Birgitte Holgaard Langer is the business development director at Danish SPOOR, delivering data and Nordic traceable leather to conscious lifestyle and fashion brands. Based in Munich, Lara Wittmann works at W.L. Gore as a global strategic marketer for GORE-TEX apparel, analyzing consumers and brands in the field to bring new developments into the market. Martta Louekari runs a PR and consulting company in Helsinki called Juni Communication, focusing on design, architecture, fashion, and art-related, sustainability-driven projects and companies both in Finland and abroad. Maria Munther works as the sustainability manager at Icebug, a Swedish outdoor footwear brand aiming to use its business as a platform to drive sustainability action in the industry. Anna Garton is the account manager at Finnish municipal waste management company LSJH’s end-of-life textiles division, working with finding customers for all its recycled raw materials that are household collected through a nationwide network of waste management companies, sorted by material, and processed to the customers’ needs.
How has your 2022 been?
Anna Garton, LSJH: This year has seen many positive changes and progress has been made towards post-consumer textile circulation. At LSJH we have established our nationwide household collection, improved our material sorting and found new customers for our fibres. Our challenges have been to find the right local partners and processing methods for all our materials, as the raw material we supply is new to the market. The great thing is, that new local investments are being made in both mechanical and chemical processing of recycled fibres so that soon we can solve this global textile waste issue here in the Nordics. But there is still a long way to go, as we are only at the start of making textile-to-textile a reality and finding recycling solutions for all consumer textiles.
Maria Munther, Icebug: 2022 has been a great year for Icebug with lots of sustainability improvements and it will also be our greatest year ever in sales figures. We have made Fairwear social audits of all our assembly factories, became a certified B corp, launched the 2021-22 impact report with a new, more data-based format, and overall became more data-driven. We continue the journey to improve and reduce our footprint and scale up positive impact. One challenge is to get good data quality for materials and production processes to calculate the climate footprints that we display for all our styles. This is a challenge we have in common with most brands in apparel and footwear, and we hope there will soon be common EU standards and guidelines in place.
Martta Louekari, Juni Communication: Somehow different — even more different than actual pandemic years — with the post-pandemic time and the Ukrainian war that has widely shocked Finns and brought us back a lot of bad memories. But from this time of uncertainty, we have learned a little bit since these crises are global and affect the everyday life of Finns. We really need to work together — both in a local and global context. Finland got a lot of visibility this year, for example in the U.S. and Sweden, and through this rising interest, we have been able also to talk about other issues that we are good at. Not only safety or security of supply but also design and architecture and how these work as a tool when we develop, for instance, the country and our cities, new material innovations, new talents of fashion — especially in the field of cultural and social sustainability — and gender issues.
Birgitte Holgaard Langer, SPOOR: It has been a good year for SPOOR. We started up during the pandemic, so it has been a pleasure being able to meet our relations in real life. We have been planting seeds talking with many interested brands and stakeholders in our eco-system, and we now see the seeds starting to grow.
Lara Wittmann, GORE-TEX: 2022 has been a year with many changes and a start to new adventures. I was able to meet many people again, for instance at Copenhagen Fashion Week and ISPO, and it’s also been a year of reorientation that came along with hectic periods.
What are your anticipations for 2023?
Anna Garton, LSJH: If 2023 brings as many new opportunities as this year has, then we will have a busy time working with our partners to develop new products and methods using our recycled textile fibres. We need different industries to start using recycled content so that we learn how to use the resources we already have without relying on virgin materials. The Finnish consumers will have a new way to dispose of their textiles in conjunction with the established third-sector resell collection, the waste management companies now offer a separate collection of end-of-life. But collecting and sorting is not recycling, so we need to make sure that the raw material we produce is utilized.
Maria Munther, Icebug: We will launch two traceability product features that concern biodiversity and the prevention of deforestation. From the SS23 collection and onwards, all natural rubber that we buy is FSC certified (Forest stewardship council) from smallholder farmers in Thailand, improving the biodiversity and also the social conditions for the farmers. For FW23 we will launch SPOOR leather, which is traceable down to the single hide, in collaboration with Danish Scanhide and Ecco tannery, where a Life-cycle analysis (LCA) that uses Higg data shows a substantial decrease in climate emissions. We will also see the results of a solar rooftop project in Vietnam, where all our assembly factories will install solar energy on their rooftops in Q1 2023, reducing our climate emissions per shoe pair by approximately 10%. However, most of the emission reductions are made for other brands sourcing in the same factories, as we are a small customer.
Martta Louekari, Juni Communication: I hope we take everything we learned from these couple of years and start to turn it into results when the climate issues affect everybody’s lives. In the design field, I think everybody had agreed about this long ago already, but it is a bit hard to see it in everyday life practices. There will be a need for even more active collaboration of designers, governmental organisations and decision-makers, researchers, and engineers. In Finland, the understanding of how these parts work together is quite high, so we could show the way. I’m not an extremely positive person, but the war in Europe has also shown me that at the end of the day, most people really want to help other people. We are the majority, so let’s acknowledge that and use that power.
Birgitte Holgaard Langer, SPOOR: The transparency agenda will be even stronger with the many initiatives from the EU legislative hold. The Digital Product Passport moving closer will also fuel that. And finally, the acknowledgement of the importance of Digitainable coherence — that both Digital and Sustainable action are needed to create meaningful change and impact.
Lara Wittmann, GORE-TEX: Change will stay a constant for us, but we will get used to it more and more and will start to embrace it rather than be scared of it.
For the fashion industry, which technologies are you looking at, that will drive innovation?
Anna Garton, LSJH: In order to achieve a sustainable and circular textile industry, we need technology developments and solutions in data and information on textile flows, products lifecycle analysis, more efficient collection and logistics systems, sorting automation with integrated material recognition, and partners to develop their ability to use recycled material. We also need platforms, marketplaces, and ecosystems to get the sorted textile materials to the right places for further processing. Innovations have and will change the industry, methods that enable the return of existing post-consumer textiles into circulation replacing virgin materials without the negative social or environmental impacts that the textile industry currently has.
Maria Munther, Icebug: The traceability issue will continue to be strong, and it will be expected from all the industry to be transparent to guarantee sustainability quality in the supply chain. Many tools are developing and we’re implementing and consolidating our digital tool kit to become stronger at connecting our different systems. This helps us improve the workflows internally as well as give good data flow to present the sustainability data — and other information — to our customers. I think the combination of strong digital systems and cooperation with traceability partners, such as FSC and SPOOR, will lead to new innovations and widen the traceability possibilities to new areas.
Martta Louekari, Juni Communication: Finland is big in fibre innovations and new materials. So, we of course follow the development of those quite closely. It is also important to combine the new innovations and high design skills that are available here in Finland. There is no point to be a country that only creates innovations.
Birgitte Holgaard Langer, SPOOR: Since traceability and sustainability are our key drivers, we continue to refine the status quo through innovative technologies. Both in our traceability technology but also in our tanning processes where new technologies enable new circular solutions and value we can bring forward.
Lara Wittmann, GORE-TEX: At the moment we are relaunching our entire product portfolio by leveraging an entirely new membrane. It’s delivering our trusted performance while making steps on our sustainability journey, looking at PFCs, and carbon while still delivering fabrics that enable a long product life, which has already seen great interest from our brand partners, including the likes of Arc’Teryx, Patagonia, Norrona, Norse Projects, Nanamica, and Samsøe Samsøe.
What trends will we see, for the industry and the end consumer?
Anna Garton, LSJH: Buying second-hand has become the norm, swapping, personalized or customized, local production, and upcycling, which all need to replace low-quality fast fashion. We need to encourage consumers to consider every purchase, buy quality, look after their textiles, and repair them until they come to the end of their use. Consumers should also be able to return their textiles to be recycled. Hopefully, also consumers will get true impact information about the products they buy, that are standardized and certified and not just created for feel-good consumerism. Understanding the value in our wardrobes and that if clothing is used only a few times, the impact is much greater than if used longer.
Maria Munther, Icebug: As mentioned, I think the traceability will continue and spread into new areas and new business opportunities. I hope there will be more focus on durable products.
Martta Louekari, Juni Communication: In the fashion field, in Finland, I can see a growing need to create your own audience and network. To do that, you will need to be clear about your values and messages. I really love the new generation, in the age of 20+, of Finnish consumers, even though they are pretty distorted from all the information of the digital world, they are quite clear about their values. Maybe not so much about ecological sustainability, but in terms of social and cultural sustainability. Finland has always been quite free in gender issues when it comes to clothing, but in the last couple of years, it’s been fantastic to witness great and free styles both in business and leisure.
Birgitte Holgaard Langer, SPOOR: Co-creation is the essence of how we collaborate rather than a typical linear relation. I hope that it will be clear that co-creation is key to greater progress in the value chain. Through insight, data, and identification of the players in the value chain, greater impact and value at a much faster pace can be obtained.
Lara Wittmann, GORE-TEX: Circular thinking will become more and more relevant, with various definitions — using raw materials that had a purpose before, building truly lasting products, using stuff that had been used by others before, and also finding ways to put products back into their original components. That’s the one side, the other is that we will still see huge amounts of new products getting into the market, trying to satisfy our thirst for self-expression.
How will the macroeconomic factors affect the industry?
Anna Garton, LSJH: As a global industry that has lacked transparency for decades due to pressure on price and production speed, we need to get alternative business models back. Small-scale local or microeconomic production is unlikely to take over high-street fashion due to its costs and not being able to match the economies of scale. However, the next generation of textile products using new types of fibres will change the whole industry.
Maria Munther, Icebug: Due to the inflation and economic situation, customers will buy less, and the volumes in general go down. We encourage people to only buy what they need, and I hope that, just like during the Covid pandemic, we will see more people going outdoors as this activity is both healthy and — mostly — for free.
Martta Louekari, Juni Communication: I’m a bit worried about inflation, how it affects the consumption of fashion, and how this helps the fast fashion companies to grow even more. Many of the new solutions are not there yet on that scale that would help these companies to get more sustainable — and I know that many of them do not even want to. However, due to all the problems in production in recent years, at least in Finland, some bigger companies, including the supermarkets — which are actually the main place to buy clothing in Finland — have changed at least part of their production to take place in Europe.
Birgitte Holgaard Langer, SPOOR: When macroeconomics challenges it naturally makes people reflect. From a consumption point of view, it might make people consider a buying decision even more.
Lara Wittmann, GORE-TEX: The shocking but unfortunately continuing war in Ukraine and high inflation rates will most likely continue to impact consumers’ minds and drive them to make very conscious purchasing decisions. However, I hope that this will also drive more people to give fashion items a second chance and shop vintage, repair old stuff, and look in their parents’ wardrobes.
What do you think will happen when it comes to sustainability? And what would you wish would happen?
Anna Garton, LSJH: The fashion industry will face many changes in production methods, available raw materials, logistics and legal requirements. Hopefully, these will create a drive towards a more sustainable industry. All the players have to have a much broader outlook on sustainability and the profits need to be more equally shared than in the current linear model. I believe that to get to textile circularity, we need to include a recycled content requirement for all textiles to make a real impact, not just a special edition product or a showcase range. We should also not be given the choice between sustainable and low cost, but to raise the sustainability level of all products.
Maria Munther, Icebug: Let’s hope that the trend of businesses committing strongly to reducing climate emissions will continue. Even more so now when the political scene, including COP27, is somewhat weak at the moment.
Martta Louekari, Juni Communication: I think that slowly it will change to be more sustainable on large scale. But too slowly, it seems now. The global inequality that I was talking about earlier affects everything. The rich countries develop the solutions, but the poor countries won’t benefit from those. Those who don’t have money buy what is cheap and they are the majority of this planet’s population. So these new materials, for example, will need to be accessible to everybody and reasonable in pricing. Now I see the luxury brands buying the first sets of new materials to be cool. I would love to see the new materials rather in, for example, work wear with nurses, doctors, drivers, or cleaners around the world wearing those.
Birgitte Holgaard Langer, SPOOR: I hope and believe that even more brands will become more aware of the fact that sustainability is like digitalization. It’s a matter of many strategic decisions in all functions across an organization and not only a matter of which a CSR team is responsible. And of course, on a personal note, I hope that many more will understand the link between traceability and transparency — enabling documented action in the value chain.
Lara Wittmann, GORE-TEX: We will see new materials, that are recycled, use alternative dying methods that are bio-based and hopefully much more. We’ll also see more repair and care, resale, and even renting. I think all these aspects are important and in the right direction, but in the end, it will truly need a shift to not selling and buying as much, which we all got so used to over the last years and decades. Also, I really hope to continue to improve data that will help us to get more transparency and to truly drive change in a collaborative way, as the topic we need to improve is too big and too important to think of just oneself.
Any other insights you’d like to bring for 2023?
Anna Garton, LSJH: Changes to the fashion industry start with consumer behaviour, making purchase choices and asking for more transparency. We need to establish operational systems to circulate textiles, that deal not only with profitable materials but also with the low-value ones. We already have some solutions but need more innovation, cooperation and practical steps both in the short and long term. We are not ready to make a dramatic change to the industry yet or reverse where we have ended up with fast fashion, but there are small steps taken daily to achieve a more responsible industry that values the fibres, designs, skills and hard work that goes into producing every piece.
Maria Munther, Icebug: We at Icebug believe in sharing experiences and actions within the sustainability field and we hope that this way of working will become even stronger in the future.
Martta Louekari, Juni Communication: This year has made me more interested in the future. Even though we are running against time, I can see some learning curve happening. Humans have this great ability to communicate and do things fast together — in terms of good and bad.
Birgitte Holgaard Langer, SPOOR: Leather is a natural piece of raw material. None of the animals was killed because of their hides. So our leather is a true by-product of the food industry. We hold data all the way from field and farm until finished leather — also accurate LCA data. The leather has been processed transparently, and some qualities even with the ability to fully biodegrade and compost by end of life, making our Nordic traceable leather a transparent choice for brands to work with.
Lara Wittmann, GORE-TEX: Let’s take little breaks, go outside, reflect, have fun, and take care of each other.
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