June 23, 2021

‘Sustainability has unfortunately degenerated into an empty phrase’

6 min read

With his label Bleed, Michael Spitzbarth is one of the pioneers of sustainable fashion in Germany. We talked to the founder and CEO of Bleed-Clothing GmbH about greenwashing, material innovations and the benefits of government regulations.

Bleed was founded in 2008 and is a pioneer in sustainable fashion. What was the trigger back then to say, “We do it differently?”
Yes, that’s right! We’ve worked hard to earn our place in the fashion and sportswear world over almost 13 years of pioneering work now. In the first five years in particular, there was little to no focus on the topic and demand was unfortunately also rather moderate. Fortunately, this has now changed completely. Through the “Fridays for Future” movement and other very good developments, such as the vegan hype, changes in consumer behavior have manifested themselves in society, which have helped us extremely in recent years.

The basic trigger was certainly my penchant for sports close to nature. Coming from skateboarding, surfing and snowboarding, after only two years of working in conventional sportswear, I asked myself how it can be that in this industry one produces clothes for outdoor sports and with the production of these, this wonderful playground, i.e. nature, is completely ruined! Thus the idea for the foundation of Bleed was born… the rest is history!

Bleed summer '21 mood pic: Michael Spitzbarth himself always enjoyed sports close to nature like skateboarding, surfing and snowboarding.

Bleed summer ’21 mood pic: Michael Spitzbarth himself always enjoyed sports close to nature like skateboarding, surfing and snowboarding.

In the meantime, sustainability is on everyone’s lips and a constant topic in the media. Curse or blessing?
A little bit of both. Sustainability as a word has unfortunately become an empty phrase, because many companies use it inflationary and load it with content that fits into their respective concept. For example, toxic products that are actually bad for the planet are advertised as “durable” and then also as sustainable. In everyday life, there is unfortunately far too much marketing and too little seriousness!

However, it must also be said that it really takes a long time for the topic to achieve a certain market penetration. This is why the media in particular are called upon to address and explain these complex issues over and over again.

Without serious and independent reporting and education from the established textile and fashion media, we would have a much harder time as a genuine green brand.

In the social networks, on the other hand, things look much bleaker. Here we see more and more influencers who deal more and more with sustainable topics, but unfortunately do not deal deeply enough with the brands or products and so pseudo-ecological goods are presented as green again and again. This makes things enormously difficult for the “real” green brands and in the end also for the consumers!

Bleed for women, summer '21 collection

Bleed for women, summer ’21 collection

How seriously do you take the sustainable approaches of large suppliers (e.g. H&M, Marc O’Polo and Co.)? Pure marketing or better than nothing?
Currently we are heading for an absolute sourcing crisis when it comes to organic cotton! This is largely due to the big players in the fashion industry. So you can clearly see the immense impact this has on producers, and that goes all the way to agriculture. The cultivation of certified organic cotton has not developed in parallel with demand in recent years and the result can now be seen impressively in the disastrous shortage and the associated price increases.

This is where action and expansion must now be taken from start to finish. This means that here the large offerers will have already a positive influence! As a consumer, you should be aware when buying that there are brands that work just “partially” well and on the other hand also brands that really approach it holistically, like us for example.

As far as marketing and the associated “greenwashing” are concerned, it only remains to mention that here the clientele is in a position of power and does not have to believe everything. In this day and age, it’s no problem at all to use social media, for example, to ask more precisely how far the brand complies with the social and ecological guidelines and whether they really offer a certain transparency.

Bleed men's look for summer '21

Bleed men’s look for summer ’21

Since Corona, there has been much discussion about whether consumer behavior with regard to fashion will change and thus become more sustainable. Is this wishful thinking or is something actually changing?
From the answer to the previous question, you can already see that the pandemic was an accelerator to make consumer behavior more ecological or at least gave many people the time to think about it.
I also see this in my immediate environment. But also in the conventional corner you notice that the interest in sustainable topics has experienced a massive push.
Big public discussions like about climate change, more circularity and about the supply chain law would have been unthinkable five years ago and have now arrived in the middle of society. I am personally very happy about that.

Germany is trying to drive improvements in production by law (think the new “supply chain law”/Lieferkettengesetz). What is your opinion on this or is there a need for government regulation at all?
Even if many in the industry don’t like it, unfortunately it won’t work without legal requirements. The problem is that a purely German solution is far from sufficient and could also lead to competitive disadvantages. There needs to be at least an EU-wide, if not a global, solution for improving supply chains.

After almost 15 years with Bleed: what has developed positively in the fashion world? And what needs to be still improved?
What we are most excited about is the new, growing diversity in terms of more ecological and recyclable materials. In the early years, for us, the search for sustainable alternatives was equivalent to the well-known “needle in a haystack.” This has improved enormously and the fiber industry in particular is constantly coming up with innovations here. For us as a sports-oriented brand, it has always been important to have functional AND sustainable fibers in the collection. That’s why this development now finally gives us more creative freedom in the design process.

Bleed's Sympatex rainshell jacket

Bleed’s Sympatex rainshell jacket

One thing that still needs to be improved for us at the moment is the switch to a circular economy in fashion. Here we are all still far too linear and other industries, such as automotive and aircraft manufacturing, are showing us how it’s done. The main problem here at the moment is the end of the textile chain. Here, the industry urgently needs a system that enables us to create cycles for the various textile materials. Since large quantities are needed here, it can only be done together. Competitive thinking has no place here!

And finally, in concrete terms, what’s coming up for Bleed in the next two years?
We have a lot of developments in the functional area planned for the coming years. After all, we are a brand that has seen itself between sports and fashion from the very beginning, which means multifunctional use of clothing is a priority for us. Products with regional (i.e. German) supply chains will also be used even more–true to our motto #backtoTanteEMMA.
Shortly before the pandemic, we opened our own new concept store at our Bleed headquarters in Upper Franconia, directly on the A9 motorway.

Bleed store at Bleed's headquarters in Helmbrechts/Upper Franconia

Bleed store at Bleed’s headquarters in Helmbrechts/Upper Franconia

And also new developments in the shoe segment and thus also a big (but still secret) collab in 2022 are to be expected. In any case, we look forward to continue to offer an alternative and burn, as before, for “sustainable innovation.”

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