Over the past seven years, Eva Kruse, president of the Danish Fashion Institute has been trying to stimulate and drive her country’s fashion industry. An expert in her field, Eva was quick to recognise the global challenges that our love of clothes has been placing on our Earth and the people who live in it, and so set up the biannual Copenhagen Fashion Summit, the world’s largest conference for sustainable fashion, and NICE, the Nordic Initiative Clean and Ethical commitment to sustainable solutions across Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Finland and Iceland.
What are the main motivations of someone browsing a rack of clothes? I don’t think we’re ever going to buy fashion to save the world; we’re always going to be driven by style and the feel. Buying fashion is something we do because we like the colour, the fit or the brand or because you want to go out on Saturday, and you want to look good. And therefore there’s a huge responsibility that lies on the industry to give us a sustainable choice that is equally desirable, sexy and fantastic as conventionally produced fashion. Fashion is one of the world’s largest industries. It’s also the second largest polluter worldwide, second only to oil. Cotton is one of the world’s highest water-consuming crops, and the dying processes and many manufacturing processes in fashion require a lot of water. Yet we live on a planet with fewer and fewer resources, an ever-increasing population and one billion people without access to clean drinking water. The industry needs to wake up to the reality that we need to think differently about how we produce and manufacture fashion — not only because we want to save the planet but also because it’s more expensive when we do the conventional production.
So how can someone be a consumer of fashion and be environmentally conscious? It’s a mindset. Obviously it turns out to be an action as well, but initially it’s so important of us as individuals to feel what we do is important. It starts there. For such a long time we’ve had governments that have taken away our sense of influence. We have a media that presents us with global challenges that sometimes are so big that we feel paralysed almost, where you sometimes think, ‘What does it matter if I divide my trash, if I put the batteries in the right box?’ — but it does. I think the conscious consumer knows that we as global citizens have an effect on what happens. And the cool part is if a lot of people make small changes in our world and daily lives, it’ll matter a whole lot. We don’t have to compromise on design or colour — the solution is actually to manufacture, source and put together a collection in a different way, but the design can be equally attractive.
Your clothes will last longer if you wash them less — which saves you money. It’s about understanding that everything you have in your life has a value.
To remind consumers that their actions can have an environmental impact, the clevercare.info symbol was introduced by GINETEX, the International Association for Textile Care Labelling. Considering that 40 percent of the environmental impact of a garment occurs after purchase, when it’s in the owner’s hands, the clevercare.info symbol, found on the inside label of clothes, is an easy reminder of the ways you should look after your what’s in your wardrobe. By following clevercare’s tips of washing at lower temperatures, washing garments only when they are dirty, using eco-friendly detergents, cleaning lint filters in the dryer, drying laundry outdoors if the weather permits and to iron your clothes at a lower temperature, ensures the longest life for your garments with as little impact on the environment as possible.
To paraphrase our photographer Matthew Stone, apathy is so over. Completely! Apathy is over. You have to act. Even the small things you do matter. Turn off the lights when you leave the apartment, take shorter showers, dry clean less, iron less, tumble dry less, buy organic, save leftovers for the next day. It’s just small things in your life that matter.
Do you think being green or being a conscious consumer is a luxury? Your clothes will last longer if you wash them less — which saves you money. It’s about understanding that everything you have in your life has a value. If you don’t want to wear that shirt anymore, give it to somebody else. 60 percent of the environmental impact of a garment is during the production phase; 40 percent lies when it is in the hands of the consumer. We wash our clothes too often, and we dry clean too much. It’s a change of mindset. So together with H&M we’re launching clevercare.
We are all going to want something new. We can’t stop that.
Do you think we vote with our money? I think we vote with our money and our feet. It [buying consciously] doesn’t have to be more expensive. Of course organic food is initially somewhat more expensive, but if more people buy it then prices will go down. The same applies to fashion. Consumer power is interesting. If we all decide to not do something for a while, these companies would suffer. If we decide to follow other companies, they will grow. So we do determine a lot by where we spend our money. It’s been hard for us to get fashion companies to wake up to this agenda. What they want to do is focus on surviving, getting through the year and keeping their employees.
What are the obstacles keeping fashion brands from switching to more sustainable modes of operating their business? The complexities of production make it difficult for small and medium-sized enterprises. Often they don’t know where their products are produced — often they’re through agents which complicates things. They search for the lowest price, and that determines the choices they make — even for luxury production.
Is it a different scenario for the bigger high-street brands and the high-fashion houses? The luxury conglomerate Kering — Saint Laurent Paris, Bottega Veneta, Gucci, Stella McCartney — have incorporated sustainability as one of their four core values for the entire group. And I feel that’s super important as they are an industry leader. Other companies will follow; it’s a chain reaction. We have to have the cool designers, but also the mass producers like the Gaps, the H&Ms, the Timberlands, the Walmarts and Marks & Spencers of the world also moving ahead with this. And it doesn’t have to mean that things become much more expensive.
On a personal level, what are the determining factors when you buy a garment? I still buy fashion for the style. I fall in love with pieces, and I have no clue how they’re made — even if I try searching for the knowledge, I can’t find it. Transparency would be great. But for the time being, it’s also the companies that don’t communicate what they do because they’re afraid that the media will come after them and say, ‘Ok, you say this coat is sustainable, but what about the jeans or what about the lining? Where does this button come from?’ We need to make this a bit more positive.
No finger pointing. Yes. We need to encourage them, and say, ‘Ok, great! You managed to do 20 percent of your collection in organic cotton. Where is this leading? What else are you going to do?’ They also need to communicate to consumers what they do, so we can differentiate. The Sustainable Apparel Coalition is a coalition that represents 40 percent of the world’s shoes and apparel including Timberland, Nike, Patagonia and Adidas. They’re coming out with something called the Higg Index; it compares the retail value of what something costs to what it costs the environment. If there’s a jacket that you want, even if it has a low score, you probably will buy it, but at least you think. That’s the beginning of the process, an educational process to start with. This will also help encourage other companies to become more transparent.
On a personal level, how sustainable do you consider your lifestyle to be? I do as much as I can, but I’m not a saint. I drive a car — I even drive more than I bike. Actually, my bike is stolen at the moment. [Laughs] And I do consume, but I care for what I have and wash my clothes less and use a less harmful detergent.
Is fashion your guilty pleasure? I love fashion. And I still buy a lot of it, but I don’t throw any clothes out; I give it to somebody or sell it. Another thing that might be interesting, maybe on a governmental level, is to create a return system for textiles within cities. In Copenhagen, I have one bin for cardboard, one for paper, one for plastic, one for glass, one for mixed rubbish and one for batteries — but I don’t have one for textiles. You can shred textiles, you can grind them, you can make new thread out of the fibres. It would help to not grow so much virgin cotton or virgin fibres but to use fibres that already exist.
In this manifesto, Lewis Perkins from the Cradle to Cradle Products Innovations Institute said he goes to the store, buys a product, and if it’s over packaged, takes it out then says, ‘You deal with it.’ That it’s the brand’s responsibility to take care of the packaging. That’s a good idea. Vivienne Westwood proposed to make a fabric label that says: ‘Wash every second time.’ But buying an organic avocado coming from Argentina in a plastic wrapping — how sustainable is that? It might have been grown organically, but it’s been flown all the way to Copenhagen!
60 percent of the environmental impact of a garment is during the production phase; 40 percent lies when it is in the hands of the consumer.
Do you believe we should just consume less? Some people say it’s a contradiction to talk about fashion being sustainable — that we should just stop consuming. We have a lot of clothes in the world. But that’s just not how the world is going. We are all going to want something new. We can’t stop that motion. I’m okay with mass consumption; it keeps jobs and keep families alive — we just have to do it in a less harmful way. And fortunately there are so many innovative solutions, like creating new fibres made out of leftover products from the food industry, or how the enzymes used in the dying and manufacturing process can diminish the chemicals that leach in the water. If we continue to have a positive focus on the solutions that lie ahead, then we can make a huge difference.