The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)are in fashion; and Fashion is increasingly a key player in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. Every year, 80 billion pieces of new clothing are purchased globally while production and consumption of fashion is so firmly entrenched in contemporary culture as a signifier of status and identity that, from 2000 to 2014 alone, the global fashion industry expanded by 60%. However, from production to consumption, the global fashion industry is one of the most resource intensive and wasteful business sectors around. In fact, according to the United Nations, the fashion industry contributes more to climate change than all international flights and maritime shipping combined, generating 20% of wastewater and 10% of carbon emissions globally.
Against that backdrop, the fashion industry’s heavy reliance on female workers in the global south greatly impacts gender and social equity standards. A 2019 Oxfam report found that 0% of Bangladeshi garment workers and 1% of Vietnamese garment workers earned a living wage.
The need for a reinvention of the fashion and textile industries as the world charges towards its 2030 climate and sustainability goals has never been more evident. In fact, what is required is a new fashion philosophy built around the SDGs. But, how do we create this philosophy? And who should be the drivers?
Enter Danish fashion brand Baum und Pferdgarten and its two creative directors and founders, Rikke Baumgarten and Helle Hestehave. Together, Baumgarten and Hestehave explain why working strategically alongside the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals has helped the brand sharpen its vision towards a greener future and create a platform from which other brands in the fashion industry can learn more about sustainable supply chains and transparency around sustainability targets.
Denmark in New York: Tell us first about the story behind Baum und Pferdgarten and how your Danish heritage has helped shape the brand and its vision?
Rikke Baumgarten & Helle Hestehave: We founded the company 21 years ago on January 1st as we graduated from the Royal Danish Design School. We had already been working together every time we had the chance during our studies and realized how well we complement each other and how easily the creative partnership was for the two of us.
We entered the industry with an uncompromising attitude that we wanted to make beautiful clothes and be successful. Over the years, we’ve had our ups and downs — but luckily, we are in a good place where our collections are retailed with some of the best independents and department stores worldwide.
We often experience how Danes are groomed and educated about quality design from a very young age — and in many ways it’s really a huge part of Danish heritage that so many people understand and appreciate design, craftsmanship and durable manufacturing. At the end of the day, this understanding of quality and durability is the best foundation for sustainability.
You want to create reliability and honesty in your brand and with your customers. How can both consumers and the fashion industry take ownership in spearheading a more sustainable future for all?
Rikke Baumgarten & Helle Hestehave: For the consumers it’s really a matter of accepting the fact that good and durable quality is more expensive than the alternative — on the other hand they’ll get a quality product that lasts much longer and is way better for the environment.
For the industry, it is a completely different matter and we all have to approach this task with great dedication. We need to be strategic and ambitious. The best starting point is to desiccate your own product and supply chain and get as much of an overview as possible. Once you know the status quo you can set specific goals and start maneuvering towards them.
You say you have a vision to encourage industry-wide transparency. What do you mean by that and how are you showing transparency?
Rikke Baumgarten & Helle Hestehave: From our point of view it is completely OK to make mistakes and not be able to meet your own targets — as long as you set targets (both realistic and ambitious) and strive to reaching them. Obviously, we all need to acknowledge and communicate openly about the problems of the current status quo as well as our endeavors to change things. On the other hand it should also be OK to say “we didn’t reach our target as planned — but we’ll keep trying” as long as we move in the right direction with the right intentions.
In our company specifically, we have our CSR strategy accessible for everyone to see in the top menu on our website — and additionally, we publish an annual report following up on our commitments. At the same time we try to answer questions like these as honestly and openly as we possibly can — also if it sometimes means acknowledging that we didn’t nail it in our first try.
What are some of the challenges that you have experienced in making your company more sustainable and what are some of the lessons-learned that you would share with other fashion brands eager to follow in your footsteps?
Rikke Baumgarten & Helle Hestehave: It’s all about knowledge and information! Therefore, we teamed up with an extremely competent consultancy when we decided to work with these issues on a strategic level. Together with our CSR Manager they made a thorough analysis of the entire supply chain with some recommendations of where to make changes and how. In this manner we knew exactly where we were already “best in class” and where we could easily improve.
For any company that wants to make a positive change, it’s really just a matter of getting started. You can work with sustainability on so many levels and the possibilities are endless — some things are super easy and some are much more complex and will take longer time.
The biggest challenge on a personal level as designers is the fact that we sometimes have to compromise on aesthetics if we want to make a sustainable choice. Sometimes the more environmentally friendly option simply doesn’t have the same drapyness or handfeel — and then it becomes a matter of priority.
Baum und Pferdgarten is working a lot with the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals and you have chosen four goals to work with in particular: Goal 6 on clean water and sanitation, Goal 10 on reduced inequalities, Goal 12 on responsible consumption and production and finally Goal 15 on Life on Land. What made you work with the SDGs in the first place and what prompted you to choose these four in particular?
Rikke Baumgarten & Helle Hestehave: It makes sense to join a global agenda and work with global criteria for success. It this manner it also becomes possibly to communicate with transparency to a wider audience. We are actually working on most of the SDGs outlined by the UN — but our consultancy expert advised us to also focus on some and make sure that we make real substantial progress here.
Emilie Haaber Lynggaard is the Strategic Communications and Press Intern for Denmark In New York.