On July 25, 2018, Jacket Required, the menswear and sportswear trade show held in London’s Old Truman Brewery, hosted “In Talks With,” a panel discussion providing insights on the growing importance of sustainability and responsibility.
Participating speakers were Tony Tonnaer, founder and CEO, Kings Of Indigo; Aiko Bode, group chief sustainability officer, Fjällräven; Henrik Lindholm, sustainability and quality manager, Sandqvist; Fredrik Ekström, head of marketing and communication, Tretorn; and Jodi Muter-Hamilton, designer, consultant and founder, Black Neon Digital. The discussion was moderated by Maria Cristina Pavarini, senior features editor, SPORTSWEAR INTERNATIONAL.
Tretorn, founded in 1891 in Sweden, launched its Eco Essentials project that offers 100% biodegradable apparel and–starting from s/s 2019–also footwear.
Sandqvist, the Swedish bag and accessory company, aims to not destroy the planet or produce harmful products and to treat its workers fairly. It employs only organic cotton and synthetic materials that contain recycled fibers. It uses leather from certified tanneries only and offers its customers a repair service.
Fjällraven, also a Swedish brand, cares for nature and functionality of its products that have to be durable and last for generations.
Kings of Indigo was founded by Tonnaer in 2010 after he had worked as CEO for Kuyichi, one of the first organic apparel brands, born in 2001. His brand offers organic jeans and tops made with sustainable materials only such as organic cotton and linen and recycled polyester. It uses treating and dyeing methods that employ little water.
Black Neon Digital is a digital media platform featuring personalities who use fashion for bringing a positive change. Muter-Hamilton created her Made in UK bathing swimwear brand, later worked in fashion technology, and now operates as a consultant.
How to sensitize and inform the consumer
“Any sustainable project has to be easy for the consumer to understand. For instance, we launched a line of jackets made with recycled discarded nylon fishing nets. By adding a label inside the jacket that explains how our jackets are made is an easy method for communicating and making the consumer feel involved preserving the environment. This way buying an eco-friendly product can also be fun and cool,” Ekström/Tretorn
“We approach consumers who think that outdoor is part of their life. But in order to better explain how you work you need to be transparent and explain how you do your sourcing and production. Though you also have to keep in mind that there are different types of consumers that are less interested about how you produce. So also too much explanation can be too much. Other means of communication to consumers are our CRS report and our stores,” Bode/Fjällräven
“It’s a matter of education. Young consumers want to buy sustainably. It’s up to us brands and communicators to tell stories that communicate that value in our product. Although it’s important to find a right balance between listening to the consumer but also offer products that have a strong content even if it is not visible. They don’t need to know that a product was approved by Higg Index, although it is important for a company pursuing their owns clear strategies,” Muter-Hamilton/Black Neon Digital
Are eco-friendly products more expensive?
“Some years ago prices were much higher than conventionally made items. In these days there is a lot more of volume behind eco-friendly materials and for fabric manufacturers it is also easier to produce them in order of quantities. Take denim: Ecofriendly fabrics cost about €0.50 more per meter and you need only 1.40 meters of fabric to make a pair of jeans. You may have extra costs for sustainable packaging and labeling, but they still make a small difference. Rather than spending huge amounts of money in marketing, I prefer to invest by supporting suppliers and–in the end–preserve the environment,” Tonnaer, KOI
Certifications: Are they helpful?
“We don’t have any certification, though we do all the chemical testing and keep controls on employees’ treatment. They can be good if they guarantee the quality a small part of product, but a brand like ours offering a vast range of products would need 50 different certifications to cover everything,” Ekström/Tretorn
“We use organic and Fair Trade cotton, but we choose not to put any label about it on products as we think that consumers are not interested in knowing that. By now a certification is a tool for us to know we get what we pay for,” Lindholm/Sandqvist
“Certifications are very important but also very difficult. In other fields like automotive and food there are some precise certifications. In our field there are many different ones.” Toenner, KOI
“I investigated in blockchains in fashion. Through them you can get to know about a chemical process or the DNA card of a fiber. You can tag and trace it completely beyond certifications as you can see its entire productive process. There is a lot developing in this area, although we are still at a very early stage,” Muter-Hamilton/Black Neon Digital
“I used to work in the certification field in my previous life. In the past I would have said that certifications were key. Now there are myriads of them. Some you can trust, some others you can’t trust at all and for others you don’t know what they are there for. When I used to work in that area there were some companies that asked us for certifications to glue and hide the black spots behind them. That was often the case as you can hide a lot behind certificates,” Bode/Fjällräven
“Sustainability is a complex aspect and we cannot consider it simply as black or white. Sustainability is a 360° approach. Even in the best companies there are negative aspects. But this is the challenge. And everyone can do better in the future. Sustainability has to be integrated in every part of a company’s strategy from sourcing to sales,” Bode/Fjällräven
Recycle, upcycling and circular economy–Are they the future?
“If you go to Sweden you will find many people wearing our jackets and our iconic backpacks. A person I know has inherited her jacket from her mother–an item which is 30 or 40 years old. That’s the part of the story. Long livingness, repairability, using a material for long are key. We cannot say we have to stop consuming. We can consume but upon needs, and whatever we do it has to be done upon a longtime perspective,” Bode/Fjällräven
“Prewashed denim is a lovely word and it’s done in order to destroy jeans. Though this way they have a shorter life. The best thing is to buy a pair of raw jeans. I believe in the importance of wearing them for long, repairing and when they cannot be repaired anymore then one can recycle them. I once did a project called Red Light Jeans Project. Those jeans were made with a mix of recycled old jeans mixed with hemp and organic cotton. I had created a new jeans out of them,” Tonnaer/KOI
“In Amsterdam there are lots of secondhand stores. People buy expensive brands and resell them more often. Also for kids they buy a lot there as they grow fast and have to change clothes more often. It is fun buying consciously and think how you consume as there are so many good alternatives and so much fun making such research,” Tonnaer/KOI
“Lots of these issues are too important to be left to consumers. We need bigger action at state level or even higher,” Lindholm/Sandqvist
Pick a word that shows what will lead the future
“Sustainability can become synonym with ‘collaborative effort’: You cannot do anything on your own. It’s no longer a matter of showing off but it’s a collaboration among brands and among society. You have to change economy. We have opportunities and they are huge.” Bode/Fjällräven
“ ‘Blockchain’ is key as transparency and benchmark are important. This way you know what you are buying and how it was created. Though also key is ‘digitalization,’” Tonnaer/KOI
“ ‘Technology’ is key but we need people who work behind it because we also need logistics and processes that actually can all collaborate together on all of them,” Muter-Hamilton/Black Neon Digital
“ ‘Do.’ Many brands are scared to do wrong. The progress is going slowly. Just do, start something and have a direction and move through it. We may go wrong. But we learn out of mistakes,” Ekström/Tretorn
“The ‘product’ is key. The challenge we have to work at is so urgent we can’t wait,” Lindholm/Sandqvist