Patchwork strategy: how to start implementing sustainability in a small to medium brand? In conversation with GANNI
This is a humble perspective on things from a CEO, as well as a husband and father, behind the most hyped Danish brand – GANNI. Very personal and honest conversation about how a small team can start tackling global challenges.
Ola: When people mention GANNI, sustainable fashion doesn’t come to their mind, but surely it can be called a disruptor, because you juggle your individual style, popularity and sustainability at the same time…
Nicolaj: We never called GANNI sustainable, but it is a priority for me personally. Being such a big and complex topic, I think it is difficult to change the fashion industry on the profound scale in terms of Sustainability, so I would never dare to call our brand this was. But, as I was saying in the panel yesterday: being a small to medium enterprise it is difficult to bring innovation into a supply chain, so we started changing it, without communicating it to our consumers. We’ve launched a range of small projects that create a patchwork sustainability strategy. First priority is our carbon footprint.
Ola: Why starting with carbon footprint?
Nicolaj: Just because you have to start somewhere and again because personally for me this is the biggest priority. I am scared shitloads of global warming. Having three kids, I can’t see them growing up in this world of climate change…it is 26 degrees today and it is May in Denmark…it doesn’t make sense at all. So now every year we buy carbon credits to reduce carbon emissions somewhere in the world. Measuring our carbon footprint we found out that 15% of it is through our stores and offices and 85% is manufacturing. Particularly producing garments and purchasing materials like leather and cotton is energy consuming. That’s why now we are using sustainable energy and LED light across our stores and office. Alongside this, we launched different projects to engage the team: vegetarian lunches and ‚bring food home’ policy against food waste. Looking back into supply chain: we use only sea transport, reduce plastic packaging and strict code of conduct. We apply the responsible behaviour across buying process, but it doesn’t limit the design. Next big project for us is more transparency in the supply chain to inspect how we can reduce the 85% of carbon footprint and engaging with I:CO for collecting garments and discover ways of reusing fabric waste. We also want the consumer to be more engaged so with Continued Fashion we look into taking back and reselling the GANNI products.
Ola: I need to ask: how does it happen that you start a small ready to wear brand and it is natural for you to have a sustainability strategy, that you call ‚patchwork’? While according to Pulse of the Fashion report 30% of the brands are not on that path at all…
Nicolaj: It is more an urge, than just a strategy. We are acknowledging that things are pretty screwed up and it is better to do something than not do anything. It is more like an instinct and moral obligation. We don’t expect to profit from this. Unfortunately at the moment I don’t believe there is a consumer out there willing to pay for sustainability. I think consumers appreciate the storytelling, but this is a niche product for a niche audience. So it ends up on our end to accommodate for doing less harm across our supply chain. Roughly speaking we probably spend about 0,5% of total sales on activities that are directly related to sustainability…and I have no idea if this is a lot or not cause other brands are not revealing such information.
"It is more an urge, than just a strategy. We are acknowledging that things are pretty screwed up and it is better to do something than not do anything. It is more like an instinct and moral obligation. We don’t expect to profit from this."
Ola: We just received a first-ever CEO Agenda for a sustainable fashion industry with 7 ultra challenging issues to be tackled immediately: do you think fashion leaders are actually doing that? Is this part of your everyday agenda?
Nicolaj: I completely agree with all of them, but things like efficient use of water and chemicals is not something we are involved in directly. Our suppliers are, but we cannot control their decisions. It takes resources and leverage to implement this change and I think it is down to multinationals to pave the way for innovations and then they will become also available for us – local companies.
"I think I am just an ordinary person with 3 kids and I wish to see them growing up in the world that’s basically liveable."
Ola: You spoke about moral obligations and future generations: Would you consider yourself a socially responsible leader?
Nicolaj: Not really, I think I am just an ordinary person with 3 kids and I wish to see them growing up in the world that’s basically liveable. I think it is important that your team can see that sustainability strategy is anchored with top management. It cannot be just the responsibility of someone in the CSR team. And this is a success that everyone at GANNI knows that this our priority and we are trying to do something about it.
Nicolaj Reffstrup is a CEO of Ganni and husband of Ditte Reffstrup, the Creative Director of the brand. The GANNI mission is simple: to fill a gap in the advanced contemporary market for effortless, easy-to-wear pieces that women instinctively reach for, day in, day out.