, our guest editor Sinem Celik of denim platform BluProjects asked the decision-makers and game-changers of the denim community, why the majority of the denim industry failed on sustainability, their opinions about rebuilding and personal takeaways after the pandemic.
Mikkel Hochrein Albrektsen, creative buying manager, Jack & Jones:
“I believe one of the main points why sustainability has failed, as an industry, is the lack of common benchmarking and complexity of various certifications. This makes it difficult to define ‘what is the standard of a sustainable pair of jeans.’
Moreover, the majority of the businesses were not fully dedicated; focused more on marketing stories than real innovation, which makes it more confusing rather than beneficial.
I think the slowdown pushed all of us to evaluate our habits and think differently. My biggest personal takeaway from the pandemic is that thanks to the pause, I feel more aware of the importance of evaluating, seeking smarter and simpler systems still enduring innovation.
Due to our strategies, we’ve been performing environmental-friendly practices; however, I personally questioned further, i.e., the number of developments, the way we look at collections, etc.
I also find it essential to keep these learnings engaging with our businesses because I see a risk that the majority of people tend to go back to normal.”
Alberto Candiani, owner, Candiani Denim:
“The fashion industry is facing the major challenge of circularity, and we need to engineer smarter products with better quality, to tackle the issues of landfill and pollution.
In the last few years, we see that most of the industry took a big dive into ‘green’ marketing, creating a massive splash of information that landed nowhere really. It’s disappointing to see that most of the mills and wash-houses still choose to communicate irrelevant innovations with big words and big marketing.
Ultimately, brands are not capable of distinguishing the good stuff from the bad, and they consequently fail to communicate truly sustainable innovation to the end-consumer. Greenwashing and the confusion that it generates for the end consumer who, in turn, is becoming more and more skeptical and less and less interested in truly sustainable innovation.
My suggestion as a solution is terribly unpopular: ‘make less and make it better’ even if it’s going to cost a little more. I define the smart decision-maker and the next successful businessperson as being capable of developing business in the contraction and not necessarily in the growth only. The real transformation is only possible through significant investments and a shift in perception.
As nicely told by my good friend Maurizio Donadi, ‘Look at the end-consumer as a citizen, not as a consumer.’ Such an approach enhances the perspective of what you want to make and how you want to produce and communicate it, which is the direction we need to welcome if we want to write a new chapter.”
Photo: Benjamin Ergul/LinkedIn
Benjamin Ergul, senior manager denim, Tommy Jeans/PVH:
“On your point of why the denim industry fails on sustainability, I think one of the many reasons is the consumer behavior partially created by fast fashion.
Denim became a disposable good since the offer is refreshed every month for a reasonable price; the consumers are attracted to buy more.
The industry should recognize that the most important pillar in circularity is durability. This is so much related to the quality and, ultimately, innovation, which is insufficient to employ environmentally friendly practices. I also believe that educating the consumer about denim is also crucial; by doing so, we’ll be motivating them to make better and long-lasting choices and, thus, decrease the waste generation.”
Aditya Goyal, managing director, Anubha Denim:
“Sustainability will remain a fashionable word, which by itself is a contradiction, till the time brands do not have the courage to pay for the environmental cost and the true value for manpower that a garment is embedded with.
The apparel industry is setting their sustainability targets however these fall significantly short of providing security to everyone involved. The Covid-19 pandemic has thrown all supply chains into a disarray. We hear about the horrors of payments which has forced most factories and mills to either shut shop or disregard their responsibility of payments to their people. These situations could be created again anytime in the future too which could again create the same challenges we face today. The consumer buys what is available to them and it is the prerogative of the industry to decide what to make and sell.
I do hope that the talks about sustainability and circularity actually get converted into action and not into another greenwashed agenda.”
Photo: Martin Gustafsson/LinkedIn
Martin Gustafsson, denim consultant, Weft:
“I agree on the idea of fashion (and denim) industry has failed on sustainability and see some various reasons for that.
Firstly, we produce way too many clothes and use the valuable resources for the things that, in many cases, will never be used. We, as the whole industry, need to relook at how to define and perform growth. I also believe that we need to implement ‘close to market production,’ for more reliable control over orders, instead of speculating capacities that might result in waste.
Secondly, the way sustainable denim is being communicated by the sourcing companies is misleading. Usually the focus is more on storytelling instead of the product itself and the core problems.
The cost of resources and the workers’ decent conditions are usually ignored in current conversations; that’s exactly what we need to discuss more to understand the real value of a pair of jeans.
Another challenge is the communication of the sustainable products to the end customer. In most companies it’s a missing link with a basic knowledge and understanding on how to ‘translate’ the technical innovations in a way that ordinary people can also understand. Only by improving this we can avoid greenwashing and initiate a real transformation.”
Jordan Nodarse, founder and creative director, Boyish Jeans:
“Lack of passion at the top of the chain combined with a lack of knowledge are the key reasons of sustainability has failed in fashion industry.
It is important to understand that sustainability means efficiency and doesn’t necessarily mean higher prices.
Small brands are the leaders when it comes to sustainability; they use the advantage of being small fast ships, who can turn and make decisions faster.
During the pandemic I noticed that using ethically made fabrics and wash processes are not enough. We need to improve our transparency into why they are better, how we came to those results, and then share all information at every step of our supply chain along the way.”
Dion Vijgeboom, denim specialist, co-owner, Mud Jeans:
“If one thing has become clear over the past few months is that the traditional way of doing business is not able to withstand a crisis like this. That system is broken beyond repair. The industry also realized the challenges of the regional supply chain and the lack of true partnership. The main reason that sustainability fails in denim (and other) industries is the need for profit and growth. As long as all economic KPI’s are only driven by growth and financial gain, we are in a fight we can’t win. The targeted growth is just not realistic; we don’t have the natural resources for it. The businesses should also remember and embrace other core values like humanity, happiness, time, nature…The consumer also needs to realize that buying a new pair of jeans for US$9.95 each month and discarding it at the end of the month is disastrous for our world. Making conscious choices on sustainable items will put less impact on resources.
And the sourcing world needs to implement the circular approach. Instead of taking the raw materials from nature, waste should be utilized to decrease the footprint on the earth drastically.”