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How Timberland, Tretorn and M&S do good business

From ethical cotton production to recycled waterproof outerwear technology, several businesses presented their responsible innovations at Drapers Sustainable Fashion conference in London today.

Hosted by Tamsin Lejeune, chief executive of Ethical Fashion Group, five businesses in the fashion and textiles industry showcased the best sustainable materials – often from unexpected sources – and the best re-engineering, recycling and processing techniques.

Phil Townsend, who is responsible for delivering the environmental sustainability programme for Marks & Spencer’s clothing and home division, kicked off the event by taking the audience behind the scenes of the company’s sustainable cotton initiative.

Dressed in an M&S cotton shirt and trousers, Townsend said: “Cotton is a primary material in many of our iconic ranges. Cotton, like any cultivated plant crop, can have significant environmental and social impacts. We decided to make a commitment to source our cotton more sustainably.”

Ten years ago, M&S launched its 100% sustainable cotton commitment, Plan A. A World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) and M&S started working together on sustainable cotton in India in 2009, partnering to support farmers to develop ways of producing cotton under the Better Cotton Initiative (BCI). 

Townsend concluded: “It’s taken a long time. It’s been a long journey, but we now source 100% of our cotton across our ranges more sustainably. We’re really proud of reaching that milestone. The fashion industry does get a lot of stick, but this is something to celebrate.”

London Fashion Week designer and global creative director at Timberland Christopher Raeburn, and Marianella Cervi, head of sustainability and responsibility at Timberland, discussed how global giants and younger businesses can collaborate for sustainable success.

“We’ve been doing a sustainability for a long time, but it reaches a point where you need to think about how to innovate,” Cervi said. “We needed to think about how to innovate in a responsible way and make a case for the fact that fashion and sustainability can go together. Clothing can be aspirational and be fashionable without forgetting the way we need to do business.”

Raeburn added: “It’s a real credit to Timberland that they wanted to change and put their trust in an innovative designer. I hope that inspires young people, and that they’re aware that big business is looking for innovation and young brains – they want people who do things differently.”

“The scale of the materials out there that can be recycled, whether it is old parachutes or jackets, is unbelievable. I remember being offered 70,000 jackets that were going to go to waste because the camouflage had been changed slightly. I think about my business as being like one of those fish that cleans sharks – if you have the opportunity to work with the shark, hopefully you can steer them in the right direction.”

Amanda Johnston, curator and education consultant at not for profit organisation, the Sustainable Angle, discussed how the company initiates and supports projects that contribute to minimising the environmental impact of industry.

She explained: “We create and support projects that facilitate practices, and showcase low-impact materials and textiles from around the world.

“Everybody wants to know how they might be able to contribute their part in fixing environmental impacts. It’s not a trend, but it is absolutely critical. We need to try to exit waste out of our system and see waste as a resource.

“We have to know where our materials come from and it is important to think about what impacts materials have. We’re looking at really genius ways. We’re interested in trying not to just tell you what the bad sides are but where choices can be made that are positive.”

Johnston presented a plethora of sustainable textile manufacturers, including Seaqual, Pinatex, Malai, Nova Kaeru, Atlantic Leather, Frumat, Recyc Leather, Cocccon and Hausmann & Moos.

Fredrik Ekstrom, brand director and head of sustainability at outerwear and shoe brand Tretorn, told delegates how to introduce a sustainable mindset and using waste as a resource.

“We started thinking about how we could engage with a younger, more conscious consumers in 2016. We had to think about how we acted and how we created our products. We started a manifesto to really understand what we wanted to be about. And we needed to be fast and get everyone on board with the changes we were going to make, quickly.”

“Our first move was to collaborate with a factory we knew had a lot of leftovers in their sampling room and launched a really small, limited edition collection of recycled pieces. It was an instant success – it was easy to understand, the retailers got what we were trying to do, the customers get what we were trying to do, and it sold out in 11 days.

“However, collaborations are easy to do sustainably, because they are small. You need to get those ideas into the production line and scale them up, and that takes time.

“My advice when it comes to starting to work sustainably is to do stuff, even if you don’t know exactly where it’s going to end. If you sit down with a piece of paper, and try and work out every eventuality, by the time you’re done the world will have changed, and you’ll need to do it again. Do projects, understand they might not be correct the first time and learn from them.”

Julian Lings, sustainability manager of The North Face in Europe, the Middle East and Africa (EMEA), presented FutureLight, the brand’s breathable waterproof outerwear technology.

Lings said: “We’re moving into a new chapter. We are about to rewrite some of the rules for our industry through ground-breaking innovation. We want to radically change our impact.

“The brand’s always been for outsiders, for those with a desire for change. We became known for turning materials from the Vietnam War into backpacking gear.”

Another innvoation is FutureLight – an electro-spun membrane made from nano-scale PU fibres and has nearly zero toxicity. The fabrics used in all Futurelight styles are 100% recycled nylon and 100% recycled polyester.

“With FutureLight, we went back and looked at the best membrane that nature had ever come up with. It’s something we use every day: skin. It keeps water out while allowing you to sweat.

“Through development we are using nano-technology. FutureLight is three times more breathable than any other alternative on the market. We wanted to create the highest-ever performance, but with the lowest [environmental impact].”

Lings added: “All of our products will move to recycled by 2025.”


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