The footprint that the fashion industry leaves on the planet is disastrous. It means that our everyday clothing impacts our future to a significant extent.
This is why we decided to interview Marije de Roos, who is the founder of Aest-Ethics, or Æº. Marije and her work are inspiring and a great contribution to our blog ‘Doing Business with an Impact’.
Aest-Ethics primarily addresses SDG 12, responsible consumption and production. However, the company actually covers a much wider range of SDGs, which will be introduced in this article.
Can You Tell Me About Your Business?
Aest-Ethics is a fashion platform that educates the consumer about responsible fashion and strives to bring back the fun to fashion. It is actually part of a bigger model and is integrated with 3 other ventures. This is a unique solution. The purpose of the fashion blog is to educate the consumer on the reasons as well as the need to shift from fast to slow fashion. It explains, e.g. why it is so important to be informed about the origins of the material and the production processes of our clothes. By addressing our consumers, Aest-Ethics aspires to make a positive impact.
The company started with the idea to create an app that, based on the weather, tells you what to wear. This explains the name What.to.Wea(the)r. However, popular commercial brands would no longer work for Marije. ‘I wanted to create a business model that can be related to sustainable clothing and thus recommend consumers what to buy. The clothes should be environmentally friendly, meaning that they are biodegradable and free from hazardous chemicals’.
This concept is hard to find somewhere else. ‘Putting myself in the consumer’s shoes, I realized that we are lacking science-based facts to make informed decisions. Therefore, my team and I do the research, produce content and create hands-on guides and tutorials.’
The third component of Aest-Ethics is the gamification part – a truly rewarding system. By shopping less and shopping ‘good goods’, the consumer will earn points. Thus, the consumer will be incentivized to interact with the Aest-Ethics platform, through which they can earn and validate their points.
Next to being focused on the consumer, Marije also runs her own lifestyle consultancy that targets fashion brands and entrepreneurs, helping them implement an SDG12-conform business model. Together with freelance consultants, she challenges brands’ issues with the implementation of true sustainability into their business model. Helping these brands, creates the opportunity for partnerships between them and Aest-Ethics.
In what way is your product sustainable and why is it important?
First of all, everything is digital. In fact, I practically do not use any resources to produce Aest-Ethics, apart from my laptop. All I need is a computer and the Internet.
Being sustainable today means that you will stay in the business. More than ever, and particularly in the fashion industry, the consumer demands ethical clothing. This is because of the increasing awareness about practices in the fashion industry that are harming a myriad of aspects. And if we want our children and grandchildren to have a future, something clearly needs to change.
This is where accountability comes in. Businesses have to indicate where and how their products have been produced. Who is part of the supply chain and what impact does their product have on the environment are questions they are increasingly pressured to answer. Moreover, authoritative investment funds promote impact investing, showing higher returns on investment in sustainable businesses.
How Is Your Service Connected to the SDGs?
The fashion industry is the second biggest polluter after the oil industry. The reason for this is the large amount of oil used for the production of the materials among its many facets. These so called petrochemicals are used to create synthetic materials, such as polyester, acrylic, nylon, and spandex. Basically, all cheap clothes that are produced of man-made fibers contain petrochemicals.
SDG 12, which aims at ensuring sustainable consumption and production, lies at the core of Aest-Ethics’ strategy. By spreading the word about slow fashion on my platform, I hope, in the long run, to ensure that fashion brands produce in an ethical and sustainable way. In my opinion, being ethical towards the resources used in the supply chain (both material and human), is the most critical component to lead the change.
I have in particular worked with target 12.8, which addresses the consumer’s right to be informed about sustainable development issues. This is an area that is almost untouched by the fashion industry. My theory is that the reason for the lack of information is the power of businesses that do not operate sustainably. More conscious consumers would have an effect on these companies and push for more sustainable practices. After all, the consumer can truly vote with their dollar. Or kroner.
Another SDG that I touch upon is SDG 8, which addresses the working conditions. The supply chain in the fashion industry involves everyone from manually sourcing fibers of for example the cotton fields in India, to the workers that spin, dye, weave textile and so on. It is a long process to make a garment and we cannot easily document the amount of hands that touch it before it ends up with the consumer.
People are paid extremely low wages, while working under alarmingly unhealthy conditions. Exploitation has always been an issue in this industry and unfortunately it continues to exist even though we are living in the 21st century. This zero-sum game has great potential of being challenged and changed into a win-win game. It takes a global network to do this though.
The environmental impact is equally important. Water and marine pollution (targeted by SDG 6 and 14 respectively) are amongst the next biggest issues involved. For example, the production of a single pair of jeans requires 7,600 liters of water. This does not only impact the general accessibility of water, but most importantly, it affects the availability of clean and safe water, as the washing releases hazardous chemicals that come from pesticides in the cotton crop as well as from the dyeing and washing processes. Further, as the textile often is a blend with polyester, microfibers are released into the water at every wash.
SDG 13 ‘Climate action’ is another relevant topic. In fact, the textile production generates more greenhouse gas emissions than international flights or maritime shipping. This clearly makes the fashion industry one of the main industries responsible for the climate change.
Even SDG 15 ‘Life on land’ is touched by my business model. Across the globe, cotton production severely degrades soil quality. To combat this, Aest-Ethics actively seeks material sourcing practices that implement resource restoration and reforestation.
The goals covering the social dimension are Gender equality (SDG 5), No poverty (SDG 1), Decent work and economic growth (SDG 8), Good health and well-being (SDG 3) and Sustainable cities and communities (SDG 11). As Kate Raworth writes in her book Doughnut Economics, we should meet the needs of all, within the means of the planet.
The hazardous chemicals are not just harmful to the people involved in the production, but also to the people selling them and the people wearing them. We always think about what type of food we eat but we are less considerate when it comes to what clothes we wear. This is a problem, as our skin is a sensitive part of our body, i.e. the largest organ. It is therefore essential to be aware and understand that whatever we dress ourselves with, has a direct affect on our body’s ecosystem.
Another issue is waste from disposed clothes. Even though they are still in a good condition, we tend to donate or throw clothes away because the trends are out of season. This is problematic, because donations often end up in developing, African countries, where local distributors continue to sell them. However, as the locals are often not interested in spending their money on this, these often become waste. An ironic cultural perspective from India here is that people that deal with these disposed clothes imagine people in the west having no means to wash their clothes.
We take waste management very seriously. In fact, there are companies that have created special technology that separates the fibers from your discarded clothes, spins new yarns out of these and thus brings back the raw material into a production process for new garments, using recycled fibers.
What are your next steps to make your company greener? And do you have any tips for other companies that want to work with sustainability?
My business philosophy is that you have to practice what you preach, meaning practice being sustainable yourself when running a sustainable business. I strive to follow a moral compass, but often choose the metro over biking and am far from perfect. But I am learning and trying to make my lifestyle sustainable every day. It is a transitioning process I believe everyone can do. It requires education and discipline, that’s the secret recipe in my opinion. With spring being around the corner, I will soon get my bike out of the basement.
Do the right thing. As a CEO I believe that you just have to listen to your gut feeling, because it is your second brain. In my opinion, the core reason for the fashion industry having turned evil is that profit has been put first before the planet and people. I believe that you generate profit by putting the planet and people first. A vision for the future combined with patience is what I recommend CEOs to implement.
This strategy is even validated by investors. As I mentioned earlier, BlackRock coined a similar strategy for investors ‘impact investing’ and their annual reports show enormous returns of responsible businesses.
Now is the time to take action. We have done enough talking, but now we need to roll up our sleeves, get up on our feet, and make our moves into the right direction. In a nutshell, if you want to be in business for the long run, you need to become sustainable and simply do the right thing. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.