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Red Carpet Green Dress™ (RCGD), which has been committed to creating positive change for over a decade, was originally conceived in response to a lack of ethical choices on the red carpet. Lenzing Group’s textile brand TENCEL™ shares a similar vision as it combines high quality and high fashion with sustainability. Coming together and partnering to launch a range of eco-couture textiles for the Oscars ceremony in 2020 felt like a natural next step for both brands. Following the success of their 2020 collaboration, RCGD and TENCEL™ teamed up for a second year running at the Oscars red carpet on 25th April.
In a two-part series, we sat down with Samata Pattinson, CEO at RCGD and Harold Weghorst, Global Vice President of Marketing & Branding at Lenzing, to discuss this partnership and the motivations behind it in more depth. In part one, we saw an introduction to the two brands and the reasons they came together for the Oscars collaboration. This second part of the series focuses on the future of eco-couture and the challenges fashion brands face when it comes to creating a sustainable industry.
Q: What challenges do you think premium fashion labels face when it comes to transitioning to more sustainable materials? How can they overcome these?
Samata: One of the main challenges is sourcing sustainable materials. We’ve been doing Red Carpet Green Dress™ at the Oscars for ten years now and, in the early years, designers would have no idea where to find sustainable materials. I am pleased to report that in recent years brands have fabric mills approaching them and presenting a range of sustainable materials they can choose from. It is important to bridge the gap between designers and the creative communities that are looking for sustainable solutions, like TENCEL™ and TENCEL™ Luxe, and those who can’t find them.
Another issue with sustainable materials has also been quantities and pricing. Once demand goes up, the price will be more accessible for everybody. To have big global brands buying large quantities of sustainable materials opens the door for those materials to become more accessible financially to smaller designers. These are real challenges but, hopefully, where we are going in the future, these solutions can be more accessible and easier to find across the globe.
Why do you think material innovation and material sustainability are important for the fashion industry?
Samata: Material innovation is extremely important to the fashion industry because right now we’re relying on the same basket of materials. It’s important to remind people that everything comes from somewhere, especially when it comes to fashion. Materials are grown on farms, in fields and in forests, and we must be mindful when we source these materials that they are not infinite and won’t continue indefinitely. Therefore, the way that we source those materials must be sustainable and focused on allowing regeneration and being responsible.
For me, one of the key positive effects of material innovation is that we stop relying so heavily on the same few materials and can take the pressure off these existing resources. Innovation opens the door for a more connected globe, and this is the case for the TENCEL™ brand who are pioneering innovation when it comes to different products such as apparel, shoes, homeware and upholstery. Once you have these exciting innovations in one space it has a ripple effect and can impact other industries. This is especially important when the innovations look at decarbonization and tackling climate change.
Harold: Material sustainability is important because it's the starting point of design development. If we ensure that we use raw materials which mitigate the negative impacts on the environment, that is the best start to creating sustainability. TENCEL™ branded fibers are made from botanic origins which means they are plant-based. They are also produced sustainably by using renewable energy and less water – with transparency to consumers throughout the whole production process – from fabric to final garment.
Once they have been worn and later disposed, they are 100% biodegradable and compostable. Numerous Lenzing innovations have been integrated in the production of TENCEL™ fibers, to make the process environmentally sound.
Q: Can you share some tips on how designers and fashion brands can adopt more eco-friendly practices?
Samata: From a designer perspective, we often feel that we have to compromise on things and it’s important to prioritize. For me, quality materials are paramount because the durability of the product depends upon the quality of materials and the quality of designs. Personally, I would rather invest in materials that give you a durable product versus directing a set of resources towards printing look books. These are important compromises to make. It is also a designer’s responsibility to ensure consumers are provided with proper information on how to look after the product, such as using a certain temperature when washing or using an eco-friendly detergent. Designers should also feel a desire to represent communities and different bodies as these are all part of the conversation about sustainability. It is important to showcase a brand that establishes respect for global communities.
Q: What tips can you share with consumers to adopt more eco-friendly lifestyles?
Samata: My first tip would be to take a look at the label before making a purchase and look out for the TENCEL™ brand. It is also important to care for brands and give your clothing a better chance at survival. If you hold on to an item of clothing for an additional 9 months you are reducing your carbon waste and footprint by 20-30%. In addition, when you’ve finished with a piece of clothing, try not to automatically throw it away. Resell the item, pass it on to a family member or give it to charity.
Q: What are some of the environmental challenges currently faced by the fashion industry?
Harold: Climate change is one of the biggest challenges that we are facing as mankind. Within that, high CO2 emission is an important aspect which we need to change. The global fashion industry is one of the biggest contributors to CO2 emission, producing 1.2 billion tons of CO2 every year. This is something that we desperately need to reduce. Lenzing is the first of its kind in the industry to commit to a science-based target of reducing CO2 emission by 50%, a quest driven by the UN Paris Agreement. Our goal is to become a net-zero company by 2050 and, today, we are already offering carbon zero TENCEL™ branded fiber solution.
Waste is another significant issue in the fashion industry which is imperative that we solve. As consumers, we are buying 3 to 4 times more clothes than our previous generation. Two-thirds of the clothes that we wear are made from synthetic fibers that do not biodegrade and 80-85% of the clothes that we no longer wear end up in landfills or are incinerated. This is a big problem. By 2030, we will be creating 148 million tons of fashion waste every year. Therefore, more raw materials need to be used which biodegrade and return to nature.
It is also important to consider reusing materials. Our pioneering REFIBRA™ technology involves upcycling cotton scraps from garment production, is contributing to the circular economy in the textile industry. Our TENCEL™ branded fiber with REFIBRA™ technology is currently made up of 30% recycled raw materials from pre and post-consumer waste, and by 2024, we hope to raise the percentage to at least 50% recycled material from pre and post-consumer waste.
Q: What is the future for sustainable fashion?
Harold: Fashion is a wonderful industry full of creativity, inspiration and imagination. At the same time, fashion is one of the most polluting industries globally. This is something that needs to change for the sake of our future, starting with raw materials to the way that products are designed, developed, fabricated and shipped. This even encompasses the way we, as consumers, buy fashion and how we reuse it or get rid of it.
The recent pandemic has acted as a spark for this change, hastening the industry’s transition to greater digital presence and sustainability. Consumers are opting to shop from the convenience of their own homes and many people are rethinking their needs and looking for sustainable alternatives where possible. We hope, for the sake of the environment, that this will have a long-lasting impact even after the pandemic ends.
This is the second part of a two-part series discussing Samata and Harold’s RCGD™ X TENCEL™ collaboration and their take on eco-couture. You can read part one HERE.