"The erlich textil philosophy is to create high quality clothing within transparent and fair supply chains."
23 AUGUST 2022
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 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 month, we meet Bendetta Pompetzki, CSR Manager at erlich textil. This German brand produces lingerie and home textiles with a focus on extra comfort in every possible way.
Sustainability: what does it mean to you?
For us at erlich textil, sustainability is not just a buzzword, but our corporate core. Social and ecological responsibility is at the forefront of all of our actions and decisions. This "green thread", as we call it, flows through the entire value chain. Whenever we see an opportunity to make things more environmentally friendly, fairer, or more efficient, we will do so. As a company, we’re still not perfect, but we place social and ecological sustainability at the centre of all we do and are continuing to develop in this area.
Where did the journey of erlich textil start?
The company was founded in 2016 by Sarah Grohé and Benjamin Sadler. The two of them had, and still have, one goal in mind: to produce lingerie and home textiles with fair supply chains at honest prices. They wanted to provide an all-around feeling of well-being without a guilty conscience. Fairness, sustainability, and a positive working environment are particularly close to our hearts as a company and team. As well as sustainability credentials, erlich works with classic timeless styles and cuts, rather than fast-changing trends, and our products are size- and age-inclusive, so that they can be worn by everyone. This core value of supporting body neutrality and empowerment has been part of the erlich textil journey from the beginning.
You have a collaboration with FEMNET e.V. where you collect money to prevent child labour, gender-specific violence and to improve working conditions for women in areas such as Southern India. Can you tell us a bit more about this collaboration?
In the last two years, we have again donated part of our proceeds from the Black Friday Weekend to FEMNET e.V.. We want to offer consumers a sustainable alternative to all the fast and ultra-fast fashion offers associated with Black Friday, and support social projects with our profits during this time. FEMNET is a non-governmental organisation (NGO) that works in the most vulnerable areas, namely with at-risk groups of people worldwide, such as children and women. It delivers projects around human and worker rights in textile supply chains in areas such as Southern India or Myanmar. We want to support their important work on these urgent issues at a global level.
In 2020, we raised almost 40,000 euros, which we donated to a project in the South Indian state of Tamil Nadu. This project is run by the organisation, SAVE, who are helping establish and better equip Local Complaint Committees for incidents of sexual abuse and harassment.
In 2021, we raised almost 45.000 euros. This was distributed among several different projects. The Myanmar emergency fund benefited trade unionists and textile workers who depend on outside help to continue to exist. Another donation was made to a legal aid fund in India and Bangladesh, which supports workers in enforcing their human and worker rights. The organisation SAVE supported homeworkers to officially organise within the trade union Anukatham, representing circa 200,000 informal workers. Lastly, the awareness campaign #eintshirtzumleben aims to draw attention to the precarious situation of women in the textile industry in the Global South and to make consumers rethink their approach to fashion. There are still donations left to be made and we will update this when it is set.
What are you working on regarding sustainability at the moment?
At the moment we are working on our Impact Report 2020/2021, as well as looking at supply chain transparency for each and every single product of ours. This will be done through leveraging retraced, the blockchain tool we work with. We’re also preparing for a certification audit, CO2 calculations, improvement of our packaging from an environmental standpoint, onboarding of new suppliers and regular assessments of all existing suppliers.
Can you tell us more about your recycling system for old clothing and materials?
Our responsibility does not end with the customer's purchase. We are also interested in the dirty, post-consumer details, such as disposal, care and reuse. We inform our customers about these topics through an informative guide. We have also developed a waste hierarchy that defines criteria on how clothes can be recycled so that we can reuse defective or worn-out goods. A milestone for us is the introduction of a take-back system, which is already in the works. Here we are working with a selected recycling partner, I:Collect GmbH, to efficiently send in, sort, and reuse damaged or worn-out goods from our customers.
Where do you see your brand in 5 years? - What do you want to have achieved by then?
Our goal as a company is to continue to make a positive contribution to society by promoting production practices and consumer behaviour that focuses on people and nature, both locally and globally. We want to continue focusing on the accessibility and timelessness of our products, diversity, and representation in our communication, and education and raising awareness around fashion issues and social engagement.
What will the perfect future of the fashion industry look like?
A perfect future for the fashion world is one in which apparel brands must fully disclose and communicate openly, regularly, and demonstrably about their supply chains, including status quo, progress, and regress in their social and environmental sustainability. Hopefully it is a world where brands' sourcing practices do not exert price pressure that negatively impacts the wages and labour rights of workers in textile supply chains. Brands should also work together more to improve working and environmental conditions in factories around the world, and companies should know not only their direct suppliers, but the entire supply chain from the agricultural gathering points onwards, and work towards social and environmental justice on this front. Greenwashing should be prohibited by law, claims should be verified and false claims should be sanctioned. Every company should demonstrate that it is meeting its corporate responsibility throughout the supply chain.
Other problems we have today such as overproduction and petroleum derivatives will hopefully decrease to an extremely limited extent, if they exist at all. I think that Lifecycle Assessments should be used on a product level - both for natural virgin fibres and textile materials. A perfect world of fashion is one in which companies dedicate a significant portion of their profits to a holistic social and ecological sustainability strategy that is not just a greenwashing tool.
What is one thing you hope others will learn from your journey?
erlich textil aims to offer ecologically and socially sustainable alternatives in the fashion world to inspire change. Contrary to the fast fashion industry that is responsible for high emissions, overproduces, generates waste, and creates social inequality globally, the erlich philosophy is to create high-quality clothing within transparent and fair supply chains at honest prices and with timeless designs. We hope that we can inspire others to follow this aspiration. It’s not about being perfect, but about trying your best and countering the logic of fast fashion which is focusing merely on profits instead of humans and nature.
You have a very transparent and informative website with interesting facts e.g. covering certifications that you use. What importance do you think these certifications have in the fashion industry?
There are now an incredible variety of certifications, labels, and multi-stakeholder initiatives (MSI) out there, within the textile sector. Labels can refer to many different criteria such as pollutants and chemicals, biodiversity, natural resources, energy consumption, waste and wastewater, soils, and animal welfare. Also social criteria such as working conditions and the prohibition of child and forced labour are an integral part of sustainability. In order to give the best overview of social and ecological aspects within our value chain, some certifications can be a good and needed proxy for verification, especially considering the complexity of supply chains. We always carefully check which certifications, labels, and MSI memberships are necessary for our value chain. We have chosen some that are particularly trustworthy, perform well in benchmarking and try to provide information to our customers about what these comprise and mean.
What’s the most important aspect you keep in mind when shopping for sustainable fashion?
I always ask myself the question one of my parents would ask me as a teen: “Do you really need it?”. I shop by this quote and always ask myself twice whether I need this piece and if I really will wear it as often as I believe at that specific moment. Naturally, I also like to check the brand’s sustainability claims on their webpage and sustainability reports.
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 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 month, we meet Sofia Tahiri, CEO and Co-Founder of French sportswear brand Kysal, whose contemporary designs and technical fabrications are underpinned at every step by a commitment to more sustainable practices. What does sustainability mean to you?For me, sustainability is a holistic way of being. It’s about how I live my private life being as sustainable as how Kysal is run. I didn’t always feel like this, but I was thinking of starting a family and realised that I needed to be more conscious about the kind of world my children would be inheriting. Launching Kysal was a bit of a revelation for me in terms of wanting to live more consciously. I used to buy a lot of clothes in multiple different colours. Now I try to shop more responsibly by buying more expensive basics that will last - an outlook that I’ve brought into how Kysal creates its own season-agnostic lines. Beyond this, the personal mirrors the professional - I try to take short showers and have banished plastic bags from our home. Similarly, I run Kysal in a manner that is mindful of consumption and the kinds of materials we use. The two worlds are completely linked.
Tell us more about the brand!I founded Kysal more than four years ago. I had just returned from a six-month university exchange programme in New York and was fascinated by the way that athletic wear was so ubiquitous in American wardrobes. When I was on my way to study, I had to walk past a gym, and noticed that people were going in in sportswear, but then those leaving would still be wearing activewear to go about their day. This way of dressing simply wasn’t the norm in France. When I returned home, I wanted to recreate this type of clothing but for a specifically French sensibility. In the US, there’s a more extravagant approach to dressing with really vibrant colours, whereas the French tend to have a more classic colour palette. The result was that I needed to make athletic classics with a twist, to bridge the gap stylistically. I also wanted the Kysal brand to have a strong sense of ethical responsibility, and was inspired by businesses such as Organic Basics - although they didn’t have sportswear within their collection at the time.
Tell us more about the start of the journey?My biggest fear was creating the brand alone, but I didn’t have to look far because I found the perfect support in my husband. He believed in me and in this project, so we launched the brand together just as we were coming back from our honeymoon. There were challenges along the path, with the biggest one being facing our fear and quitting both of our jobs at the same time. We realised that the brand would need our full dedication and focus if it was going to work. Running a clothing label is not the sort of thing you can do at night and on your weekends. Letting everything else go all at once was a major leap of faith, but it was so worth it.What achievement are you proudest of?There were opportunities to produce our garments overseas for less, but we wanted to ensure a positive impact throughout the whole value chain by having 100% of our production in Europe. It was ethically important to us for a few reasons, with one of the big drivers being that we now only need to transport product by road, rather than by plane. We have also minimised the distances that these journeys cover by working within a relatively limited area within Europe, with the aim to lower our emissions. Part of the first collection was made in Morocco, but now with a view to minimising our footprint, our fabrics come from Italy or Portugal. Production takes place in Porto, while our warehouse is in France. It was necessary for us to undertake production in Porto due to the specialist technical skillsets our providers have there in terms of working with our recycled polyester material. We have also reduced the number of intermediaries in our value chain to the smallest number possible, which allows us to deliver the best quality we can at the fairest prices, for all involved. Lastly, it is worth noting that we endeavour to produce items that are seasonless classics that can be worn for lengthy periods of time. We wanted to create items that were less about seasons and trends and more about durability. The French market tends to favour classic taste, with many preferring to buy quality over quantity. This allowed us to work easily with more classic, basic lines that we sell throughout the year, therefore minimising overproduction. We also run small pop-up collections such as our Yogi Fit capsule. These are limited run projects that feature a small number of pieces, again to fit with our wishes to move away from overproduction.
How do you pick the best and most sustainable materials for your clothing? We aim to use natural and organic fabrics wherever possible, and also work extensively with lyocell, a material made from wood fibres. We also use bamboo in the production of some of our garments - for example, a recent yoga line we designed. The benefit of working with bamboo is that, as a fast growing plant, it’s easy to replenish the supply that you consume quickly. One of our ongoing product development challenges is finding natural fabrics that conform to body shapes and maintain a tight fit, as required in sport. For this reason, we also work with recycled polyester when developing our lines.
The polyester we use is sourced from a company that reclaims bottles from the ocean. We work with a specialist in the field who has allowed us to use this material as a type of yarn that we use to knit our garments. Through doing this, we have no excess fabric as we only work with the amounts required for each garment. The items are also seamless - similar to tights and stockings - meaning not only are we conserving material resources, but they’re also extremely comfortable as athletic wear, due to seams not rubbing. Lastly, all of our products are OEKO-TEX certified, meaning they do not contain substances that are harmful to either the environment or the body.
Where do you see your brand in five years? What do you want to have achieved by then? I have so many new ideas! Five years from now, I would love to have a bigger team working with me to create more products, including collections for men and teens, that stay true to our brand vision. We would like to be carried by more retailers, to make our product accessible to everyone, as well as having a store of our own where we can really showcase the brand vision. What is one thing you hope others learn from your work?There is often resistance to trusting small labels, with many people waiting until there’s significant brand recognition before buying from a company. However, when buying from small independents, you can be sure that everything that’s created has a personal touch and is made with real heart. Also, don’t be afraid to move away from trends and consume more consciously. Lastly, it’s important to believe that anything is possible with hard work. Even if you don’t succeed, see it as a lesson, not a failure.
On our journey towards a fashion industry, we’ve teamed up with Good On You – the leading source for fashion brand sustainability ratings. Using their know-how, we can now highlight brands that are going above and beyond to make a positive impact, and label them as Conscious; allowing our customers to make more informed choices. To celebrate, we’ve been chatting to Conscious-rated brands on our platform to find out their take on being conscious as a company, and more. We spoke to Caroline Gentz, Creative Director and CEO of IVY OAK. The Berlin-based brand not only makes modern authentic pieces but is also here to make a positive impact. Here’s what Caroline had to say about the stories behind their impact: Sustainability: what does it mean to you? For me, it’s a long-term vision that involves everybody along the way: employees, suppliers, customers, and investors, and it can only be achieved with all these stakeholders working together. We are taking a holistic approach, making thoughtful choices, and giving our customers a complete insight into our products, practices, and prices. We create timeless pieces using high-quality fabrics and workmanship, so that our customers can wear them often and for many years to come.We promote longevity and style over trends and seasonality and still send a modern, authentic and relevant message.Choose well, love what you own and treat it with respect, that’s already a start.
Tell us more about the brand. Our aim is to think about and work with fashion differently. IVY OAK is for the woman who values quality, sustainability, and style. Therefore, we strive to produce clothing that has got the durability of a high-quality product at a reasonable price point but is also inspiring and comfortable to wear. Style is an individual journey of discovery, which is what makes it so exciting to me. Our customers create our brand message, not the other way around. We are following the lifecycle of our customers and try to be as authentic as we can with them and are already thinking about our customers in the generations to comeWhere did the journey of the brand start? I founded IVY OAK in 2016 in response to what I knew was an existing product demand, but with the purpose to meet this demand in a new way and disrupt the old habits of the industry.I wanted the brand to be fashionable yet timeless, with a huge attention to detail. I wanted our clothes to dress women for the most important moments in their lives, but at a reasonable price point. Wanting to be innovative meant redesigning existing structures and practices. We had to think — and act — outside the box. Having gone through the essential process of a restructure, the whole IVY OAK team is fully committed to getting involved, and this has really shaped the development of the company. What is your background/career and when did you start working on creating a positive impact? Before founding IVY OAK, I was able to gain insights in both the luxury and the fast fashion industry. I set myself the goal to combine the best of both worlds, closing the gap between high street and luxury fashion, and putting sustainability at the forefront. I love the process of creating fashion, from the sketch until the production of a garment. Fashion enables people to express themselves and this truly fascinates me. What achievement are you proudest of? I look back on the last years with particular pride. Our team has fought throughout these challenging years of the pandemic with solidarity for each other. I am deeply thankful for the support they showed, especially for our partners and customers. We are also very proud that we were able to improve our results especially in the areas of transparency and the achievement of our CSR Sustainability goals. We were able to increase the use of eco-friendlier materials on 81% of the styles in the last season. That’s incredible and really not as easy as it may sound for most consumers. Our customers can follow our journey closely in our sustainability reports.What are you working on at the moment? We just went through an exciting brand transition. IVY OAK is presenting a new brand CI. We are proud to be bolder now and to promote the sustainability and transparency of our garments even more. For selected styles, customers will soon be able to see how much CO2 has been emitted or water used to produce a garment. We also want to use this data internally to make data-based design and sourcing decisions, to allow us to lower our impact even further. Our team is also working on introducing circular design strategies to move further away from the linear and disposable model.At IVY OAK why do you place an emphasis on increasing the longevity of clothing through quality? We believe investing in quality is worth it in the long run to protect our environment. It means you will not have to replace your clothes as quickly, you can more easily sell quality clothing via second-hand channels and less new clothes have to be produced. We need to learn to love and value our clothes again and high-quality clothing ensures that our customers can really enjoy their clothes for many years. We also try to engage with our customers to create this mind shift. In our care guide, for example, customers can find helpful information about the different fabric types and how to care for them in an environmentally friendly way so that they last longer.How do you use Otrium as a tool to make sure your clothing is ‘Timeless’?We want to be mindful about the resources we are using and that’s why we strive to create as little waste as possible. Otrium is an important partner to support this goal. We love that Otrium offers a second chance to our unsold items from past collections. Through Otrium, these items will still find a home with customers who enjoy our clothing for many years to come. Our styles are timeless pieces for a long-lasting wardrobe. They just sometimes need another time and platform to be recognized..What do customers value most about the brand and products? We notice that our customers are no longer interested in the traditional fashion cycle and therefore clearly focus on the importance of “style “, instead of constantly changing trends. Style is something that you must discover and learn individually for yourself - that's what makes it so exciting! Style is for everyone and should be all-inclusive. Our pieces can easily be combined to look either cool or classic, meaning that our customers’ personal individual style is also a way of developing our brand message. We want people to see our clothes as a life-partner rather than a quick fling. Our customer isn’t interested in the traditional ‘fashion calendar’ and wants clothes that last longer than just a season. Our product is the obvious answer to this. Who inspires you and why?I love browsing vintage stores or leafing through fashion history books. Fashion was and remains an expression of the times we live in. Every decade provides its individual style. I love being inspired by the past in order to develop a new present — and hopefully a trans-generational future. Where do you see your brand in 5 years? What do you want to have achieved by then? For us, our 360° concept means a holistic approach. We want to integrate sustainable and responsible business practices at all levels of the company and pursue the goal of further reducing our environmental footprint and achieving maximum positive social impact. We accept this challenge with joy and are proud of every milestone reached that brings us closer to our goal. We still have a long journey ahead, especially regarding transparency and circular fashion. We’re always working on involving our customers more on our journey: re-thinking will always be our guiding principle.. What does the future of fashion look like? The last years can be seen as a great wake-up call, in terms of sustainability, local production and inclusion. Partners and consumers are gradually becoming more aware of our responsibility for the environment and are demanding changes within the industry. Our customers are already consuming more consciously and asking more targeted questions about product origin and delivery processes. It will be essential for all companies to be more transparent and to develop strategies towards circular production and business models.
What is one thing you hope others learn from your work? I’m convinced that transparency is an integral part of positive change within the fashion industry. To truly understand a brand’s footprint, we need to look at how, where, and above all by whom each product is pieced together. It might sound obvious, but supply chains in fashion (and other sectors) are surprisingly opaque. Transparency isn’t always the easy option, but it’s needed to do business sustainably. That’s why we have just started to measure the environmental footprint of selected styles to make informed sourcing decisions to lower our impact even further.How do you stay optimistic and persistent in the fight against climate change? I think that we are responsible for what and how we consume. The more we look out for one another and share our vision in supporting fair working conditions and environmentally friendly manufacturing processes, the faster we will make a difference in this world. Tell us about a recent change you’ve made to be more sustainable day-to-day?
My own behavior of consumption played a big role in starting my own business. I still wear a tweed blazer of my great-grandmother or a vintage trench coat, which I was able to buy years ago at a flea market in New York. I just recently got an oversized denim shirt from my mum, that she was wearing when she was my age. I love that and wear these styles with pride and they never get old. With IVY OAK we want to offer exactly those go-to pieces that become classics in the wardrobes of our customers and which in the best case are passed onto the next generation.
Do you have a pro-tip extending the life cycle of your wardrobe? Buy less and wear what you own more often. It seems boring at first, but you can try new combinations or have a piece altered to change its style. There are many options and every piece in your closet deserves attention. Do you have a philosophy you live by?
Think differently, act differently.In the end, it all comes down to us and how we use our individual and combined power to create positive changeWhat’s a quick change people could make in terms of being more sustainable
Choose more wisely and give old clothes a second life. Once you are over that amazing dress or perfect shirt, do not leave it hanging unnoticed in your closet for the next few years or worse throw it away. Look out for local clothing swaps and pass it on for someone new to fall in love with it.
Otrium continually works towards the mission that all clothing should be worn. We do this by helping to eliminate unsold inventory and using technology and data to change the way clothing is created and sold. On our journey towards a smarter, more sustainable fashion industry, we’ve teamed up with Good On You, the leading source of fashion sustainability ratings. We’ve used their know-how to highlight brands on our own platform that go the extra mile to be more sustainable, which helps our customers make more informed shopping choices. Using Good On You’s data, we’ve introduced the Otrium Conscious filter. And now we’re speaking to conscious-rated brands carried by Otrium to find out more about their approach towards sustainability. This week, we chatted to Eric Otten, CEO of cashmere brand So Good To Wear, who believes that ethical fashion should be the rule instead of the exception. So what does sustainability mean to you? “People have always thought we could take something inexhaustible from our earth, to drive mass consumption and economic growth. Unfortunately, the reality is the opposite. Sustainability means that we have to give back more to the earth than we take” Tell us more about your brand. “Cashmere without compromises sums it up. We redesign the production process of cashmere with new and restored values. It’s a more conscious and personal process.” What’s your role… and how did you get there? “As CEO of the company, I have to be a farmer for our Nepalese business and at the same time a fashion specialist for our western business. I bring those two worlds together, always with consideration of our vision and goals.” What’s your career background and when did you start working on creating a positive impact? “I have been in the fashion business for almost my whole career. I worked for private label brands and premium brands like Wolford. After five years, I truly realised there are no limitations for the welfare of our planet and so I joined the sustainable and fair trade brand MYoMY. From there, I moved to So Good To Wear.” What achievement are you most proud of? “Putting the whole chain theory in practice! From our own cashmere goats to our spinnery, natural dying atelier and production in Nepal to our “slow fashion” models in the retail industry. The whole chain is fairtrade, animal friendly and committed to rebuilding the economy in Nepal.”What are you working on at the moment? “We are expanding our retail network internationally and expanding our own cashmere goat herd in Nepal.”What is the biggest challenge on your roadmap of improvements? “The coordination between high demands in the western world and the limitations of the relatively primitive possibilities in Nepal. Some things take more time to realise in Nepal – time we sometimes don’t have.”What’s the best feedback you’ve ever received from customers? “I have never worn a more comfortable piece of clothing than my So Good To Wear sweater – it’s physical and emotional.”What do customers value most about the brand and products? “It’s high “slow” fashion without compromises, made from the finest quality cashmere, fully fairtrade, sustainable and animal friendly”Who inspires you and why? “Stella McCartney – it became a movement of a luxury fashion brand built on sustainability.” What’s the most important aspect you keep in mind when shopping for more sustainable fashion? “I ask: is the brand really concerned about sustainability or is it a form of “greenwashing”?”Do you have a quote you live by? “Without action, we only have words.” What’s a quick change that people could make in terms of being more sustainable? “Actually, that is very easy! Start changing small and easy things in your life because it all helps: take your bike, not your car, don’t let the water run when you brush your teeth, don’t throw away food, put the light out in rooms you're not in, wash only a full machine and use biological soap, throw waste in a bin, not on the street, don’t eat meat every day and many more things that make more difference than you think, in your head and for nature.”
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