Flanders DC focuses already for years on working future proof with sustainability as one of the most important pillars. Also the past year, fashion companies accepted the challenge to build their sustainability strategy for the next few years.
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The past years we were literally flooded with news about the consequences of global warming that we start feeling today (also literally). Something that seemed far away, comes very close now. We ask ourselves more than ever if everything will fall in place and if we can do anything about this whole situation. In an ideal world, ecology and economy go hand in hand. What is more, entrepreneurs focus more and more on sustainability to ensure a future for their kids as well as for their company.
“In my opinion, you will not attract new employees if you don’t have a sustainability strategy as a company. Young people who start working with us or applying for a job, ask openly: ‘What’s your sustainability policy?’. This gives me hope.”
With the Close The Loop platform Flanders DC guides fashion entrepreneurs through the principles of the circular economy. Besides a detailed online knowledge platform and a database with 400 inspiring cases, we could mentor a second series of companies in a Close The Loop trajectory. After caroline biss, e5 Mode and Café Costume, eight new companies accepted the challenge to develop their sustainability strategy for the next years. Together with consultants and experts we looked for possible and suitable opportunities. Each company chose their own direction, realised immediately a few quick wins and developed a strategy to follow for the next few years.
The path to a circular economy is a bumpy one: it requires perseverance, collaboration and a step-by-step mentality to achieve these goals. It’s a myth that this is only for innovative start-ups, that’s what many SMEs say.
The more mature companies in the fashion industry face different challenges than circular starters do.
Think about changing a business model that already exists for years, changing an appropriate way of working or modify the way your personnel works. These eight Close The Loop ambassadors share with pleasure some insights from the trajectories that they followed.
Novavo: Up to 100% sustainably and locally produced fabrics
Novavo brings out mentrousers and focuses on sustainability in several ways, but sustainable fabrics are the most important focus. In this way Atelier Noterman chose in 2016 for ‘Detox Denim’. Compared to traditional denim, this innovative material requires 80% less water, 80% less energy and 80% less chemicals.
Novavo is thinking big: the company wants to shift to fabrics that are produced as sustainably and as locally as possible – without compromising on quality, obviously. Novavo mainly purchases from European suppliers, like German, Spanish, Italian and Portuguese textile manufacturers and has been systematically scanning them to assess their sustainability performance. In the meantime, the company made the switch from conventional cotton to its GOTS certified counterpart for e5 mode (with about 50,000 pants a season as one of their most important customers).
Furore: ‘Designed to last’
Flanders Fashion Design International (FFDI) has started, besides the existing brands in the company (Julia June, Giovanea and AMaNIA Mo), a conscious sustainability practice with Furore, the ‘slow brand’ that saw the light in September 2019.
Sustainable design takes center stage for Furore.
This means that the brand turns to quality materials that transcend the seasons.
Quality and a slower rhythm are central. Moreover Furore expands the hunt from sustainable materials to sustainable coloring and painting techniques. They try to find out if prints with ink on a waterbasis could work and ask their suppliers about the amount of cutting waste and its destination.
Xandres: Auditing and raising awareness among partners
Using harmful chemicals during the production process is out of the question for Xandres. For instance, the company opposes the sandblasting of jeans and opts for natural dyes wherever possible.
Xandres has a team of seamstresses in its own atelier in Destelbergen, but it also keeps a close eye on its production partners abroad through regular factory visits. The company wants to move towards a more sustainable future together with these partners – auditing them, raising awareness and making improvements wherever possible. Xandres is currently drawing up a questionnaire as well as a code of conduct that every partner will be asked to sign.
Marylise & Rembo: From ‘production on demand’ to direct delivery to stores
Unlike the usual way of buying for bridal fashion, Marylise & Rembo Styling Fashion Group (MRFG) produces customized wedding dresses.
The production starts when there is an order.
Because of this, there’s no issue about an overstock and production waste is limited. Moreover the dresses are delivered from their Portuguese production base directly to the stores. By cutting out intermediaries like a distribution centre in most of the cases, MRFG minimises its logistic footprint.
Woody: Getting customers involved in the story of sustainability
Woody stands for colorful pyjamas, night dresses, homewear, underwear and swimwear for babies, children and adults. The company focuses in different ways on sustainability and responsible entrepreneuring and tries to inform their clients about this subject.
Woody does not send any client uninformed out with a new article.
The brand gives maintenance tips and the plea to never, ever use fabric softener.
Moreover, the brand intends to better inform them about what to do with Woody items they no longer wear. Postcards and the Woody World website are the communication channels par excellence for this. Clearly, the label wants every customer involved in the sustainability story.
6. End of life
FNG: Closing the loop with the help of De Kringwinkel and HNST
FNG works on a sustainability policy that’s overall and can work for the whole group and the different brands get an own translation. Also ‘at the end of life’, it’s like this. Think about Brantano where you can bring your old shoes to.
From january 2020 also the CKS stores will have a take-back-box in several areas. The collected clothing will have a second life.
Not only the staff’s ‘uniforms’ get a second life (thanks to the collaboration with The Empty Shop); CKS’, fred + ginger’s and Ginger’s Belgian returns are put to good use too.
After all, FNG has been donating them to Wereld Missie Hulp for years.
From 2020 there will be a pilot project where send-backs will be fixed and will be sold in the social economy via De Kringwinkel.
Finally, Ginger is cooking up a plan to collect old clothes together with HNST. The denim will find its way into the HNST production chain, while the other items are meant for De Kringwinkel.
As a family company, Eskimo designs already more than a hundred years underwear and nightwear. However the company was growing to a more and more sustainable enterprise, there were till five years ago no significant monitoring procedures or communication processes. Meanwhile the team has caught up seriously and now socially responsible entrepreneuring is extremely important for the organization.
The trajectory of Eskimo sharpens one of the biggest challenges of the majority of SMEs: it’s a constant fight to keep sustainability active when you have also other challenges and priorities as a company.
“Though we’re working hard to reach our targets, progression is sometimes slow due to pressure from above, busy schedules and lots of other priorities that demand our attention. I think many players in the industry will recognise this problem of balancing the importance of sustainability with the demands of everyday business life.The reality is that sustainability is a long-term challenge. You can’t fix everything overnight, and you don’t have to either.”
Get to work?
Besides that there are a lot of challenges, there are also a lot of opportunities connected to sustainable entrepreneuring. Collaboration between companies and all the different parties are crucial, next to transparency in the industry. The government plays a role to accelerate this process but also the consumer forms a driving force. But every company, big or small, young or old, regardless of segment or target group, can choose to take responsibility.
“Commitment of the top is crucial, because the implementation can go so fast then. Furthermore a good collaboration between the involved parties is indispensable. We mentioned the different departments and appointed a responsible person who’s closely involved in sourcing, production and other processes throughout the value chain. Such a broadcasting about all these phases is priceless.”