Kelsie Stewart 2022.11.24

A more sustainable future awaits if everyone embraces creativity.
Kelsie Stewart’s vision for a reality-changing originality.

In this interview, we’ll hear from Kelsie Stewart, FabCafe’s Chief Community Officer who also took on the mantle of Loftwork’s Sustainability Executive in April 2022. Kelsie takes an active role in planning and organizing sustainability and circular design-themed activities including the “Global Goals Jam,” design sprints based on the SDGs; “In the Loop,” a circularity community event; and the “crQlr Awards” where circular design practices and concepts are gathered and evaluated.

What sort of future does Kelsie envision creating through these activities? We asked her about the role that “creativity” plays in taking action for a sustainable future.

Writing: Mariko Sugita
Photography: Ryo Nakagomi
Editing: Miki Osansai
Planning, interviewing, editing: Quishin

Interview series directed by Ryoko Iwasaki (Loftwork Editorial Department).
The English version has been translated and edited by Sarah Burch and Judit Moreno (Global Editorial Team).

Creativity that starts “for someone else”

── What led to you joining Loftwork?

Originally, I was a physiological psychology major at the University of Florida, primarily researching taste and smell. After finishing my bachelor’s degree, I continued my education at the same university, earning a Master’s in Religion and Society in Contemporary Japan.

At the time, I also trained baristas at a specialty coffee shop. This was right around when the third wave of coffee hit Japan, and the coffee sector was beginning to touch on the topic of sustainability from a supply chain perspective.

So, it was actually because of coffee that I first learned about Loftwork and FabCafe., Day Three At The 2014 Big Eastern Barista Competition (January 22, 2014)

—— Getting straight to the point, what does creativity mean to you, Kelsie?

Since my university days, I’ve based my thinking in pragmatism, a concept where the truth and essence of things is judged by the result of actions, not principles or beliefs. I believe the core of creativity stems from making an impact on the real world in this way. That’s why—to me—creativity is a force that can pave the way to a better reality- a reality that is more sustainable or more beautiful than our current one. In other words, “Creativity” can be expressed as the originality and ingenuity involved in making that happen.

There’s one story that always comes to my mind- the story of how William Stewart Halsted, an American doctor, invented disposable rubber gloves.

In the late 19th century, surgery was conducted with bare hands, and in order to prevent infection, doctors disinfected their hands before starting any surgical procedures. They soaked their hands in power disinfectants to sterilize them, but it caused many medical professionals to suffer from dermatitis. William, who was employed as a surgeon at The John Hopkins Hospital, had romantic feelings for one of his assistants, Caroline. However, the dermatitis from the disinfectants was becoming too much for her to bear, to the point where she felt forced to resign from her position as an operating room nurse.

William invented the rubber gloves because he simply couldn’t bare to have  her quit her job. In 1890, not long after pneumatic tires came into service, William requested that Goodyear, a recently established tire manufacturer, begin the production of thin rubber gloves. These products came into being out of William’s genuine desire to prevent Caroline from leaving her job. The two eventually married.

That’s what creativity means to me. It’s ingeniously creating something for someone else’s sake. Doing such requires an originality that challenges what would be considered what is “normal” for the time.

Doubt the obvious, restructure the norm

Kelsie talks with an employee from Mycotech Lab, an Indonesian company that produces mushroom leather, a sustainable leather replacement material made from the mycelium of mushrooms. One of Kelsie’s activities is connecting Japanese companies with creators and startups in Asia who have noteworthy manufacturing practices.

—— I get the impression there is a growing need for creativity in the business world these days. What are your thoughts on that?

It depends on how you are defining “creativity” but i opinion, business doesn’t exist without creativity. This applies to the industrial revolution and capitalism more generally as well, but without creativity, human history itself would be inconceivable.

Speaking in modern terms, it’s become imperative to shift our thought process from linear to circular, and then, to regenerative. In relation to this, businesses need a  vision with purpose, based on a thorough understanding of the system.

William James, an American psychologist I greatly admire, said, “A great many people think they are thinking when they are merely rearranging their prejudices.” Creativity means restructuring the obvious. Creativity will elude us if we just continue repeating the exact same things that have become the norm . I believe shifting thought patterns from linear to circular starts with doubting this “norm.”

—— As Sustainability Executive, you’ve had a hand in several projects such as the Global Goals Jam and crQlr Awards. How do you apply these ideas of creativity to the projects you’re working on?

First, the Global Goals Jam—or GGJ for short—is a two-day “design-a-thon” where individuals from a variety of backgrounds such as design, programming, engineering, and research, tackle SDG-focused challenges while utilizing design thinking methodology. In my experience, GGJ is a place where creativity can be demonstrated through facilitator curation and training. In the GGJ I organize, the crux of it all is facilitator-led teams working together toward a common goal. It’s a feat of creativity at work.

Scenes from the online GGJ held in September 2021.

We’ve also established the “crQlr Awards,” a consortium of circular design practitioners from all over the world that aims to present the new creativity and vision required by “manufacturers of the future” while building collaboration across status, regions, and countries. I believe this project showcases diversity through inviting individuals from a wide range of professions— not just circular economy experts—including art curators, chefs, and architects who are serving as judges.

Another endeavor I am working on is “In the Loop,” a pop-up community for local and international community members, creatives, startups, and companies to try out new things and make connections around a shared consciousness and passion for circular design. The pop-up format demands careful curation for a successful production of each edition.

For example, Shinji Imai from LOVEG and Natsuki from TOKYO VEG LIFE participated in the third “In the Loop,” in Tokyo. They served several dishes that included plant-based ingredients such as soy meat and a very unique “faux mage”. They were all delicious, and it provided an opportunity for some people to try vegan food for the very first time. I believe good vibes and collaboration opportunities are created in the community when the concept is one that both producers who join the pop-up and customers can share.

Creating an ecosystem where all the projects influence each other

—— What are the most important things you keep in mind when carrying out these projects?

I think all of these projects are connected as a mutually beneficial part of a larger ecosystem.

GGJ starts from building a team, and all the new ideas are created from scratch. In the Loop is where ideas are turned into reality and deployed in the community—in other words, a place where you can experiment from step 1 through step 99. The consortium, where circular projects are put into practice, is a place where the plans and results of concrete initiatives are taken to the next level, reaching people both at home and abroad. In this way, continuity is a major factor taken into consideration throughout all our projects.

Five years after leading GGJ, I kept getting asked, “what’s the next stage?” I had an idea but wasn’t exactly sure how to design the next step. So, I finally decided to invite the community to FabCafe, and In the Loop came to life. The consortium for implementing circular projects came about as a means for further global expansion.

Whether it be GGJ, In the Loop, or crQlr; connections with community members is Kelsie’s driving force.

In September 2022, Kelsie also worked on “WTF! (We The Future), a joint exhibition project with Mycotech Lab to show the possibilities of mushroom leather.

—— What first inspired you to focus on creativity? Are there any experiences that led to your current career?

I’m a very curious person—so I think that’s what sparked my interest in creativity. When I first met FabCafe, seeing how FabCafe could seamlessly configure a new collaboration between digital fabrication and the coffee industry filled me with excitement as I could see so many possibilities of what I could do. Through my experiences here, I began to feel the power of creativity which opened my eyes to the like-minded creative community around me.

My master’s degree was based on the study of religion, but the first thing we learn in the liberal arts is there is no single definition of religion. The same goes for creativity—there is no set definition, it can differ based on the individual. That’s why I think this interview series about asking Loftworkers what creativity means to them is so interesting. It delves into exploring various aspects of everyone’s creativity!

Finding “my own creativity” thanks to the encouragement of those around me

—— There may be people out there who are thinking, “but I’m not very creative myself.” What would you like to tell them?

First, challenge yourself! Your personal creativity starts by believing in yourself.

I’m not an artist or a creator myself, but my creativity stems from designing community events and experiences. The reason I can be creative is thanks to the encouragement I receive from those around me.

—— How do you think people and society will change if everyone discovers their own creativity? Would you mind sharing what would change ideally and if you have a vision for the future?

Just like how I was able to create something with the support of those around me, I’d like it if many other people were given the same opportunity.

In the world we live in today, our choices are still very limited. But if everyone in the world exercised their creativity, I imagine the options available to us would expand exponentially. As a result, the world would become a more sustainable, fair, ethical, and resilient place. To create that future, innovative thinking is indispensable.

In conclusion

Kelsie built a career at Loftwork after coming from America to Japan all on her own. Seeing her pursue various activities with a positive and endless smile on her face, despite working in an environment with language and cultural differences, gives all of us who see her the power and motivation to push ourselves to the next level as well.

Kelsie believes that creativity is changing reality by ingeniously creating something for someone else’s sake. This means that everyone has the ability to exercise their creativity on a daily basis, even if they aren’t an artist or a creator.

These days, achieving a sustainable future requires actions from more and more people. If everyone actively demonstrates their own creativity, the beautiful future that Kelsie spoke of is sure to be realized.


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