Today’s post is written by Marilyn Waite; we initially connected on twitter and, as I always love letting other voices be heard on this platform and Marilyn’s voice is one of an incredibly educated, articulate expert, when she offered to write the following post for my readers I was in immediately. Marilyn’s vision is a world where social cohesion, environmental consciousness, intergenerational equity, and economic health drive business practices. She’s the author of Sustainability at Work, leads the energy practice at Village Capital, founded SustainableVisit and serves on two non-profit boards. You can follow Marilyn on Twitter @WaiteMarilyn and learn more about her at on her website. She’s a pretty amazing woman!
Below are her words…
Clothing is more than just pieces of fiber, spun and shaped to fit the human body. Textiles, clothing and fashion tell a story about the era in which we live, our surrounding climate, our activities within society, and our individual personality.
But what about the sustainability narrative of what we wear? How does environmental and social conscious become translated in a fast-fashion industry?
In many cases, luxury is being redefined as the ultimate sustainability. Numerous textile and fashion luxury brands take pride in long-lasting, high-quality products. Contrary to fast-fashion, where obsolescence is designed into a product at the design stage and where a throwaway culture is reinforced, slow-fashion implies a focus on forever.
But not all luxury brands have adopted eco-conscious practices. Some are afraid of being accused of greenwashing, while others may encounter difficulties when trying to implement sustainability throughout the supply chain.
The SURF Framework is here to help.
SURF stands for (1) vertical and horizontal Supply chain considerations that address sustainability criteria; (2) end-User considerations that address sustainability criteria; (3) positive and mutually fruitful Relations with employees, clients, colleagues, the surrounding community, and society at large; and (4) Future-orientations with special emphasis on future generations and intergenerational equity
One sustainable luxury designer, Johanna Riplinger, has completed a sustainability audit of her design and products using the SURF Framework. Here’s how:
The supply chain of the Johanna Riplinger label is based on a philosophy: what goes on our skin should protect our health and our welfare. As Johanna Riplinger put it, “We have to really think about what is next to our skin. The skin is our largest organ and it absorbs what we place against it. I make clothing for the skin. And clothing for the skin has to be healthy for the skin.” The sustainable attributes of Johanna Riplinger’s supply chain include organic natural fibers (cotton, wool, linen, etc.), energy and water efficient operations, zero-waste production, biodegradability, plant-based dyes, fair wages, sustainability certifications, and limited transportation.
The organic cotton is produced without pesticides or fertilizers in India, while organic wool is sourced from Italy to limit transportation. One of the most innovative green attributes of Johanna Riplinger’s supply chain are the herbal dyes. A number of natural sources, from the outer skin of an onion to the leaves of the Indigofera plant, are used as dyes to create beautiful luxury products. Although the dyes used are plant-based, water is still colored through the process and must be adequately dealt with. Johanna Riplinger production uses a closed-loop, zero-waste process. Enzymes and filters are used to divide solid and liquid waste. The solid “waste” is used as high-grade bio-fertilizer. The liquid “waste” is used to water plants (the water that comes out of the treatment process is cleaner than the original water extracted from the municipal source). In the end, a very industrious process is used to extract the full benefits from the original plants.
Most of Johanna’s clients are based in Western Europe. She therefore makes an effort to bulk ship the cotton products from India by boat (which emits less carbon than air transportation). Otherwise, the supply chain is centered within European countries to reduce both transportation costs and the associated carbon emissions.
Like many sustainability issues, what constitutes a sustainable fiber is not always cut and dry. One such example is silk. “Vegetarians sometimes tell me that they cannot buy silk because of animal rights” Johanna Riplinger reflected.
Johanna Riplinger then introduced me to the world of the silkworm, the larva of the silk moth Bombyx mori. The worm begins life as a small larva, eats the leaves of a mulberry tree, and once finished eating, creates a cocoon around itself. After the cocooning period, the silkworm develops into a moth and flies out of the cocoon.
But that’s a silk worm’s life without humans extracting its beautiful cocoon fibers to make textiles…
With current know-how, the only way to extract long fibers of silk that create a smooth end-product is by dropping the cocoon in boiling water. This kills the silkworm. And this is why some animal rights activists and vegetarians are against silk. However, silk can be made that permits the silk worm to fly out of the cocoon as a moth; but when this occurs, holes are left in the cocoon, which engenders short silk fibers. “The problem with silk sustainability is that silk that keeps the animal alive costs more to produce but the consumer THINKS the quality is less,” Johanna Riplinger sighed. Johanna Riplinger’s silk is currently imported from China, but she is in advanced discussions with a German supplier to limit transportation.
Textual Silk Differences
Silk worm remains alive (left) versus silk worm is placed into boiling water (right)(Photo Taken by Marilyn Waite)
There are a few other supply chain issues that Johanna would like to improve upon. Sometimes Johanna Riplinger incorporates elastane (also known as Spandex or Lycra), a petrol-based synthetic fiber, to add comfort to the garment. But it is very difficult to recycle elastane. Johanna is exploring recycling and recycled-fabric options that are not energy-intensive. The marigolds used as natural dyes are not always grown organically, so this is another area for improvement within the supply chain.
Johanna sources from sustainability certified producers, including those that use the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS).
Most textile impacts on the environment occur during the user stage, during washing, drying, and wear and tear. With Johanna Riplinger’s label, the user is told to use either eco-friendly dry cleaning or plant-based mild detergents at 30 degrees Celsius.
How can the user avoid using harmful chemicals to remove stains? One solution is to use natural clay, montmorillonite, which absorbs anything that is greasy and does not harm the environment when in the waste stream.
Johanna Riplinger plans to implement four options for her customers, (1) a return program similar to the policy for Apple products (customer returns item and receives a gift voucher to help purchase a new item); (2) a DIY program whereby the customer is given solutions to transform the product themselves; (3) a leasing program for specialty items such as special occasion dresses; and (4) providing care information on the website and within the packaging.
“The customer is over-solicited today. We cannot expect the consumer to know everything,” Johanna Riplinger explained. For her, designers carry more responsibility than the consumer and the consumer should just be able to say, “I like the style.” Johanna Riplinger wants the user to feel amazing.
Johanna Riplinger maintains close and mutually beneficial relationships with her stakeholders, which include customers, investors, workers at each step of the value chain, and the community in India responsible for the product. From raw product to final product, Johanna Riplinger works with a select group of women in rural India. Creating garlands from marigold flowers to serve as spiritual offerings is a part of the culture in the communities where Johanna Riplinger works. The marigolds are not only visually stunning; they also possess tinctorial capabilities. Once the plucked leaves are dried, they can be applied on the fabric by hand.
Johanna Riplinger does not use colors, or natural dyes, that are edible, as this may create unsustainable competition with food products. For example, she may use the avocado shell for natural dyes, while the avocado inside would be used for eating.
Johanna Riplinger found the SURF Framework’s emphasis on future generations and intergenerational considerations appealing. For example, the silkworm dilemma previously raised is a problem that Johanna Riplinger is convinced can be solved in the future. “There must be a way to extract a long fiber from the cocoon without the silkworm dying,” Johanna insists. “With this collection, people are brought to understand quality, and the connection between our bodies and nature,” Johanna explained.
The SURF Framework enabled Johanna Riplinger to really delve into long-term thinking. Johanna Riplinger has recently branched out into selling fabrics. This enables her to have a wider, positive environmental footprint. This would ensure more and more people are using natural dyes. Johanna Riplinger is deeply attached to the importance of beauty for sustainability. “If you have something beautiful, you take care of it,” is Johanna Riplinger’s motto.
Johanna Riplinger’s brand is focused on women’s clothing and accessories. The long-term plan would be to accompany women through the different stages of womanhood—to allow women to fully embrace the different stages, from infancy, through teenage years to elderly years, with green luxury products. Green luxury is for those who want the following against their skin: beauty, quality, and sustainability.
Johanna Riplinger seeks to create the wardrobe that lasts—that is timeless. And that is true sustainability.
Until next time, stay magic y’all.