2.2 Interview with Morten Lehmann, Summer 2019.
This time the relay is passed on from Troels Børrild (that focused on responsible investments) to Morten Lehmann who works as the Chief Sustainability Officer at Global Fashion Agenda. Yes I know - sustainable fashion sounds like a contradiction. But Global Fashion Agendas mission is to make sustainability fashion's first priority!
In the interview below you'll get an idea of how Morten works with this area and if you are in a hurry, please read the 3 main recommendations (written below the interview) that I have chosen to high light from the interview with Morten. Actions you can apply now.
In terms of just how detrimental the fashion industry can be, Global Fashion Agenda (GFA) puts these facts forward - the fashion industry accounts for 20% of industrial water pollution and 8% of the green house gas emissions globally.
Apart from that fashion is fast and we know that clothes, shoes, accessories etc. uses a lot of resources, creates a lot of carbon, has to consider animal welfare, the supply chain is often far from transparent and it can have inhuman working conditions.
If you take a peek at some of the footage they documented from their annual Copenhagen Fashion Summit in Spring 2019, you'll get around the fashion industries many facets mentioned above and.. all of a sudden your wardrobe will give you quite another perspective then how it makes you look.
One of Morten Lehmann's tasks at GFA is to shape the content for the Copenhagen Fashion Summit - if you have any interest in becoming more sustainable in your knowledge and habits concerning fashion then do yourself a favor and watch the many hours of documentation. And if you wish to watch only one, I suggest you watch "Courageous fashion - the need for radical change".
Prior to working as Chief Sustainability Officer at Global Fashion Agenda, Morten has
- formerly worked for and advised governments, the UN, NGOs and corporations in Asia, Africa and Europe.
- held senior sustainability roles at Maersk, Danish Ethical Trading Initiative, IC Group A/S and others.
- experience in the fashion industry on both a corporate and brand level – developing partnership strategies and flagship programmes, responsible value chain management and CSR communication.
Here are the 3 recommendations on what you can do as an individual to become more sustainable in your thoughts and actions according to Morten Lehmann. If you wish, please sustain-apply!
1) Ask the right questions - like where is this made? What is it made out of? Is this recycled? etc.
Question: With the background you have and all the knowledge you have what would you recommend that I and our audience do today in order to become more sustainable?
In short he said:
My viewpoint will be from the fashion industry. Because there’s a lot we need to do and what we are doing at the global fashion industry is, we are looking for leverage points. How can we move the needle on sustainability? How do we develop the business case? We work with regulators and then what we hope happens is that citizens start asking questions. But that doesn’t happen right now in the fashion industry. Even when we speak to brands we have very few brands where we experience that we, when we go shopping, actually ask questions about sustainability. So that would be my thing to have the audience ask questions when you go shopping. Where is this made? What is it made out of? Because when I worked in the industry, that business case was not there. Even when there was a big scandal out there, we didn’t hear it on the shop floor that customers would go in and ask: “hey what about that?”.
The simple question is: “Do you know where that product is made? Then it’s up to you also. What are you interested in? Is it for you more important about the sustainability part in terms of environmental issues, then you can ask about: “have any harmful chemicals been used? Is this recycled? Can it be a part of closing the loop? If you are more in to the human rights part of it “can you make sure that the workers are payed a good salary? Are the treated well? Or safety and along these lines. But start asking for traceability: “Do you know where this product is made and whether it’s made under good conditions.
2) Go for longevity! In terms of quality, style and circular fashion.
Question: with your knowledge from the two days of talks and showcasing at the Copenhagen Fashion Summit that Global Fashion Agenda set up would you say that sustainable fashion is a contradiction?
In short he said:
Yeah, it is! I think fashion in particular, but any industry that pushes us to buy products that we don’t really need. Of course fashion is probably the worst in terms of pushing new trends etc. You cannot say a product is sustainable unless it’s focused on longevity. That’s not only the quality, the quality will last, but also will that style last?
One of the big problems is that we buy clothes and we use it maybe max, some studies say, after seven times it stays in our closet or we throw it out. So I think longevity in terms of quality, in terms of style and making sure that it’s made in a way where it can be part of a circular fashion system.
It’s still a challenge, but if we can work towards a circular fashion, we can have a better system that can allow for increased production. But we are so far from closing that loop and there will in the future be parts that we can’t close, there will be spills etc. so we need to work on closing the loop, designing products that can be made for being used and taken apart and recycled and selling it more times etc. etc. But we also need to invent brand new materials that can be put into this circle as virgin materials without having a detrimental impact on the environment.
3) Vote for the right governments and companies - regulations and investments are key.
Question: At the summit they talked about virgin materials, can you elaborate on that?
In short he said:
Even recycled polyester, even recycled wool or cotton, you know, that’s still based on us using virgin material. What we are saying is that for virgin materials we need to have the products. For example we have silk or silk like products made out of food waste or we have leather made out of pineapple etc. So we have all these amazing new truly sustainable products that are not only going from cotton to organic cotton, which is less bad, but still bad, it still uses a lot of water. But truly sustainable products that have been designed to be, you know, worn, but they have not gone to scale. So the big challenge is, we have all these drops of, you know, researched small start-ups, that have started out in one collection, that needs to scale and go up and be able to compete with the cotton, with polyester.
Right now the business case is there for them not to work on sustainability in the short term. Not in the long term. Not if they want to exist three, five years ahead of time where consumers will ask the questions, where there will be regulations. But right now, that business case is not there. So we need citizens to ask the questions, we need regulators, we need investors asking these questions.
Finally) Who did Morten Lehmann give the relay to?
The relay (the stuffed polar bear) goes to – Jonas Engberg!
In short he said:
So this amazing guy that I’m handing over this cute little bear to, does it all almost. So this is, Jonas Engberg. He is now working with Care. Heading there innovation and partnerships and he does a lot of this. Of course Care is working on ending poverty and hunger, but they are also creating really cool partnerships with the industry to work in refugee camps, to have more sustainable local societies, to have innovative infrastructure, setting up businesses. Many of these refugee camps, you know, they are not there for only a year. They live on as cities.
Interview by Celeste Elizabeth Arnold and film, sound and editing by Armina Dinescu