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Part 1: The Industry

Why close the loop?

15 DECEMBER 2021
The fashion industry is trapped in a broken cycle because trends come and go at breakneck speed, creating stress and waste for brands, people, and natural resources. Fashion is such an important part of our lives (naturally!), but sadly, it’s also a significant contributor to the climate crisis, because of this, we must build a smarter fashion industry.
The carbon footprint of the fashion industry was 4% of the global total in 2018 (McKinsey & Company and Global Fashion Agenda). This equals the combined annual footprint of France, Germany, and the United Kingdom. It is predicted that over the next decade, beyond measures already in place, the industry’s carbon dioxide emissions will likely rise to an annual volume growth rate of 2.7% (McKinsey & Company and Global Fashion Agenda).
At Otrium, our philosophy is that a fashion item that’s produced as a creative passion for humans, using materials extracted from earth, shouldn't collect dust in a warehouse or end up in landfill. 
We’d love to see a future where every clothing item produced is worn, and we’re working with hundreds of brand partners to achieve this.. Through our brand partnerships, we aim to reduce the overall amount of waste in the industry and follow a more circular approach. 
Since the industrial revolution, the fashion industry has been dominated by a one-way, linear model of production and consumption, raw materials are collected, transformed into short lived products, and then thrown away. Currently, approximately one in every ten items of clothing produced, or more than $200 billion worth, stay unsold, sitting in warehouses. Fashion and the freedom of self expression that clothing offers us, is not to be wasted. We’re here to change the status quo. 
We believe that fashion’s linear ‘take-make-waste’ model can be transformed into a circular approach that is restorative and regenerative by design. To help diminish the take-make-waste pattern, we are attempting to close the loop. As an industry with inherent waste, one of which has such a large impact on people and the environment, we want to make it our responsibility to start by closing the loop. It’s time to design out waste:
Circularity or the circular economy is a system of closed loops in which raw materials, components and products loose as little value as possible renewable energy sources are used, and systems thinking is used. 
Much like the circle shape, the garments and products are put back into the cycle of the industry, rather than ending up in landfill sites or disregarded as waste. This is a purpose we care about at Otrium. 
Today, consumers care more about what they buy and how it will impact people and the environment. Our own research found that ⅓ of our customers are ‘Sustainable Shoppers’. When shopping at Otrium, these shoppers can be reassured that we are working towards a more circular future for fashion. 
Let’s be the solution, let’s become circular. 
Read more about our impact here:
  • Impact Progress Report
  • Fashion Impact Report
  • Carbon Footprint Report

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Conscious Series: So Good To Wear

Otrium continually works towards the  mission that all clothing should be worn. We do this by helping to eliminate unsold inventory and using  technology and data to change the way clothing is created and sold. On our journey towards a smarter, more sustainable fashion industry, we’ve teamed up with Good On You, the leading source of fashion sustainability ratings. We’ve used their know-how to highlight brands on our own platform that go the extra mile to be more sustainable, which helps our customers make more informed shopping choices. Using Good On You’s data, we’ve introduced the Otrium Conscious filter. And now we’re speaking to conscious-rated brands carried by Otrium  to find out more about their approach towards sustainability. This week, we chatted to Eric Otten, CEO of cashmere brand So Good To Wear, who believes that ethical fashion should be the rule instead of the exception. So what does sustainability mean to you? “People have always thought we could  take something inexhaustible from our earth, to drive  mass consumption and economic growth. Unfortunately, the reality is the opposite. Sustainability means that we have to give back more to the earth than we take” Tell us more about your brand. “Cashmere without compromises sums it up. We redesign the production process of cashmere with new and restored values. It’s a more conscious and personal process.” What’s your role… and how did you get there? “As CEO of the company, I have to be a farmer for our Nepalese business and at the same time a fashion specialist for our western business. I bring those two worlds together, always with consideration of our vision and goals.” What’s your career background and when did you start working on creating a positive impact? “I have been in the fashion business for almost my whole career. I worked for private label brands and premium brands like Wolford. After five years, I truly realised there are no limitations for the welfare of our planet and so I joined the sustainable and fair trade brand MYoMY. From there, I moved to  So Good To Wear.” What achievement are you most proud of? “Putting the whole chain theory in practice! From our own cashmere goats to our spinnery, natural dying atelier and production in Nepal to our “slow fashion” models in the retail industry. The whole chain is fairtrade,  animal friendly and committed to rebuilding the economy in Nepal.”What are you working on at the moment? “We are expanding our retail network internationally and expanding  our own cashmere goat herd in Nepal.”What is the biggest challenge on your  roadmap of improvements? “The coordination between high demands in the western world and the limitations of the relatively primitive possibilities in Nepal. Some things take more time to realise in Nepal – time we sometimes don’t have.”What’s the best feedback you’ve ever received from customers? “I have never worn a more comfortable piece of clothing than my So Good To Wear sweater – it’s physical and emotional.”What do customers value most about the brand and products? “It’s high “slow” fashion without compromises, made from the finest quality cashmere, fully fairtrade, sustainable and animal friendly”Who inspires you and why? “Stella McCartney – it became a movement of a luxury fashion brand built on sustainability.” What’s the most important aspect you keep in mind when shopping for more sustainable fashion? “I ask: is the brand really concerned about sustainability or is it a form of “greenwashing”?”Do you have a quote you live by? “Without action, we only have words.” What’s a quick change that people could make in terms of being more sustainable? “Actually, that is very easy! Start changing small and easy things in your life because it all helps: take your bike, not your car, don’t let the water run when you brush your teeth, don’t throw away food, put the light out in rooms you're not in, wash only a full machine and use biological soap, throw waste in a bin, not on the street, don’t eat meat every day and many more things that make more difference than you think, in your head and for nature.”
To celebrate Otrium's 2022 Impact Report, we're shining the light on brands rated Conscious by Good on You. Through our collaboration with Good on You, a leading independent rating organization, we aim to empower our customers to shop responsibly. Good On You assess brands on three key areas, people, planet, and animal welfare. Together we've handpicked CLOSED, a brand that showcases its unwavering commitment to making an impact. Blutsgeschwister's JourneyThrough an interview with Blutsgeschwister's CEO, we explore the heart and soul of the brand, shedding light on its journey towards sustainability, and their vision for a more conscious future. “Tell us a bit more about Blutsgeschwister?” Karin Ziegler, founder, head designer, and managing director co-founded the brand Blutsgeschwister in Stuttgart (Germany) on a sunny Ash Wednesday in the year 2001 with a handful of free spirits and visionaries. Fresh out of her studentship as a women's tailor, her mission was clear: unconventional, everyday wearable, and colorful fashion that brings joy, doesn't follow trends, and is worn with love – genuine favorite pieces, then as well as now. We create feel-good textiles that are highly wearable, matchable and easy to personalize. That’s  what clothing is all about: truly expressing yourself. Not just who you are as a person, but also how you‘re feeling right now. After all, you can only feel comfortable in your own skin and be YOUnique if you don‘t have to pretend. That‘s what our customers love about Blutsgeschwister. Stand up for yourself, and express yourself. Our clothes may have labels, but our customers definitely don‘t. “What is your role at Blutsgeschwister & what achievement are you most proud of? I am the CEO of the company. I have been working for the company for 12 years – it is wonderful  to contribute to seeing the company thrive. What we do is meaningful, makes our customers happy, brings colour to the world and is done in a sustainable and fair way. What job could be better? Since 2022 we are working with 100% sustainable materials, and we continue to have LEADER status at the Fair Wear Foundation. In 2016, we succeeded for the first time in achieving the highest membership status of "Leader", which we are proud to have maintained to this day. This  does not mean we are going to sit back and relax. There is still so much to do and to improve. We  set new goals for ourselves every year to achieve sustainable improvements in working conditions  in our value chain. The membership status of "leader" implies that Blutsgeschwister is recognized as a leading brand within the context of sustainable and ethical fashion. This designation means that we have demonstrated significant commitment and progress in terms of sustainability practices, fair working standards, and overall ethical conduct. It showcases our leadership role and sets us apart as an example for others in the industry to follow. Achieving 100% sustainable garments is a result of a dedicated and ongoing process at Blutsgeschwister. Over the years, we have made significant efforts to improve sustainability practices. This includes assessing and reducing the environmental impact of our productionprocesses, sourcing materials responsibly, and prioritizing ethical practices throughout the supply chain. We focus on choosing materials that are sustainable, such as organic cotton, recycled fabrics, or  other eco-friendly alternatives. Additionally, we value the durability and quality of the materials to  ensure longevity and reduce the need for frequent replacements. “What are you working on at the moment?“ We are working on the ongoing optimization of our production standards – other than that we choose different projects that help us improve further. At the moment we work on a project against gender violence. In India, we have a long-standing factory partner we have supported for years. Training on gender-based violence, on women's rights etc. is vital to help the employees grow. We sustain this process by enabling the factories to train their employees. CO2 neutrality is something that we are also working on. We are constantly switching over to sustainably produced raw materials. All garments are shipped to our customers via carbon-neutral DHL GoGreen. Our packaging materials (polybags) are made of recycled and recyclable polyethylene (LDPE). Our labels are now free of plastic and made from paper sourced from sustainable forestry (FSC certified). Our customer catalogue is printed in organic ink, made using renewable plant resources such as soya or linseed oil. Where do you see your brand in 5 years? And what are the biggest challenges on the roadmap? First of all, the biggest challenges lie within: logistical matters, cost increases, and interruptions in the supply chain. We want to continue to be a best-practice company. Our products have to be at the pinnacle – still transporting Blutsgeschwister details and outstanding design value. We will improve the life cycle of a product by different means – so we’re working on setting up a second-hand and preloved platform where customers can trade in their items that are still in good condition but no longer worn regularly. So, another person can be happy with a preloved item – that platform should launch in autumn 2023. Altogether, we aim and continue to be a true Love  brand.
At Otrium, we are committed to a fashion industry where all clothing is worn. Our core mission is to connect excess inventory with its perfect owners, ensuring a win-win situation for brands and consumers alike, 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 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 conscious fashion is at the very heart of what they do.This month, we meet Tommy Monette, Director of Wholesale at Outerknown.What does being conscious mean to you?I love my job and I love the industry, but fashion is  the second leading cause of waste on the planet. We’re only behind fossil fuels, so it’s really bad, accounting for 10% of all climate change.  The reason I moved jobs to Outerknown was for the brand’s impact story. If you’re sitting at the office at Outerknown, it’s the one thing that everybody is constantly talking about. Everything that we do, every conversation we have in the building is wrapped around impact.For Outerknown, the goal has always been to be fully circular by 2030. We don’t want to put anything new into the marketplace.  We’re about 55% - 60% of the way to circularity at present. We’re not taking current items that we make and trying to retro-fit improved processes. When we develop our methods of working with different factories and different yarn producers, a conscious outlook is built into product development from the very start. Even if you’re using regenerative farming and organic cottons, you’re still putting something new into the market. If you can take something that has already been created and recycle it, then that’s so much better. For us, being conscious is all about people and the planet. Our top three priorities are circularity, water conservancy and the people who make our garments.Tell us more about the people part of your missionAt Outerknown, our statement is ‘for people and planet’. We’ve always tried to live by that and execute our practices that way. People are the first part. It’s who’s touching the garments, how they’re being made, what factory is being used. The people in your supply chain have to be making a living wage, have access to healthcare and decent living conditions, and be treated fairly, otherwise sustainability doesn’t even matter. It has to start with making sure that we’re operating in a safe way. In the past, we have seen factories that tick all of our impact boxes, but then we’ve found out that they subcontract some of their work to territories that have had major worker rights issues. We can’t vet all of those practices, so we’ve pulled out. We don’t want to cut any corners. If we do, everything that we’ve said, everything that we are and everything that we’ve leaned on isn’t true and we don’t want to do that. You’re only as good as your word. Our reputation right now is really, really good, and if we slip even a little bit, that all goes out of the window. We have also exited markets completely where we object to the systems in place from a  political stance, as well as not taking part in events such as tradeshows in geographies where laws around LGBTQ+ rights don’t align with those of Outerknown. It hurts us financially to take that step back, but I mean, we’re selling pants and tops. So if you can’t do that in a way that’s meaningful and is clean on your conscience, what are you doing? This is something that our brand and our leadership is really committed to. If we see something that’s not working for us ethically, we’re out.What about your animal welfare policies?We don’t work with a lot of animal products, but those that we do use tie back into our circularity model. Our wool and cashmere products are fully recycled. We also use recycled down, which is easier to work with than recycled cashmere or wool. Cashmere in particular is really challenging. With down we’re just getting to the point where we can take the garments that we’re recycling and trace them back to the point of origin, so we can tell if the down was responsibly sourced from the very beginning. Down was so awful for so long from an ethical perspective, that it garnered a lot of attention, making tracking its origins a priority ahead of wool and cashmere. With some of our wools and cashmeres we don’t know where the original garment came from, but we then put it into our circularity loop.What are the brand’s next innovations coming up?The biggest push for us at the moment is getting C2, a type of regenerative cotton, off the ground. We grow it at our farms just north of Los Angeles. The fabric produced is a little thinner like a slub, and it’s high in recycled content. We’re testing that and putting it in the market for Spring Summer 23. When you’re growing cotton in huge swathes, you move fields and chew up a lot of ground. With C2, we use the same space over and over again, with less water. The yield is less, but it’s just a better way of farming.Explain the challenges with cotton recyclingWe’re continuously iterating to increase the proportion of recycled cotton in our products. When we started it was 10% but we’re now up to 40 - 50%, with two pairs of jeans and a jacket that are 100% recycled cotton. Doing something like a t-shirt is a lot harder because the threads and the composition is flimsier. Where we can’t use recycled cotton, we use our C2 cotton. No brand is using 100% recycled cotton in their products yet. It’s so tough. There are a lot of people working on this matter industry-wide and although it’s not been solved yet, cotton recycling techniques are improving and we’re getting closer.Tell us more about your fully recycled garmentsWe’ve created a jacket called a Mono Puffer where the whole item comes from one garment - it’s fully recycled, and recyclable, right down to the zippers. It contains recycled fill rather than virgin down and the way that it’s built means that it can easily be turned into something else. This still doesn’t remove the issue around microplastics, which are an inherent problem with that kind of piece.How are you addressing concerns around microshedding?Recycled nylons and plastics are super tough to work with. We don’t even want to break the threads down - we want to take entire panels to recycle things into new garments. We’ve put our outerwear part of the business on hold until we can find a supplier that really addresses that. So we don’t have a lot of outerwear right now, which is really hurting our European teams, and especially Canada. We do have a fabric that doesn’t shed though. It’s an Italian material called ECONYL and is made from recycled fishing nets. It has a four-way stretch, and we use it for some of our swimming trunks, as well as a lot of our activewear. You can make it into jackets if you use a heavier weight of it too. It’s a really special fabric. Can you tell us about one of your initiatives around ocean and water conservancy?Ocean conservancy and water conservancy are really, really big for us. We just launched a partnership with a German company called GOT BAGs. They have a really cool vertical supply chain where they’re making bags out of only ocean plastic. They have a fleet of 2,500 fishermen in Polynesia, Thailand, and the South Pacific. When they throw their nets out, they pull in plastic, which they previously would have burnt. GOT buys the plastic from them, creating an additional income stream for these people. They turn this plastic into pellets, the pellets into fabric and the fabric into waterproof bags. They own the whole supply chain and are continuously bringing more people into the programme.How else does Outerknown work to conserve water and the oceans?Our goal as a brand is to be net positive with water consumption and this extends beyond individual initiatives into every facet of our brand both in production terms but also down to how much water we use at our office and through the tons of beach clean ups we do. Manufacturing-wise, we use a lot of waterless dyes, and consistently monitor the kinds of factories we’re using for our fabrics. We reduce how many washes our denim goes through and are using on average 130 gallons of water to make a pair of jeans. Industry standard is around 280. We’re almost net positive with water consumption as a brand.Can you tell us more about your pre-loved section Outerworn?Outerworn is a really big initiative of ours and this goes back to the circularity of our brand. We would rather, and this goes against everything any brand has done, that people shop that section of our site than buy the new items. If you have any Outerknown gear, you can just login and post it on there. The transaction is similar to eBay. We take a commission, but the product goes from you to another consumer. We want that to become a major part of our business model.What are your hopes for impact within the fashion industry in the next five to ten years?Having fast fashion take a hike would be great. It’s really easy to fall into a trap where you can just pump things out and bring so much stuff into the marketplace that in six months is going to be in a landfill. I would say, the majority of the fashion industry falls into that sector. If you look at how clothing was made 200 years ago, people had one of each thing and that was it. We’ve reached the point now where you can scroll through Instagram and buy a whole new closet, and a lot of people aren’t recycling those garments. A lot of them can’t be recycled. It’s really disheartening. I don’t know if we’ll see a huge swing towards circularity, but anything helps. I’d like to see people really start to lean into circularity and commit to shrinking their closets.What points make you hopeful for the fashion industry?If you look at big brands like Nike or Asics, there’s a lot of focus on recycling. For example, Nike has a shoe with a recycled sole, and Asics has a whole recycled shoe. Buying sustainable pieces is still expensive and not everybody can afford that. Impact and being conscious needs to be an inclusive conversation where lower income families are able to purchase in this way. You need the buy-in of big brands to make the technologies scalable and bring the costs down for everyone. Outerknown is small. We don’t move the needle, but for example, when we first started, we did a three-year collaboration with Levis, because they’re big enough to affect change. We’ll continue to do different collabs with bigger brands. We’re going to have a shoe out with Asics the year after next to go with our active collection. Having those bigger brands starting to take part in impact initiatives and collaborate with smaller brands inspires real optimism.

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