What if we could identify and track the lifecycle of every garment, or even every product, we use? What if we never had to discard the things we buy, but instead gave them new life through resale, renting, reusing, and recycling? And how could technology help make this circular economy a reality?
Natasha Franck’s journey as a founder and environmental technologist began with these provocative questions. Although she didn’t have a background in technology, she was driven by the idea of finding a way to digitize and identify the products we use every day. “Imagine the benefits to the economy, environment, and the world,” she thought, “when every product is used to its fullest potential, and then recycled and remade continuously.”
Technology may be the solution, but the technology needs to be designed by people who understand the problem.Natasha Franck, CEO & Founder, Eon
Her research led her to IoT (Internet of Things) technology. The more she learned, the more she realized how much IoT and circular economies—both systems of interconnectivity—have in common not only with each other, but also with nature. “Nature is all about interconnectivity and designing systems that are adaptive and responsive, not hierarchical or rigid,” says Natasha.
Laying the foundation for a new normal
And so, Natasha founded her company Eon in 2015 to bring IoT-connected products to the retail and fashion world. But she knew making her vision a reality also meant fundamentally changing the way a global industry had been operating for decades. “In fashion, where there are 150 billion articles of clothing made every year and 90% of these textiles are ending up in a landfill, the consumption of resources and production of waste is never-ending,” says Natasha. As she studied the problem, she saw the potential for IoT and connected products to enable a new system that could benefit the economy as well as the environment.
“It was a business solution to the environmental crisis. And that's what made me believe that it would be viable—that the industry would embrace it—which is key to making sustainable change.”
- Natasha Franck
To get buy-in, Natasha knew Eon would have to take incremental steps. So, she began by thoughtfully forming partnerships with brands to introduce the idea of connected products and circular economy business models. The goal was to “build scale around this idea and make it the new normal,” even if she was met with some initial skepticism.
“When I presented the idea to people and they didn’t see it, I felt like they would eventually see it, she says. “That’s been a big part of our journey—bringing people on board to the vision of the future that we believe, and partnering with them to create that future.”
And over time, her dedication to building connections on multiple levels started paying off. Natasha won the H&M Global Change Award in 2016, and ShopTalk and Fashion for Good soon after. Eon now powers connected products for some of the industry’s largest global brands and retailers. She partnered with Microsoft to develop the SaaS platform that helps power Eon. Those relationships have helped to create the essence of what Eon is today.
“Eon has relied a lot on partnerships—maybe that’s even part of being a female founder,” says Natasha, noting that building relationships is her strong suit as a founder. “We relied more on friendships and building networks and people partnering around our ideas, and less so on traditional investment.”
If there’s any industry that can inspire a more beautiful future, it’s fashion.Natasha Franck
Where industry meets the Internet of Things
After years of research to design and build this digital foundation, Eon developed and launched the CircularID™ Protocol—the global language for connected products in the circular economy. The CircularID Protocol outlines all the data that should be attached to a product, enabling it to be resold or recycled. Now, Eon is working with global brands and retailers to introduce connected products with CircularID data so they can be managed sustainably across their lifecycle. Eon marries the data to each product using hardware sewn into the garment, such as an RFID, NFC, or QR code.
But as brands now race to implement new sustainable business models like rental and resale, the task can seem daunting: how do you give every single product a unique digital identity? That’s where Natasha and her team come in, giving brands the tools they need to make the transition. Eon gives products a digital birth certificate, so to speak, with all the information it needs to be resold, recycled, or reused. They also give every item a digital passport, showing where products come from and where they go during their lifecycle.
Of course, connecting products then raises a new question: how can brands actually access all this information in a meaningful and useful way? In other words, if a brand digitizes all its products but no one can process or see those IDs, then what’s the point? This is where Natasha’s passion for relationships and interconnectivity comes in. Eon provides the online platform based on Microsoft Azure that orchestrates the digitization in a way that enables all the participants to communicate.
This mirrors how Eon works with companies, as well as the culture of the team within Eon itself. When Eon works with brands, they work together across different departments, like sustainability and technology, to design meaningful solutions. “Our team brings together people from design, engineering, production, and sustainability. By bringing together these different minds, skills, and perspectives, Eon is better able to design the solution,” says Natasha. Today, the Eon team is poised to scale their growing IoT platform and empower greater adoption of circular business models industry-wide.
Natasha believes it takes a systems-based approach to design a connected and circular business model, and ultimately unlock new forms of value and power that make a sustainable future possible.
“When I first started this idea, it occurred to me that there would one day be a shift, and people would look back and say ‘Isn’t it weird that once upon a time, products weren’t identified?’” says Natasha. “In a world of limited resources, it will seem unthinkable that we made products, used resources, and disposed of them without accountability or concern. In the next seven years, identification of products will be the new normal, and we’ll be responsible for return all resources to the earth.