Bæredygtighed bør være på enhver bestyrelsesagenda, og alle aktører i modebranchen må skride til handling for miljøet, siger næstformand i Global Fashion Agenda Thomas Tochtermann. For at industrien kan vokse, er det nødvendigt, at bæredygtige initiativer og innovationer ændrer hele værdikæden.

Modeindustrien er en af verdens største og mest magtfulde industrier, men samtidigt også en af de mest ressourcekrævende. Ifølge Thomas Tochtermann, næstformand i Global Fashion Agenda (GFA), er forbruget af ressourcer så omfattende, at det vil være umuligt for industrien at vokse frem mod 2030, hvis forholdet mellem input-output af blandt andet vand ikke forbedres. Derfor er der et altovervejende behov for at finde nye måder at klæde verdens befolkning på, siger han.

Deloittes journalist mødte ham til en snak om fremtidens bæredygtige modeindustri. Læs interviewet på engelsk herunder:

How would you describe the role of sustainability in the Danish fashion industry today compared to five or ten years ago?

Sustainability is becoming increasingly important for every business and industry. Five or ten years ago, very few fashion companies were talking about sustainability and even less were doing something about it. Today, there isn’t a board room, where sustainability is not on the agenda. It has become central for every fashion company, however, the amount of activities and level of success each company has at becoming more sustainable differ.

What role will sustainability have if you look ahead five or ten years?

I believe the limitations of our planet’s resources will force the fashion industry to change in order to grow. It won’t be possible to consume water with the same input-output ratio as today through 2030. The consumption of water, emitting of CO2 and usage of chemicals will become unacceptable. Therefore, we need to find a different way to dress the world. We need to change the way fashion is produced, marketed and consumed to keep up with the growth. Everyone will be forced to do things differently throughout their value chain to stay in the game.

Who is driving the sustainability agenda – the consumers or the industry?

It is definitely not the consumer. GFA’s published research Pulse of the Fashion Industry 2019 documents that 75 percent of consumers view sustainability as either important or very important, but only seven percent say that sustainability is a key criterion when purchasing. Personally, I think even seven percent is inflated. Consumers look at style, quality and price first, sustainability second. Sustainability can be abstract and difficult to relate to for consumers and therefore, the industry or the regulators must push the agenda. I believe we need regulation to accelerate the development of sustainable solutions as the industry is too slow to adapt to the necessary change by its own.

What can regulators do?

I see similarities with the car industry 25 years ago and their CO2 problem. Without California's emissions laws we wouldn’t have seen innovation such as the Tesla, hybrids and the technological advancement within gasoline consumption. The innovation was a result of pressure from the regulators. I think we need regulators to facilitate a similar change in the fashion industry. Today, we have an industry with zero entry barriers. Anyone can design a product and take it to market whether it is polluting the world or not, whether it promotes good social standards or not. Is that really desirable?

Who should establish these laws?

It should be done supranational. If the European Union were to do it with the continent’s purchasing power and leading global position, I believe it would have a huge impact. The spillover effect would promote sustainability worldwide. Currently, regulators are looking into circularity and I think that could be a step in the right direction.

At the Copenhagen Fashion Summit several leaders advocated for more collaboration across the industry to increase sustainability, do you share that opinion?

I completely agree. Many in the industry have realized they are not changing fast enough individually, and that collaboration can speed up the process. It is a fantastic development in an incredibly competitive industry that its leaders have actually decided to help each other on sustainability matters.

How do businesses practically go about it?

Companies are sharing details about their initiatives, and they offer full transparency. Anyone can see how a supplier has been evaluated and which standards they live up to. We also see a lot of co-investment and innovation such as Fashion for Good, a sustainability innovation incubator in Amsterdam, where players such as Bestseller, C&A, Zalando, adidas, and Kering, just to name a few, are investing together to develop sustainable solutions. That type of collaboration wouldn’t have happened five years ago.

Where do Danish SMBs start when trying to increase sustainability?

Unfortunately, one size doesn’t fit all. Every company must have a sustainability strategy and choose the right path for them. Some brands may work with their fabrics or the social standards of the supplier’s workers while others look to recycle every item at the end of its lifecycle. I believe that strategizing can help businesses be more sustainable while running a healthy business simultaneously. There are very basic ways to make a difference. Get an overview of your CO2 footprint and see if you can reduce it. When working with factories, look at how their sustainability efforts are documented. How much water and chemicals are they using? And what measures do they take to reduce it?

I presume it can be hard for a fashion entrepreneur to spend their sparse time on a sustainability strategy instead of building their business?

Yes, that is why we need the regulators to define entry standards. If you want to drive a car, you need a license. But if you want to participate in the fashion industry, you can start tomorrow. Anyone can pick and choose suppliers from around the world – and while the supplier could be very sustainable and have good working conditions, they could also mistreat their employees and spill chemicals in the local river. Brands need to be held accountable and we need to push even small players to think about these things. It’s your brand - your responsibility.

When looking at a standard supply chain for a fashion company in Denmark, what are the three main areas brands can focus on to increase sustainability?

First, your choice of fabric defines a large part of how sustainable your overall product is. Whether it is organic cotton, a single or multifiber product with or without print have an effect. Second, SMBs shouldn’t work with too many suppliers. Instead they should pick a few and really get to know them well. Visit them, check out the conditions first hand, familiarize yourself with their certificates and engage with them about possible improvements. Third, as it can be complex to locate the right manufacturers and suppliers, agents can be a great help. They can help you find sustainable options that fit even small businesses.

How can businesses make their sustainability efforts a good business case?

Today, we can show a good business case for sustainability. It is possible to bring a more sustainable product to market that is not more expensive. In the future, as sustainable solutions are scaled, the case will become even better. Additionally, while the consumer might not be willing to pay more for sustainable products, I am convinced they will pick the sustainable product when choosing between two similar styles in the same price range. On top of that, sustainability is a very positive term, and your sustainability initiatives offer some branding value. From talking to some of the major online fashion players, I know that sustainable items receive a significantly higher click rate than their non-sustainable counterparts. The bottom-line is that some companies risk their existence if they don’t become sustainable. Our planet’s resources are dwindling and assuming that regulators will take action, there is no reason not to pursue sustainability today.

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