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Takeaway from ReMode Day -1

Sustainability Matters

ReMode’s Founder, Pierre-Nicolas Hurstel, opened the conference with a commentary on the state of the fashion industry, new consumer attitudes and changing consumer expectations. According to Hurstel, 66% of millennials are willing to spend more for sustainable products and 90% would switch brands for a strong cause.

We are at a critical moment with the opportunity to create sustainable purposeful brands, to scale innovation and transform the fashion industry with open collaboration. Real change necessitates collaboration across the industry from sourcing to retail shelf. The fashion industry will be 25% of the world’s carbon footprint by 2050 if we continue as is.

Focused Iterative Improvement Leading to Scale Benefits

Joey Zwillinger, Cofounder and co-CEO of Allbirds, talked about Allbirds’ mission: to make shoes in a better way, offering comfortable and durable products with great customer service while using sustainable sources. Zwillinger claims Allbirds has the lowest carbon footprint in the footwear industry and that footwear is ready for disruption with approximately 20 billion pairs of shoes manufactured annually that ultimately end up in a landfill.

Pierre-Nicolas Hurstel, ReMode, Joey Zwillinger, Allbirds
Source: Coresight

Zwillinger’s advice to brands, “We tried to be absolutely 100% sustainable and it led to ugly products that didn’t last and were more expensive. Perfection is the enemy of good. Every day we try to get better.”

In terms of product development, Allbirds started with wool, moved to eucalyptus fiber, and then collaborated with a Brazilian company and created a foam shoe sole, removing petroleum from the process and replacing it with sugars – resulting a carbon negative foam sole.

Zwillinger touched on a repeated theme of Remode: industrywide collaboration to drive change, uniting commerce and sustainability. Allbirds opened its foam to the footwear industry and others, claiming altruism as well as the opportunity for improved financials as more users lowers costs. Big companies are calling. Scaled sustainability should ensue over time.

Allbirds focuses less on product development and more on fewer products with greater impact. With its direct-to-consumer vertical model, Allbirds is taking profits typically reserved for retailers and investing it back in product quality at a lower price.

Transparency and Sustainability

We attended numerous sessions on sustainability. Michael Preysman, Founder and CEO of Everlane, built his business on garments designed to last, partnering with ethical factories and providing pricing transparency to consumers.  The genesis of Everlane was anti-fast fashion and a revelation of how the fashion industry really worked seven years ago. “A t-shirt that cost $7 to make was priced at $50 at retail, it felt wrong” Preysman said during his fireside chat with Hurstel. Online, direct to consumer, Everlane could offer the garment for $15. A brand was born.

But a sustainable supply chain isn’t as easy as pricing transparency. Picking the right factories and finding the right audit partners takes time. Preysman focuses on finding the right partners who are doing the right thing and pushing them forward. There are many incremental tasks that can change the sustainability of fashion, for instance, not using the plastic wrap that individually surrounds each article of clothing en route to the customers. At Everlane, taking control of the supply chain is a layer of incremental cost that they absorb, approximately 10%-15%. Materials haven’t been available in sustainable ways, but brands and retailers can push suppliers to offer sustainable options.

When asked where will Everlane be in ten years, Preysman said “to be sustainable and purchase is cognitive dissonance. To buy nothing is the most sustainable thing you can do. Our future involves impacting design and the supply chain, educating consumers and driving change and awareness.”

Building a Sustainable World begins with Academia

Barak Cakmak, Dean of Fashion at the Parsons School of Design, addressed the role of academia in fashion’s evolving role in society. Parsons encourages students to acknowledge the importance of transparency and ethical, environmentally-friendly supply chains in fashion and understand key societal challenges. As a first step, all required courses incorporate relevant knowledge on sustainability and ethics as a new baseline for fashion design education. Sustainability has become a focus of Parsons’ projects in fashion and other institutions.

In addition, Parsons now engages with all the players across the value chain, not just major fashion brands, and is building deep relationships with material suppliers, manufacturers, and other industry participants that align with Parsons core values. By bringing knowledge from local and global, small and large, traditional and technologically advanced partners, the college hopes to ensure a clear understanding of the diverse ecosystem in fashion and beyond. Today, Parsons has innovative partnerships with organizations such as AARP, United Nations, NGOs and even governments to explore the role of design for sustainable and ethical approaches to cultural and societal questions.