Ingeo Round Table
BROWN WHITE BROWN WHITE BROWN WHITE BROWN WHITE BROWN WHITE BROWN WHITE BROWN
Ingeo Round Table
The following is a summary of a round table discussion held on:
Thursday, May 26,
2005, 4 pm
Marchiori—VP of Marketing
Davies—Director, Fibers Market Development
With market research from Globescan Eurisko
NatureWorks LLC, makers of Ingeo fiber, a 100% renewable fiber that promotes environmental responsibility, in a cyclical process known as sustainability, hosted a roundtable discussion with leading panelists from the entire spectrum of the fashion and textile industry, to discuss the potential of sustainability in the fashion world.
Earth Pledge, one of the key driving factors to the success of a sustainability fashion show held during Fashion Week 2005, spoke about attracting designers’ interest in using sustainable fabrics as a key component to their brand message. Market research from Globescan Eurisko highlighted that not only Italian consumers with 85% surveyed, but Germans, Canadians, Great Britons, and lowest with Americans at 79% were happy to pay an extra 10% for a product that does not harm people and the environment.
Important brands such as Diesel are committed to using sustainable fabrics in demostration of loyalty to the Diesel consumer, particularly the upcoming younger generation of tweens. High-end luxury stores such as Barneys have come to take notice, what with the announcement of celebrity-sponsored fair trade labels such as the Edun line with Bono as spokesperson.
DNR edtor Marilise Gavenas offered the analogy of the necessity of a Whole Foods concept, but in fashion, referring to making sustainability chic. Steve Davies of NatureWorks mentioned that progress is made even when fabrics use a percentage of organic with regular cotton, simply to spark discussion with consumers. Ultimately, while admitting that celebrity spokesmanship can lead fashion sales from the high- to low-end, Julie Gilhart and Maurizio Marchiori both agreed the shirt had to perform well and also have a ‘cool’ factor to really encourage market adoption. Up to now, Leslie Hoffman said there are many tasks to be done in order to bring the subject of sustainability in the textile and fashion industries home to the consumer.
Summary of Discussion
Leslie Hoffman—Earth Pledge
Earth Pledge was founded in 1991 in support of the Earth Summit in Rio. We promote innovative techniques and technologies that facilitate the transition to sustainability. We work to restore the balance between human and natural systems, and have done so since we were founded 14 years ago.
In anticipation to Christo’s Gates in Central Park, we started to think about fabric, based on fiber, textiles and fashion opportunities, and what we could say about sustainability.
We offered 50 sustainable fabrics in a sample book to designers, including organic cottons, organic wools, recycled polyester and other fibers including Ingeo. The designers each selected fibers to work with, then the pieces were included in the show.
We got a great reaction from not only Julie Gilhart at Barneys, but we included 35 participating designers and managed to get a lot of attention from the Fashion Week show in February 2005. Our press ranged from Newsweek to The Globe & Mail, Toronto, Time Out New York, to NY 1, among many others.
The success of that launch showed opportunity for this issue in fashion industry.
We realized we had to focus on these topics:
† Material research and the evolution of research
Steve Davies—NatureWorks, makers of Ingeo
NatureWorks LLC was formed in 1997 to explore and create sustainable products from 100% annually renewable resources. The problem of the term “sustainabilty” is that it results in responses all over the map. We interviewed fifty people, even key people involved in the industry of both fashion and sustainability, and we got fifty different meanings of what ‘sustainability’ means.
Very few consumers realize the pedigree of where their garment comes from.
Ingeo is not an oil-based non-renewable fiber. Polyester or polystyrene goes to landfill or trash for nearly 100 years, whereas ours biodegrades and can be used as compost, after the life of the product.
We say “Ingeo comes from somewhere to go to somewhere”, which means:
Ingeo comes from corn, converted to starch then to sugar, then to lactic acid, to a polymer, and eventually, a fiber. The final result is a fabric that shows versatility, from a microdernier to a robust count, excellent comfort, moisture management and odor retention qualities, with an exciting lustre and drape that offers a new choice to designers.
We shift our focus from “sustainability” to “responsibility” instead to have a conversation with consumers, because it resonates so much stronger with them.
We’ve discovered strong consumer interest from market research:
In April 2005, in Milan, 85% of purchasing consumers show interest in willingness to pay 10% extra on price if the product is not harming the environment (and 79% of Americans will pay for it, as well).
“I am convinced that corporate responsibility will become a key topic in the near future,” said Angela Alberti, councillor of the Milan Chamber of Commerce, and vice-chariperson of the Cross-Institutional Working Table, on behalf of consumers. “This is because the more a company seems to be contributing towards improving the environment and the community in which it operates, the better chances it has to enhance its competitiveness and reputation on the market.”
“The idea of focusing on responsibility and green fashion is much more approachable than the term ‘sustainability’”, said Valerie Steele.
Diesel’s always been much more a brand that follows our gut instincts, rather than focusing on market research. We’ve done that since we were founded in 1975, led by the vision of Diesel’s founder ever since.
What’s changed is people no longer purchase so much based on need as they do with desire. Answering questions such as “Who do I want to be?” and “What do I want to be doing?” are much stronger, particularly for the younger generation, than ever before. The younger generation of 8-12 year olds are who we must remain true to—their generation is much more honest than ever before, and we must do more than wait around for someone else to make a big step. Sometimes, making a little step is better than waiting around. Ingeo is no compromise in our desire to remain loyal to the Diesel consumer.
What’s key is making sustainability in fashion as topical as it is in other industries. I give the example of my neighborhood grocery store, which happens to be a Whole Foods. I always know that visiting it will always take an hour, not just for the great displays, but for the crowds of not only fellow New Yorkers like me, but also the tourists, since our Whole Foods is right on Columbus Circle by Central Park.
Now, sustainability may not be the hot thing for Fall, but in three years, it could be HUGE. Whole foods created their own brands. Every single fibermaker can’t talk about sustainability as much as they can about responsibility. Plus, sustainability is a novelty. Even at the up-end of the market—Harris tweed is in style, as an ‘artisanal’ idea that is fresh, and sustainability is part of that, too.
Is sustainability an interest, even for Barneys?
Since we’re at the high end, the term “sustainability” really makes both the customers and salespeople really zone out. If you talk about baby steps, if we can get that group to pay attention, then you’ve got the whole world, since you’d
have the top of everything, and celebrities drive the business. We must make it easy for designers to get into it. Perhaps it’s easier for the low-end of the market instead of the high-end.
For example, bamboo or other materials were used lately in things we sold well, because it was soft, not really because it was sustainable, though that was a side payoff.
As another example, think about Bono’s involvement in Edun, the hip men's and women's clothing line that he, wife Ali Hewson and designer Rogan Gregory launched this spring. The focus is on fair trade responsibility along with the fashion. Having Bono really helps, but the clothes have to:
1) Fit, look good & sexy
Numbers 1 & 2 are really important for the commercial success of this idea.
So, it may be easier to get sustainability right on the mass market, but on the top of the pyramid the great fit and the ‘cool’ factor will drive the business most.
The key, as is the same with the Edun line, is making the story interesting. If it’s interesting to the consumer, then that encourages adoption. It may have taken brown rice and Birkenstocks a long time to be adopted, but if you can tell people the biodegradable story, such as Ingeo’s, then you spark a discussion with consumers.
You have such a short amount of time to communicate that connection—the energy is really important, that’s why having someone like Bono helps.
Getting this into the right hands means the story can be told really quickly.
Make it easier for a cool company like Diesel to sell it.
Question: But will saying something’s ‘green’ mean people will buy it?
That’s why ‘green’ clothing means a burlap sack to some people, but the performance and choice is the only hope to get people to look at it.
For example, with organic cotton versus regular cotton—it means only a smaller footprint , but that still leaves a footprint in the consumer’s mind. Organic cotton is more expensive, and not as processed, so it’s harder to use, sometimes, especially for a hip company that might not make that choice to get started using it. Saying that 5% of the cotton used is organic is a more viable baby step instead of going all the way, sometimes.
Question: Won’t guilt work as a method of encouraging adoption?
Actually, guilt was precisely the reason some ecological things weren’t adopted quickly in the first place.
Less is more, that might create desire. Everyone wants to live in a better environment, but suggest “Be free to be what you really want to be”, and offer this sustainable fabric product as a choice instead. Thinking too much is not useful. Let’s get out to create more new ideas. “You are guilty, you need to suffer,” is not a really strong sales argument. . .
When we talk about the ‘cool’ factor—every 10 years, whatever was uncool becomes cool—the point is that whatever we can make is made from creativity and innovation. If the T-shirt has a great story, but if it’s not a great T-shirt, forget it. These young people are about ‘no compromise’, they approach things in a more honest way. Now it can be about “healthy money” , things for the long-term, not the short-term—if we don’t try expressing our way to be ‘cool’—whatever we do will be quite impossible to improve the planet.
So our mandate is: we must create an environment where sustainable fabrics and responsibility can make us all:
1. Feel good (especially our fashion,
our image, etc.)
In order to improve our world.
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Georgiann Appignani :: FIT NYC
Director :: International Programs