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?
Denmark in New York caught up with Mads Mørup, CEO and Founder of Danish fashion brand KnowledgeCotton Apparel to discuss the fashion world’s sustainable future and how his company is working to make a difference.
Denmark in New York: Tell us about the story behind KnowledgeCotton Apparel and how your Scandinavian heritage has helped shape the brand and its vision?
Mads Mørup: We were born out of the refreshing 1969 spirit that we can actually come together and make a difference. 51 years ago my father attempted to revolutionize the textile industry by acknowledging a responsibility for the environment, farmers and factory workers — hopelessly ahead of his time.
That belief of coming together trying to change the world. And the idea of being part of a movement trying to create a better tomorrow was my main inspiration when I decided to launch KnowledgeCotton Apparel in 2008.
As a company we’re shaped by the proximity to nature and Scandinavian ideals of equality, justice and respect. We carry with us an understanding of the need of economic and ecological balance. Today we’re still very inspired by our legacy, and we find inspiration in the search for solutions to the global environmental challenges facing us all.
You say that we all have a shared responsibility for the future of this planet. How can both consumers and the fashion industry take ownership in spearheading a more sustainable future for all?
Mads Mørup: First, and most importantly, the fashion industry needs to start to embrace change. It is after all the second most polluting industry out there, and the industry needs to come to an understanding about the impact it has on our Earth and what it is destroying for our future generations. Simple as that.
You need to accept the fact that you’re operating in an industry that knows very little about sustainability, or even worse — that ignores sustainability in favor of profits.
Today, overproduction pushes overconsumption. But as consumers we of course have the possibility, and the responsibility, to vote for the kind of world we want by the way we spend our money. Consumption is a good tool for expressing our beliefs — to support sustainable companies, and to boycott companies that are not willing to make sacrifices for a better tomorrow.
It is important for everybody to understand is that fashion can and must be sustainable.
Your business model is built on a purpose and the belief that you have the power to make a difference in the world. Explain to us what steps KnowledgeCotton Apparel has adopted in order to build a sustainable future?
Mads Mørup: As a clothing company we cannot change the world alone. But we’re determined to be a game changer in our own business. Our attitude has always been that we can do better today than we did yesterday.
We’re a global company that acts globally. Sustainability, after all, is a global approach. That is why we work with partners around the world with whom we have long-term relationships. Partners who have the same sustainable mindset and values as we do and who are willing to go the extra mile for a better world.
It is important to us that we build long-term relationships with all our suppliers. We regard them as partners and it is very much the people behind our supply chain that makes the difference. We believe that by building a trustworthy relationship, we can go further together.
We place high demands on our partners in terms of fair working conditions, organically approved fabrics, use of chemicals, and traceable processes. Therefore, we choose our collaborations very carefully based on who we consider the most qualified to work with.
Working with certifications has always been a big part of our traceability and integrity strategy. To us, it is a matter of credibility. Having the right certificates shows that we are a company that is serious about sustainability and determined to make a difference.
Our certifications give the customers reassurance that the product they buy, in fact, has been certified and inspected by a third party. This gives a guarantee that the raw fiber input, the production process, the chemicals used and the people involved are all handled in the best possible way and that they meet the world’s leading standards for integrity and transparency
Since 2019, we’re a certified carbon neutral company. Our objective for 2025 is to become 100% carbon neutral throughout our entire supply and distribution chain.
Our latest project that we just started up is the next generation of organic cotton. We’re immensely proud and excited to be able to launch this in our coming collections.
Describe some of the challenges that you have experienced in making your company fully sustainable and what are some of the lessons-learned that you would share with other fashion brands eager to follow in your footsteps?
Mads Mørup: It was never easy for us to find partners that had the same mindset. It’s still not easy. But when we do, we create something that is unique. A feeling of being in this together.
We place high demands on our partners in terms of fair working conditions, organically approved fabrics, use of chemicals, and traceable processes. Therefore, we choose our collaborations very carefully based on who we consider the most qualified to work with. So, patience is a challenge since we need our process to take time.
To run a sustainable business you need to accept sacrifices. Since we always put sustainability in the front seat, we also need to accept that there are product ranges that we can’t do. There are commercial trends that we can’t follow. And you need to accept the fact that you’re operating in an industry that knows very little about sustainability, or even worse — that ignores sustainability in favor of profits.
Innovation seems to be a cornerstone of your brand. What kind of impact do you hope to make in the fashion industry and on a broader scale?
Mads Mørup: We are determined to challenge the old conventions in the fashion industry, and to bring a new attitude that stands in stark contrast to the rigid ideas of the past. We want to be the good example that proves it is possible to be successful in business, having a business platform based on sustainability as the core.
We want to inspire our customers and consumers to make better and more informed choices that eventually will force the fashion industry to change.
Emilie Haaber Lynggaard is the Strategic Communications and Press Intern for Denmark In New York.