talked about the change over the last 10 or more years, the maturing of the conversation about circularity, and also how very relevant to the technology sector and us, she talked about her experiences of seeing that change and the impact, and some of the potential negative impacts or outcomes of that change as well.

Emily Swaddle  01:37

Yeah, and how the conversation has become, you know, more commonplace, and also much broader. And that's like, reflected in her career that she's broadened out. And also this conversation is broadened out. So I think that is a really interesting thing that we keep coming back to as well across the seasons. But also looking ahead and thinking about the exciting things that, you know, are still sort of happening now. And still yet to come.

Barry O'Kane  02:01

And seeing how something she said that really stuck out for me was the conversation moving from Hey there's an opportunity to do this, or you should do this, or we think this could happen when you're talking to within, for example, a C suite and a brand about circularity, to becoming much more about this thing is happening in the world. How do you want to play? And I think that applies to her. She was talking about her clients and the work she's doing. We also touched on how that applies to us, as in our own businesses, our own careers and our own roles, professional roles, especially. And I love that aspect. And I think that's a really important conversation to be consistently coming back to. 

Emily Swaddle  02:39

Yeah, very true. 

Barry O'Kane  02:40

So without further ado, let's meet Nellie. 

Nellie Cohen  02:42

My name is Nellie Cohen. And I am the Director of Circular Business Models at Anthesis. Anthesis is the world's largest corporate sustainability. pure play consultancy. So all we do is corporate sustainability. And within my work, I help our clients figure out how to disconnect revenue generation from impact creation through circular business models like resale, renting, subscription, paper use, things like that.

Barry O'Kane  03:10

Wonderful. That's really exciting. Welcome to HappyPorch Radio.

Nellie Cohen  03:13

Thank you for having me. I'm happy to be here.

Barry O'Kane  03:16

And we've had some fun scheduling. So it's a real honour and pleasure that you've dug out the time to come and join us. And then we always like to start with a question. I'm kind of looking a little bit about where you came from, and what led you to this work that you're doing now? And why does it matter to you?

Nellie Cohen  03:29

Yeah, I think I mean, the origin for me came a long time, like 20 years ago. And I was working in a small outdoor gear shop in San Diego called Adventure 16. And, you know, we sold all sorts of really high-end, beautiful, outdoor gear products and Patagonia sent us a box to common threads recycling. And the idea was that customers would put their worn out gear and worn out Patagonia gear in this box, and then we would it send it back to Patagonia when it got full. And I thought that was just the coolest thing. First of all, like that's so interesting that a brand's willing to do that. And then the other thing is really interesting on this, the only piece that was ever in that box was one of the employees who was a very like avid climber and outdoors person. It was all pieces, his capilene was in there. And that was it. And the rest was just like fishing out coffee cups and newspapers and stuff like that, that people had dropped in the box. So that was also really curious too. Like, it doesn't seem like it's doing its job, or is it where the boxes are in the store or is it the community that we're in? Like I was asking myself all these questions and then fast forward a few years later, and I was an intern in the Patagonia's Environmental Department and one of the projects I was working on with the common threads recycling work. So sort of like a full story in full circle, if you will. And that led me over the years to continue to grow that role at Patagonia and take the programme from what was called Common Sense Recycling. That was a closed loop recycling programme for Patagonia clothing into a holistic Circular Economy story that continued to include recycling, but also the realisation that that was probably what we should be doing last. And instead of enabling and helping our customers to repair their gear, take it back for resale when they no longer needed it and to facilitate that, and then also to really help people change their relationship with stuff like to move away from just being a consumer of things into an owner. And an owner is really a different perspective on the things you own because you're willing to care for them, you want to care for them in the best way possible to to extend their product life, their usable life and keep them going. And then if you're no longer using it to take that responsibility of actually putting them back in the world. I did that for almost 10 years. And then my own consultancy continuing to work largely in the apparel space, with brands to help them figure this out. Similar business model, I built the first brand on Resale programme in the baby space with Ergobaby carriers, again, like a perfect product. It's like outdoor gear, it's super durable, super well made, and it gets used for, you know, six months to two years while your baby needs to be carried. And so like I couldn't have imagined a better product really to build that programme for. And then another really interesting one was Doen,local to me, Santa Barbara based, inspired women's clothing line that has an incredible following where people often are able to sell their used garments for above MSRP, like above the retail price, because there's limited quantities and favourite pieces. And like I said, it just has this incredible sort of almost cult, like following the fit, people really love that brand. And so they figured out a programme that made financial sense and resonated with their customers and was a great challenge and really proud of the programme that we developed together there. And then about a year ago, I had an opportunity to join Anthesis and I was really blown away with, like the outlook of the company and the culture. And I was really excited to have the opportunity to work with other Anthesis clients in different sectors to take everything I learned over the last 15 years in the apparel space, in Circular Economy apparel space and pressure tested and see like, does this work for other products and the short answer is it does, and I've just really been enjoying this opportunity to work with things like furniture and home appliances and life sciences. And you know, Anthesis really covers the whole sphere of sectors and industries. And it feels like a great marriage between experience and current access or relationships with other sectors.

Barry O'Kane  07:51

That's amazing. One of the things that we're looking to explore in this season is themes or patterns that people are seeing across circularity, and one of the things that I picked up in what you're describing there that echoes sort of my journey a little bit. And I guess the journey that I'm seeing in the world is the people moving from X number of years ago, from a Hey,we can recycle our way to put to positive impact to oh, wait a minute, that's the bottom line. There's a whole world of conversations and opportunity that we should be having way before we get to that point. And as you turn talking about ownership and so on, as you reflect on your journey through that, do you think that I'm right in saying that conversation is a lot more mainstream than it was? And a bit more mature than it was?

Nellie Cohen  08:34

Yeah, absolutely. I mean, that was when I was at Patagonia, we were working closely with Annie Leonard, if you remember the Story of Stuff, which was just these incredible little vignettes that were drawn, you know, and she was one of the people who really inspired our team at that time to be like, Guys, like the stuff is really well made. No wonder you're not collecting a lot of stuff that in fact that experience that we had had around recycling in that little shop I was working on was representative of really what was happening and the entire programme was taking us we were able to do it, but it's taken a long time, frankly, to fill enough stuff to send it out for recycling. You know, we weren't going to airmail used garments, like we had to fill an ocean going container to make the carbon balance work. That's one of the most wonderful things that's happened about mainstreaming of the Circular Economy, I think is this understanding that you know, recycling does come last but it also depends on the product. You know, recycling will still be very, very important for things like packaging, single use technologies that we've become accustomed to, or reliant upon or have proven to be safer, healthier, smaller footprint to make. Like recycling is still a very, very important part of that story. But for you know, goods that we can continue to use things like apparel or, or baby gear, furniture, things like that, focusing on creating products with smaller footprints and then putting them into a system and then to a Circular Economy system like a business and an infrastructure to keep them circling as Ellen MacArthur Foundation says you can circulate in their highest value for as long as possible. That means like keeping them in their current state, like a shirt stays a shirt, a couch stays a couch for as long as possible to maximise the utility and the lifespan of that. And that is a conversation that is increasingly, I think, better understood today than it was 10 years ago. Absolutely. People are getting that for sure.

Barry O'Kane  10:24

Just to pick up the challenges in those conversations as well or what would you pick up or point to as the biggest challenges you've seen, we're talking about that becoming more mainstream, those conversations becoming smarter, I like to think of as more mature, but at the same time, it's still very nascent. And there's still challenges and all of that. So what would you point to as the biggest and in the broadest sense, the biggest challenges that you've seen over that timescale?

Nellie Cohen  10:46

The crux is like, of what I am doing on a daily basis is, you know, working with our clients in a massive change management way, where we're saying, they've decided, Hey, I want to do this, I'm excited about this change my company, but that changes is literally moving from, you know, businesses for decades or hundreds of years, or however long they've may have been in existence that's completely linear, for the most part, and you make a product and you sell it, and maybe you do repair it here or there. But now you're saying, Okay, you're now going to service this project, and you're going to create a circular model. And that can feel threatening and scary within different stakeholders in the company, you know, people who are in charge of selling new products and say, Wait, now you're going to sell the same product at a lower price, like, how does that affect my well being within this company? Is that going to affect you know, my ability to achieve my goals, and that, you know, and we know, that's tied to people's compensation. And so it can feel really scary. I see that a lot less today than 10 years ago, but it certainly exists. Or there's people you know, who run a warehouse are like, Oh, wait a second, my job is to get all the things from door A to door B as fast as I can as efficiently as possible. Now, you're telling me Door B is going to open up and all this stuff is going to come back? They're like, Wait, that's not what I'm supposed to do. And so it's a huge mindset shift that has to happen. But what's really interesting, this kind of ties into your question is that 10 years ago, this conversation was like, Hey, I think we could do all this, I think this would be a really great approach for sustainability and, and for in new business, you know, talking to the C suite, like you should really consider this. I feel like we could be innovation leaders here. And you tell us all this sort of like, I think I think I think we think we think we predict this, this this could happen. And today that conversation at that level and company is this is happening with your products, your choices, whether you want to control the experience or not. And that is so different, you know, to be able to say, Well look, you know, we can see that your products are being transacted in these several ways by your customers today. Do you want to manage this experience, like it's going to happen? So your choice is to just let it happen and leave that money on the table and leave that customer experience on the table? Or pick it up and run with it? That's a huge change.

Emily Swaddle  13:01

Yeah. And how the companies feel about that. I mean, well, how does that conversation go?

Nellie Cohen  13:07

That's usually when a light bulb goes off, you know, where it's like, Oh, that's a different decision. That's not an If, that’s a How decision and then so how do we do it? And that begs the question of like, the extent to which we want to participate in this part of our customer journey, and it varies, you know, on the type of product to, you know, how much authentication matters maybe to the product safety? Like, what is the role that the brand retailer can play in creating a safer, more reliable experience? And I think it's, you know, obviously, probably no surprise in our household, my husband and I always try to buy used stuff for the most part and start there. And recently, he's just been on a horrible losing streak on eBay. It's like buying a second thing is something he owns because he loves it, right? Even like, Okay, this is my size, this is the style, this is what I want getting the item from eBay and somebody's gets clearly shrunk in the dryer, or it was like the wrong tag was sewn in, you know, it's like two inches, like smaller than it's supposed to be. And those are the examples where it's like, I just want to call those brands and be like, you guys, this is not what you want your customers to experience. The margin might be a little bit less on that use product but like you have a repeat customer you're missing a loyalty opportunity and he's having to actually like I can see the return package right here and put this in, like a Norona shirt back to Poland. You know, like that is, now we're like transporting things across the world that don't fit. So I think there's a really, really important place for brands to play in here and retailers to that, No, these are experts in logistics and customer service, you know, like their expertise should be in the secondary market experience of their customers, if they want to retain their customers for life.

Emily Swaddle  14:50

So you mentioned about a shift in your experience from sort of having to like, convince executives that you can do this, this is something that can happen to showing them you know, this is happening, do you want to be part of it? Do you still come up against like, even now in like, 2023, do you still come up against resistance to being part of that sort of circular conversation?

Nellie Cohen  15:13

I wouldn't call it resistance, but I would call it hesitation. I think it can feel like a lot, you know, especially in summer, like the variable economic conditions that have been happening through COVID. And now they have some supply surfaces is like, and you know, yes and no, like, I understand the hesitation completely. And I can empathise with that. But I guess after doing this so many times and building so many programmes and like the old adage is like, it's just like eating an elephant and you just do it, you just break it down into small pieces, manageable pieces, you scope pilots, you can put boundaries on a programme to get your feet wet and get that experience. But I always say like, if you figured out how to sew a shirt in China, with materials from India and transport it across the world, like, you can do this and I mean that in a complementary way, like your people are brilliant. This is solvable. This is very, very solvable.

Barry O'Kane  16:08

That's a brilliant spin from every job is a climate or every job is a circular job thing is the thing. You have the skillsets, either that's an individual or the company looking at their team. And it's a powerful opportunity, rather than a challenge to say, well, let's take that skill set and just apply it to this problem. I like that.

Emily Swaddle  16:24

I'm interested in because you obviously started in the sort of fashion world. And you said, you know, you talked briefly about that. Applying what you've learned that to more industries. We've talked to a lot of people over the series that Barry and I talked together with and who work in fashion or have that focus, I'd like to hear from you to sort of what you think makes that industry particularly, I mean, maybe it isn't particularly important, but do you think it's like particularly, you know, a significant place, especially having started there, and then how transferable is that to like, other industries, or how does it differ?

Nellie Cohen  17:03

Yeah, I'm biassed, I guess, because I come from the industry. I love clothes. I love gear. I love fashion. Like, I'm not fashionable, but I love the idea of it. I think what's important about fashion and about clothing and footwear broadly, is that it's one of the main ways we feel today to empower to express ourselves. I don't know if that's right. I mean, I don't know if like, we could probably like go down a rabbit hole and say, like, we need more art in the schools or music in the schools or like we've lost extracurriculars. And I do think this is true, I do think that we've started to train at a younger younger age, that like consumption is expression of self, which it shouldn't be. I mean, it can be part of it. But you know, that's a very like, extrinsic value, you know, and that's part of the reason that the fashion industry is also important is because it produces so much excess stuff every year. And I think that, you know, there's been some instrumental and influential reports, in the fashion industry over the years about this that have been very tangible to people. I think this is like, it's kind of an easy thing to get, because we have the problem in our own closets. You know, if you open up your drawers and stuff exploding, and then you read a report about, you know, what, we're just sending new clothing to be incinerated or something like, I think it's like, we kind of get it like on a very, like, clear experiential level. And then you know, it is even when the numbers say it's somewhere between 4 and 10% of total GHG emissions each year comes from fashion, or, you know, clothing production. So, like, that's not a small number. It's not as big, you know, as other sectors, but it's noticeable, and it's something that we do every day. It's like eating, like we get dressed, and we eat every day. So when we think about environmental problems, the things that we experience are powerful. They're not like, you know, I think like you can understand magnitude, right? You have to buy food on a daily or weekly basis, like you get dressed a couple times a day, like so I think that's where fashion has some pole. And it's important. It's such a part of our daily lives and defining our sense of self and identity.

Emily Swaddle  19:11

And tell us about about sort of what you could take from your experience in that industry to other industries. Or maybe where you came up across sort of like, oh, this is just completely different.

Nellie Cohen  19:23

Yeah, I mean, the thing that is the thread I would say across any circular business model is that my perspective and the way we conduct our work is that we start with a customer or guest and product focus, like you can build and you have to remember that these, no matter what industry you're working in, your supply chain is now your people. And so you're not going to put an order into for, you know, whatever meant, you know, 100, new sweaters and coming, you're going to hope that you have 100 customers that want each send you something, or that wants to just access your product. And so you have to understand and really start with who are these people? And what's their value? And like, why would this matter to them? And frankly, a lot of it's not sustainability that like most customers are like, oh, I want to access things that I want at a lower price. That's usually the motivating factor. And that's fine. I mean, I am not like, I don't care how we get there, like we just have to get there, we just have to get into a world that makes fewer things and creates greater access to those things for more people. The motivation for it doesn't matter if from an ethical sense or something like that. But it does matter for designing the programme. You know, it does matter for like, how you build a you know, some, like when it comes to like baby gear, like you have to think about the customer, right? Like, if you have a new baby, you have to make this really, really easy for parents, like they're already exhausted and asking them to do take some sustainability steps, while they might perhaps say, Oh, yeah, I'd love to do that, you know, when you wake up in the morning, after being up all night, like no, this has to be easy. So understanding the customer is the most important thing that doesn't matter what industry or brand, that is the first and foremost place we start.

Emily Swaddle  21:04

That's really interesting. What I hear you saying is that shift from the ethical responsibility in the hands of individual consumers, to the ethical responsibility being in the hands of the businesses themselves. So actually, the consumers can just consume whatever they need to consume and trust that it's going to be ethically sourced and, you know, recycled and that they can repair it and all that jazz, that actually that isn't in there. Like as a consumer, I don't have to worry too much about that. 

Nellie Cohen  21:36

I still believe in like the perspective we had at Patagonia, which was to design a programme where we take mutual responsibility for the stuff we make and you buy that was how we always thought about the Worn Wear programme there, and it's on the brand to create opportunities, but it's on the customer to take advantage of those opportunities. Like, I think it's important to ask people to take these ethical or, you know, pro-environmental steps, but you have to also meet them where they are as a brand. There's a level of mutual responsibility. And I mean, this is a world where brands are making things, but it's like they actually have to create these opportunities. But I think we like tend to dumb down consumers and I always think about Wall-E and people are smart, and we need to treat them as citizens, I guess what I was trying to say is those that they're the motivation, if they want to repair something, because it costs less than replacing it, that's great. If that's what draws them in, fantastic. If they just want to rent something because it's cheaper, great. And then you tell them Hey, by the way, it's really cool that you did this, or are considering doing this because it has these environmental benefits. But I don't think that like the carrot out there is going to be good for the planet, like come in, repair your stuff. I mean, that will draw a certain percentage of people who share that value deeply. But for the most part, you know, that cost savings is usually the primary factor or the main, the initial factor that will bring people in,

Emily Swaddle  23:03

I wonder if that's a shift, like generationally, you know, I wonder if more younger people would be drawn in by that, obviously, there's always going to be a financial factor, you just can't afford something you can't afford. Right. Like, that's just the bottom line. But in terms of that motivation that you say, I wonder if it skews younger, that people are more motivated by that environmental. 

Nellie Cohen  23:26

Yeah, I mean, I think that you know, brands that have this you know, stellar sustainability leadership reputation like at Patagonia the fact that they walk their talk, like that they profess to be doing all this work in sustainability, but actually give their customers a very real, like visceral experience of watching their stuff get repaired on a one way event. I think that's extremely important for younger people's perception of the brand, and for identifying and defining how they want to interact with brands in their life. You know, who they want to purchase from and how they want to maintain the products that they purchase. That's huge, like the environmental benefits of other repair for example, are probably valuable beyond measure.

Barry O'Kane  24:07

I wanted to bring in something else that we discussed offline, which was connected to an article you wrote a couple months ago on GreenBiz, which we'll share a link to in the Show Notes. Well, I read it as talking about holding, resale or buyback schemes, particularly kind of holding them to account so to speak, so that it needs to have a genuine, the whole goal, particularly Circular Economy, in an ethical point of view, and environmental point of view, is to reduce the amount of new garments or new materials. So my point being that aligning those incentives, which we're talking about, okay, it's a mutual responsibility of the customer and the brand,we can't have the brand going, Oh, this looks cool. I can sell more stuff by jumping on this bandwagon.

Nellie Cohen  24:48

Yeah, I think that  actually really connects the question, Emily just asked if like, for better for worse, you know, adoption and excitement around circular business models, specifically apparel, resale, and the desire for brands to, and  I don't want to be presumptuous, but I think there's been some really amazing Wholemarth programmes, One Wear being one of them. Eileen Fisher's programme, also been one of them and frankly, an inspiration for One Wear, REI has a huge, like, wonderful programme, so there's many like great programmes that they take in a tonne of work and tonne of people. And then, so you have those as like, maybe the innovative leaders are legendary, sort of like role model programmes, and seeing the popularity and the affinity that young people show towards those brands that are doing this kind of work, of course, has led to an influx in investment in technology and startups. And that's a good thing in a lot of ways. Because when we started Worn Wear there was nothing. You know, our initial foray into digital reseller choices were like Craigslist and eBay, we went with eBay for a time. But when we wanted to, like build this programme in-house, that's where it became extremely daunting. And so having, you know, services available, it's been an incredible way to sort of like leapfrog, and get a programme going right away. The downside of that is that this has effectively, sort of, become a box checking exercise with the creation of peer to peer resale, where the brand never actually takes physical possession of the items. And consumers are exchanging the items with each other, which at first glance seems like fantastic, you're cutting down on transportation, people are generating. They're recouping value from the investment they've made in the product. And you're sort of like, have this sort of optimised allocation of goods, right? Like the people who have the stuff, get the stuff, the people who want it. The problem is, you mentioned Barry, is the incentive scheme that is included in this and that the role of the brand in these programmes, I kind of think of as almost like an escrow agent, where they like run the transaction, they hold the monetary component of this, and they take the incoming payment in cash and translate that to a gift card that goes to the seller. And the problem is that the gift card often only works to purchase new stuff. So you create a circular transaction with a linear consequence. And so, you know, I think it's fair to say that when this peer to peer transaction happens, there's some displacement of the purchase of new things, which is the goal, but for every displacement of purchase a new thing, you've also incentivized a purchase of a new thing. So I feel, you know, we're doing a lot of work at Anthesis on calculating these impacts so that brands can understand if they've created something that's going to reduce their footprint or not. And, you know, I fear that there's, I guess it' neutral, there's just like a cancelling out of the benefits because yeah, one used thing for the one new thing or multiple new things. So you know, depending on how people choose to behave with that gift card that they've received. So I guess it's like, it's sort of easier said than done to do it, right?

Barry O'Kane  27:49

No, it's complex. That's another theme that we've touched on this season. A lot is kind of embracing the fact that it isn't just, you know, here's a sticky plaster, let's fix this quickly, here's the magic solution kind of thing. It is complex, and a lot of it is or feels new. So we kind of need to learn these, like as you just said, the impacts, the secondary impacts of what on surface looks like this wonderful, circular transaction. And so embracing that complexity is really interesting, and really important. But also it ties back to what we were saying before about mutual responsibility. If I as the brand or whatever, I'm thinking, Okay, here's not a pure profit driven incentive opportunity for me. But if I don't have some, you know, the second part of that equation, I won’t be able to bring it up. I used the term maturity earlier, and I genuinely feel that it's important instead of like, sort of, ice viewed in the cartoon style of Hey, kids running around collecting lots of money, I can do these things and forgetting what the impact is. But if we can have an adult conversation about, Okay, well, let's think about this, with the business and with these other hats on and it's much more powerful. But the other thing I wanted to jump on just for the last few minutes of our conversation is you brought in the technology aspect there, which is obviously a big aspect of where we come from. My business at HappyPorch, we do software development. And that's kind of, one of the overarching themes of this podcast. And so I'd love to explore a little bit more about what you touched on there, you touched on the fact that in recent years, the technology landscape is changing, and some of these solutions are starting to be available. You also touched on the downside of that. But I'd love to hear a little bit more, just really quickly, your thoughts on, for those listening who work in the sector, who are running agencies or software businesses, or who work as professionals in the industry, you know, talking a little bit about the landscape, as you see it, and the opportunities, I guess, for people to work and have an impact in that area?

Nellie Cohen  29:32

Yeah, I think I always use an analogy of like, the recycling bin next to the garbage bin, like, you have to make things as easy as possible for people, right?So it's like, they just have to move their hand three inches to drop the thing in the recycling bin. I guess I have to think about it too. And that's really what technology can do. You know, I think with the rise of e-commerce, you know, over the last 20 years or so, like the shopping experience is beautiful, the e-commerce experience, I mean, the things that you can do, and ways you can look at products is vastly improved. And so whatever we're doing to the linear system, we have to do to the circular system, we have to make that recycling bin next to the operable to the linear system. So you know, anybody who's working in e-commerce, software technology. Whatever we can do to create an analogous experience in circular business models is going to be what helps this whole world scale. I was talking to a friend, yesterday, I had an experience of buying some used running shoes. And I was articulating like, yeah, it was like, it was so great, I love these shoes. But it was my third time trying it because the first few times I got so frustrated or just like exhausted, because I had to shop the new site to understand all the different products, you know, like the product attributes and colours and what the intention was of each shoe. And it's a new brand to me. So I was, you know, learning the brand for the first time, did that twice. And the third time, it's like, I really need a new pair of running shoes, like my old ones are, they're done. And so I went through the process of finding the shoe on the new site. And then I went and searched for that product, because the used didn't have any of that information. It didn't have any guides on how to find the product they wanted. So I had to lean on to different websites. And that also require that I use a computer, not a mobile device. So I think that's a great example of like, you have to be pretty committed to at that point you know, want to buy something used. And that's not for everybody, understandably so. So I think the more we can leverage and modify existing tools and technologies that we use in our linear systems, the circular one to like is just and greater integration to I mean, I think some of the gold standards that we should be aiming for, it's like when you search for a product and a brand's website, it should pull up all the traces, like new and used, or rental, you know, like, what are all the ways that I could use this product, I could buy it new, I could buy it used, or I could just rent it, or you know, subscribe to it per the short amount of time that I need, like, you shouldn't go through three different shopping experiences, to find that, so like that's an interesting one. And then all its, you know, fit tools and product reviews, and all the things that make that digital shopping experience more robust in the circular system. And I think that brick and mortar should not be left out of this conversation too. It is so much easier to shop for used things when you can touch, feel them and try them on. That's one of those hard conversations we were talking about earlier in the podcast is how do you go to a retail team and say, you know how you are trying to maximise your dollars per square foot and, and you know how you have all these new products you want to sell, we actually want to bring the old ones back that have like seen the light of day in your store, and we want to put them back here. You know, that's different. But I think like denim is a really good example of where that can be tricky. You know, it's very, I think, you know, buying jeans is tricky, especially for women, I think, different than just having a length size measurement. Like you really need to try those things on. So having denim in a store. That's a really classic example there. But yeah, anybody who's listening to this, who works in the technology sphere, what's the skill set that you have that you know, works in the linear space? And how could you bring it to the circular space?

Emily Swaddle  33:09

I totally related to your example of the running shoes thing and the amount of times had tabs open? You know, and I'm like going back and forth on this website seems to have exactly the same thing, but it's a little bit cheaper and I don't know why and like is it older? Just trying to like, work it all out. Totally relate to that.

Nellie Cohen  33:27

This kind of goes back to like, if the brands don't do it, somebody else will and there's a group of great folks actually here, in my neck of the woods in Santa Barbara area that have created I guess, and I'm not to protect us I think it's a part of Chrome extension is like a plugin for your browser. And it's called Beni. B-E-N-I. But What's so cool about it is that you turn it on and as you are looking for something like you're looking for Patagonia down sweater, it pops up in a reall, like, not in an offensive way, on the slightest. Like, here's three used ones. Here it is on eBay, here it is on Poshmark. Like, here it is on Onewear and so it's scraping the internet of all the circular options as like, that's what we need, you know, that's the equivalent of all your tabs open where you're like, it doesn't always work, you know, it's not always a perfect match. It reminds me of when I'm trying to take that shortcut of like, I just need to order that something for the kids or whatever. It's like, Oh, I should try that.

Emily Swaddle  34:17

That is an exciting thing. And like, there's a lot of exciting new things cropping up, I feel, all over the place. But I'm interested to know, like, from where you stand right now and the work that you're doing, looking forward, what feels exciting to you right now?

Nellie Cohen  34:33

What certainly is exciting to me is the tech realisation that we're not going to get out of this in an easy way. I think the peer to peer business model that's persisted through apparel and other industries, is good for people who are willing to spend the time listing their items, and like, have that time. But there's a lot of people out there, which means there's a lot of unused stuff, you just want to drop it somewhere and know that it's gonna go to a good place. And what that's forcing is a relationship building moment and a synergy moment between operational providers and technology providers within the Circular Economy. So I think it feels like an evolutionary moment right now, where we're gonna start to see people partner and figure out like, the systems that are going to evolve and exist in the next world. So I think that's exciting. And just broadly speaking, kind of going back to what we were talking in the beginning, this isn't like a fringe conversation, and what if conversation  about how we're going to do it conversation in every sector. I felt like when I was building Worn Wear, that I would be in Patagonia forever, because no brand would ever want to do this crazy of a thing. And now it's like, we're so busy. And we almost don't have duplicity in any of our clients. From a sector standpoint, we are working so broadly. And that feels more exciting to me than almost any moment in my career, maybe other than launching Worn Wear which was like my first child. It just feels really, really good to see this momentum. Really exciting.

Barry O'Kane  36:02

That's awesome. And it was just looking at the clock, and I was about to ask you about the last couple of questions, you answered already. Like an example and you talked about the technology there. And then the How, and for me, the technology opportunity, you mentioned is part of that how that gets moved from, Oh, there's something happening over there to any of us and all of us, there's a thing to do here, and there's an opportunity. And then it's okay, well how rather than when I should when I have time getting involved environmental, or something like that, you know? So that's pretty awesome. Thank you so much. Unfortunately, we're running out of time. Just finally, for those who are listening, who want to find out more about the work that you do. Where should they go?

Nellie Cohen  36:39

Well, I'm always on LinkedIn, you can find me, Nellie Cohen. And then you can also find our work at Lots of information there. And yes, a couple of my GreenBiz pieces, I think would be, if you're interested, if any of this makes sense and is interesting, those are good reads on the same thing.

Barry O'Kane  36:56

Awesome. Thank you so much. As usual, we share those on the Show Notes and Anthesis is  a n t h e s i s 

Nellie Cohen  37:03


Barry O'Kane  37:05

Awesome. Thank you so much. Really appreciate your time. I wish we could talk for another two hours, but you know, real life.

Nellie Cohen  37:11

Well, this is awesome. I really appreciate you guys having me. And thank you for the conversation. And it was really fun. 

Emily Swaddle  37:17

Thank you, Nellie.  

Thank you for listening to this episode of HappyPorch Radio. You can find past episodes, transcripts and show notes at You can also get in touch with us there and let us know what you think or if you have any ideas or comments. Please rate the podcast, share and subscribe so that more people can find the show.


Barry O'Kane  37:40

Thanks for listening. My name is Barry O'Kane. I founded HappyPorch who fund and support this podcast. At HappyPorch we do technology and software development for purpose led businesses and we're particularly excited about the role of digital as an enabler for the Circular Economy. If you're working on solutions to the big problems we face today, problems like climate change, biodiversity loss and global inequality then let's connect,visit and get in touch.


Emily Swaddle  38:04

And I'm Emily Swaddle, podcaster coach, facilitator and storyteller. You can find me on my other podcast, the Carbon Removal Show, and you can find out more about that project and everything else I do at where you can also subscribe to my Newsletter All about Rest. If you're interested in anything I do, feel free to connect. You can email me on [email protected]