Fair production, less CO2, climate-neutral, biodegradable, clean water, high-quality processing, plastic-free packaging? Sounds too good to be true? With his label Sanvt, founder Benjamin Heyd wants to unite all these factors. In our interview you can find out whether he succeeds in doing so.
Benjamin, there are already some sustainable brands on the market. Why did you feel the need to create another brand? And what is the difference between Sanvt and a brand like Armedangels?
Personally, I believe that there should not be any brand nowadays that is not at least aiming for more sustainability. However, at Sanvt we felt the need for a brand that bridges the gap between sustainability, premium quality and affordable price. Armedangels is a great example of a brand pushing the traditional image of sustainably produced fashion towards a more modern a contemporary approach. But after all it is still a rather conventional business model: seasonal products, based on short-lived fashion trends. We wanted to go one step further and offer timeless products that last significantly longer while feeling great. A good example here is our “Perfect T-Shirt” made from extra-long staple cotton. Here we consciously decided against organic cotton, Lyocell or other widely used “eco fibers” as we just could not get the level of quality and consequently longevity that we were looking for. By doing this, we also want customers to appreciate the real value of clothing again and set an example by challenging fast-paced fashion consumption habits. It might sound paradoxical, but essentially, we want people to buy less, but better clothing.
Unlike other brands, Sanvt offers a basic year-round collection. Why? And how many items does this collection contain for men and women?
True, we don’t think a great basic garment needs to be reinvented entirely every season. From a customer perspective this has the benefit that one can rely 100% on the garment. Every time you purchase our Perfect T-Shirt, for example, it will have the same fit, material and quality you experienced previously. From a business perspective, a permanent collection also has a couple of advantages: We can plan our stock long-term and don’t need to markdown at the end of the season. Not offering discounts is also already priced into our business model, meaning that our customers pay a fair price from the beginning without artificial markups at the beginning of a season. Less pressure on stock also allows us to offer our garments in a much wider range of sizes. Instead of six standard sizes (XS-XXL) we now offer 20–as each width is also available in different lengths. Lastly, a permanent collection also allows us to constantly improve our existing styles with every release. Instead of starting every season on scratch we carefully listen to the feedback of our customers and gradually fine-tune our basics and bring them one step closer to perfection…
Does that mean that no new styles will be added?
Not at all. It just means that our collection will be maintained while adding new styles that should also belong in an essential wardrobe. We will launch a new color for the tee within the next couple of weeks and we’re already in the middle of developing completely new garments: a sport-inspired formal trouser, an Oxford shirt and a classic polo are already on the horizon. We are also contemplating starting the adventure to develop some classic knitwear for the winters to come.
According to a study by Greenpeace, every German has an average of 95 items of clothing. How many pieces do you think should be in your wardrobe? How many garments do you own?
Ha! I was actually asking myself the same question not too long ago. I definitely own too much, even so I am constantly trying to detox my wardrobe. However, I came to the conclusion that there is probably no definite number, but I would bet that the average German could live with half that many garments without any kind of compromise. Fact is that we all own too much: speaking of me I wear just a fraction of what I own. I haven’t counted my clothing, but I am definitely owning too many T-shirts; but considering that I get to trial most of Sanvt’s confirmation samples this is somewhat job related. I also have a soft spot for sneakers–so here I also own way too many…
You founded Sanvt in 2018. How has the brand developed since then? How many pieces have you sold so far?
Yes, correct–Sanvt as a company was founded in 2018, but we didn’t launch our first product, The Perfect T-Shirt, until April 2019, which is when our website went live. Now, we are in the third production round for our T-Shirt and each contained a few thousand units–so I hope this answers your question sufficiently about how many pieces we sold so far… Considering that we are only selling through our own website and haven’t really invested in marketing, we are extremely overwhelmed (in a positive way) with the reaction in terms of sales so far. In addition, we started selling our sweatshirts from September and sell-through here is at about 80% today. So, at the moment our main concern is more focusing on our supply chain and production, not so much on sales….
Who are your customers? What feedback have you received so far?
Currently our core consumer is male, urban and in his early thirties. But obviously, we as a brand want to appeal to a much wider audience–in theory everyone with a conscious approach towards consumption in general and fashion in particular could be a potential Sanvt customer. Having said this, in the next one or two years Sanvt will be more geared towards men, with a dedicated women’s range being planned for the future. Customers’ feedback has been so far the most encouraging aspect of our start-up life. It suggests that, beyond sales, we’ve really hit a nerve and fulfill a widespread need for better made essentials, our return rate is at nearly 0%–when not taking size related returns into the equation. Even though it is early days, we get emails from happy customers that the T-Shirt from Sanvt is literally perfect: Just yesterday we had a customer ordering 20 white T-Shirts for himself after testing one for the last couple of months: not sure how he fits them into his wardrobe of 95 items…
According to Sanvt, it is plastic-free, uses only natural dyes and works with factories that guarantee excellent working conditions and fair wages. How much work and time did it take to guarantee these conditions?
As I mentioned earlier: the supply chain currently is the most challenging part of our business. So far, all of our production partners (including upcoming new developments) are based in the north of Portugal: by visiting them once a month, we can not only intensify our personal relationship, but also do the occasional check on quality and working standards. Obviously producing in Portugal and not in Eastern Europe, Turkey or in the Far East already ensures a much higher level of transparency and social responsibility. By now, we established collaborations with two outstanding factories that really want to push the boundaries when it comes to sustainability. The dyeing houses of our fabrics supplier for example just installed state-of-the-art water recycling facilities, ensuring 99.9% of waste water gets reused. From 2020, our cutting and sewing partner will be 100% reliant on renewable energies by using their own solar power (currently already over 50% of their energy comes from their own roof). Seeing that our partners are willing to do enormous investments into sustainability also proves their level of commitment to change and improve the future. From our side this also means that we are obviously also paying higher prices and not trying to squeeze every possible penny out from our partners.
Do you think that sustainability in fashion is just a trend, or that there really will be a paradigm shift in the near future?
Personally, I hope it’s more than just a trend and I also think that sustainability in fashion will be the norm in the future and not the exception. However, until sustainable fashion fully reaches the mainstream it might take longer than it subjectively seems. Living a bit in the fashion and social media filter bubble, to me it seems that sustainable fashion (or at least companies that claim to be eco-friendly) is everywhere. But I am aware that the reality is slightly different and established high-street chains are still shifting enormous amounts of inferior quality clothing. Having said this: with the exception of Inditex most fast fashion brands are struggling in the last couple of years. And I think more demanding–in terms of sustainability–consumers are part of the reason for these struggles. It is obvious that fast fashion giants’ quick fixes of offering supposedly organic garments does not fully resonate with customers. Nowadays people are better informed and want more radical solutions and not cheap fixes. In any case, it will be interesting to see if a real shift will be noticeable, for example that the mainstream starts to consciously buy less because of the environmental impact.
Will people's consumer behavior really change?
Yes. The question is when and to what extent. We see in youth movements like Fridays for Future that the younger generation demand changes now and they are the buyers of the future. In line to what we could observe with food consumption, I firmly believe that there are more and more people willing to invest into better garments. In theory for consumers this shift should be easier than it is with food: because buying better made garments does not need to be more expensive as one would usually purchase less because of more longevity.
Will Sanvt continue to be available only through digital channels?
No. We are already looking into the possibility to collaborate with suitable concession based retailers. Within the next two years, we will also trial our own physical presence in the form of a pop-up tour and eventually even in form of a brick-and-mortar retail store.