Insights / Sustainability
”The challenge for the industry is that we don’t have a single definition of what sustainable fashion is”
On how emerging designers and large ventures can work together on new industry standards
17 Aug 2022

Tell us about yourself.

— I’m Kate Heiny, I lead the sustainability and corporate citizenship work for Zalando. During Copenhagen Fashion Week, which is a partner of ours, we provide a Zalando Sustainability Award, where I’m a part of the jury. This partnership with Copenhagen Fashion Week was founded on our shared commitment and want as platforms to transform the fashion industry. This morning, Cecilie [Thorsmark, CEO, Copenhagen Fashion Week, Ed’s note] did her opening remarks around the goals that they have for increasing their minimum sustainability standards. We have a very similar goal with six public commitments around sustainability, where one of them is to only work with partners that align with our ethical standards. The Sustainability Award is a great way to stimulate and create closer partnerships with the design community to be able to advance that work more quickly.

The award finalists are mainly emerging designers and, as such, often more proactive when it comes to sustainability. Meeting them, have you shared any insights from your side and their perspective?

— Yes, there are two examples that I would share. The winner of the award has the ability to do a capsule collection with us. The first winner was House Of Dagmar and when they created their capsule, we also did an Impact Study, or Assessment, for that collection, to be able to identify what the social and environmental impacts were. That was an important step forward because they had not done one — we had not done one — so it was an opportunity for us both to be able to demonstrate what the impact changes might be and identify hotspots for them to actually work on further. So, being a very kind of advanced brand within sustainability, they received a report that actually pushed them further, Heiny explains, continuing,

— Nikolaj Storm won a year ago. In the collection that he’s working on for us, to be released around October, we’ve really come together on circularity. We’ve asked ourselves what the definition of circularity is, what the guidelines are, the design criteria, and a manner that can help provide the guardrails that an industry company like us would need in order to be able to communicate about those products and actually extol the great work that he and the group are doing for that collection. So, there’s an exchange between all of us.

The Impact report.

And if we look at the broader picture, how do you work with tech and innovation in your daily sustainability work?

— The first thing that comes through my mind is both something that we’re trying to do and something we need even more: the challenge for the industry is that we don’t have a single definition of what sustainable fashion is. So, therefore we don’t have comparability — and this is industry-wide. So the brands that we carry — let’s say Nike and H&M — can not provide sustainability information in a comparable manner, so customers are confused. So, that’s an industry challenge that we have; getting the information throughout the value chain. The value chain itself is pretty opaque in terms of the information and the data that are shared throughout the production of a product. So, looking for tech solutions for how we can dive into the value chain, how we can actually get data on, say, this dress and each stage of the process and how we can find what the environmental and social impacts are of them. The information exists somewhere, but it’s not accessible today. So, we need tech solutions to be able to bring that information to us more quickly, because that is something that we inherently want, customers are asking for, and we need, because we are not set up throughout the value chain to get that information today. So, it is a perfect example of where we need a tech solution.

Have you invested in any startups or are you developing it yourself?

— We work with a number of partners. One of them is Higg Co, which is an organisation that actually is the technology tool for the only industry standard that exists right now, the Sustainable Apparel Coalition’s Higg Methodology. The Higg Co company was a spinout from that and a technology startup with which we work very closely and use their tools, says Heiny.

Kate Heiny.