Smart Talks, the report

Denim Première Vision London, December 3 & 4, hosted four Smart Talks across the two days of the eco-responsible sourcing show revealing a myriad of visionary strategies, innovations and solutions tackling the impact of the fashion business sector on the planet. The thematic:

“Sustainability, if not us, then who? If not now, then when?”

The Smart Talks, chaired by Giusy Bettoni – sustainability consultant for Première Vision and CEO of C.L.A.S.S. sustainable platform – brought together leading figures from across the globe: researchers, entrepreneurs, designers and retailers who are all speaking the language of the current fashion climate. What all of these guests had in common is that they are all sustainability game-changers, trailblazers and rule breakers working together to make the future the cause of our present.

The Jeans Redesign: Let’s ‘Make Fashion Circular’ — Ellen MacArthur Foundation

An insight and analysis whereby key players provided robust evidence into the benefits of a circular economy and provided tools and active solutions in order for businesses to work towards this goal.

Bettoni began the talk with a stark call of action: “If nothing changes, by 2050 the fashion industry will use up a quarter of the worlds carbon budget,” Bettoni said.

She continued: “Lukas Fuchs is a research analyst for ‘Make Fashion Circular’ at the Ellen MacArthur Foundation and has been working for the past year to redesign the jeans market to build a fashion industry that can thrive in the future.”

“We have a programme that we call systemic initiatives where we look at one specific industry and we analyse the material flow and the way business is done within that industry to develop a vision for what a circular economy for that industry could look like and then we make that vision a reality,” said Fuchs.

He continued: “The idea of a circular economy is simple. We want to use materials and we want to keep products in use. So the three guiding principles that we have formulated at the foundation are: design out waste and pollution; keep materials in use and regenerate natural systems. This can be explained through the butterfly diagram.”

A circular economy means moving away from creating value in depletive and extractive ways, and instead growing the most restorative and regenerative parts of the economy. Hundreds of companies are already doing it from regenerative farmers to remanufactures and generators of renewable energy. This provides an opportunity to redesign the fashion industry’s future and create a new textiles economy with a growth of $560 billion per year.

So what does it mean to redesign jeans today? “We started off at the end of the supply chain and spoke to both the mechanical recyclers and also the chemical recyclers. They said that 2% non cellulosic fibres can be tolerated but anything that contains more non-cellulosic fibres is really difficult to recycle from a technological and financial perspective. Consequently, we came up with four main Jeans Redesign guidelines that are fit for a circular economy: durability, material health, recyclability and traceability,” said Fuchs.

He added: “We started with the first lot of signatories on the 16th of July this year at Première Vision in New York and by May 2021, more than half a million pairs of jeans will be produced and we’re not stopping here.”

Similarly, Fabrizio Consoli, CEO and founder of Blue of a Kind – a jeans company that creates products from vintage pieces handcrafted from textile surplus – commented: “Our vision is to change the way traditional fashion operates and is perceived to become a circular system where we use exclusively existing garments and leftover materials to create premium contemporary fashion as the world doesn’t need another fashion brand.

This is why we call it, ‘Revolution of the Existing’ because nothing is created, nothing is destroyed, everything is transformed.”

Fuchs commented: “If we think about the butterfly diagram we can see where Fabrizio is coming in. We have faulty products that would be destined for landfill or incineration but what Blue of a Kind are doing is creating value from something that is already out there.”

Tech-innovation: the invisible power

Focusing on the systematic initiatives by the means of transforming key material flows to scale a circular economy globally from transforming waste into resources and a new innovation of ecohigh-tech cotton.

The talk opened with the question: What is Supreme Green Cotton? Giannis Tzortzis, researcher, developer and PR manager at Varvaressos SA, explained: “It is a system of solutions producing smart new generation of cotton that is characterised by a chain of values. We are using non GMO competency and smart farming technology. So instead of using a conventional irrigation system we are using a drip irrigation system. This production process encourages environmentally friendly practices and smart precision farming.”

He added: “This means that we can save up to 40% less water, 20% energy from renewable resources, 3600 ton CO2 savings and 2040 Mwh energy savings. This is really technologically advanced but it is really easy to implement because the technology is there we just have to make the important decision to use it and this comes from educating the farmers, which is key.”

The discussion then moved on to the work of Circular Systems: a material science company that focus on the natural production of fibre and fabrics by converting waste into valuable resources through regenerative systems bridging the gap between textiles and agriculture.

“If we can unlock the true potential of soil, agricultural lands, forests, seas and actually help to encourage photosynthesis then we’re going to have incredible results. At Circular Systems we are trying to revolutionise fashion with innovative products derived from two very abundant waste inputs. Agraloop is our Bio-Refinery concept where we take agricultural waste and convert it into Bio-Fibre. We’ve identified many agricultural residues or food crop waste from the plant residues, such as: pineapple, banana, flax seed, hemp seed and corn.

We can utilise this food crop waste into Bio-Fibre and create a new era of ‘Regenerative Industrialisation,’” said Ricardo Garay, international project coordinator at Circular Systems SPC.

In a similar way, Cheri Buell, product developer at Evrnu, explained how they are also launching new technology in order to mitigate textile waste. She said: “We launched our first technology this year – NuCycl – in collaboration with Stella McCartney and Adidas in order to purify postconsumer textile waste. Our goal too is to make single-life textiles a multi-life resource.”

She continued: “We created a sweatshirt in partnership with the Stella McCartney team and the Adidas team. This is our first commercialised product made from 60% NuCycl fibre and 40% virgin cotton and everything down to the label is made so that this entire sweatshirt could be regenerated. Our plan in 2020 is to go to consumer launch as consumer behaviours are shifting, millennials prefer recycled and organic products. Consumers are demanding regenerative principles be linked to the products they buy.”

Designers: the enziymatic agents of the fashion business

Let’s think of designers as creative units able to activate sustainable processes pushing for a more sustainable fashion business. A symposium, whereby emerging and established visionary designers discussed how they are committed to triggering a positive change.

Sustainability, aesthetic appeal and indigenous artwork form the vocabulary of many sustainable fashion brands today. If there is one common thread running through them all it is that you should invest in staples that you can keep on a perennial rotation. This discussion brought together two ‘jeanius’s’ to talk about the responsibility designers have as active creative units to strive towards a more sustainable fashion business.

Nudie Jeans is protecting Mother Nature through their rebirth of vintage jeans by offering a smarter way to consume. “We have 32 repair shops world-wide and in 2018 we repaired 55,173 pairs of jeans, which means that each pair folded twice would make a pile taller than the Burj Khalifa building. 55,173 repaired pairs means we kept 40,000 kilos of textile waste being thrown away and saved 345,000,000 litres of water,” said Sandya Lang, sustainability manager at Nudie

She added: “We not only repair jeans but in 2018 launched a Re-use program, which we now sell online. As well as our Rebirth capsule collection that was made entirely from post-consumer Nudie Jeans denim. From a design aspect the sustainable product is what is most important to us. We say that it ‘all starts with a pair of drys’ that have never been washed. We advise customers to go six months without washing the jeans. You decide how far they go…”

Maurizio Zaupa, chief designer at Jacob Cohën, said that his company also design products with longevity in mind through high-quality workmanship, hand tailoring and utilising the latest technology.

“We have to go inside of the system in order to begin to change it. We are looking to the next level of innovation by challenging the system and using the fibre Bemberg and also looking to use nettle,” said Zaupa.

He added: “At Jacob Cohën we are not perfect but that is okay because it’s not about perfection, it’s about learning. Everyday we are faced with a new challenge and it’s about creating opportunities from these challenges. For example, we have identity cards on each of our garments so the consumer is able to trace where the item was derived from and make a conscious decision when buying the garment.”

Bettoni commented: “So we go back to the fundamental point, which is: without transparency and traceability, we cannot talk about sustainability.”

Connecting Consumers to Contemporary Smart Fashion Values

Today, department stores’ total spending on sustainable fashion products represents, on average, 23%, and they will buy around 40% in five years, according to a McKinsey report. This discussion debated how we will get there looking at working to develop the vision, skills and mindsets behind brands and the transparency that is needed when communicating with the consumers.

What I believe is most important is labelling the products, as you would in a supermarket, so the customer can make a conscious choice because I think the problem is the customers simply don’t have time to do the research,” said Ida Petersson, buying director at Browns.

Barbara Guarducci & Saskia Terzani, founders of Mending for Good, a project that addresses the issue of waste and excess stock and finds creative solutions though socially valuable craft project, joined the discussion.

“From a consumer level for us, it is about really having a social positive impact working with people who come from fragile communities. We are starting a new knitwear project next year in collaboration with The London College of Fashion: In Popular Works. We are going to work with the Bangladeshi community in West London to teach them high level hand embroidery skills so that they can engage with luxury brands,” said Terzani.

What was iterated throughout this discussion was that when it comes to the consumers’ needs the brands must create timeless designs fuelled with forward thinking creativity and refreshed with functionality in order to appeal to the consumers.

“It is ultimately about the beauty of the product. Nothing will convince the consumer to buy the product unless it’s aesthetically appealing. So we train people from the backgrounds mentioned to a very high-level and to be competitive to produce these products,” said Terzani.

She added: “Consumers are demanding a change and the fashion industry must change in order to survive. Major brands have aggressive sustainability agendas and race to find real solutions. Regulatory pressure and resource scarcity will prohibit continued growth of the industry by 2030.”

Bettoni concluded the final Smart Talk with a definitive appeal for change: “We can’t make any changes without the information to do so and we can’t access verifiable, comparable and understandable information without transparency and public disclosure. Albeit, we can’t do this without the impetus to care and the willingness to become. We have to move from a culture of exploitation towards one of appreciation and respect for our resources and for each other.”

Let us all take a deep dive into the blue, to work collaboratively towards a change where the world can truly be, our oyster.

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