"Everyone who takes an active step towards sustainable living is working towards the common goal – which is to preserve our planet. It can be in the form of being a more conscious shopper and avoiding overconsumption."
14 DECEMBER 2022
At Otrium, we are committed to a fashion industry where all clothing is worn. Our mission is to place unsold fashion items in the wardrobes of those who will actually wear it. This means we try to limit the clothing that ends up in landfills. Alongside this mission, we aim to empower our customers to shop consciously through our collaboration with Good on You, a leading impartial organization that rates brands on their sustainability efforts. Together, we’re showcasing brands making an impact.
This month, we meet Jennifer Lui, the Vice President of Public Relations and Sustainability at ESPRIT.
Where did the journey of ESPRIT begin?
“ESPRIT was founded in California by environmentalists Susie and Doug Tompkins in 1968. Ever since then, we have continuously strived towards creating authentic fashion with mindfully designed collections’’.
Sustainability: what does it mean to you?
‘’I personally believe that it takes a comprehensive understanding of sustainability to generate a lasting impact that benefits people and the planet. We need both private and public sectors to invest in sustainability initiatives and develop concepts, just as we need every individual and consumer to promote more conscious decisions in all aspects of life.’’
Can you tell us more about the more conscious fabrics you are using?
“In May 2018, we committed to the Roadmap Towards Responsible Viscose as outlined by the Changing Markets Foundation. In order to responsibly source cellulosic fabrics, it needs to come from properly managed forests, instead of endangered or old-growth forests. In 2015, we partnered with the environmental non-profit organization called Canopy. Through this initiative, we are able to ensure our cellulose fibers are not sourced from at-risk or old-growth forests.”
Viscose is also known as biobased silk. Silk is made out of animal fibers, whereas viscose is made from bio-based fibers. Viscose is made from wood pulp, typically from trees such as pine, beech, and eucalyptus.The name is derived from the word “viscous”, where cellulose fibers are transformed into viscose using a viscous liquid.
“Recently ESPRIT became a contributor to the Organic Cotton Accelerator (OCA). OCA is an organization that aims to create a better, more transparent, and responsible organic cotton supply chain. The organization wants to do this by improving the livelihoods and incomes of farmers while educating them on new practices that are less harmful to the earth.”
OCA runs different programs, such as seed, farm, and innovation programs, where a global collective with brands, retailers, supply chain partners, civil society organizations, philanthropic foundations, and academics are united to help with to reach these goals.
“Cotton makes up more than half of the Company’s total fiber usage. To secure the future supply of this raw material, ESPRIT is exploring in-conversion projects that support conventional cotton farmers’ transition to certified organic cotton. Working with OCA, we aim to ensure farmers have committed procurement and receive premium payments as well as participation in training and development using best practice methods across organic farming.”
What achievements are you most proud of?
“Our commitment to contributing to a circular fashion-industry puts focus and priority on extending the product life of our clothing. I am proud of ESPRIT’s collection of timeless, high-quality versatile pieces. It is perfect for someone who likes to mix and match, just like I do.
Acting responsibly in all aspects of our business and being committed to respecting human rights contribute to our long-term success at ESPRIT. Examples are our Code of Conduct and transparent stakeholder engagement. We’re striving to operate responsibly along the entire value chain, by safeguarding the rights of our employees and the workers who manufacture our products.”
What are you working on at the moment?
“Our most recent project is the ESPRIT Futura Hub. We recently opened three hubs in New York, London, and Amsterdam. The three ESPRIT Futura hubs aim to create transformative change in culture, mindset, and business process, discover new growth opportunities for ESPRIT, and improve innovation performance.”
What is the biggest challenge on the roadmap of improvements for you at ESPRIT?
“Calculating carbon footprint is not an easy task, as ESPRIT works with external production partners only. In 2021, we rolled out its data system to retrieve carbon footprint data from all our suppliers, based on ESPRIT’s production volume. These so-called Scope 3 emissions are by far the majority of the brand’s footprint.
Together with our suppliers and partners, ESPRIT is working on solutions to improve our footprint. The next step requires the need to consider reduction targets. This will be one of ESPRIT’s biggest challenges within the coming years.”
You are aiming towards circularity at ESPRIT. What are you doing to work towards these goals?
“Circularity is the guiding principle behind ESPRIT’s strategy. We choose high-quality materials and fabrics that are ethically sourced, emphasizing recycled and more sustainable materials. This entails choosing non-synthetic fabrics and natural materials over synthetic, using recycled down feathers instead of virgin feathers, choosing recycled fabrics whenever possible, etc.
We consider whether these materials and finished garments can be recycled or repurposed to give them a second life. When incorporating recycled materials back into the production process, we are supporting a circular economy by reducing the need for more virgin raw materials.”
How do you stay optimistic and persistent in the fight against climate change?
“Everyone who takes an active step towards sustainable living is working towards the common goal – which is to preserve our planet. It can be in the form of being a more conscious shopper and avoiding overconsumption, choosing electric cars over conventional cars, having a greener diet, and encouraging hand-me-down children’s clothing amongst friends. I am quite an optimistic person in general and always believe that success is a result of a collective effort. Fighting against climate change is a collective action.”
Do you have a pro-tip extending the life cycle of your wardrobe – how do you make sure your ESPRIT clothes last for longer?
“To extend the life cycle of your wardrobe, choose brands that invest in making durable products. Another critical action is the way you wash your clothing. Small actions, such as lowering the washing temperature to cut down on overall energy consumption, have a positive impact on the environment.
Waste and excess inventory are built into the fashion industry’s model. Not only is waste created during the manufacturing process, but a huge part also comes from packaging and shipping practices. Poly bags play a part in the waste that is created, so we want to find a solution together with you!
Quick glance: The pilotWhat: All orders containing a single item will be shipped without a poly bag in a recycled paper envelopeWhy: Otrium will reduce plastic waste by keeping the poly bags in the loop How: By reusing or recycling the poly bags into high-quality materialWhen: Until January 2023 What you can do: Submit feedback directly to [email protected]
A short story behind plasticA poly bag is a plastic bag around a fashion item that protects it from dirt and water which they possibly encounter during their shipment and in warehouses. Sounds great, doesn’t it?
These plastic bags are great for protecting fashion items, however, plastics are harmful to our environment. Plastic sticks around in the environment for ages, threatening wildlife and spreading toxins. Plastic also contributes to global warming. Almost all plastics are made from chemicals that come from the production of planet-warming fuels (gas, oil, and even coal).
Plastic is a collective name for multiple materials and compounds that each have unique properties. You might have heard about PET (Polyethylene Terephthalate) which is often used for soda bottles or polyester which can be found in the composition of many fashion items these days.
Many types of plastics can be recycled at a high-quality level. This can be done only by recycling the same type of plastic in one stream. Unfortunately, plastic waste is collected often as one waste stream rather than separating the different types of plastics. As it’s difficult to sort these plastics after collecting them, the result is recycling to a downgraded material in most cases.
The majority of poly bags in the fashion industry are made from a plastic material called LDPE (low-density polyethylene). Hundreds of billions of polybags are produced for the fashion industry every year, and it is estimated that most of them go to waste. To recycle the poly bags on a high-quality level, they should be sorted and recycled as a separate stream of LDPE.
Otrium wants to make sure that the plastic of the poly bags stays in the loop and keeps its quality. Either by reusing the poly bags or recycling them into new high-quality material. We don’t want to put the burden of recycling the poly bag on our members. Instead, we want to keep the bags in our warehouse and in our loop. By taking off the poly bag before shipping we can create the potential of a waste stream where the poly bags can be reused or recycled into high-quality LDPE material again.
Interesting fact: The poly bags of Otrium are made out of 100% recycled LDPE.
Our responsibility At Otrium, we’re constantly working on making the fashion industry smarter and less wasteful. It’s our job to keep improving our practices in order to become a more conscious platform. Being aware of the environmental impact of plastics, we want to take responsibility and keep them in the loop. Empowered by our members who expressed their openness to receive items without a poly bag, we want to test ways of plastic-free shipping.
The purpose of this pilot is to reduce our plastic waste and to get a step closer to closing. We will be removing the poly bag from the items right before shipping them to you. This way we keep the poly bags in our warehouse which makes it possible to reuse or recycle them ourselves. The poly bags we will keep, keep their value since they are recycled with the same type of plastic. This will ensure high-quality plastic recycling.
We will collect customer feedback and evaluate if shipping with a paper envelope is enough coverage to secure the item shipped. Only together with our members, we can figure out new ways of plastic-free shipping and improve our practices. Want to know more? Read our FAQ undefined!
At Otrium, we are committed to a future where all clothing produced is worn. Our core mission is to connect excess inventory with new owners, ensuring a win-win situation for both brands and consumers, while preventing this unsold stock from finding its way into landfill. Alongside this mission, we aim to empower our customers to shop responsibly through our collaboration with Good on You, a leading impartial sustainability organisation that rates brands against three key criteria - labour rights, environmental impact, and animal welfare. In line with this partnership, we are showcasing brands for whom sustainability is at the very heart of what they do.This time, we meet Maria McDonald, Director of Sustainability at United By Blue. This American, trash-obsessed brand produces clothing, accessories, and homeware with an extra focus on ocean and waterway litter clean-ups.What does sustainability mean to you?“To me, sustainability is longevity. It’s about creating circular, self-perpetuating systems that allow whatever you’re working on to carry forward and benefit generations to come. As a brand that makes products and has an ocean cleanup mission, I’m thinking about how to create products that last a long time and can be circular in some way at the end of their life. I’m thinking about how tying an environmental action (ocean cleanups) to product sales can help a mission proliferate and be self-sufficient. I’m thinking about how our brand’s relationship with our people (employees, customers, supply chain workers) and planet (natural resources, materials, oceans, and waterways) will set us up to keep doing this work 50 years from now. Sustainability is a broad term, but it can be simplified by thinking about people and the planet. If we can think about creating systems that value and uplift those categories, then we’ll have a business, society, and planet that we want to be a part of for many years to come. “
What is your role at United by Blue & how did you get there?
“I am the Director of Sustainability and Impact at United By Blue. I’ve been with the company for over 5 years, and have held a variety of roles related to our ocean cleanups mission and our sustainability work. My career so far has been dedicated to integrating sustainability into for-profit organizations. I’m drawn to the for-profit sustainability space because it challenges the narrative that businesses have to be extractive, polluting, or worse to make a profit. That narrative is tired and old, and I love being part of a new wave of businesses that are challenging what “business as usual” means by balancing people and planet alongside profit.”
Where did the journey of United by Blue start?
“United By Blue is the brainchild of our founders, Brian Linton and Mike Cangi. Both founders grew up in areas of the world that are deeply connected with oceans and waterways, and they both were discouraged by the amount of waste and plastic that was affecting oceans and waterways worldwide. They decided to create a business solution to this challenge; United By Blue was founded upon a one-for-one business model in which one pound of trash is removed from an ocean, waterway, or coastline for every product sold. Like any good buy-one-give-one model, this provides the financing and structure for mission-related work, while creating a distinct identity for the brand. Alongside our “cleanups” mission, UBB has always focused on keeping the business side of our operation as clean as possible. We work on manufacturing ethically, using low-impact and sustainable materials, reducing our plastic waste, engaging with our communities, and more.
United By Blue is based in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and has retail locations in Philly and Chicago. UBB can be found through e-commerce and through our 1000+ retailer partners, including REI, Whole Foods, Macy’s, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Target, and more. “
You have a concept where you focus a lot on cleaning up trash - “1 product purchased = 1 pound of the trash cleaned” - can you tell us a bit more about this and how you work with these clean-ups?”“UBB was born out of a motivation to create a business solution to pollution in waterways. The company was founded with the one-for-one mission already in place, and in fact, we hosted our first company cleanup the same week we sold our first T-shirt. Fast forward 12 years and UBB has a robust waterway and ocean cleanups program that is comprised of educational, volunteer-based programs, and heavy-lifting professional cleanups in the US and Indonesia. We’re proud to work with global cleanup leaders like Sungai Watch and Plastic Bank to support our cleanup work, and we also run large cleanup projects in the US with our in-house team of waterway cleanup experts. To date, we have executed over 300 cleanup projects and removed about 4.6 million pounds of trash.”
You have been B Corp certified for more than 10 years - very impressive! What is your relationship to this certification and what does it mean to you?
“The B Corp certification is a huge part of our brand identity. We were one of the early adopters of the B Corp certification back in 2011, and have recertified every 3 years since. To us, B Corp represents a common denominator and a trusted framework that we can measure our social and environmental performance against. We know and trust that B Lab (the nonprofit B Corp certifying organization) is constantly evaluating what the best practices are for a business’s social and environmental options, so the B Corp framework allows us to stay current and ambitious with our sustainability performance. “
You are also Climate Neutral Certified - can you tell us more about this certification and its importance?
“Our Climate Neutral certification is new to us in 2022, and we’re so thrilled to be a part of the CN community of brands. The organization itself is impressive in its rigour and ambition related to a brand’s carbon footprint and is aligned to global greenhouse gas accounting standards and emissions goals, so we felt it was a great option for us to start managing our carbon footprint. As a business that prides itself on being “sustainable,” we felt we couldn’t truly live up to that title until we were managing our carbon footprint more effectively. Through the Climate Neutral certification process, we measured all of our company emissions across Scopes 1, 2, and 3, we set a Reduction Action Plan to reduce our company emissions each year, and we fully offset our carbon footprint from 2021 through the purchase of high-quality, verified carbon offset credits.“
You are using a lot of different more conscious materials - which ones are your favorites, and why?
“While there are a lot of fair pros/cons and discussion around the use of recycled polyester, I also find there is a lot of opportunity in this material for United By Blue. We clean up a ton (actually, a lot of tons) of recyclable plastic waste at our cleanups, and we’re excited by the opportunity to transition some of our cleanup plastic into usable recycled polyester fibers for our products. This would help our business model be more circular, and continue to decrease demand for virgin plastic products globally. We already use a fair amount of recycled polyester in products like our flannels, bags, and reusable kits, so it would be great to connect that more closely with our ocean cleanup plastic.
Other than that, I love the use of Hemp in our products. It creates such a nice, soft fiber (and it’s great in our socks), while taking so many less natural resources to grow and produce than a comparable material/crop, cotton.”
What, in terms of sustainability, are you working on at the moment?
“The main things constantly on our mind from a sustainability perspective are Materials, Manufacturing, Plastic, and Cleanups. We just implemented our first Supplier Code of Conduct in 2022 to make sure our supply chain was upholding the ethics that we thought it was and were pleased to get sign-on from all of our factories. We’re also re-developing our Materials strategy to focus on reducing waste in all aspects possible. This also feeds into our constant focus to reduce or eliminate plastic from all company operations, so that we’re not contributing to the plastic problem that we’re trying to clean up in our oceans. And with our one-for-one business model, we’re constantly staying on top of our trash removal from oceans, waterways, and coastlines.”
What achievement are you most proud of?
“I’m proud of our B Corp certification and Climate Neutral certification, because they put us on par with measurable industry standards in the sustainability space, and show we are an authenticated leader in this space.
I’m also proud of recently crossing over 4 million lbs of trash removed from oceans and waterways. Being physically at cleanups and watching the pounds come in (and get out of the water) is so rewarding and immediately impactful.”
What is the biggest challenge on the roadmap of improvements when it comes to sustainability?
“I’ve mentioned a goal of pursuing circularity a few times so far, and it is also by far the most challenging improvement to our sustainability portfolio. Manufacturing systems, recycling infrastructure, and supply chains are not quite set up for circular product systems, and as a small brand, we are limited in the resources that we can put towards building these systems from scratch. However, if we focus on what we can control, such as material selection or product composition and design, then we can still achieve a form of circularity at different levels. It’s all about putting one foot in front of the other, and collaborating with other brands and industry leaders to support circular systems together. “
What will the perfect future of the fashion industry look like?
“Fashion isn’t perfect and probably won’t ever be perfect - to create any product, there will be some level of waste, emissions, packaging, etc. However, even that sentence may not be true in the future of fashion. Really innovative people and brands are challenging those “facts” of fashion, and I’m so excited to see the products of this changing industry. A “perfect” fashion industry will catch up by valuing the people that create products and the planet that provides materials for products just as highly as profit.”
What is one thing you hope others will learn from your journey?
“I hope that others see that a mission-centric brand can create a lot of business value as well as environmental/social value. Tons of brands are entering into the sustainability world right now because there are real, customer-driven, and investor-driven business reasons to do so. Future businesses will have to take responsibility for their social and environmental performance in order to thrive amongst today's and tomorrow’s consumers. I hope others can look to UBB as someone who’s been operating in a “sustainable” way for 12 years, and they see that it can be done.“
How do you stay optimistic and persistent in the fight against climate change?“While the facts of climate science are tough, I am constantly re-inspired by businesses and people that are challenging established narratives, coming up with innovations that are win-win for both climate and business, and changing the status quo of what it means to be a for-profit organization. I am optimistic about how much climate action and sustainability seem to be infiltrating the corporate and for-profit world because once climate action can be correlated with profit, it will be prolific. Capitalism is a great system for quick action, innovation, and disruption. If we can make climate action and sustainability work within the capitalist system, which we already are, then there is a serious reason for optimism about the fate of our planet.”What’s the most important aspect you keep in mind when shopping for sustainable fashion? “Be an educated consumer, and don’t trust everything you read! Unfortunately, greenwashing is a risk in the fashion industry, so arm yourself as a consumer by knowing what certifications or labels you can trust as being truly sustainable. I look for the same certifications that UBB has (B Corp and Climate Neutral) because I know they’re rigorous and authenticated. I also look for the materials that a product is made of, and any information on supply chain ethics. Not everyone can do this every day, but if you start little by little, it will become second nature the next time you’re online shopping or out at a store!”