If you follow me on Instagram, you’ll have noticed that I went to Berlin a few weeks ago, and you may be wondering why. Well, the reason I headed to Germany in the middle of winter was due to the fact that I was invited by Vepsi (an agency for ethical brands and influencers all over the world) to attend NEONYT, a global hub for sustainable fashion. It’s an event that encompasses multiple elements including a trade show, conference, blogger talks and showcases, all of which are centred around sustainability and innovation. Today I want to tell you a little more about experience attending.
I came to NEONYT without any expectations, as I had no idea how the event would be in real life. I knew that I would be speaking on two panels, but I didn’t know how the event would be curated, or what it would be like when I arrived. But, pretty quickly, I was excited by what I saw around me.
NEONYT literally translates to ‘new new’, emphasising its focus on innovation and problem solving, something which was immediately evident when I got there. The event was housed in Kraftwerk, a building that started life as a power plant in the 1960s supplying heat to Berlin. After closing in the 90s it lay abandoned until 2006, when it was repurposed to a venue, exhibition, art and music space. As someone who loves learning about architecture and sustainable cities, I found this fascinating! When architects think about sustainable design there are so many elements to consider: embodied carbon in the materials which are chosen, the distance which materials have to be transported, the sustainability of those materials, and designing for good access to daylight to minimise the need for artificial light, to name a few. How a building is designed can play a huge part in how we think about the world around us, and how we connect to ideas of sustainability.
Choosing Kraftwerk perfectly set the tone for the innovations and ideas I’d see across the week; both in all the elements that have to be considered in order to make something sustainable and in the way that there are already so many perfect resources at our disposal just waiting to be repurposed for use. Just as the building sat abandoned until someone realised it was a perfect space, there are so many waste materials, by-products and natural resources that can provide the answers we’ve been looking for. We’ve truly only scratched the surface when it comes to finding creative ways to solve these problems, and NEONYT is a great place to find forward thinkers who are looking for more solutions.
Beyond speaking on two panels that discussed the way influencers can act as agents for change and promoters of the sustainable development goals, I also spent time considering what would be best to share with my audience when I returned home. It’s hard to condense three days of experiences into one blog post, and I’m not really the kind to blog things diary style. So, on the last day at NEONYT, I took some time alone to wander the entire space. Not just the trade fair on the bottom floor, but also the innovation technologies a few floors up. I stopped to talk to people in greater depth, learning about the ways their ideas and inventions worked. I talked to a lot of people, some of whom I already know and love (looking at you Swedish Stockings), and left with a lot of things to think about.
Ultimately I decided that what was special about NEONYT for me was that I left excited. So often in this industry, sitting alone in my flat typing away, it can feel hopeless. After all, the news covers negative events far more than positive change. But coming to an event like NEONYT took a whole range of solutions that people are working on every day, and put them right in front of my face. It was a reminder not just that the technology is out there, but that the people who care are too. And they’re working at this. So, in the end, I decided that what I’d like to do is share some of the innovations I came across that I liked the most. Things that made me feel excited, hopeful, or just found fascinating. Here are my top picks:
NEONYT’s theme for 2019 is water, so this seems an apt place to start. The textile industry is incredibly polluting across multiple avenues, but it has been estimated that up to 20% of industrial water pollution comes solely from textile dyeing and finishing, which is wild.
We aRe SpinDye were one of the first solutions I came across, and I have to say I’m a fan. They offer a fully certified and transparent alternative dyeing solution to replace traditional water dyeing methods. Using a scientific and precise colour system they integrate the exact colour into recycled polyester yarn before spinning, eliminating the need to dye fabrics with water and chemicals. By mixing in colour from the very beginning of the process the fabrics are more durable and the colour lasts better than traditional textiles, alongside the following benefits:
- 75% less water consumption during the entire colouring process
- 90% less chemical consumption
- Significantly improved energy consumption (30-40%)
- CO2 imprint reduced by 30%
- Uncomplicated set up of closed-loop system with recycled and recyclable polyester
Learn more on how it works here
Knk Kanaka, a GOTS certified denim laundry and dye house, are another organisation who’ve turned their attention to water. Their services include washing and dyeing of fabrics like cotton, denim, linen and tencel, which are generally very chemical and water intensive processes, as well as additional services like finishing, ironing, packing and labelling.
I found them particularly exciting because of their use of technologies such as laser and ozone for dyeing and treating denim. This technology saves energy by 62%, water by 67% and chemical products by 85%. Additionally it saves 55% of the time used in jeans finishing. We manufacture a lot of jeans globally, and to make one pair of jeans usually requires 7o litres of water, 1kw/h power and 150 grams of chemicals. If everyone in the denim industry adopted the laser technology that organisations like Knk Kanaka utilise then the water saved would be equivalent to two years of human water consumption in Paris!
Since launching in 2007 nat-2™ have become pioneers in sustainable footwear. They’re motivated not just to use sustainable techniques because it’s the right thing to do, but because it offers more design opportunities to create something new.
Some of the unique designs they have created so far include materials like certified sustainable wood, real stone, natural rubber, vegetable tanned leathers, and grass. They also utilise multiple resources that would have gone to waste, transforming them into materials for shoes instead, such as coffee grounds, corn, non-food milk (did you know that in Germany alone 2 million tonnes of milk gets wasted?), PET bottles, glass, wine corks, beans and plants, and leather leftovers. All of their pieces are handmade and ethically produced by a small Italian family manufacturer, all of their packaging is recycled and certified sustainable, and their unisex designs are specifically created to produce ultra-long-lasting shoes which are timeless.
Two of my favourite products of theirs include their vegan-friendly coffee sneakers and their hayfield sneakers. The first are made from recycled coffee, coffee beans and coffee plants collected from local cafes. This coffee waste is then transformed into a material, which still retains a slight coffee scent. The second is made with recycled hay, grass and flowers from Austrian and Bavarian meadow hay fields. Both become beautiful, durable and truly unique shoes instead.
Buki Akomolafe is a Berlin-based label founded in 2016, and named for its founder. Having spent her early childhood with her father in Nigeria, who manages agricultural projects, Buki was able to understand the necessity of consciously using resources, which led to the creation of a sustainable, high-end clothing line.
Buki’s mix of German and Nigerian heritage merges a background of tradition, handcraft, design and keen aesthetics to balance European tailoring and traditional techniques of West Africa. Each piece has a hint of androgyny and utilises eco-friendly materials, such as organic cotton and hemp silk, while each collection is small scale and carefully handcrafted in Berlin. Alongside the basic range, Buki Akomolafe specialises in the creation of unique, limited edition quilt pieces that are also reversible.
Mamita Botanical are a Barcelona based company who lovingly create organic products that aim to nourish the skin, achieve a balance between our internal and external selves, and reconnect people to the earth. Their products are made predominantly with wild ingredients that are foraged from Collserola National Park, Spain, or Latin America. They support local producers, use seasonal ingredients, and handcraft everything in small batches with care and attention, far away from factories and mass production. They use high-quality essential oils for aroma, and cold pressed vegetable oils for their final mixes. My favourite product is their cleansing powder, which lasts longer as it has no water in its recipe.
Established in 2016, Organic Socks of Sweden produce ethically made, non-toxic, high-quality socks which are manufactured in India to GOTS standards (not only is the cotton organic, the whole supply chain from growth to finish is GOTS certified). The company was started by Mudassar Anwaar, who grew up in industrial Faisalabad, Pakistan, and was fascinated by the many textile factories in the area. After studying textile engineering and becoming a product engineer for one of the world’s largest sock manufacturers, Mudassar travelled to Borås, Sweden, for a Masters in Textile Value Chain Management. It was here that he was inspired to start his own, more sustainable option.
Their designs are playful, colourful and unique, but Organic Socks of Sweden also donate 1% of sales towards the empowerment of poor families and girl’s education in rural Pakistan. Being from the area, Mudassar has on-the-ground knowledge of who is in need and what they require, making their give back method much more direct and effective.
This small selection barely scratch the surface of everything that was at NEONYT. There are countless individuals working to change our industries for better, to find solutions, and to pioneer sustainable businesses. There’s something for everyone, and solutions galore if you know where to look. So be encouraged, I know I was.