Discussion: Translating Eco-idea into an Everyday Product

This coming season at Munich Fabric Start, FashNerd will be on the KEYHOUSE stage having a conversation on sustainability, transparency and mainstream adoption with 4 well-known experts.

From slow fashion to mainstream business, materials to education, fashion and sustainability raise so many questions. A vast and complex issue, I turned to 4 women making a difference in the sustainable fashion space. They are Charney Magri; a fashion photographer turned documentary maker who has worked for the likes of British Vogue and Ralph Lauren, and now she is a partner for do epic sh*t.

FashNerd panellists will take to the stage on Wednesday 4th September 2019

Olivia Pinnock is a London-based fashion journalist, lecturer and founder of The Fashion Debates. She is dedicated to uncovering insightful stories in a fascinating industry and promoting positive change for a more sustainable future for it. Abigail Morris is the Founder and CEO of Compare Ethics. It is a start-up that connects you to ethical brands through the latest online and offline experiences. Since launching in 2018, Compare Ethics is regularly featured in top social feeds and connects thousands of ethical shoppers with brands each week.

Dutch businesswoman Rosanne van der Meer rounds up the panellists. Part designer, part researcher and part entrepreneur, Roseanne is the founder of a startup that was once called The Girl and the Machine has now evolved to New Industrial Order. It is an innovative fashion brand that offers 3D printed knitwear on demand. Rosanne learned the art of tailoring working for a couturier and is devoted to building a socially and environmentally sustainable fashion industry by transforming the way clothes are bought and made.

On the run up the Munich Fabric Start, which is taking place on 3rd September – 5th September 2019, we decided to take a moment to pick Charney, Rosanna, Olivia and Abigail’s brains on the most commonly asked questions when it comes to sustainable fashion.

Charney Magri

Do you think that eco-fashion is still a niche market? If so, why?

The day that ‘Eco Fashion’ is just called ‘Fashion’ and is accepted as the norm, will be
the day that I believe ‘Eco Fashion’ is no longer niche but rather just common sense.

In your opinion, what are the top 3 things that brands should focus on with regards to promoting their sustainable practice?

I don’t believe there are three focuses on promoting a sustainable brand. However,
there are two main verticals in sustainable fashion: environmental and human rights.
Both need to be addressed and both need to be made transparent for the success of any
[sustainable] brand. As a visual communicator, I want to see all brands talking about this to their consumers as well as the right certifications in place to verify their practices.

What advice would you give an individual looking to start-up a sustainable
fashion retailer, particularly with the threat of a current ‘retail recession’?

Research is the first most crucial piece of advice. But the biggest obstacle you will
come across finance. Sourcing sustainable fibres and fabrics are more expensive than unsustainable options and mills will not accept small runs. You must build relationships with suppliers to be able to get the smaller quantities needed, and this takes time. I really believe there is a future in collaborating with like-minded designers to approach companies together so you can fulfil your orders when starting out.

Abigail Morris

In your opinion, what are the top 3 things that brands should focus on with regards to promoting their sustainable practice?

1) Create a strong storytelling environment. Whether it is via online or offline experience,
sustainability is best shared as a story that people can easily back and tell their friend.
2) Be authentic. Nobody is perfect when it comes to sustainability. Bring people on your journey and celebrate your achievements with your community in real-time.
3) Strive for increased transparency. Open up your supply chain and show people you are working to the highest ethical standards. Whether you are showing who made your clothes or using blockchain to track your supply chain, people increasingly want to know the provenance of your products.

Do you think ethical clothing will ever out-compete the mainstream less ethical products (e.g. H&M, Topshop) and dominate the fashion industry in the future? Why?

I don’t think new ethical clothing alone will out-compete the mainstream. However, what is more, interesting is how new business models will disrupt the fast fashion industry. ThredUp found that the second-hand market is growing 21 times faster than retail apparel over the last three years and is on track to be larger than fast fashion by 2028. At the same time, fashion rentals and sustainable fashion are moving into the mainstream. Given that fast fashion relies on volume, it will be interesting to see how and when mainstream brands will pivot towards a conscious fashion future.

Why do you think people are still buying from mainstream shops that sell
unethical clothing?

People still buy unethical clothing because there is a variety with a strong product-
market fit, and it is super easy to find. Sustainable fashion is making amazing strides in these areas. We increasingly see brands get product quality, price point and aesthetics right, but we need more choice and scale to compete. This has to be coupled with an easy way to find sustainable products. This is why we set up Compare Ethics – we know there are amazing sustainable products out there, it just has to be easy to find them.

Olivia Pinnock

What do you see as the biggest challenge in getting customers to seek out more ethical and sustainable alternatives to high street fashion?

The biggest challenge is the convenience of mainstream fashion. It is far easier to seek
out familiar brands that the consumers’ trusts, are fresh in their minds because of advertising and offers affordable fashion with next day delivery than it is to look for alternatives. Greenwashing is another issue that does damage to the whole sustainable fashion community as shoppers are not sure who they can trust.

What steps can we take to increase transparency and accountability for high
street retailers?

I think governments have a tremendous amount of power in making the fashion
brands that operate in their countries more transparent. We have seen it here in the UK with the Modern Slavery Act and the Environmental Audit Committee’s investigation into a fast fashion which bought CEOs from some of the biggest UK retailers into parliament to testify on what they’re doing about the issue. Companies are not going to give over information about their practices and their suppliers willingly for fear of giving valuable information to their competitors, but governments have the power to say that protecting garment workers and the environment is far more critical than that.

What advice would you have for people that want to be more conscious of
their fashion choices?

Start with the wardrobe that you have. Consumers can make the most significant difference by changing how much they buy and how they manage their clothes at the end of their life. There are things you can do to support more ethical brands and put pressure on big brands, but where you can make an immediate, tangible impact is in your own home. Take steps to reduce how much clothing you’re buying, if it’s possible, and when you’re done with a piece of clothing, ask yourself whether it can be repaired or upcycled instead. If you still want to throw it away, can you give it to a friend to extend its life? It’s much better to give it to someone you know will wear it than take it to a charity shop where you don’t know where it will end up, especially if they can’t sell it if it’s not worth hanging on to someone, research how you can responsibly dispose of textiles in your local area through recycling schemes.

Rosanne van der Meer

How and why would you encourage consumers to choose ethical/sustainable clothes over fast mass produced garments?

Why? Time is running out. We have to change the way we consume and make clothes before the world runs out of resources. How: our mission is to make the best possible clothing for mankind. It’s not only about making the best clothes but also about developing the most ethical and sustainable fashion system that we can imagine. We work on this with a group of artists, engineers, designers and entrepreneurs that we have recently named New Industrial Order. We want to seduce consumers to choose sustainable clothes by making the sustainable option the best option for them in terms of personal fit, style and experience. 

Do you think the price is an issue within the ethical industry?

We have found that when we really want to make things better for the planet, we have to do everything differently. We have to build new technology and team up with people who are already developing things that can be useful in the 3D knitwear supply chain. We have to connect with customers in a new way, experiment with ways to interact. There is still much R&D to be done and this is expensive, especially since we’re going for top quality. Obviously, this is reflected in the price. We have come to realize that that is okay. It’s the way things work. We can’t make it affordable for everyone right from the start. We rely on customers that are willing to pay for the development of new technology, just like the first Tesla owners did. From our first batch in 2016, we have been meeting people that invest in a piece of our knitwear because they believe we are doing good things.

Do you think there is still a ‘granola stereotype’ associated with eco-designers which stops people buying them?

I have no idea! We are just doing our thing. Our approach is much more about technology than eco because, in the end, we want to find solutions for humanity. It’s not realistic to look for the solution only in the material and whether it is organic or not. We can make much more impact, and really go circular if we change consumer behaviour and design for re-use of materials as well. 

Do young fashion design graduates lack a proper sustainable fashion education?

Schools in the Netherlands are very active in sustainability. It’s just difficult to comprehend what is sustainable. People tend to focus on one aspect because it’s just to hard for individuals to have the overview. But to find solutions we have to embrace the complexity. We have to cross disciplines and borders and take into account global resources, energy, water, materials, technology, pollution, waste, consumer behaviour, employment, poverty, safety, etc. Only when we can see the entire picture, can we make wise decisions. For us, accepting complexity means that we reach out to other people, companies and organisations to figure out what’s going on in their world and that we try to tie it all together. I think that this is the best education for fashion design graduates. 

Which fabric do you believe to be the most promising for the future, in terms of mass-market fashion as a replacement for cotton and synthetics? 

Fabric consists of a yarn that is made of fibres and the way the yarn is constructed to make a fabric. When it comes to yarn and fibers,  at the moment we work with 100% wool. Because it’s durable, non-toxic and recyclable, plus it fits the luxury customer segment. We already know it is impossible to dress the world’s population in wool, the world would be covered in sheep manure. The future is probably in the diversity of materials. A bit of wool, a bit of cotton, a bit of synthetic as long as it’s recyclable. A bit of everything, as long as the environmental and social standard is met. But especially a large bit of viscose, because it can be made out of any kind of plant-based material that you can find. Saxion University in the Netherlands has calculated the amount of plant-based waste equals in Europe as well as the demand for viscose and found that there’s potential for a closed-loop there. When it comes to the way fabrics are constructed, Delft University has found that 1 kg of garments takes 20 times less energy in its lifecycle than 1 kg of woven garments. It has to do with the fact that knitted garments require fewer steps and create almost no waste. Especially in 3D knitting, where you skip the step of making fabrics, cutting the pattern parts and assembling the garment. 

Article also published in Munique Magazine- Munich Fabric Start’s tradeshow magazine.

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Muchaneta Kapfunde

Founding editor-in-chief at FashNerd.com
Founding editor-in-chief & WearableTechStylist of FashNerd.com, Muchaneta has worked in the fashion industry for over 14 years. She is currently one of the leading influencers speaking and writing about the merger of fashion with technology and wearable technology and a regular contributor to digital news sites like Wareable.
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