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Conscious

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

Conscious Series: United By Blue

At Otrium, we are committed to a future where all clothing produced is worn. Our core mission is to connect excess inventory with new owners, ensuring a win-win situation for both brands and consumers, 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 sustainability 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 sustainability is at the very heart of what they do.This time, we meet Maria McDonald, Director of Sustainability at United By Blue. This American, trash-obsessed brand produces clothing, accessories, and homeware with an extra focus on ocean and waterway litter clean-ups.What does sustainability mean to you?“To me, sustainability is longevity. It’s about creating circular, self-perpetuating systems that allow whatever you’re working on to carry forward and benefit generations to come. As a brand that makes products and has an ocean cleanup mission, I’m thinking about how to create products that last a long time and can be circular in some way at the end of their life. I’m thinking about how tying an environmental action (ocean cleanups) to product sales can help a mission proliferate and be self-sufficient. I’m thinking about how our brand’s relationship with our people (employees, customers, supply chain workers) and planet (natural resources, materials, oceans, and waterways) will set us up to keep doing this work 50 years from now. Sustainability is a broad term, but it can be simplified by thinking about people and the planet. If we can think about creating systems that value and uplift those categories, then we’ll have a business, society, and planet that we want to be a part of for many years to come. “ What is your role at United by Blue & how did you get there?  “I am the Director of Sustainability and Impact at United By Blue. I’ve been with the company for over 5 years, and have held a variety of roles related to our ocean cleanups mission and our sustainability work. My career so far has been dedicated to integrating sustainability into for-profit organizations. I’m drawn to the for-profit sustainability space because it challenges the narrative that businesses have to be extractive, polluting, or worse to make a profit. That narrative is tired and old, and I love being part of a new wave of businesses that are challenging what “business as usual” means by balancing people and planet alongside profit.” Where did the journey of United by Blue start? “United By Blue is the brainchild of our founders, Brian Linton and Mike Cangi. Both founders grew up in areas of the world that are deeply connected with oceans and waterways, and they both were discouraged by the amount of waste and plastic that was affecting oceans and waterways worldwide. They decided to create a business solution to this challenge; United By Blue was founded upon a one-for-one business model in which one pound of trash is removed from an ocean, waterway, or coastline for every product sold. Like any good buy-one-give-one model, this provides the financing and structure for mission-related work, while creating a distinct identity for the brand. Alongside our “cleanups” mission, UBB has always focused on keeping the business side of our operation as clean as possible. We work on manufacturing ethically, using low-impact and sustainable materials, reducing our plastic waste, engaging with our communities, and more.  United By Blue is based in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and has retail locations in Philly and Chicago. UBB can be found through e-commerce and through our 1000+ retailer partners, including REI, Whole Foods, Macy’s, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Target, and more. “ You have a concept where you focus a lot on cleaning up trash - “1 product purchased = 1 pound of the trash cleaned” - can you tell us a bit more about this and how you work with these clean-ups?”“UBB was born out of a motivation to create a business solution to pollution in waterways. The company was founded with the one-for-one mission already in place, and in fact, we hosted our first company cleanup the same week we sold our first T-shirt. Fast forward 12 years and UBB has a robust waterway and ocean cleanups program that is comprised of educational, volunteer-based programs, and heavy-lifting professional cleanups in the US and Indonesia. We’re proud to work with global cleanup leaders like Sungai Watch and Plastic Bank to support our cleanup work, and we also run large cleanup projects in the US with our in-house team of waterway cleanup experts. To date, we have executed over 300 cleanup projects and removed about 4.6 million pounds of trash.” You have been B Corp certified for more than 10 years - very impressive! What is your relationship to this certification and what does it mean to you? “The B Corp certification is a huge part of our brand identity. We were one of the early adopters of the B Corp certification back in 2011, and have recertified every  3 years since. To us, B Corp represents a common denominator and a trusted framework that we can measure our social and environmental performance against. We know and trust that B Lab (the nonprofit B Corp certifying organization) is constantly evaluating what the best practices are for a business’s social and environmental options, so the B Corp framework allows us to stay current and ambitious with our sustainability performance. “ You are also Climate Neutral Certified - can you tell us more about this certification and its importance? “Our Climate Neutral certification is new to us in 2022, and we’re so thrilled to be a part of the CN community of brands. The organization itself is impressive in its rigour and ambition related to a brand’s carbon footprint and is aligned to global greenhouse gas accounting standards and emissions goals, so we felt it was a great option for us to start managing our carbon footprint. As a business that prides itself on being “sustainable,” we felt we couldn’t truly live up to that title until we were managing our carbon footprint more effectively. Through the Climate Neutral certification process, we measured all of our company emissions across Scopes 1, 2, and 3, we set a Reduction Action Plan to reduce our company emissions each year, and we fully offset our carbon footprint from 2021 through the purchase of high-quality, verified carbon offset credits.“ You are using a lot of different more conscious materials - which ones are your favorites, and why? “While there are a lot of fair pros/cons and discussion around the use of recycled polyester, I also find there is a lot of opportunity in this material for United By Blue. We clean up a ton (actually, a lot of tons) of recyclable plastic waste at our cleanups, and we’re excited by the opportunity to transition some of our cleanup plastic into usable recycled polyester fibers for our products. This would help our business model be more circular, and continue to decrease demand for virgin plastic products globally. We already use a fair amount of recycled polyester in products like our flannels, bags, and reusable kits, so it would be great to connect that more closely with our ocean cleanup plastic. Other than that, I love the use of Hemp in our products. It creates such a nice, soft fiber (and it’s great in our socks), while taking so many less natural resources to grow and produce than a comparable material/crop, cotton.” What, in terms of sustainability,  are you working on at the moment? “The main things constantly on our mind from a sustainability perspective are Materials, Manufacturing, Plastic, and Cleanups. We just implemented our first Supplier Code of Conduct in 2022 to make sure our supply chain was upholding the ethics that we thought it was and were pleased to get sign-on from all of our factories. We’re also re-developing our Materials strategy to focus on reducing waste in all aspects possible. This also feeds into our constant focus to reduce or eliminate plastic from all company operations, so that we’re not contributing to the plastic problem that we’re trying to clean up in our oceans. And with our one-for-one business model, we’re constantly staying on top of our trash removal from oceans, waterways, and coastlines.” What achievement are you most proud of? “I’m proud of our B Corp certification and Climate Neutral certification, because they put us on par with measurable industry standards in the sustainability space, and show we are an authenticated leader in this space.  I’m also proud of recently crossing over 4 million lbs of trash removed from oceans and waterways. Being physically at cleanups and watching the pounds come in (and get out of the water) is so rewarding and immediately impactful.” What is the biggest challenge on the roadmap of improvements when it comes to sustainability? “I’ve mentioned a goal of pursuing circularity a few times so far, and it is also by far the most challenging improvement to our sustainability portfolio. Manufacturing systems, recycling infrastructure, and supply chains are not quite set up for circular product systems, and as a small brand, we are limited in the resources that we can put towards building these systems from scratch. However, if we focus on what we can control, such as material selection or product composition and design, then we can still achieve a form of circularity at different levels. It’s all about putting one foot in front of the other, and collaborating with other brands and industry leaders to support circular systems together. “ What will the perfect future of the fashion industry look like? “Fashion isn’t perfect and probably won’t ever be perfect - to create any product, there will be some level of waste, emissions, packaging, etc.  However, even that sentence may not be true in the future of fashion. Really innovative people and brands are challenging those “facts” of fashion, and I’m so excited to see the products of this changing industry. A “perfect” fashion industry will catch up by valuing the people that create products and the planet that provides materials for products just as highly as profit.” What is one thing you hope others will learn from your journey? “I hope that others see that a mission-centric brand can create a lot of business value as well as environmental/social value. Tons of brands are entering into the sustainability world right now because there are real, customer-driven, and investor-driven business reasons to do so. Future businesses will have to take responsibility for their social and environmental performance in order to thrive amongst today's and tomorrow’s consumers. I hope others can look to UBB as someone who’s been operating in a “sustainable” way for 12 years, and they see that it can be done.“ How do you stay optimistic and persistent in the fight against climate change?“While the facts of climate science are tough, I am constantly re-inspired by businesses and people that are challenging established narratives, coming up with innovations that are win-win for both climate and business, and changing the status quo of what it means to be a for-profit organization. I am optimistic about how much climate action and sustainability seem to be infiltrating the corporate and for-profit world because once climate action can be correlated with profit, it will be prolific. Capitalism is a great system for quick action, innovation, and disruption. If we can make climate action and sustainability work within the capitalist system, which we already are, then there is a serious reason for optimism about the fate of our planet.”What’s the most important aspect you keep in mind when shopping for sustainable fashion? “Be an educated consumer, and don’t trust everything you read! Unfortunately, greenwashing is a risk in the fashion industry, so arm yourself as a consumer by knowing what certifications or labels you can trust as being truly sustainable. I look for the same certifications that UBB has (B Corp and Climate Neutral) because I know they’re rigorous and authenticated. I also look for the materials that a product is made of, and any information on supply chain ethics. Not everyone can do this every day, but if you start little by little, it will become second nature the next time you’re online shopping or out at a store!”
At Otrium, we are committed to a fashion industry where all clothing is worn. We are continuously working to connect unsold fashion items with new owners.  A win for brands and consumers alike, we don’t want unsold inventory to end up in landfills. Through this mission, we aim to empower our customers to shop responsibly through our collaboration with Good on You, a leading independent sustainability organisation that rates brands in three key criteria: labour rights, environmental impact, and animal welfare. In line with this partnership, we’re showcasing brands that have sustainability at the very heart of what they do.This month, we meet Adrian Knezovic of  FTC – Fair Trade Cashmere. Founded in 2003, Adrian is part of the management board and, together with his sister Jana Knezovic, they build the second generation of the family business.What does sustainability or impact mean to you? “Sustainability is a way of thinking and a constant development – we always question and challenge ourselves, improve wherever we can, and want to set new industry standards. Furthermore, we see sustainability from a holistic view and act within all fields of sustainability. It comes and goes with responsibility. At FTC we care, we take and live responsibility.”Tell us more about how you take responsibility as a brand“Behind the fashion brand stands a family business. The company was founded, with fair sourcing and prices. We have built an entire supply chain – from cultivating the food for our cashmere goats, to the cashmere goat farm and the manufacture of the finished fashion styles – every step is managed and owned by FTC. This creates a unique level of transparency and understanding of our supply chain. Traceability is our key to sustainability.” Where did the journey of the brand start?“It all started when my parents Andreas and Jutta Knezovic went to northern China to find the perfect cashmere. When experiencing and seeing the quality of life in this region, they wanted to make a change. My parents invested in cashmere goats and gifted goats to farmers, with the deal to buy back the cashmere fibres from them, at fair prices. This is how FTC was founded.” What is your background and when did you start working on creating a positive impact?“I grew up around textiles and garments when my parents were representing international brands in Germany. I have a funny anecdote: as a kid I liked sleeping in the showroom between clothes racks in Düsseldorf when all the hotels were fully booked. I went to university for finance, and I like to believe that I have a very critical mind. It is this questioning of the status quo that led me to drive change in our organisation.” What achievement are you most proud of?“I couldn’t be prouder of the relationships we have been able to build with all of our colleagues, from East to West. The mutual smiles we exchange because of the time you have spent together is priceless.” What are you working on at the moment?“We are finalising our latest certification: The OEKO-TEX STeP certification.” This will mean that all of our products are certified “MADE IN GREEN BY OEKO-TEX”. STeP by OEKO-TEX® is an independent certification system. This certification allows production companies to communicate their environmental measures externally in a transparent and validated way. What is the biggest challenge on the roadmap of improvements?“Uncertainty. We see with events like COVID that our global economy is built on a very brittle structure. To get our goods to our markets means that we must continue our story and also have a positive impact on the families that are connected to our projects.“ What do customers value most about the brand and products?“Our products are an interpretation of modern premium knitwear. With our own goats farm and supply chain, customers get the highest quality and full transparency on how the people, animals, and the environment are treated. Customers value the fact that they can wear our products and you really feel the sense behind it.” What would you recommend for shoppers who want to shop more sustainably?“Most important is to be critical as a consumer of claims that are made by brands. I believe that consumers are smart, they often just don’t have the time. But when you take your time you will find what claims made by brands are substantial and which ones are just hot air.” Who inspires you and why?“I find Giorgio Armani a fascinating person that is truly inspirational. He has built a global fashion brand for almost 50 years and has always kept his mantra of quality and detail. For me, this focus can truly be adapted to fair fashion. If you don’t look at details in the supply chain and you are not transparent with them, there will be no change.” Where do you see your brand in 5 years and… what do you want to have achieved by then?“We don’t want to be the biggest cashmere brand,  we want to be the best. We want to open our cashmere goat farm for others too. This way we can expand our positive impact together.“ What is one thing you hope others learn from your work?“This would be a very bold claim. There is so much I can still learn from others. Be critical and challenge the status quo.” How do you stay optimistic and persistent in the fight against climate change?“I have met very interesting people that go all the way to finding long-term and lasting projects for a positive impact on our planet. It is not trivial but there is also a huge economic value in some of these projects. Together with active efforts to reduce our footprint.” Tell us about a recent change you’ve made to be more sustainable day-to-day?“I have been consistent over a year now to purely shower in cold water. To the additional health benefits, this saves a lot of energy, especially that in our flat we don’t have sustainable heating.” Do you have a pro-tip extending the life cycle of your wardrobe?“Don’t tumble! Hang your clothes to dry and be conservative with detergents.” What’s a quick change people could make in terms of being more sustainable? “Buy less and inform yourself about what you buy.”
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, Adidas 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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