The triple bottom line and the textile conundrum

Can social responsibility be a drive for growth and profit?

That was the question that sparked the collaborative design initiative Trippel. Triple, as in the triple bottom line: people, planet, profit. Starting up in 2014, each season takes on different complex social issues, challenging the private sector, public sector and NGOs alike to collaborate and think creatively towards creating positive change.

This time round, the focus was on the textile industry. The brief was presented at the kick-off event Framtanker at the Norwegian Centre for Design and Architecture last autumn, and it was as simple as it was hard:

How can we create a more sustainable textile industry? Starting now.

Sustainability made doable

Last week, some of the projects that came out of the collaborative initiative were presented at the seminar Trippel Tekstilfloken.

Moods of Norway and Evolve by Oda Midtlyng Kempe (one of the founders of the clothes label Sølv) presented a pre-sales business model to make production with Norwegian wool both a financially viable and engaging option for customers.

Filippa K emphasised the importance of a well-curated, high-quality wardrobe and presented their model for leasing clothes. They envisioned a sustainability focused clothes hall where sustainable production, repair, reuse and recycle initiatives could come together.

Helly Hansen suggested a subscription for kindergarten kids’ outdoor clothing to reduce unnecessary single-item washing and make everyday life a little easier for busy parents.

The Varner group and Dressmann presented a subscription based underwear package for men, with the aim of increasing the recycling rate of worn and torn textiles while building consciousness in a customer segment less focused sustainability concerns.

Mud Jeans showed how sustainability and circular economy is integrated through their whole business model. They offer jeans for lease and send the jeans to customers in the reusable packaging RePack. They collect and recycle old jeans, use recycled and sustainably grown cotton in their new jeans and ensure transparency and fair working conditions throughout their production.

Cool stuff. However, what especially struck me was this:

Why is the good an alternative and not the default?

"Why is it," asked Mike Dongelmans of Mud Jeans, "that conventionally grown food is just called 'food' while organic food always has this additional tag 'organic'. Shouldn’t it be the other way round? After all, it’s the conventionally grown food, not organic food, that is added chemicals."

"And shouldn’t it be the same with clothing? What if fair and sustainably produced clothing were just called 'clothing' and the rest were called 'unfair clothing' or 'unethical clothing'?"

Fair point. Sustainability shouldn’t be the optional alternative, but the default.

The Oslo Manifesto

As an interesting upshot from the Trippel initiative, the Norwegian Centre for Design and Architecture has become a driving force for change. They embraced the challenge and took upon themselves the job of transforming the 17 visionary UN Sustainable Development Goals into the ultimate design brief.

The Oslo Manifesto urges designers and architects to play their role in creating a more sustainable future by seriously considering how the sustainability goals are incorporated in every project they do:

“The designers, architects, and creative professionals of the world have been handed a special and enormous responsibility, given to them by the 193 heads of state. They must imagine and bring to life the design elements of a new, sustainable world — quickly.”


Honest and humble

Øystein Hagen, designer at Æra and one of the initiators behind the Trippel concept, summed up this season’s textile challenge saying: It’s hard. These are extremely intricate and complex issues. And people are afraid of speaking up about the good they are doing for fear of being shot down for what they’re not.

So, we need to work together. It’s a work in progress and it won’t be perfect right from the start.

I think back to what Vincent Stanley of Pategonia said at the kick-off event: Let's be careful in our claims. Yes, talk about the successes and efforts towards sustainability, but also be honest about what remains to be figured out.

Onwards, then!