”Commercial success and sustainability can definitely co-exist”
Above: Make it last founder Emma Elwin wearing sustainable styes from Esprit and Kristina Seidler-Lynders, Manager Social & Environmental Sustainability at Esprit.
Esprit, the international fashion brand born in San Francisco in the late 1960s, with headquarters in Germany and Hong Kong since 1993 and presence in 40 countries, is ready for a revolution. Having always paid attention to fabric selection, fit and quality, the brand now takes a big step in terms of sustainability by rethinking all parts of their supply chain—design, materials, manufacturing, distribution, care, recycling etc. Esprit works towards a circular economy where growth is based on human capital instead of the extraction of natural resources.
Kristina Seidler-Lynders, Manager Social and Environmental Sustainability at Esprit, tells us about the huge task of positioning an already large operation like Esprit into a circular economy.
– We’ve developed a strategy for circular fashion. Of course, it doesn’t happen overnight. We’ve done the groundwork and have set the foundation. One of the keys is transparency and really knowing our supply chain. Then there’s the materials aspect, and here, we see progress. Our product teams understand the mechanisms and so the uptake of sustainable materials can be really fast.
– Sustainable materials are on the market, and if you plan your capacity properly, you can make it happen. We are at a stage where we can achieve scale. And I’m convinced that commercial success and sustainability can come together. Just seeing the uptake of all the better materials right now, and producers stopping to offer the conventional materials, is a sign of that.
Achieving scale must be a key factor, and a real challenge?
– Yes. We do it through ongoing training with our designers, our technicians. If you’re at the sustainability department you really need a strong network with access to people everywhere; we need a good relation with the logistics department, for example. We set the framework for the supply chain, but they are the ones implementing it.
– To achieve things, you need a lot of commitment within the company, and nowadays we have support from all departments.
Esprit has been recognized as one of the most transparent fashion brands. What are the most important factors to achieving transparency?
– I think it’s important to be transparent with our supplier lists. I know Esprit was early with publishing the list of viscose producers for example.
– We are also open when approached by civil society, if someone for example sees problems in our supply chain. We take on criticism and work actively on solutions. I think that’s really important.
Esprit has ambitious plans to offer a large percentage of sustainable options. Please share some of the garments that you are the most proud of.
– I’m excited about our “Better Denim”. Our denim department is kind of a leader among the product teams; a role model for other divisions. They work progressively and nearly 70 percent of our denim collection is already better denim. It’s a huge progress and puts a bit of pressure on the other divisions.
– Personally I’m also excited about LENZING™ ECOVERO™. More sustainable viscose is a great thing to be able to offer, and it’s also great to see the uptake, as our product teams love the quality. No one would ever expect it to be a more sustainable option just by the looks of it, but it is.
Transforming to a circular fashion economy has a lot to do with collaborations and shared knowledge. What’s your view on coming together as an industry to make real change?
– Our industry is really good at working together and there are many organizations for this, like the Zero Discharge of Hazardous Chemicals Group, Sustainable Apparel Coalition, ACT on Living Wage Initiative, and Textile Exchange It’s important to work collaboratively, because you develop tools and audit systems for the entire industry. If we’re in the same factory as a competitor and have our own audit protocol there, and the competitor has their own audit protocol too, the factory will be busy only doing audits.
How come Esprit communicates its sustainability effort at this moment in time?
– We are ready to scale, so now we can really communicate our efforts. We’ve done a lot of work behind the scenes, started using better materials, and joined some great initiatives. We’ve done a lot of great things previously and I think we’ve been too quiet about it. It’s time to tell people what we actually do.
Looking at your customer base, what can you say about the interest in aspects of sustainability?
– The interest takes different forms. Some customers look at our sustainable hangtags and want to know more about what they really mean. Others are very updated on the critical aspects of the fashion industry and ask us what role we play. These are often the more complex requests but also the most important ones because they require us to dive deep.
– My general feeling is that Esprit’s customers are informed, and also open to learn more.
What do you wish to achieve with Esprit’s sustainability offer in five and fifty years time?
– In five years, I would like to have reached the targets we’ve set today, and have a new set of ambitions, targets and milestones. In 50 years, I would love to see our Circular Fashion approach accomplished.
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