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Changing the mix of materials can have significant impact on a brand’s social, environmental and ethical footprint. Whilst industry giants are increasingly shifting their mix towards low-impact materials and investing in developing new fibres, many smaller brands are challenged by their lack of ability to make volume and the time-consuming cost of gaining knowledge to move in a more sustainable direction.

Jacob Kampp Berliner is the CEO of Danish fashion brand Soulland. He writes from the perspective of an SME about some of the initial steps he has taken to increase the brand’s sustainable material mix.

Until recently we did very little on sustainability. Even though we wanted to take action, we were at a loss about where to start. When I look back, we were simply paralysed by the complexity of the subject. Where should we start and if we started, how should we communicate about it?  But we made an executive decision to just start, and to simply take it step by step.

We came to the conclusion that focusing on bettering the material mix in our volume-driven basics collection would have the largest impact on our sustainability performance and have an immediate, tangible effect. We launched our first Logic collection, which simply swapped conventional cotton for organic in basics such as sweatshirts, t-shirts and hoodies.

In order to incentivise our customers to choose our sustainable products we made the Logic collection cheaper than our non-organic products, providing added value to otherwise unchanged designs. We wanted sustainability to become part of their everyday wardrobe. In this way, our customers would simply pay less for a better choice, without cutting the profit for anyone in the supply chain. Instead, we let our margins take the hit.

Soulland was originally developed out of the energy of action. By realising we had to revisit that energy and take real action to start the changes, we pumped a lot of new knowledge and energy into every part of the company. What we learned, is once you start, you can actually move really fast, faster than what we thought. By focusing on the low hanging fruits, we made faster changes than we thought possible when we started out and in less than 12 months, Soulland moved from the Pre-Phase to Phase Three on the Pulse Curve, used in the Pulse of the Fashion Industry report.

Before we embarked on this journey, we never communicated about sustainability or the sustainable aspects in our products. With the launch of Logic, however, we have come to realise the importance of using our voice to share our story and journey with our customers, staff and industry peers. An advantage as an SME and privately-owned business is that we have the ability speak our own mind and do not have to care about the stakeholders. By choosing to communicate, my belief is that we will spread awareness and inspire further action in the industry.

When you openly talk about sustainability, you open up for criticism and the discussion often focuses on what you are not doing. To move forward we need to have an open dialogue and be unafraid to make mistakes, an important part of the learning curve. We want to show the mistakes we make on the path we travel, hopefully that create an environment where other brands become less afraid of talking about sustainability.

Global Fashion Agenda has reached out to industry leaders to get their perspective on the priorities in the CEO Agenda and how to get closer to solutions. The think pieces are a reflection of their personal or organisation’s approach to the issues and do not necessarily state or reflect the opinions and views of Global Fashion Agenda and its Strategic Partners.