Sustainability, Digitalisation back

Rag Back

Rag Back
Photo: © Europäischer Kulturpreis

The fashion world causes billions of dollars in environmental damage every year. Hannah Kromminga, founder of the app GIFTD and the fashion label SILFIR, wants to set an example. Through her app, used clothing can be given away. The collection is 100 percent organic or mechanically recyclable. How does the concept work?

INTERVIEW   Jens Thomas


CCB Magazine: Hannah, you are an expert in textile circular economy. You developed the app GIFTD and founded the sustainable fashion label SILFIR. You call the SILFIR collection "sustainable fashion - The Soft Workwear Uniform." At first glance, it is one thing above all: white. What is so special about it?

Hannah Kromminga: The collection is a simple, sustainable unisex two-piece that is suitable for all body shapes and any activity. SILFIR stands for innovative unisex collections based on a circularity concept, which means transparent material and value-added processes. However, we are not only concerned with the clothing, but also with the life cycle of the garments.

CCB Magazine:SILFIR is based on the concept of the circular economy. What is the problem?

Hannah Kromminga:The problem is that 230 million brand-new clothes are shredded, shipped or incinerated in Germany every year. According to Greenpeace, one in five garments is hardly ever worn. Global textile production roughly doubled between 2014 and 2020 - around 200 billion garments were produced worldwide in 2020. In addition, according to the IEA, the textile and leather industry causes annual CO2 emissions of around 89 million tons. It's clear that we can't carry on like this. That's why we recycle all our fabrics and also offer a comprehensive repair and recycling service. Water, CO2 and waste consumption are also significantly reduced for each garment. Through a take-back system we developed, we enable every customer to return the suit or give it as a gift to friends, family and neighbors via the GIFTD app.

In Germany, 230 million brand-new clothes are shredded, shipped or incinerated every year. One in five garments is hardly ever worn. We need new solutions here

CCB Magazine:Your collection also has an integrated ID chip that provides information about all those involved in production, manufacturing methods and processes when you run your cell phone over the label. What is that all about?

Hannah Kromminga:We want to create transparency! The precursor of our ID chip is the collection of fashion designer Ina Budde. With SILFIR, we were the first Berlin prototype, so to speak. The ID chip is a kind of circularity ID, which means it is integrated into each garment and allows customers to trace the production history in detail online via QR code scan or URL: Who were the people involved in the production? Where did the fabrics come from? Were they fairly traded and were the workers fairly paid? Because we're not talking about a national problem here, but one with international implications - from the sale of a T-shirt that costs 29 euros in this country, 18 cents is left over at the end for the seamstresses in Bangladesh. In addition, the Circularity ID helps recyclers to identify the garments and recognize their exact composition, and that is crucial for meaningful recycling.

CCB Magazine:How do you produce a collection like this? What criteria do you use to select the materials? Where and how is production carried out? Are your employees paid fairly? And what are the points where you say, no, we won't do that.

Hannah Kromminga:The employees of our production partners are all paid fairly, and we select materials for their compatibility with nature. We are driven by the zero-waste idea, which means that every garment is designed to be one hundred percent biologically or mechanically recyclable. Everything is made from the most innovative and sustainable materials. The patterns are designed by our designer Anja Krause here in Berlin and realized with materials from Circular-Fashion's database. Production is done according to Fair Wear Foundation standards in Northern Portugal. A no-go for us is to throw sustainability standards overboard for the design. Sustainability always comes first. It's a balancing act, of course, because you can't be one hundred percent sustainable.

Top: A young Lenny Kravitz? No, an unknown man in a white SILFIR suit. Photo © Studio CNP. Below: This is where you can give your old away – put them back into circulation via the GIFTD app. Photo © Karolina Leckowskaya.

CCB Magazine:You start with the concept of a circular economy. A criticism that is often leveled against it is that it does nothing to reduce overconsumption. The Greenpeace study "Fashion at the crossroads" criticizes the fashion industry for being under the misapprehension that we can go on like this forever if only everything can be recycled.

Hannah Kromminga:I wouldn't disagree with that. But the two don't have to be mutually exclusive. The concept of the circular economy is based on the central premise of reducing waste to a minimum. In Germany alone, more than a million tons of clothing waste is produced every year. We can no longer ignore that. And of course, this can only be achieved by reducing overconsumption. So, clothing needs to be long-lasting, and we need to be able to give it back when we’ve finished with it, either by making it compostable so that it can be put back into biological circulation, or by using technology to recycle by breaking it down into its component parts. One problem in fashion production, for example, is that zippers or buttons can’t simply be composted. That’s why using technology for recycling is so important, and this is also where our app GIFTD comes in: We reallocate resources, guaranteeing reuse until the garment is completely worn out. This means that recycling can be pushed back for as long as possible.

CCB Magazine:But how do fashion labels make money from that? It's an open secret that many small fashion labels can barely make a living from their work. And the big chains are focusing more and more on sustainability, in other words, they are competing with the small labels. How do you manage to hold your own as a sustainable fashion label on the market against others and, above all, against big industry?

Hannah Kromminga:You need to invest in order to reach a competitive production run size as quickly as possible. But the vast majority of labels don't manage to do that. What the small labels do succeed in doing is creating the pressure to innovate. They provide the impetus and initiate topics - and they benefit from the fact that they are involved from the very beginning and shape production and distribution as well as growth strategies in a sustainable manner. In this respect, they even have an advantage over the large companies, which, incidentally, is also confirmed by the 2019 Pulse Report by the Boston Consulting Group: It will take the large labels and chains years or even decades in the marketplace to be able to adapt to the sustainability trend - the changeover is complex and costs money. The vast majority of small labels will not become major competitive brands. Nevertheless, they play an important pioneering role for the entire industry through their innovations in material development, in the manufacturing process as well as in the distribution model.

The concept of the circular economy is based on the central premise of reducing waste to a minimum. In Germany alone, more than one million tons of clothing waste is generated each year. We can no longer ignore this

CCB Magazine:Finally, one more tip please: How do you build a sustainable fashion label according to circular economy criteria? And how can you make a living from it without violating sustainability standards?

Hannah Kromminga:You build a sustainable fashion label just like any other business. You have to come up with a clear concept and make a lot of adjustments, especially in the beginning, to be able to place the product on the market. That’s not easy, and that's why many label operators have other projects as well, because otherwise they can’t make ends meet. My main project is GIFTD, the app. And what I advise everyone is this - don't be too enamoured with your ideas! Look to the ones that work. Your mission has to be meaningful, not just for you, but for other people too. I’d advise anyone starting up a fashion label to first read the standard software startup books like the ones by Eric Ries. You can learn a lot from them.

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Category: Innovation & Vision


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