Fashion is one of the industries that will be changed forever after COVID-19 according to Tony Tonnaer, founder of Kings Of Indigo (KOI). “The call for ‘clean fashion’, both in terms of harm done to the planet as well as working conditions, is more relevant than ever as we rethink consumerism as many are realizing there’s a relationship between climate change and coronavirus,” explained the entrepreneur who launched “Re-Gen: Premium Denim Reinvented,” a new jeans and jacket capsule collection in collaboration with Candiani Denim, in April 2020.
The capsule uses Re-Gen, a selvedge denim woven in Italy made up of no virgin cotton, but a mix of equal parts of man-made Refibra fibers and recycled industrial cotton produced in a closed loop system.
You say it’s time to rethink consumerism right now. How can this happen and start now?
Rethinking consumerism started for me around 17 years ago when I was the first CEO at a denim company developing T-shirts and denim with organic cotton. Clearly over the years more and more people have been rethinking consumerism, from Naomi Klein to Greta Thunberg. Only this time things are different in the sense that many realize there’s a relationship between climate change and COVID-19. The idea that we cannot continue to pollute our own backyard and harm our future has gained serious traction with the masses due to the current crisis. The call for ‘clean fashion’ has never been more relevant. From day one, KOI was a brand with a mission: to lead by example. Rethinking consumerism involves educating consumers. In the ’90s, the denim industry started to explain the beauty of raw denim and how to take care of your denim. Now it’s time to explain the product itself. It’s time for fashion to be transparent. In this notoriously nontransparent supply chain, that’s not exactly second nature for everybody.
What are you doing with your brand to make this happen?
KOI is “Made in the Mediterranean” and we source our (denim) fabrics in greater Europe (Turkey, Spain and Italy). By sourcing and manufacturing close to the market and not taking too much stock of seasonal items, this puts less pressure on sales so we can focus on creating quality sustainable fashion for the next era.
A large part of our turnover is generated by the sustainable classics we put out every season. We have our vegan basics always in stock and add a few sprinkles on the cake with some fresh styles, prints and colors with each drop. We’ve always made high quality products that will last: knits from Italy, wovens from Portugal, T-shirts from Greece. Check the detailing on a KOI denim and you will be sold. It’s for this reason that we immediately ordered the Re-Gen fabrics from Candiani Denim, without having retail orders first. We believed in this innovation and wanted to be the first to adopt it. It’s a true denim for life. The next collection with Candiani we will launch is the Bio-Stretch capsule, a stretch denim with a biodegradable polyester replacement. Biodegradable stretch fabrics are a game changer. You know, there is a moment when experience, knowledge and belief meet each other. I think we all know what’s right. Now is the time to believe we can, and have to make the change that’s needed.
I often read that we are forced as an industry to rethink what we are doing. It actually means we are called upon to put our money where our mouth is. You’re a brand owner or a CEO. What do you do? Do you send a letter to your manufacturers to inform them you won’t pay for the product that’s in production, or may even be out for delivery? Or do you treat your suppliers as partners and discuss the fact that orders in the future will be smaller than initially expected and do you handle this situation in a way that no one gets harmed beyond what’s unavoidable? Do you pressure retailers into paying the bills or do you aim to work out terms of payment that enable them to stay afloat? We really do believe we’re in this together with our suppliers as well as our retailers, and we act accordingly. To me this is also part of being a sustainable fashion brand.
We will have to rethink the fashion calendar this year, and how we make collections, simply since the supply chain has been disrupted. When stores open again, they need time to sell this season’s items, so we should not deliver our winter collection in June or July, but in September.
In this way, retailers can sell the summer stock, start winter sales later and retain some margin while not being overloaded. Deliveries of seasonal collections will be much closer to the actual season they fall under. This has actually been necessary for years, but we could not get it realized as an industry. Now we are forced to deliver winter through August to October. As all brands start selling later, delivery might also shift to February/March, when spring really starts. I hope the industry keeps this schedule for all seasons to come; it fits much better with the needs of the consumer.
If you mean the wave to think, design and produce in a responsible way, I can only say: “just do it.” When I started Kings Of Indigo the level of design, quality and innovation was limited. Now there is a great selection of beautiful, yet responsibly manufactured, fabrics. We have certifications in place. We can choose factories that are treating their workers in the correct way.