Q&A / FASHION

”You can only create a truly circular business if you manage to make your responsibility agenda an intrinsic part of your modus operandi”

NICOLAJ REFFSTRUP
On lessons learned from close to a decade as a ”responsible” brand
December 20, 2021

Reffstrup’s background is in tech where he mainly worked on helping tech start-ups survive through the early stages of their life. He brought those skills with him when taking over Ganni twelve years ago.

— In many ways, my life could have been inspired by Max Weber’s The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism — learning early on that hard work equals good work, he tells. It’s not necessarily the right way to live life but it became a defining quality for who I am. Ganni turned out to be a great compliment to my wife Ditte’s creative spirit. I’d say that it’s now mostly known to the world as a cool and effortless Scandinavian brand — Scandi 2.0 as some call it — with a global community of consumers. To us, fashion is playful and inclusive and I love that we built the brand as a team where we also try not to take ourselves too seriously.

This fall, you were part of the jury for the Magasin Du Nord Fashion Prize prize competition. How was it?

— It was a great opportunity to gauge where Danish fashion is heading. It’s hard not to be blown away by the incredible talent pool of young designers in Denmark who are challenging conventions. Their attitude to responsibility and craft sets an example for the industry to follow and this year’s competition made it very clear that compromising is no longer an option if you want to be ahead in the industry.

How has the way sustainability is being discussed changed over the years since you took over Ganni?

— We’ve been saying ’responsible’ since 2013 when we took the first few steps towards a more responsible version of ourselves. We’re a fashion brand thriving off of newness, which is inherently unsustainable, but since fashion isn’t going to go away we decided to make a pledge to do better every day and ultimately become a fashion brand that does no harm. Over the years we’ve learned that you can only create a truly circular business if you manage to make your responsibility agenda an intrinsic part of your modus operandi throughout the entire company. We joke that the responsibility team’s most important objective is to render itself obsolete. It’s not until they are no longer needed that we have achieved our ultimate ambition. It’s somewhat similar to 30 years ago when e-commerce was an internal orphan owned by a random marketing manager, but today digitisation is built into every aspect of a business. We need the same thing to happen with responsibility.

”Growing oyster mushrooms in the coffee grounds from the espresso machine in our canteen may have little to no impact on the overall climate but it’s a fun and engaging project”

And how do you work with it?

— It’s a multifaceted all-encompassing approach. We are prioritizing SDGs 5, 12, and 13, we’ve signed up for 3 different pledges on circularity, carbon, and plastics, we’ve put together a 2023 game plan that covers 44 different objectives. We’re currently revising that plan as most KPIs are met earlier than expected. We have a small Responsibility team but ensure that the agenda is anchored with management as well as shareholders. We’ve established our Fabrics of the Future initiative, a fabrics-innovation lab where we trial new innovative materials to help us use 100% responsible materials. We’re phasing out virgin leather and have also created Ganni Lab, a virtual team with representatives from every department at the company. It also has its own Instagram account where we communicate openly about the progress we make and, perhaps more importantly, about the challenges we face, some of which have not yet been overcome. We think of responsibility along two parameters — impact and awareness. Many projects, like implementing the HIGG index or creating tier 5 supply chain transparency, are tedious time consuming tasks that are probably only interesting for a few people internally. Growing oyster mushrooms in the coffee grounds from the espresso machine in our canteen, on the other hand, may have little to no impact on the overall climate but it’s a fun and engaging project that raises awareness and is easily communicated on our social channels. I’m not saying all this to brag about ourselves. We are still a fashion brand that thrives off of newness but I just want to explain how we work hard on setting big hairy audacious goals but make sure that we break them down into tangible day-to-day projects and KPIs that are present and real, says Reffstrup.

And have you gained any insights working like this for quite some time that you’d like to share with your industry colleagues?

— That behaving responsibly will cost you money. It’s resource-demanding, you have to hire people, work extensively with external consultants, pay for certifications and tools, documentation, and information. You have to compromise margins and accept that you have to discard commercially viable product ideas because they do not align or comply with your responsibility ambitions. And more importantly, there is no obvious return on investment. For now, it’s a moral obligation. There’s no money to be made on this. If you do not acknowledge this fact your responsibility effort will continue to be all talk and marketing and the odd organic fabric here and there. You need the backing of your shareholders or it’s just greenwashing. It might be stating the obvious but it’s by far the most valuable insight we’ve gained.

What are the keys going forward in order for the fashion industry to work more consciously, reduce its impact, and so forth?

— We approach behaving responsibly from multiple vantage points. On the consumer-facing side, we currently have a lot of focus on take-back schemes, rentals, and repairs, but we need to do much better. We have to offer our community multiple ways of renting, returning, reselling, wearing, and owning GANNI. We have to make it so seamless, that you don’t even notice you made the responsible choice. If we can make profit and scalability part of that equation there’s potential for serious impact.

What else do you have coming?

— We have many projects in the making, some not ready to be revealed just yet. From 2023 we’ll stop using virgin conventional leather completely so we need good alternatives. Through our lab, we’ve discovered VEGEA, a super innovative fabric made from leftover grape skin derived from winemaking. We’ll also be introducing Mylo, a fabric made from mycelium, which is the underground root-like structure that produces mushrooms. We’re also working on our re-commerce universe, so stay tuned for all of it. Looking further ahead, we are determined to reach a 50 % reduction of our carbon footprint compared to 2021 levels by 2027, Reffstrup concludes.

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