Small fashion firms are launching sustainable business concepts in large numbers. “These ideas can provide a stimulus to larger companies, who are exploring similar concepts,” says a researcher.
By Anne-Marie Mosbech, Focus Denmark no 4 2012
Children’s wear producer Katvig organises “swap parties”, where parents can swap their children’s used Katvig clothes. Photo: Malte Kristiansen/Scanpix.
Clothing exchange, clothing repair and even a clothing library.
These are some of the sustainable and socially responsible business concepts that Danish fashion firms have launched in the past year. But also the Danish Fashion Institute, the industry’s network association, thinks in green and sustainable directions. In 2012, for instance, they launched a new code of conduct tailored to the fashion industry (see box p. 15), and initiated an online campaign designed to change consumer behaviour by helping consumers to make conscious choices.
But why is the Danish fashion industry association so interested in getting companies and consumers to show respect for the environment?
“The sustainable agenda has enormous potential for Danish and Nordic fashion, and if we play our cards right, we can become green growth pioneers in the fashion area,” says Johan Arnø Kryger, project manager at the Danish Fashion Institute
Long service life
The welfare states in the Nordic countries are based on a model where citizens take care of each other and the land they live in. Sustainability and countability are long-established concepts in industries such as architecture, energy and food. Now it is the turn of the fashion industry, where several of the newer companies are green from the moment they start up.
One such is the Danish knitwear company AIAYU, which produces clothes, accessories, cushions and rugs in one material, cashllama. At the beginning of 2013, the factory of AIAYU’s main supplier, with support from Danida (Denmark’s international development cooperation, Ed.), will be certified according to SA8000, an acknowledged international standard for social accountability.
In addition, AIAYU will launch a new initiative that involves lengthening the service life of its products. “We have realised that we can help lengthen the service life of our clothes by offering a special after-sales service which extends beyond the conventional warranty period. We will encourage our customers to send us their favourite clothes for free repair, even if the damage is of their own making,” says Maria Glæsel, director and partner of AIAYU.
“The industry could benefit from a change of attitude, so that competition centres on quality and sustainable design rather than on price. Such a change would do the greatest good in relation to the environment.”
The company’s initiative can be seen as a reaction to the mass-produced segment of the fashion industry and to “fast fashion” – frequently changing fashion collections based on the latest trends – which according to critics results in overconsumption.
Johan Arnø Kryger of the Danish Fashion Institute agrees:
“Fast fashion is excessive. We would like to see the four seasons discontinued. The fashion industry can function well enough with a winter and summer season.”
Exchanging and leasing
This may not happen for a long time, but it is not preventing companies from launching other initiatives. The Danish fashion firm Noir has just introduced a new style, Illuminati, which is produced from sustainable cotton and has been developed in collaboration with the Gulu Agricultural Development Company from Uganda.
Under the motto “To share is to own more”, a so-called dress library, Resecond,has opened its doors in Copenhagen, enabling its members to exchange dresses.
At the Danish children’s wear producer Katvig, which is well-known for its sustainable approach, company founder Vigga Svensson teaches sustainability to customers and organises “swap parties”, where parents can swap their children’s used Katvig clothes. As with the dress library, the aim of Katvig’s swap parties is to give their clothes a longer service life. It also gains Katvig loyal customers and increases revenues.
“When 50 people return home after a swap party, they all start chatting to their friends about it on Facebook. It is a much more cost-effective marketing tool to trigger consumers to become “activists” than to advertise more traditionally. It produces a sharp rise in sales,” says Vigga Svensson, who is also testing another concept based on leasing clothes:
“Leasing is less burdensome on the environment and we estimate that our revenues can be 50 percent higher than normal. It is a good way to tackle one of the industry’s major problems: clothes do not get enough use, and are either put away in cupboards or thrown out.”
Providing a stimulus
The many initiatives from smaller fashion companies are focused on sustainability and social accountability. But do they have any real environmental effect?
It is mostly in an indirect way, thinks Esben Rahbek Gjerdrum Pedersen, a lecturer at Copenhagen Business School.
“Many of the smaller firms are driven by both idealism and business sense, but their limited size means that they don’t exert that much beneficial effect from the environmental perspective,” says Pedersen, who is involved in the MISTER A Future Fashion research project, which aims to move the fashion industry in the direction of sustainability, by studying existing ideas for developing economically, socially and environmentally sustainable business models.
“These ideas can provide a stimulus to larger companies, who are exploring similar concepts,” he adds.
When the MISTR A project ends in 2015, the aim is to present an array of business models which are economically, socially and environmentally sustainable.
“The trend is being driven by technological opportunities, rising commodity prices and a fear of future regulation in the EU producer responsibility law, in other words a combination of realities and expectations of how the future will develop,” says Pedersen.
The Danish Fashion Institute shares this view.
“My clear impression is that there is broad understanding in the industry of the necessity of a transition to green production,”says Johan Arnø Kryger.
Sustainable business models
Sustainable cotton for children’s clothes
Founded in 2003, Katvig is renowned for its sustainable production of children’s clothes in organic cotton and recycled polyester. The company continually develops its green profile, most recently with a cotton mill for recycled production which will reduce the environmental burden of cotton production.
Overproduction become haute couture
One of the pioneers of ethical trade in the fashion industry has just opened its first “ethical couture” outlet, in Copenhagen. The company makes couture
from cycled materials originating from fashion house overproduction, and thus helps avoid waste.
Wool and jobs in Bolivia
Jobs for the local population in Bolivia, environmentally friendly production, local commodities. Sustainability is at the core of AIAYU ’s production of around 50 designs, which are all made of cashllama wool and sold to 180 shops on 12 markets, including Denmark and other EU countries, USA and Japan.
Swapping reduces overconsumption
Come to the shop with a pretty, high quality dress and swap it for another of the same quality. That is the offer from Copenhagen’s first dress library Resecond. Using the slogan “To share is to own more!”, the idea of the shop is to reduce the volume of discarded clothing in Denmark, which is currently 30 thousand tons annually.
Maria Glæsel, director of knitwear company AIAYU, encourages her customers to send their clothes for free repair, even if the damage is of their own making.
“Clothes do not get enough use, and are either put away in cupboards or thrown out,” says Vigga Svensson, founder of children’s wear company Katvig.
Photo: Malte Kristiansen/Scanpix.