EP12: Jolien Roedolf, Herw!n, Social economy as a driver for circularity

In this episode, Julie chats with Jolien Roedolf, a business developer for social and circular entrepreneurship at Herw!n, the sector federation for the social economy. From her role, Jolien is always looking for new ways of collaboration to work towards more circularity.

They deep dive into the topic from the view of social economy and discuss how this can be a driver for circularity. You can expect a fresh view on the topic of circularity, a lot of good book recommendations, and concrete tips on how you start by defining a vision with an action plan and act on this.

Key Take Aways 

  1. If you want to make a circular change, you need a lot of partners, inside and outside the industry;
  2. Don’t feel threatened by new “competition”, learn from them and see the bigger picture;
  3. Do not overestimate sustainability as a purchase reason yet, most important for many is still financial;
  4. The grass will not grow faster when you pull it. Be patient, give your vision time to develop;
  5. Every small success is worth celebrating.

About Herw!n

Herw!n is the sector federation for social economy in Flanders, it’s the umbrella above the Kringwinkels. Kringwinkel is a chain of second-hand shops that sell clothing, electronics, and furniture. 

Herw!n exists for their members. Their goal is to represent them as an interlocutor for the government on the one side, and on the other side, enforce them in their entrepreneurial activities.

With the Kringwinkels, they represent 100 circular social entrepreneurs and employ more than 10,000 people. 

Their main pillars are:

  • Regaining talent: maximize social employment 
  • Regaining materials: maximize local reuse: collecting, repairing, re-using
  • Regaining social contact: offering social services

Passionate about doughnuts

Jolien is, as a business developer for social and circular entrepreneurship, responsible to build up the network and follow up on innovative projects at Herw!n.

f you want to make a circular change you need a lot of partners, inside and outside the industry.

Besides looking for partnerships, she’s very passionate about doughnuts. We are not talking about the food, but about “Doughnut Economics” by Kate Raworth. 

Kate Raworth describes an economic model shaped like a doughnut combining planetary boundaries with the complementary concept of social boundaries. In her book Doughnut Economics, Kate Raworth explains how societies and industries must make a global economic shift. This book changed Jolien’s vision of the world and inspired her to act and be part of the change.

Role Kringwinkel in the textiles and fashion landscape

The Kringwinkels are striving for maximum local reuse. The distribution centers where all the donations are collected have multiple sorting lines where the employees sort the incoming products. This process goes as followed: rough sorting, machinal sorting, quality check, repairing, and at last, selling the products in the store. Kringwinkels are in the middle of the circular story. They strive for maximal reuse by giving products a second life for a low qualitative price.

International interest in circularity

Herw!n acts on a local level, on a European scale, there is the RREUSE network, representing the social enterprises active in reuse, repair, and recycling. Even though all countries have their own local sector federations, collaboration and knowledge sharing between them are increasing. 

Impact of competition

There is a new evolution in society, second-hand is becoming mainstream and cool. Multiple organizations picked this trend up. We see a big growth in second-hand shops and platforms that sell second-hand products (ex. Vinted). As an organization, you have to learn to see the bigger picture and not define these enterprises as competition. They have the same goal and are potential partners. 

It is important to be inspired and learn from those ‘new kids in town’.

Consumer mindset

There is a new consumer on the rise for second-hand products: Gen Z and Millenials. Second-hand products are unique and one of a kind and this fits perfectly in the search for individuality. However, a recent survey showed that the 2 main reasons for shopping at Kringwinkel are both sustainability AND economical:

  1. Economic: Because of inflation life gets more and more expensive.
  2. Circularity: People that want to contribute to circularity.


All Kringwinkels work individually in Belgium, however, Jolien notices that there is a lot of openness for collaboration. When you work together, you can reach more. With Herw!n they invest a lot of effort into stimulating these partnerships even more. These partnerships can be a driver for new innovations. 

To give an example, a few Kringwinkels recently invested together in a new automated sorting machine, making the sorting process a lot more effective! 

Next, to strengthen the collaborations within the sector, Jolien also realises that connections to external networks are important to get a bigger impact. Try to create synergies and cross-industry collaboration. 

Change and impatience

The grass will not grow faster when you pull it.

When you want to create change, you have to be patient. Give your vision time to develop. Although you don’t see an immediate big change, there will be an indirect impact. Every small success is worth celebrating.

What could technology mean for circularity?

As for Kringwinkel, they are very fond of new innovations. One of the pillars from Herwin is “To Regain Talent, maximal local social employment”. When looking at new innovations, technology should support people, not replace them. As an example, in Turnhout, there is a pilot project of a technology that recognizes different fabrics to help the employees sort them.

Future of Herw!n

Jolien defines the future of Herw!n as very bright. They want to create more jobs and double the reuse at the Kringwinkel. Furthermore, they are thinking about their role, maybe Kringwinkel can be a facilitator for other stores that want to make a circular change.

Reach out

Are you inspired by the story of Herw!n and the Kringwinkels? Great! Don’t hesitate to contact Jolien for an inspiring partnership via Ellie.Connect!

We look for partners to help us with sorting our waste lines. And if there are producers or retailers that want to do a fun collection with Kringwinkel, they can definitely reach out!