From 18 to 22 January 2021 fashion, lifestyle and digital experts were discussing the latest developments as well as innovations of the sustainable textile and fashion industry at the Neonyt Conference, held online this year. The journey covered by an item of clothing and the ecological, economic and social conditions that it is made under were at the focus of the conference. Us at Dress Ecode wanted to share with you some of the main themes and points discussed during the conference. We believe that the great variety and relevance of the topics, and people interviewed can shine new light as well as reinforce some of the main pillars around building a better sustainable future in the sector.
Tthe future of transparent supply chains – presented by Oeko-Texda Oeko-Tex
Panel discussion with: Annika Sauerhoefer, Made in Green by Oeko-Tex, Product Manager; Mirjam Smend, Greenstyle Munich, founder; Andreas Bothe, Bay City & Chiemsee, Head of CSR & Sustainability
Consumers are increasingly becoming more and more aware of the unsustainable nature of current fashion practices. “We are seeing that people are thinking more about their consumer behaviour, especially since the Fridays for Future movement, which has also been accelerated by the COVID-19 crisis,” said Annika Sauerhoefer,
But to buy sustainable they face challenges; how do they know what product to buy? Can they trust what is written on a product label?
“Companies should meet the responsibility for people and the planet on their own initiative, without any regulations from the government. It should be normal that workers’ rights are respected, but as we have all seen, unfortunately that isn’t working”, Annika continued.
According to the panel, a brand needs to show that it has nothing to hide and need to strive to maintain control in the production chain.
At the current moment, it is not easy to have overview of the supply chain as the fashion industry is global, fragmented and many different actors can undermine the authenticity of a brand. For example, many supply facilities are not owned by brands. So, first step toward sustainability is transparency. Because only then the social and environmental issues along the chain can be tackled. Close collaboration and communication of every actor has been one of the main themes highlighted in the discussion.
Moreover, it was also commonly agreed that since the idea of voluntariness to greenness hasn’t worked and won’t work in the future brands must be held responsible along their supply chain by laws working to support this accountability and to pressure to guarantee transparency.
The long financial thread of sustainability
Panel discussion with: Dr Sabine Schlorke, IFC World Bank, Global Head Manufacturing; Christian Heller, Value Balancing Alliance e.V. CEO; Hans-Jürgen Walter, Deloitte, Global Leader of Sustainable Finance; Darius Nader Maleki, Maleki Corporate Group, Project Manager
The topic was the role of banks and investors in the creation of a sustainable future and a balanced investment strategy. Transparency and circularity not only in products and materials, but also with regard to the financing aspect was the main theme that emerged.
Christian Heller wanted to pay particular attention to proposing the creation of a sustainable finance platform, as the finance sector has a huge enabling factor driving the real economy. The sustainable finance platform will allow financial market players to ask real economy companies how are they running their investments and if it is contributing to a sustainable future. This will be a really driving force in the end to change the economic systems towards ‘cleaning the economy’ ”.
Hans Jurgen Walter highlighted how “Europe needs about 250 billion in additional yearly investment in the next decades to meet the Paris agreements and yet public money is not enough. This is why the European Union has proposed hard law to incentivise private capital to flow to create projects and therefore sustainable finance is needed to implement strategies towards achieving the sustainable development goals by making it part of financial decision-making”.
He goes on to state that in the financial sector “investors are increasingly recognising that climate risk is investment risk and investors are asking how they should modify their portfolios. They are seeking to understand both the physical risk associated with climate change as well as the waste that climate policy will impact prices caused demand across the entire economy […] Furthermore financial market participants will have to disclose to their clients the impact of sustainability in financial return and the impact of their investment decision on sustainability”.
Achieve more widespread and standardised adoption of transparent financial and measurable data is going to be the major challenge, and find a way to incentives companies to find solutions regarding basic sustainable goals, ultimately progressing through the entire value chain and a global system to generate this data would be a great start to find these solutions.
Dr Sabine Schlorke instead focused on highlighting the need to find “a business model that works. Something that we can scale and then work with. every time we work at low scale in manufacturing the prices will be high and scaling is really hard in production, but prices only go down if you start scaling these business models”.
Transparency, a global system to have measurable data, and accountability have been pivotal points of discussion and elements that, according to all speakers in this panel, will be crucial in pushing financial institutions to sustain, promote and embrace ecological and sustainable projects that will minimize their impact on climate change.
Product is key – the Timberland 2030 vision for net positivity
“A net positive impact” by 2030: that is Timberland’s goal. To achieve it, the cult US brand has set itself the goal of having a net positive impact on nature by designing 100% of its products for circularity and making them from natural materials sourced from regenerative agriculture. Watch the full interview with Elisabetta Baronio, Sustainability & Responsibility Manager at Timberland, and Max Gilgenmann, Content Director of Neonyt.
Does it sound a little complicated? This is how Ms. Baronio explained it in short: “Our 2020 vision is about creating products that have a net positive impact on the planet. We are looking to create products, our boots for instance, that are able to sequestrate more carbon from the atmosphere rather than what is emitted through the production process” .
To the question as to how they have started thinking about this vision, she said: “We have a lot of data when it comes to carbon emission but our net positive vision in the future is going as well towards other directions; biodiversity, water retention, and hopefully one day we will be able to also quantify the social impact, the net positive social impact, that we can have with our products […] We’re going to focus on circularity and on regenerative agriculture to ensure that we will reach this net positive vision by mirroring nature’s true course of regeneration and no waste”.
Sounds incredible doesn’t it? Well, according to Timberland it is possible. I guess the benefit that comes with being a global brand is also the power to experiment and push the boundaries of what is possible. At Dress Ecode our focus has always been on promoting mainly small and independent sustainable brand. However, sometimes it is also important to see what brands such as Timberland are doing in the industry to see what can be possible to achieve in the quest for a more sustainable and fair fashion world.
Certification – transparency, credibility and trust
Panel discussion with: Franziska Dormann, a representative from the Global Organic Textile Standard; Rapha Breyer, spokesperson for textile policy and partnerships at Fairtrade; Ingo Strube, spokesperson for sustainable consumption at Germany’s Federal Ministry of the Environment
Guaranteeing transparent processes and supply chains, preserving brand credibility and building up consumer trust are the most important and also difficult aspects for certifiers and environmental labels. And in these times of the coronavirus in particular, it is proving a real challenge to maintain the quality of the certifications at a high level and to guarantee good and transparent results.
Even though certifications are becoming more and more accurate, sought after by costumers and more widespread in general, all the speakers in the discussions agreed on the needs of 3 major points:
• A good set of rules to develop standards for certifications and continuous involvement of experts and other stakeholders;
• Focusing on building trust within the industry to become fairer by showing that it isn’t only good for business but also for longevity;
• Creating government regulations to prevent businesses exploiting developing countries for example by creating a minimum ‘floor’ of payments as Mr. Beyr said, where businesses can’t go below
• and last but not least, being patient as this path toward transparency, credibility and trust will take time until it will become widely institutionalized.
Textile trust – driving transparency by using blockchain
Panel discussion with: Christian Schultze-Wolters, Blockchain Solutions – IBM, Director ; Dr Stefan Rennicke, Kaya&Kato, founder and CEO; Michael Krake, Federal Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development, Deputy Director General.
The journey that an item of clothing covers before it ends up hanging in our wardrobe and the conditions that it was made under should become more transparent and traceable with the use of blockchain technology.
It all begun from the food industry, in which blockchain technology had been first experimented and it is now moving on toward the fashion industry to promote sustainability and transparency. After mentioning the green deal of the EU Commission, all speakers agreed upon the idea that governments should be the risk takers and the regulators when it comes to blockchain as it would allow them to progress faster with a relatively low impact on their resources when compared to private industries.
All in all, blockchain technology should be complementary because:
• it allows for stronger interaction of partners along the supply chain;
• it enables th immutability of information stored in the blockchain and thus promoting transparency and accountability;
• quickness in transferring information, create an open market solution to keep expanding the blockchain technology to see if there can be more partners involved.
10 x positive from the start – SOMWR
Interview: Thimo Schwenzfeier, Show Director of Neonyt, meets Svein Rasmussen, world-class windsurfer, future fighter and CEO of Somwr & Starboard, and was nothing short but inspiring.
Consumption that contributes to protecting the environment, reduces the amount of plastic in the ocean and ensures that mangrove trees are planted – still a utopia or already a reality?
Thimo Schwenzfeier, Show Director of Neonyt, incontra Svein Rasmussen, world-class windsurfer, future fighter e CEO di SOMWR & Starboard
This is what Mr. Rasmussen had to say about his idea on having a positive impact on the planet through fashion: “We want to start a ‘10 times planet positive’ that means that we are basically absorbing 10 pounds more CO2 than what we are emitting during the production of the products or other brand services such as driving their cars to photo shoots for example, and the production of every part of the brand in general. We try to see if we can do that 10 times over, and so we started some 5-6 years ago to plant 650,000 mangrove trees, that means 650,000 tonnes of CO2 will be separated in the next 20 years. […]. Basically, when we make a piece of apparel, we pick up the same amount of plastic as the weight of the item. If that item happens to be some recycled polyester of the best grade or if it is prime organic cotton, we still pick up that amount at the beach (in Thailand) and also every item is then ‘10 times planet positive’. We do these things are just setting the imprint in people’s minds that you know here are simple solutions”.
Mr. Rasmussen goes on to explain his plan for the future of his project:
“Our plan is to plant like maybe a million trees and pick a million kilos of litter within 2025, and then since our customers and all our stakeholders are on that journey to make a positive impact through solar panelling and so on, they are part of our accounting and I think that’s what I look forward the most is to really prove, and show, that you can do this together with our customers and the community as a whole”.
Many topics have been discussed during the conference, some of which are the ever existing difficulties we face in improving the fashion industry and some other, luckily, are some of the policies, ideas and projects that companies are trying to implement to not only reduce the ecological impact of fashion but to even make it have a positive impact.
Transparency throughout whole of the supply chain, quicker communication, increased government regulations, more conscious financial investments, implementation of new technologies like blockchain and strong case studies such as the one of Timberland and SOMWR & Starboard are the main issues to focus on. It will surely take a collective effort from institutions to companies to the final consumer to create real progress.
We at Dress Ecode are convinced that this efforts will pay off in the end, and are looking forward to see how the topics discussed at the Neonyt On Air Conference will progress in the short and long term future.
Photos: cover, from Neonyt’s website; Vishal Banik, Waldemar Brandt, Vitalijs Barilo, Fran Hogan.