KappAhl starts off with its first sustainable collection in 1993. At that time such action is not as popular as nowadays. Could you please give us some details on how it came about?
KappAhl has since long regarded sustainability as a great value and it has always been a priority for the company to address the customers’ needs. I think, at that time, it was natural to come up with that idea as we constantly think of how we can do better environmentally - even back in the 90-ties. By developing an organic collection during that time, we also got the opportunity to, at an early stage, look into - the whole production process in terms of the environment.
KappAhl - sustainability strategy is based on issues such as water, electricity and energy reduction. How do you put these ideas into practise?
There are numerous activities of KappAhl’s that aim at minimalizing negative impact on the environment. Our sustainability concept and strategy covers everything that is important for us. It is called Future Friendly Fashion and gathers all of our actions regarding the environmental issues, social issues as well as the long term economic sustainability. One of our focus areas is the women and children issue. It is essential for us to provide support for women and children in need, e.g. in Bangladesh and India where we conduct our activities, but also here in Poland and Sweden where we support the children’s rights. There are 9 focus areas in our strategy some of which are the- climate issues, supply relations, women and children, achieving sustainable resource use, etc. and we have decided on 60+ actions actually to put this into practice.
-KappAhl participates in many social projects such as improving working conditions of the factory workers, training women in Bangladesh and India, preventing child labour and supporting children in need (e.g. through the Nobody’s Children Foundation in Poland) to name a few. What are the benefits of these investments for the company?
I would say investing is a prerequisite for doing any business. What we do is investing in our future. There are lots of benefits of such approach in both financial and non-financial aspect, such as our customers respect and appreciation, the possibility of delivering the highest quality and standards as a result of long-term, stable supply relations as well as our co-workers commitment and pride.
-Future Friendly Fashion is the policy established in 2012 in which you sum up all your initiatives. Where does such name come from? Can fashion be really future friendly in your opinion?
I am still kind of impressed when I look at KappAhl. While others just claim to reduce their impact on the environment and follow specific rules and regulations - we turn it around and have an active approach which means that we want the fashion to contribute to sustainable development, e.g. by assuring that factories clean the water and reuse it in the process of production, which means that we can actually have a positive impact on the environment in our production countries. I deeply believe we can contribute something positive to the world and have a positive impact through our actions and attitude. I deeply believe that consumption and fashion industry do not necessarily have to pose a threat to the nature.
The idea of sustainable fashion has its opponents who claim it is just another excuse for consumption. How would you reply to it?
I wouldn’t say it’s an excuse. I would rather say it is a means to create sustainable consumption and sustainable business. What I observe is that KappAhl and other big fashion retailers aim at expanding their sustainability in the entire business. It is not by any means a conceptual activity or side issue to cover for any unsustainable way of working – it is exactly the opposite. Another thing is that we feel one can never reach a point where there is nothing left to be done to improve sustainability. So we believe we should always be open to third party as well as to discussion. It is actually motivating to have critics in a way it raises questions and results in discussion which is always beneficial. Sustainability is something that has been misused by some companies, whereas it is all about transparency and trust.
-Do you find the customers ready for sustainable fashion?
Fortunately, there is a tendency to consume with sustainability in mind. We see that a growing number of people are ready for sustainable fashion - and e.g. Swedish consumers are willing to pay a little more for let’s say organic food, organic fabrics. Not much more, but they can actually stretch. I think that our challenge in the coming years is to maintain a democratic price setting that we've come to have. We want many people to afford the quality of sustainable products, not to make it luxury goods. So even though we observe that many can spend a little more we would aim at offering sustainable products on a reasonable price level.
-You have a lot of initiatives planned for 2015 concerning sustainable development such as recycling discarded textiles. Our clients are willing to participate in such actions. Are they offered any incentives?
Yes, we’ve just recently started off with the textile collecting in our Swedish stores. This is something we wanted to do because the end of life phase of the production cycle of garment is really important when it comes to climate, chemicals or the waste issue and it is prior for us to take responsibility for that. To be honest we were not sure of the customers’ reaction to such initiative but we were bound to start and the great thing is that it is going splendidly in Sweden. As a result the stores are satisfied and the customers are really motivated to clean out their closets and bring everything they don’t use so we could give it actually a longer life. Research shows that it’s the same problem in all of our sales markets: consumers tend to throw away the textile waste in the trash bin so it is incinerated or even worse, put on landfill, whereas it could be reused or recycled. It think the same situation is in Poland.
-You cooperate with many celebrities in your ad campaigns such as Dustin Hoffmann, model Signe Nordstrom, Richard Gere, Goldie Hawn and now Mary McCartney. How would you justify who appears in an advertisement?
People who we choose to cooperate with have to have some contribution to fashion although they don’t necessarily have to be designers. As to Mary McCartney we were really touched by her photographs; the concept of sustainability was there from the very beginning as it is something that we both value.
-I guess that this collaboration in terms of sustainability is aiming at gaining the biggest possible audience…
We want to promote sustainability internationally; both on small and large scale - by the kitchen table as well as in the fashion industry and towards authorities. We also want to set an example, and by highlighting that to a big audience we want to contribute to sustainable fashion industry.
-KappAhl is present in 4 countries including Poland. How would you explain it? Is the Polish consumer ready for the sustainable fashion?
Although Poland is a country with a strong economic development and a high degree of consumption, you might assume that the term “sustainability” could be pretty vague for some of the customers. But I have been to Poland a couple of times. Having spoken about sustainability with my co-workers and our customers and emphasizing the fact that it alludes to social issues to which Polish consumers are deeply committed, I find them definitely ready for the sustainable fashion. They are ready to take responsibility for their own choices, whereas our responsibility is to provide them with information and inspiration.
-And my last question: what would you tell somebody who has never heard of sustainable fashion?
First and foremost I would say I understand this person as we are on the brink of implementing this knowledge on a broad scale. I would also suggest such person to be curious and not to hesitate to ask in their store. Our mission is to raise awareness as to this issue and we actually expect our customers to ask questions.