The journey – part 1

The idea has always been the same, it’s only the fabric that changed’

Ragnarøk was born out of personal frustration over how intensive and polluting the current fashion industry is, fired up by passion to do things differently to create a healthier world. How did we get where we are now? During an early morning walk through Zwolle, Yann reflects with me on the journey thus far. It all started with the idea to create clothing out of Hemp. “Hemp was the starting point because it is such a good and such a fascinating plant! I started to look for what you can do with the plant, and clothing immediately made a lot of sense. When Daniel joined we had our sight on t-shirts, but actually the idea never changed. The fabric did. We started to reach out to people in the industry, ordered hemp shirts and fabric samples to see how good they are. That’s where the focus shifted. Either the quality of the hemp fabric was not satisfactory, or the production process was not really what we want with Ragnarøk. Hemp often has to be processed chemically to make it soft or it is imported from very far away. Or it is still very water intense. Not necessarily growing the plant, but in the production process later on. Those things led for us to look for something else, something different, something better fit for our requirements.” The big decision “Organic cotton was never really an option. One of the reasons to start this company was to get away from cotton. As the excessive cotton cultivation is the opposite of locally grown materials. Going back to organic cotton doesn’t make sense then. There was one more big decision we had to make: are we gonna go fully natural or fully circular? For fully circular, you could make the argument for synthetic fibres like polyester, as you can (in theory) recycle them indefinitely. But with Tencel, we struck kind of both! It is natural, but created in a chemical process. So it is a natural fabric that you can keep only with Tencel and then you can fully retake it into your production again. It doesn’t loose any quality so to say.” How did Tencel come to our attention?  “That’s a good question actually.. I don’t fully remember how it went. I think it was because we started ordering samples in general. So we started ordering hemp samples. Others too. Took the decision that we wanted to stick to a hundred percent natural material and then I think we stumbled across Tencel. At some point in the process of testing the laser printer, we made the decision that this was the material to go with.” Deciding was easy, getting it was hard “When we decided on the material it was about finding the right producers. So we had one where we ordered and also made the first prototypes with. It was distributed from the Netherlands, but they were unfortunately completely nontransparent and not very communicative so we looked for one that was willing to actually cooperate with us. Its always the beginning that’s a bit hard. Finding a supplier was a bit of a hassle, but it worked. We directly called Lenzing, the company that produces Tencel, and asked them for tips. They gave us a whole list of people that they work with in the EU. That’s the list I started from, calling all of them, asking about everything. It was a lot of calls to make. In Germany, Austria, Spain, Portugal, the Netherlands and more. Trying to find one in the European Union that is transparent, communicative, has an ecological focus. And then most of them you can then cross because they don’t fulfill the rigid criteria that we have since we try to be strict.” Transparency was the big elephant in the room “Lenzing is the company behind Tencel. Lenzing makes the fibers, they are at the very beginning of the process. Their fibers then go to distributors who make the fabric out of them. Tencel is their brand name for the fibre that is called lyocell. So it is lyocell at the basis and then they call that lyocell Tencel. The thing is, you can still call a fibre or fabric Tencel when it only has 70 percent Lenzing fibers in it. So that was a problem. When we asked suppliers about the amount of Lenzing fibers in their Tencel, they’d say: can be between 70 to 100 percent. So we didn’t know exactly. Nor did we know what was in there for the rest of the percentage. Would be Lyocell but from very different places and from a very different producer. Can be from very far away. Lenzing first has best quality and they have a very good ecological vision for their production and their growth. Also for the localization of their plants. So we wanted to work with them, absolutely. With a hundred percent Lenzing fabric. That’s for sure. But then we had to find a producer and supplier that tells you exactly what is in their fabric and how much is in there. Not too easy.” Why aren’t they transparent?  “With my experience, I see two or three reasons. One is because they have something to hide. With most people we came across, this luckily was an exception, thank god, but it is still happening a lot actually. Sometimes they don’t know better because they don’t get the information from before in the supply chain. Or protectionism. They are scared that if they are transparent towards us, they share their secrets with us. Because that’s how they feel about it. That we’d then jump them. Like we’d just go to their supplier directly or something like that. Since it is a market on which you are always fighting for your position. Because you know that there might be someone who is cheaper. You have to be as projectionist as you can.” Improving “So yes, it was a bit scary in the beginning. You don’t really know what to ask. So you call, have no idea and then you learn while calling. That is also the thing. The supplier that we work with now, they were super open from truly the beginning. They mentioned that they have worked with start-ups before, they eased it into the conversation and really showed that they know that we are small. And they of course have bigger clients but that doesn’t matter, they still treat you the same way as the others. That is not something we had with other companies. A lot of times the first question was: ‘how much would you like to order?’. And of course, that’s their main focus. They need to sell. But for suppliers to understand us, where we are coming from and why we are even reaching out to them, not a lot of companies did that. But when you are doing it, you get better at the questions you ask. You’re just improving these things and you build up some knowledge. Then it gets better.” The fabric we have now is like really real “We now have fabric that’s truly 100% Lenzing fibers. The fibre comes from Austria, goes to Germany where it’s knitted (and dyed 30 km away) and then it comes to Zwolle. So the fibre makes only like a little detour on their way to the Netherlands to be made into a fabric. That makes that our product in the end has traveled around 3.300 km’s or so. While the average t-shirt travels 36.000 km.. so that’s very good. The colors are custom made for us too. We choose our black. We send them one or two options from the pantone fashion catalogue and then they made a sample out of it. We didn’t like the black as it was too grayish, they remade it. That’s also why it took a bit longer for the black one, besides the supply chain problems due to Covid. Also for the sample of the white, we liked it but not that much. It was a bit too aggressive, it had a blue tone in it, just wasn’t that nice. Later on it turned out to be a bit more yellow, way better. Last thing about our supplier: they produce on demand. This allows us to tackle the problem of stock overload in the fashion industry. Producing on demand comes with a higher price but it prevents waste. While other companies calculate the waste already in the price, then produce as much as they can, try to sell it and if necessary they dump or burn it. We want the product to be created for the quality of the product, not just for the sales it generates. That’s what we get with this supplier. Sure there are other suppliers out there. And this is not the last one we are going to work with but for now, for the stage we are in and for the fabric we want, this is the best we can get. I am excited to work with other suppliers for different products that we go into in the future. Direction might be Hemp then and maybe we already need Hemp or Linen for packaging now, we aren’t sure yet. But now, after all my calls and research, I and we now know what approach to take. Not that I had it written down, but I have it in my fingers due to all the practice.” Looking back at the last year “If you look back at it for the full year it didn’t go, or well, it doesn’t feel like it went that fast. But yes, you are right. If you see where we started, from zero. We didn’t have a clue.. no background in fashion. Then it went quite fast. But it is also not there yet! It’s nice that we grow with it all. Building up to the launch we are definitely passing all these milestones. We started with the website, that we have our regular social media posts and the blogposts now. We see the engagement going up. We really grow with it also. Literally too, our team is growing and the list of people that we got help from in any form is continuing to expand. It all goes so natural as well. Its insane. So yeah, we are growing and getting better. It is getting more concrete, less exploratory that’s for sure. We know better where we exactly want to go. And its getting closer so that’s good.” I mean.. “We have our cube at iLab, where we already had our office for a bit. This cube, our first production place, that Meike is furnishing and putting into her liking as we speak. We made our first big order and the rolls of fabric are lined up in there. Another sewer found his way to us, he really brings another set of qualities that we don’t have so far so that is really great. He and Meike are making a headstart with the MVP’s. MVP means Minimal Viable Product. So this is the first batch of shirts that we are going to sell but as it is our first we do it in the format of a 50 people test-group. 50 people that wear it in different way, more active, more casual, more, less etc. That way we can find out how it wears, feels, washes, and how it wears out and so on. To find flaws that we can correct before going into the ‘real’ production.” We keep on refining “So yes, it is getting more clear, but like I said: we are definitely not there yet. An exercise that is taking a lot of time, especially in the beginning, is to refine the idea. Refine the business idea and the business itself. The approach. That is something we still do. Now also with our launch-meetings, seeing what should be our main aspects and our main message. Because we probably have to break it down a bit so that it becomes more digestible. Because you know, the people that read a bit more into the brand and look it up a bit more, they probably get the concept. They think it makes sense and its a sound concept. But if we want to catch people in a quicker manner then yeah, we have to refine it. But that is an ongoing process. And that’s also something that we want. To keep on shaping the company as we grow older.”

From scratch. About fibers, blends and why we choose Tencel™

Looking down at the dark blue sweater that is keeping me warm today I notice the amount of blonde hairs its carrying, how it is getting fuzzy after all my wearing and washing and how the right sleeve starts to fray in the palm of my hand. I see color, style, a woman’s favorite garment that is starting to show age. What are you wearing today? What do you see when you look at it?

Let me take you back to the day we made the second batch of masks. Our garment technologist Meike is teaching me the tricks of sewing while I am observing her doing what she does best; working the fabrics. When ironing a new piece of fabric, Scottish red, it melts. Alarming! Melting is bad! We thought we had rolls of all pure cotton. Meike steps in, takes the mask, cuts it open and starts to fidget out the three super thin different colored threads in there. Observing the red, yellow and black yarns, she takes her lighter, lights them up one by one aiming to find the synthetic one causing the melt. Watching her do this, a switch in me flicked. As this action quickly invited me to see the fabric the way she does. Not for the mask or piece of fabric I saw, but for the material it is. The individual threads its built out of, fibers spun to yarn. Of course, rationally I know that clothes are made of fabric and fabric is made of fiber. But that’s not something I realize every time putting on a t-shirt. Do you?

This new technical way of looking inspires and excites me so much. Breaking up with old habits leads to new ways, different values. With this blog, I, and with Ragnarøk in general, we want to get you here too. Because we really need to break up with our old ways of fashion. Literally. Built up from scratch a new. Not just the way we value clothes but most of all the way we produce them.

This blog is about..

How getting back to the basis; material, explains why the fashion industry of today is no longer maintainable.

How rebuilding the base of fashion can change everything and how we aim to do this using Tencel for our first production

and how you can change your habits and with that your influence in sustainabilizing (is that a word? Hahah) the industry with a wider knowledge on materials.

Clothes for the bin

The way fashion works right now we make clothes for the bin. Of course we wear them first, at least a little. But in the end they go into landfill. Also when you put them in the recycling bin. From all the clothes produced each year, 85% gets burned or dumped into landfill. That’s a garbage truck filled with textile waste every second going into landfill. 1 truck per second. In the previous blog I shared with you how fast fashion brands are promoting recycling campaigns that are very misleading. (Bit of a long-read, sorry for that, will keep it shorter this time) Most of the clothing handed in for recycling still gets burned somewhere overseas. And from the fabric that does get a new life, only 1% finds it in the form of a new garment.

Why? Because our clothes aren’t made with the aim to recycle them. And that is a huge loss. Because now we go back to the level of fiber; visualize how much time, energy, water, land, fertilizer, labor, food (in case of animal sourced fiber), pesticides and chemicals go into these little things. All that even before the whole journey from fiber to the garment in your closet.

© Liz Vermeulen

Mixed blends

When a piece of clothing is made out of more than one material, it is a blend. Big chance you are wearing one right now. Clothes made out of mixed materials are ‘the usual’. Since the invention of blending, it’s being done all the time. This mixing of fibers does the magic on our clothes. When you mix fibers and do it well, the good features of one material will complement the good features of the others in the mix. That way we make our clothes more comfortable, last longer, fit tighter, wear lighter, print prettier, shrink less, wrinkle barely, and what not more. We are in this luxury position that we can adjust everything exactly to our liking. And it even makes our clothes cheaper. Synthetic (man-made) fibers are cheaper than natural ones, so putting synthetics in the mix lowers production costs of garments. Win-win then, right? Well, if you care about keeping up with every trend, don’t want to spend all your money on it and don’t care about the impact this behavior has on, actually everything, including yourself, then; yes. Sure. But if you do care about the health of our planet, the people doing the work on your t-shirt, yourself and all others alive, let me take you along.

All into one yarn

Looking for information on this subject I ran into terminology that confused me a little. To avoid this becoming too much of a nerdfest, let me briefly mention that the internet speaks of ‘mixed blends’ and ‘blended fabrics’. A mixture is a fabric which is comprised of two or more different fibers each spun into a separate yarn. And a blend is a fabric that is created out of two or more different fibers which have been mixed before or during spinning into yarn.

Meaning: mixing is not just about getting synthetic yarn mixed in a piece of fabric (like Meike showed me when she lit up the treads of the mask) but the synthetic fibers get mixed ínto the yarn. And that is the problem. When fibers get mixed, especially in this way that they become one yarn, you can’t separate them again in a useful way. Utterly impossible! Recycling them? Don’t even try.

Here’s a video to give you a visual of fiber in general and a bit of this process. This is just cotton, but imagine that, when they speak of ‘the duct system and blending and cleaning machine’, that’s where fibers of other materials get thrown in too.

Fiberrrrs 

I want to be careful with all the technical knowledge there is on fibers as I can put up a whole story on the journey of clothes but I’m not sure if that serves you in your needs. Nina is finishing up a MOOC on circular fashion as we speak and shared with me amazing studies. You will find them in the links in the text. To give you the broad lines around fibers, it comes down to this:

Traditionally we know natural and synthetic fibers. Natural ones come from animal or plant origin and synthetic ones are produced in an industrial process. These fibers are originally made from fossil resources (mostly oil) but also biobased alternatives are available nowadays. Listed up:

Natural: wool, silk, leather, cashmere (animal based), cotton, linen, hemp (plant based)

Synthetic: Spandex, polyester, acrylic

Regenerated fibers:

More fibers entered the main field since the last few years. Regenerated fibers like Lyocell (also known as Tencel™), Viscose and Bamboo. Viscose might not be actually new, it got invented in 1883 and was used as a cheap alternative to silk. But it recently gained popularity in the sustainable movement. Rayon belongs to this section of regenerated fibers too. You will see it often. But I mention it on its own as it is not a fiber itself. It’s the name for regenerated fibers in general. So clothing labels you’ll get by can say Tencel rayon, viscose rayon, bamboo rayon. If it just says Rayon you still don’t know the true source. Regenerated fibers are made of natural materials but called semi-synthetic as they need processing before you can use them as fiber for yarn. As Tencel and Viscose are made of wood and Bamboo well, from Bamboo, they are biodegradable and take way less water to grow than for example a cotton plant (which in general is the least environmental friendly crop used in fashion). Although these fibers are made of natural sources and the way they are produced makes them good options for biodegrading and recycling, the chemical process to make them is quite something. Which does not make them great straight away. Tencelis something different in this light tho. Exactly why we love and use it. More on that in a bit.

Innovative fibers

A lot is happening in the field of sustaining the fashion industry at the base of fibers. Fabrics being created from pineapples (piñatex), orange skin, algae, fungi. Which is so interesting as these innovations will really bring more sustainability to the industry. Making them from waste materials or leftovers, being biodegradable as they are made from plants and growing in a very low-impact way in contrast to the other natural fibers we know.

These regenerated and innovative fibers make true recycling optional too. Where with ‘traditional’ fibers the amount of protein in them and the length of the fiber determines their strength, the renewable materials are broken down and then built up again just as they were before. So, where recycling traditional fibers shortens them and cuts their quality, renewable materials are all up for a new go. At least, if the clothes produced from them are made with the aim to recycle them. Because as you now know; if they get mixed with other materials, this will ruin the party.

Polyester = plastic

There is one specific fiber I want to bring to your attention. Polyester. By now hardly to erase out of our experience of everyday wear. A lot of the mixed blends today include polyester. Around 65 percent of our clothes are made of it. Polyester is plastic. And plastic is not our friend. It is put into clothing because it is very soft and it makes clothes very strong and more elastic. But that is because plastic is here to stay forever. Plastic can’t fade or degrade. All plastic ever produced is still here. When aiming to degrade plastic, you actually just transform it into teeny weeny pieces called ‘microplastics’ that are now everywhere around us. In the air we breathe, the soil beneath our feet, the water we drink and even the food we eat. Everywhere! These microplastics do not just shatter around when plastic gets broken down. Every time you wash a piece of clothing made of polyester it releases microplastics into the water. By now, the washing of synthetic clothes releases half a billion tons of microplastic fibers per year into the ocean. That’s more than 50 billion plastic bottles. Per year. It’s pure waste and literal poison.

As that isn’t bad enough already: it is made out of fossil fuel. Plastic is always made out of fossil fuel. Of which the winning and usage is molesting mother Earth. We do realize driving cars is not the most sustainable thing as they drive on oil. But all these clothes fashion companies produce are also made of the same thing. We have to stop that!

Also, wearing plastic on your skin all day every day; not good. And the ‘recycled polyester’ you’ll find is of course better than new polyester but it is mostly made out of recycled plastic bottles. Not your old clothes. And old polyester releases two times the amount of microplastics than newly produced one.

Pro’s and Con’s

Coming back to all the fibers I (quickly) mentioned: They all have their own pro’s and con’s, especially looking at their environmental impact. Colleagues of ours already wrote a lot on exactly this. What each material does for you, how sustainable the process behind the production is and how to compare them with each other. Read about each fiber in English here and for a environmental scan here, if you prefer reading about this in Dutch, go here.

I encourage you to check it out. Informing yourself on the features of different materials is so important and helpful in this transition becoming conscious about clothes. It will help you big time in finding your new favorite garments. If you know what to buy to serve your exact needs, like: breathing, or light weight, warm but not sweaty, whatever it is you want from your clothes, knowledge is your friend. When you know what to look for, you will not only save yourself the bad buys, but you will really love and thus wear the shit out of every piece you own. And at the same time, always feel your best because nothing in your closet is actually ‘meh’. That, to me, is what this is about.

Stop buying unconsciously

Care for what you do purchase, where and who you buy it from

Love what you own

Learn and understand how to care for it right so it will last

And then, wear it out completely and replace it with something of equal value to you

Because that actually is not just what it is about to me. That is what it is about in general. The only true sustainable way to handle clothes in the current system is to wear them out. What you don’t wear out becomes waste straight away because even though you hand them in to recycle, they aren’t made for that.

To bring this back to blends

Blending in itself isn’t necessarily bad as it makes clothes perform better, easier to care for and most of all; stronger. It makes them last longer. Which is great, if we wear them out. But if we only (want to) enjoy them briefly, clothes that last a lifetime are just freshly produced waste. Just as much as we need to change our consuming behavior, the industry needs to change it’s ways. That’s why we chose Tencel.

Closing the loop

You probably hear it every now and then: Closing the loop. What we mean by that is: making the production process an ongoing circle. Beginning again where it ended, ending where it begins. So, no waste! How?

With Tencel

I mentioned Tencel, also refered to as Lyocell, above. It appears under these two names because TENCEL is a brand-name for the fiber that is called Lyocell. This regenerated fiber is made of wood of Eucalyptus and Birch trees. The Austrian company Lenzing AG designed Tencel in such a way that the production is a closed loop, using less harmful chemicals that are abstracted from the fibers when they are done and then can be used over and over again. No chemical waste or polluted water. Truly zero waste. The trees used are grown in a protected way within Europe. So in contrast to other Rayon it certainly does not contribute to deforestation.  And the Tencel fabric we use is made out of 100% Tencel, no blending needed which makes it possible to completely dissolve and use again from start on. I am a visual thinker, maybe you are too, so here’s a video to show you Tencel.

Not just hippies

Sustainability-wise, Tencel to us is just the perfect option for the launch of our company. Other fibers as Linen and Hemp are really great options too, but as we aim for a true closed loop system, this is just the best (for now). Next to the sustainable aspect of the fiber, it is also so good as a base for clothing. The fabric is extremely soft, breathable and anti-bacterial, which will leave you feeling fresh as the shirt won’t come across worn after just a morning of work. You can hang it out after wearing it a day and put it on several times again before it needs washing. Which saves of course water but also leaves the fabric in higher quality longer.

And lastly, Tencel just looks so good. Exactly the style we aim for, casual, qualitative, street wear. Not that Linen or Hemp do not look good. On the contrary, I personally love the natural look they have. But I am not everybody. If we really want to break up with our old way of fashion, these natural fibers that ‘look sustainable’ as the stereotype confirms, won’t make it to the high streets. At least, not for everyone. There are already a lot of companies doing great work with Linen, Hemp, recycled cotton, polyester, all of that. If that’s the style you aim for, options are aplenty. And we love that.

People, like maybe you, that are very aware of the impact of clothes on everything, have options and favorites out there. Some expressing the sustainable vibes more than others. We are very excited about Tencel as it is such a beautiful and qualitative fabric that fits into truly anyone’s closet. Especially the closets of the ones that maybe never cared or still don’t care for sustainability. And that is just amazing! Do I say it’s amazing that people stay careless about environmentalism? Yes. That is not really the amazing part but you know, that is just reality. Some of us are born with this big, intuitive feeling of responsibility that makes us not even question if behaving sustainable is an option or not. But most of us aren’t. Inner motivation is stronger than cognitive knowing. If we, by creating a beautiful product that people take in with the vow to care for it as we intend, also shift consumerism in general to a sustainable version. Caring for ourselves and Pachamama. Big ideals are becoming very real. Within very clear reach. And you are part of that, so thank you.

 

*Writing this with a huge smile on my face.*

 

Liz

Greenwashing (NL)

Hee jij! Fijn dat je (weer) hier bent. Je weet inmiddels wel dat wij het als onze verantwoordelijkheid zien om je niet alleen een goed alternatief voor kleding aan te bieden, maar je ook te informeren over de industrie en het waarom der dingen. Wij geloven dat het veranderen van onze gardarobe niets is zonder verandering van mindset.

De kleding-industrie kent veel problemen. In de vorige blog-post, schetste Yann het brede plaatje van wat er mis gaat. Heb je het nog niet gelezen en sta je aan het begin van je reis naar bewustwording rond kleding; lekker lezen! Want vanaf nu zoomen we in op alle specifieke zaken rond de kleding-industrie en duurzaamheid. Over het algemeen kunnen we stellen dat de mode-industrie en duurzaamheid niet hand in hand gaan. Ze zijn eerder elkaars tegenpolen. Zoals Clara Vuletich het tijdens TedxSydney formuleerde: “mode is sexy, verslavend, exclusief en zeer snel, duurzaamheid daarentegen gaat over traagheid, zorg, bloei en verantwoordelijkheid”. Erg waar.

©Sunyu Kim

Fast Fashion

Zij heeft het over fashion (mode), nog niet eens over fast fashion (snelle mode), wat een wereld van verschil is. Laten we, voordat we ingaan op het onderwerp van deze blogpost, greenwashing, eerst even dieper ingaan op de term fast fashion. De term wordt zo vaak gebruikt, maar in tegenstelling tot wat je zou verwachten dankt het zijn naam niet aan de snelheid waarmee wij kleren kopen en weggooien. De term fast fashion verwijst namelijk eigenlijk naar het extreem hoge tempo waarin modebedrijven op trends kunnen inspelen. De bedrijven die een héle korte productietijd hebben en dus in een oogwenk nieuwe trends in de winkels kunnen leggen. Door het proces van ontwerpen, produceren en distribueren te verkorten, duwen zij de nieuwe collecties letterlijk door de industrie. Wat maakt dat elke keer als je de winkel binnenkomt, je iets nieuws zult vinden. Wat maakt dat je vaker terugkomt, en ga zo maar door. ZARA is een voorbeeld en heeft inmiddels 52 micro-seizoenen in een jaar. Zij produceren ook 1.250.000 kledingstukken per dag. En dus 450.000.000 per jaar. Dat maakt ZARA een soort van de grootste van allemaal.

Dus productiesnelheid is niet gelijk aan koop-/slijtagesnelheid. Goed, greenwashing. Wij wijzen je op de problemen van de industrie en willen geen specifieke groepen de schuld geven. Het gaat niet om vinger wijzen en het zal ons zeker niet verder brengen met dit verontrustende systeem. Waarom niet? Want weet je; eigenlijk is iedereen schuldig. Consumenten verwijten merken dat ze hun arbeiders niet betalen, merken leggen de lage prijs bij de consument omdat die niet meer voor kleding wil betalen, activisten verwijten merken dat ze dit bedrijfsmodel volgen dat winst vooropstelt, en regeringen kijken meestal alleen maar toe terwijl het allemaal gebeurt. Zoeken naar een schuldige leidt ons alleen maar af van het daadwerkelijk aanpakken van het probleem.

Als we dingen goed willen maken, gaat het erom hoe we de zaken kunnen omdraaien. En dat begint (ook) bij jou. In deze grote wereld, waar het grote geld stroomt, hebben we de neiging ons klein te voelen omdat we maar een individu zijn. Maar we hebben de macht om te stemmen met onze portemonnee. Je ziet jezelf misschien als iemand die niet geïnteresseerd is in politiek. Misschien geloof je niet eens in de politiek. Maar eigenlijk, alles wat je doet is politiek. Alles wat je denkt, zegt en waardeert. Met elke euro die je bezit en uitgeeft draag je bij aan het instand houden van het een of het ander. Zie je hoe het dus van belang is wat je koopt en van wie?

©Ksenia Chernaya

Wat is greenwashing

Greenwashing heeft niets te maken met milieuvriendelijk wassen. Integendeel; als een bedrijf of merk doet alsof hun product of manier van zakendoen duurzaam is, terwijl dat in werkelijkheid niet zo is, dan is er sprake van greenwashing. Door een zoet groen sausje over reeds bestaande, meestal verre van duurzame praktijken te gieten. Door bijvoorbeeld producten of nieuwe collecties te lanceren die “groen”, “milieuvriendelijk”, “duurzaam”, “natuurlijk”, “bewust”, “ecologisch” of een andere term zijn waardoor ze zorgzaam overkomen. Door groene of bruine verpakkingen te gebruiken, door alleen tijdens een campagne klimaatneutrale verzending aan te bieden, door reclame te maken met een paar veganistische producten, of aangezien wij ons op mode richten: door recyclebakken in hun winkels te plaatsen. Jammer genoeg is het meestal alleen maar om punten te scoren en de groeiende groep consumenten voor zich te winnen die zich wel bekommert om het welzijn van onze planeet en haar bewoners. Deze groep groeit en wij vinden het heerlijk.

Maar zij weten dit ook.

Wij zijn ons steeds meer bewust van het belang van het klimaat en hoe wij het beinvloeden met ons dagelijks leven en dagelijkse keuzes. We voelen ons meer verantwoordelijk voor onze persoonlijke impact en dat weten merken ook. Duurzaamheid is een marketingtruc geworden.

Wij zijn mensen. Met een brein en psyche die tot in de puntjes zijn bestudeerd. Marketeers weten hoe ze ons dingen kunnen laten kopen en gebruiken dat natuurlijk om ons dat te laten doen. Duurzaamheid werd iets waar we om geven, dus beginnen productfabrikanten hierin te concurreren. Als je een schap vol dezelfde soort producten hebt, zul je je waarschijnlijk beter voelen als je de meest bewuste kiest. Maar die groene verpakking of “natuurlijk” sticker is alleen maar om je aandacht te trekken. Dat op de verpakking staat dat het een groene optie is, betekent helaas niet dat dat ook zo is. Maar het triggert wel onze primaire reactie. We moeten er dus op letten dat we niet direct op onze eerste reactie afgaan, maar dat we ons bewust worden van onze tweede gedachte.

Waarom kunnen ze dit doen?

Er zijn geen voorschriften of regels voor het gebruik van termen als natuurlijk, groen, milieuvriendelijk. Als je het op je product wilt zetten, kan dat.

Greenwashing in dekledingindustrie

De recycle bak. Op dit moment zijn er veel modemerken die adverteren met een recycling programma. Zij plaatsen recyclingbakken in hun winkels, maken er reclame voor en bieden je zelfs korting op je volgende aankoop wanneer je oude kledingstukken inlevert. H&M doet dit héél goed. Als je de reclame ziet die ze er voor maakten, val je er als een blok voor. Ik bedoel..

Maar nu. Wetende dat het allemaal een truc is, persoonlijk, maakt het me een beetje misselijk. Natuurlijk is het heel goed dat ze milieubewustzijn vergroten en dat ze je een gevoel van verantwoordelijkheid voor je afval geven. Maar eerlijk, is dit een grote leugen.

Omdat recycling niet duurzaam is

Tenminste, niet in het huidige fast fashion circuit. Slechts 1 procent van de kleding die gerecycled wordt, wordt ook daadwerkelijk gerecycled in de letterlijke zin van het woord. Dat betekent: dat slechts één procent van oude kleding terugkomt in de vorm van nieuwe kleding. 1 procent! Één. Procent.

Dat is niet echt wat de mooie reclame je ook vertelt, of wel?

Het duurt 12 jaar om te recycleren wat zij in 48 uur verkopen, zegt Claudia Marseilles in dezelfde aflevering van CBC’s Marketplace, waar ik hierboven ook naar verwijs. Het bedrijfsmodel van de fast fashion retailers is het probleem. Ze maken te veel, ze verkopen het te goedkoop en het is allemaal wegwerpkleding. Een beetje recyclen is een truc om de aandacht daar te houden. En zo te zorgen dat ze niets hoeven te veranderen aan de manier waarop ze nu te werk gaan.

Mythe van het kledingtekort

Auteur Elizabeth L. Cline spreekt van The Clothing Deficit Myth als een term voor het feit dat we denken dat de kleren die we in de recyclebakken of donatieboxen doen, naar arme mensen gaat die wanhopig behoefte hebben aan de kleding die wij niet meer dragen. En dat het daarom een zeer goede daad is om onze ondergewaardeerde kledingstukken in te leveren. We kunnen zelfs het gevoel hebben dat het kopen van nieuwe kleren en het inleveren van de oude, een manier is om voor minderbedeelden te zorgen. Maar dat gebeurt slechts gedeeltelijk.

©pexels

Wat gebeurt er met het textiel dat je in deze recyclebakken stopt?

De vuilnisbak eigenaren verkopen ze. Een deel ervan gaat naar de liefdadigheidswinkels bij jou in de buurt. Maar omdat er veel meer oude kleren worden ingeleverd dan er mensen zijn die ze nodig hebben, of winkels die ze kunnen verkopen, wordt het meeste verscheept naar het buitenland en belandt het daar alsnog op de stortplaats. Hoe?

Door de manier waarop kleding gemaakt wordt, is het een samenraapsel van allerlei verschillende materialen. Dit om de kosten zo laag mogelijk te houden. Vele bevatten synthetische vezels en al het plastic dat daarin zit maakt het volstrekt onmogelijk om afval van vezels te scheiden. Zelfs als dat zou lukken, katoen en wol verliezen echt kwaliteit bij hergebruik, dus de optie is ook niet zo aantrekkelijk. Ze noemen deze warboel van materialen mixed blends (= mengsels). Maar daar over alleen al kunnen we later een heel verhaal schrijven.

De ingezamelde kleding wordt gesorteerd, zoals gezegd gaat een deel van de bruikbare kleding naar de kringloopwinkels, de gescheurde kleding wordt versnipperd en als brokken stof verkocht aan bedrijven die er nuttige dingen van maken zoals isolatiemateriaal of, bijvoorbeeld hier in Nederland is er een bedrijf dat er bokszak vulling van maakt. Dat wat niet naar de winkels gaat en ook niet versnipperd is, wordt tot balen kleding verpakt en naar het buitenland verscheept. Daar gaat een deel van al deze kleding naar de lokale marktplaatsen. Maar omdat de kwaliteit zo laag is, kunnen ze het amper verkopen aan de mensen daar. Dus wordt het grootste deel van al die verscheepte kleding opgestapeld en verbrand, bijvoorbeeld op de parkeerplaats achter die lokale markt in Kenia. Dus… zij zorgen ervoor dat het krijgt wat het verdient? “Het enige wat we niet zullen doen, is het verspillen”?

Waarom dit slecht is

Deze “greenwashing” trucs leiden ertoe dat jij je goed voelt over een aankoop. Op die manier moedigen ze je aan om te blijven kopen en misschien zelfs meer kleren te kopen dan je anders zou doen. Dat is per definitie niet duurzaam! Ze geven je het gevoel dat zij zorg dragen voor de grote uitstroom die ze hebben, zodat je hun producten kunt blijven consumeren zonder dat ze echt hoeven te veranderen wat ze doen. Ze maken het goed, toch?

Dus terwijl je het gevoel hebt dat je je geld uitgeeft aan verandering, verandert er eigenlijk niets aan het feit dat de kleding-industrie de 10e meest vervuilende industrie ter wereld is als het gaat om CO2 uitstoot. De vierde grootste watervervuiler en de op één na grootste plastic in de oceaan stopper.

©cottonbro

En dat niet alleen, want met de opkomst van alle duurzaamheidsclaims draagt het niet bij tot de groei van het vertrouwen dat we in merken hebben. Hoe moeilijker het wordt om het verschil te zien tussen echt goede praktijken en marketing-spelletjes, hoe minder het stimuleert om op te letten en moeite te steken in verstandig kiezen. Als het vertrouwen weg is, waar zijn we dan?

Een ander voorbeeld

Naast hun recyclingprogramma heeft H&M ook de H&M Conscious-lijn. Een goed voorbeeld van een fast fashion merk dat probeert het domein van de duurzame mode te betreden. Maar zoals ik hierboven al zei, kun je je voorstellen dat het toevoegen van een “wat duurzamer deel” aan een bedrijf dat nog steeds groter en sneller wil groeien, niet echt transformerend is.

Eigenlijk is deze bewuste collectie niet veel bewuster dan dat de kledingstukken van ander materiaal zijn gemaakt dan de normale collectie. De manier waarop het wordt geproduceerd, in de slechte arbeidsomstandigheden voor de kledingarbeiders, met dezelfde snelheid, op dezelfde ver uitbestede plaatsen, met dus praktisch dezelfde negatieve gevolgen voor het milieu, het is allemaal hetzelfde. Sara Dubbeldam van het blog When Sara Smiles werd vorig jaar uitgenodigd voor de lancering van de nieuwe H&M-concious collectie en schreef een artikel over hoe ze merkte dat de graad van duurzaamheid alleen wordt afgemeten aan het gebruik van duurzame materialen. Niets meer dan dat. Zij hadden het over het gebruik van biologisch katoen, terwijl het katoen dat zij gebruiken BCI is, niet biologisch. Wat staat voor Better Cotton Initiative. En kleren worden er niet voor 100% van gemaakt, maar voor ongeveer 20%. Wat natuurlijk al een grote verbetering is.

Inmiddels lijkt deze blog meer op een grote tirade tegen H&M dan dat hij gaat over het aanpakken van greenwashing. Maar het feit dat alle voorbeelden die ik heb van H&M zijn en niet ZARA, Boohoo, Adidas, Super Nova, New Look, of welk merk je maar kunt bedenken, komt omdat H&M eigenlijk bijna de enige is die het (echt) probeert.

Transparantie

Als het gaat om het doorzien van greenwashing, is transparantie een belangrijk punt. Wanneer een merk reclame maakt met producten die groen of milieuvriendelijk zijn zonder op welke manier dan ook uit te leggen hoe dat zo is, dan weet je dat het een loze belofte is. Ga online na hoeveel je echt te weten kunt komen over het product, het bedrijf en hun productieproces. Het kost wat tijd, dat weten we. Gelukkig is er sinds vijf jaar de Fashion Transparency Index, een instrument dat ons helpt te overzien hoe modemerken het doen op het gebied van duurzaamheid en de algemene transparantie van hun processen.

©Alena Koval

Dat is heel goed, en zeer welkom, vooral omdat transparantie van het proces misschien nog belangrijker is dan volledig duurzaam zijn. Want dat is moeilijk. De sector doorkruist heel wat verschillende terreinen en voor volledige transparantie moet elk onderdeel van de keten ook voor een merk als onderneming openstaan. Wij worstelen hier ook mee. Dus ja, de Transparency Index, zo fijn, nu alle wereldbedrijven proberen duurzamer over te komen, en daarmee deze façade creëren die de consument doet duizelen. Want wie doet er echt goed en wie houdt alleen maar een gordijn op? Iemand zei eens tegen mij: als mensen niet meer weten wat ze moeten geloven, staan ze open voor alles wat je hen vertelt. En dat is gewoon waarheid.

Dus,

Hopelijk heeft dit een licht geworpen op wat er schuilgaat achter deze plotseling- op-duurzaamheid-welvarende kapitalistische wereld. Wees je bewust van de trucs die mensen op je loslaten, en neem het jezelf niet kwalijk dat je er kwetsbaar voor bent, we zijn mensen en de marketingwereld kent onze zwakke plekken. Maar met een groeiend bewustzijn, begint de verandering.

Als iets te goedkoop is om duurzaam te zijn, stel dan vragen. Doe je onderzoek. Zoek het zelf uit. Misschien besef je intussen dat je datgene wat je wilde kopen eigenlijk niet nodig hebt. Wanneer je minder koopt, spaar je geld om wat meer uit te kunnen geven aan iets dat wél in lijn is met je waarden. En dat is gewoon win, win, want verminderen is beter dan recyclen. Én zo stroomt het geld naar waar de intenties goed zijn. Gebruik je geld verstandig. Want elke dag stem je met je portemonnee. Als we willen dat de dingen veranderen, moeten we aan die verandering bijdragen. Anders kunnen we ons hele leven wachten.

Greenwashing

Hey you! Happy that you are here (again). By now you probably know that we feel it is our responsibility not only to offer you the good alternative on clothing but also widen your knowledge on the industry and the Why of things. We believe that changing the wardrobe is nothing without changing the mindset towards it.

The fashion industry holds a lot of problems. In the previous blog-post, Yann summed up the wide picture of whats going wrong. If you haven’t read it and you are in the beginning of your journey of awareness around fashion, go give it a read. Because from now on we will zoom in on all the specific things concerning the fashion industry and sustainability. In general we can say that the fashion industry and sustainability do not go hand in hand. They are closer to being each others opposites. As Clara Vuletich puts it at TedxSydney: ‘fashion is sexy, addictive, exclusive and very fast-moving, sustainability on the other hand is about slowness, care, flourishing and responsibility’. Very true.

©Sunyu Kim

Fast Fashion

She is speaking of fashion, not even of fast fashion, which holds a world of difference. Before getting into the topic of this blog post, greenwashing, let’s elaborate on the term fast fashion. As it is so often used but in contrast of what you might expect it doesn’t get its name from the speed in which we buy and throw out clothes. The term fast fashion actually refers to the very high pace in which fashion companies are able to jump onto trends. The ones that have a very short production time and thus can put new trends into the stores in the blink of an eye. By shortening the process of design, produce, and distribute, they literally push the new collections through the industry. Which makes that every time you enter the store, you will find something new. What makes you come back more often, and so on and on. ZARA is one example and by now has 52 micro-seasons in a year. They also produce 1.250.000 pieces of clothing per day. Makes 450.000.000 per year. Which makes ZARA sort of the biggest of all.

So production speed does not equal buy / wearing out speed. Bueno, greenwashing. We point out the problems of the industry and do not want to blame specific groups. It isn’t about fingerpointing and it certainly won’t get us anywhere further with this troubling system. Why not? Because actually; everybody is to blame. Consumers blame brands for not paying their workers, brands put the low price on consumers as that is all they want to pay for clothes, activists blame brands for following this business model that prioritizes profit, and governments mostly just watch all of it happen. Looking for the one to blame will only distract us from unclogging the drain.

If we want to make things right, it is about how to turn things around. And that (also) starts with you. In this big world, where big money flows, we tend to feel small being just an individual. But we have the power of vote right in our wallets. You might think of yourself as a person not interested in politics. Maybe not even a believer of politics. But actually, everything you do is politics. Everything you think, say and value. Every penny you own and spend is a contribution to maintaining one or the other. See how that brings importance to what you buy and who from?

©Ksenia Chernaya

What is greenwashing

Greenwashing has nothing to do with eco-friendly laundry. On the contrary; when a company or brand acts like their product or way of doing business is sustainable, while it actually is not, that is greenwashing. By pouring a sweet green sauce over already existing, mostly far from sustainable practices, launching products or new collections that are ‘green’, ‘eco-friendly’, ‘sustainable’, ‘natural’, ‘conscious, ‘organic’ or any other term that makes them come across caring; changing into green or brown packaging, offering climate neutral shipping only during a campaign, advertising with a few vegan products, or as we are focusing on fashion: placing recycling bins in their stores. Sadly, most of the time it’s just to score points and win over the growing group of consumers that does care about the wellbeing of our planet and her inhabitants. This group is growing, you know it, we love it.

But they know it too 

We are more aware of the environment as something important and something that we influence with our daily life and choices. We feel more and more responsible for our output and brands know this too. Sustainability became a marketing tool.

We are humans. With a brain and psyche that has been studied to the fullest. Marketeers know how to make us buy things and they of course use that to make us do so. Sustainability became a thing that we care about, so product makers start to compete in this. If you have a shell full of the same kind of products, you will probably feel better about yourself if you choose the most conscious one. But that green packaging or ‘natural’ sticker is just to catch your eye. That the packaging says it a green option, unfortunately doesn’t necessarily mean that it is. But it does trigger our primal response. So, we have to make sure that we don’t immediately go with our first response and bring in the awareness of second thought.

Why can they do this? 

There are no regulations for the usage of terms like natural, green, eco-friendly. If you want to put it on your product, you can.

Greenwashing in the fashion industry

The recycling bin. Right now there are a lot of fashion brands advertising with a recycling program. They put recycling bins in their stores, make commercials about it and even offer you a discount for your next purchase when you hand in old garments. H&M is doing this very well. If you see the commercials they made for it, you just fall for it. I mean..

But now. Knowing it is all trick, personally, it makes me a little nauseous. Of course it is great that they raise environmental awareness and they do give you a scent of feeling responsible for your waste. But truly, its one big lie.

Because recycling is  n o t  sustainable

At least not in the current fast fashion circuit. Only 1 percent of the clothes that get recycled actually get recycled in the literal sense of the word. Meaning that only one percent of old garment will come back in the shape of new clothing. 1 percent! One. Percent.

That’s not really what the pretty advertisement makes you believe, is it?

It takes 12 years to recycle what they sell in 48 hours, says Claudia Marseilles in that same episode of CBC’s Marketplace, linked to above. The fast fashion retailers’ business model is the problem. They are making too much, they are selling it too cheap and it is all disposable clothing. Doing a bit of recycling is a scheme act to distract attention making sure that they don’t have to change the way they are doing things now.

Clothing deficit myth 

Author Elizabeth L. Cline speaks of The Clothing Deficit Myth as a term for the fact that we think that the clothes we put in these recycling bins or donation boxes go to poor people desperately in need of the clothes we don’t like to wear anymore. And that therefore it is a very good deed to hand in our under valued garments. We might even feel like buying new clothes and handing in the old ones, is a way of taking care of less fortunate. But that is only partly happening.

©pexels

What happens to the textiles that you put in these recycling bins?

The bin owners sell them. A part of it goes to the charity stores you have in your neighborhood. But as there are way more old clothes handed in than there are people that need them, or stores that can sell them, most of it gets shipped off overseas and then still ends up in landfill. How?

Due to how these clothes are made, they are a jumble of all different kind of materials to keep the costs as low as possible. Many include synthetic fibers and all the plastic that is in there makes it utterly impossible to separate waste from fiber. And even if it would work out, cotton and wool really lose quality when reused so it isn’t that appealing either. They call this scramble of materials mixed blends. But we can write a full story on that alone later.

The gathered clothes get sorted, as said a part of the usable ones go to the charity stores, the torn ones get shredded and are sold like chunks of fabric-shred to companies that turn it into useful things like isolation material or, for example here in the Netherlands there is a company making filling for punchbags out of it. What didn’t go to the stores and ins’t shred either is wrapped to bunches of clothes and shipped overseas. Where a part of all these clothes goes to the local marketplaces. But as the quality is so low, they can’t even sell it to the people there. So most of all that shipped off garment is piled up and burned, for example on the parking lot behind that local marketplace in Kenia. So.. They’ll make sure its gets what it deserves? “The only thing we will not do, is waste it”?

Why this is bad

These greenwashing tricks lead to; you feeling good about a purchase. They encourage you that way to keep on buying and maybe even buy more clothes than you else wise would have. It is by definition unsustainable! They make you feel like they are taking care of the problematic outsourcing they have so that you can continue consuming their products without them truly having to change what they are doing. They are making up for it, right?

So while you feel like you are spending your money on change, actually nothing changes on the fact that the fashion industry is the 10th most poluting industry in the world when it comes to carbon emissions. The fourth biggest water polluter and the second largest in putting plastic in the ocean.

©cottonbro

And not only that, because with the rise of all the sustainability claims, it doesn’t add to the growth of trust we have towards brands. The harder it gets to tell the difference between truly good practice or marketing playing games, the less we feel encouraged to pay attention and put effort in choosing wisely. If trust is lost, then where are we?

An other example

Next to their recycling program, H&M also has the H&M Conscious line. A good example of a fast fashion brand that is trying to enter the domain of sustainable fashion. But like I said above, you can imagine that adding a ‘a bit more sustainable part’ to a business that is still aiming to grow bigger, faster, isn’t really transformative.

Actually, this conscious collection isn’t much more conscious than the pieces of clothing being made out of different material than the normal collection. The way it is produced, in the poor working conditions for the garment workers, at the same speed, in the same far outsourced places, with thus practically the same negative impact on environment, it is all the same. Sara Dubbeldam from the blog When Sara Smiles got invited to the launch of a new H&M conscious collection last year and wrote an article on how she noticed that the grade of sustainability is only measured by the usage of sustainable materials. Nothing more than that. They spoke about using organic cotton while the cotton they use is BCI, not organic. Which stands for Better Cotton Initiative. And clothes aren’t made 100% out of it but for around 20%. Which of course is already a great improvement.

In general, this blog by now looks like a big rant on H&M as it is about addressing greenwashing. But the fact that all the examples I have are H&M and non ZARA, Boohoo, Adidas, Super Nova, New Look, or whatever brand you can think of, is because H&M is actually almost the only one (truly) trying.

Transparency

When it comes to seeing through greenwashing, transparency is a big one. When a brand advertises with products that are green or eco-friendly without elaborating in any kind of way how that is so, you can tell its an empty promise. Check out online how much you can really get to know about the product, the company and their production process. It takes some time, we know. Luckily, since five years there is the Fashion Transparency Index, a tool that helps us oversee how fashion brands are doing on sustainability and their general transparency of their processes.

©Alena Koval

Which is very good, and very welcome, especially because being transparent on the process is maybe even of bigger importance than already being completely sustainable. Because it is difficult. The industry flows over a lot of different terrains and for full transparency, every part of the chain needs to be open to you as a company too. We struggle with this as well. So yeah, the Transparency Index, so good now all global companies are trying to come across more sustainable, and with that create this facade that makes consumers tumble on their feet. Because who is truly doing good and who is just holding up a curtain? Someone once said to me; when people don’t know what to believe anymore, they are open to believing just anything you tell them. And that is just truth.

So,

Hopefully this kind of shined a light on what is behind this, all of the sudden, thriving-on-sustainability capitalist world. Be aware of the tricks people play on you, not to blame yourself for being vulnerable to it, we are humans and the marketing world knows our weak spots. But with rising awareness, change starts.

If something is too cheap to be sustainable, ask questions. Do your research. Find out yourself. Maybe in the meantime realize that you actually don’t need the thing you wanted to buy. When you buy less, you save money to spend a bit more on something that is in line with your values. And that’s just win, win because reducing is better than recycling, and then money flows where intentions are right. Use your money wisely. Because every day you vote with your wallet. If we want things to change, we have to contribute to that change. Else wise we can just wait our lifetimes.