On 31 January, 2017 they held the second Sustainability Panel at the Keyhouse area. Topic of the discussion was: “From sustainability dogmatism to being a dimension of good design - How to raise sustainability from niche to market”.
Involved in a round table that aroused many reflections and implications were: Christian Dreszig, head of marketing and communications, Bluesign Technologies AG, a Swiss company born with the aim to reduce environmental impact and encourage consumers to employ resources in a conserving way; Virginia Trujillio, business development department, Ecoalf, a Spanish fashion brand born in 2012 with the aim to be truly sustainable by employing only recycled materials like PET plastic bottles, fishing nets, post-consumer and postindustrial cotton; Tomas Vucurevic, managing director, Braind, a brand strategy firm focusing on sustainable projects, and Uwe Scherer, trade expert and owner of Sunnyplanet Consulting, a consulting company on sustainable project developments. Co-moderators of the panel were Panos Sofianos, new business manager, Bluezone & Keyhouse, and Sportswear International’s editor-in-chief Sabine Kühnl.
The talk started analyzing what sustainability is and how it is perceived by the consumer, as still no clear identity has been defined for it yet. According to Bluesign’s Dreszig sustainability is somehow a compromise: “Sustainability is an interaction between ecology, social responsibility and economy, though social responsibility and ecology are very often contradicting economy.” According to Ecoalf’s Trujillio too many ideas of sustainability are around: “For us being truly sustainable in fashion means to stop using natural resources,” differently from Braind’s Vucurevic who thinks that a common definition should be found in order to define common aims. “If you want to change consumer’s behavior and understanding it all has to start from some clear common ideas, defined certifications and standards.” Especially in textile/fashion, a super complex value chain, there are hundreds of approaches and efforts all competing with each other. For this there is no common message.
For Scherer fashion business hasn’t understood that sustainability in fashion is a trend that needs to be grown. “Brands that started following it already now will become renowned in the future,” he explained.
Though the industry hasn’t devised yet how sustainable fashion can transform itself from niche into trend and standard. Dreszig explained: “Sustainability is a challenge, not a bottleneck. Within the Bluesign system we did a billion business. Sustainability is a challenge for the industry, the value chain, the brands and the consumers.” Although, as agreed by everyone, products have to have a great image even if quality, price points are still a problem.
For Vucurevic, as for all megatrends, innovation doesn’t originate in the center of society but at its edges. “In the car and food industry it all started from small brands and small individual shops. At some point biofood became more accessible and attractive, and freed itself from dogmatism and old political mindsets. Now biofood is about attractiveness and sexiness. Ecoalf and other companies are inventing at the edge, but the topic must come in the center of the fashion business. Big players have to embrace it and make it the new standard.”
Huge companies selling through 10-20,000 doors might have the biggest impact on the world. Most agreed that when H&M started its responsible projects they showed they are conscious about a new more sustainable model that could truly become the path for the future. Scherer said: “Considering smaller cities some areas are getting cool, hosting new ecofriendly coffee shops, bio supermarkets and similar cool locations. That is not a big business but it’s a trend and you want to be there. Similarly, I would love to have big fashion brands to start a sustainable part of their collection. They still make their profit with the conventional stuff, but they start this other direction that could grow bigger. Fashion needs grab this push, too.”
While educating the consumer, making them understanding that sustainability could be more expensive is important, though also offering good quality and cool image products is a must. Trujillio explained: “People like the story behind our brand. They are paying money for a product that looks juvenile and its quality, and technical properties are incredible. We employ recycled materials, ecofriendly paddings and take care of all details. All that we do is made according to a story we have in mind and with so much love that people want to buy Ecoalf.”
Everyone agreed that sustainable apparel has to be fashionable, attractive and sexy first of all. For Scherer a few brands like Nudie Jeans and Armed Angels are successful because many customers buy them first because they are fashionable and nice, and secondly because they are sustainable.
Though, companies should not only produce according to sustainable practices, but also have to do it consistently. Vucurevic explained that sustainable collections from unsustainable companies will not work in the future. “Millennials now want to understand who is behind this company, what it is doing and not only what the product is like”, he explained. “Look at what happened with New Balance. When its president congratulated Mr. Trump with what he had said lots of consumers filmed themselves burning their shoes and posted their short movies online. There is this awareness and if you are consequent your approach will be successful. “And continues: “Look at Patagonia: it’s a company that sells 100% sustainable products for premium prices and has this approach for many years. Big volumes and high prices are not in conflict with sustainable practices.”
And Dreszig adds: “Also big companies owned by funds can be challenged to start acting like this. Sustainability needs to be taken under a long-term plan. Sustainable also means producing like that for years and years. Patagonia is committed to this for a long time and they produce a bulk of products, not a few trousers and garments, but the whole collection. That’s bulk manufacturing and this is how you can impact the industry.”
The discussion continued talking about even more topics including the importance of certifications, saving natural resources, laws, upcoming new markets and responsible consumer behaviors. “If you want to be sustainable you have to want that by choosing your modus operandi,” commented Sofianos. Big quantities are important, but also small steps can make a difference. “Every consumer can make a statement by choosing what they buy every day and opt for products produced according to responsible practices,” added Kühnl.
Everyone can make a difference and play their role in defining what the future will be like.