With a background in Fashion Design, Nynke Eggen was determined to bring positive change within the fashion supply chain; and so she did. Two years ago she created The Sustainability Club, a full-service development studio for sustainable fashion sourcing and design. She started this mision on her own, but with great success her business has grown into a team of 4 internationals. Together, in a global vision, they are changing productions standards of modern fashion brands. We talked with Nynke about her visions and experiences within the fashion industry, and she shared all her insights for what is about to come for future innovations.
Better Magazine: How did you start in the fashion industry, and what were your first struggles?
Nynke: I graduated in 2010 as a fashion designer, and when I graduated I had this void of ‘Oh my god, what am I going to do now with my life?’. So after a little while I started with my own clothing brand, which was a zero waste brand and everything was made by myself. Either from leftover materials or certified materials that were fairtrade, and I made sure that nothing was going to waste. I sold the items in little shops in Utrecht (where I was living at that time), but then I faced my first struggle. I noticed that if you make everything yourself and you produce in The Netherlands, then the prices you should ask for the garments can’t compete with the brands that are already out there. I didn’t have a big budget for marketing or even any idea on how to do that, social media was not as big as it is now, and I didn’t have any renowned name in the market. So people weren’t willing to pay €300 or €500 for an item, which was the price I really should be asking for the garments. So that was really a struggle, it was not feasible to make everything myself, as you can’t compete with the prices from fast fashion brands that are producing somewhere else. This was the reason for me to terminate my own brand. I then started working as a freelance designer and pattern maker for different independent brands, and eventually I started doing this for bigger companies as LaDress. After working for them for a few months they took me into their team. This was a period that I learned a lot. We worked in a pretty small team and I saw everything that they were doing, and learned from all the different departments. I learned how to do proper product development and eventually I became their CSR manager. There I learned a lot about how sustainability works within a fashion company and what you need to think about and what is going wrong, so that taught me a lot. With the experience I have now I know that I could have taken two roads with my own brand. One was investing in brand identity, and building my brand as a high end brand, and then I could raise the values of my products. Or I could have gone to an European manufacturer in Poland or Portugal, where it is more affordable to produce in lower quantities.
BM: What is in your eyes the first thing that fashion brands should tackle when it comes to sustainability?
N: Make sure that you know where your garments are being produced, and what standards they hold on social compliance. Because environmental issues are important, but there are also real people working for your garments, and if you don’t know if they are able to live a decent life, then that should be your priority. Take care of your people first.
BM: How do you see the future for manufacturers after covid-19?
N: I think a lot of brands might change the way they are working, so they might spread their production out and won’t produce in only one country. When most of your production is done in one country you will notice that there is a risk if something like this happens again. If your production is done in just one place and it shuts down then you are screwed (laugh)! Also the way the planning will be done will be different. A lot of brands are already talking about changing their calendar, so not producing 8, 16 or I don’t know how many collections a year, but going back to 4 or maybe even 2 seasons, and really focusing on those. A new option will be restocking colors or variations from the same product. There will be more flexibility and focus on the orders that are doing good and restocking only those. Brands will watch trends that are coming up, but will only apply the ones that are in line with their collections.
BM: How do you think that online platforms and technology can change the industry?
N: If you look at how the industry was 10 years ago, you already see big changes. Back then you couldn’t source anything online, you had to know an agency or a manufacturer personally to get in contact with them to know what kind of products they were producing. It is becoming easier to find a manufacturer that ticks all of your boxes. For example, if you have a high sustainability value you can already find them with more ease online, there is no necessity to visit them and ask them all these questions. Now you can already know so much more in advance. In that way the industry has already changed a lot, sourcing will only become more of an online thing, and maybe even the trade fairs might disappear. Trade fairs were always the place to find the sourcer for your materials or find manufacturers, and I think this will shift to a more digital experience. You can really innovate with how you present your products. Maybe if you make really high quality pictures, 3D virtual prototypes or a video of the movement of the material you can already give a lot of information. You could invest a little bit in this kind of technology with the money that you would usually pay for the fee of a trade fair.
BM: What advice would you give to someone who is just starting their sustainable business?
N: Well first of all it’s great if you are starting a sustainable business, so I would congratulate you first on taking that step! It is so much easier to start with a clean slate and make all your choices in the beginning as sustainable as possible, rather than going back after you already set up your whole supply chain and then trying to change every little bit of it. My main advice would be, ask a LOT of questions, so be super curious. Don’t stop asking questions, even when you receive a ‘I don’t know’ or a vague answer, just keep questioning things, because this is the way to find out what is actually going on. Sometimes producers can look like they are doing really well on paper, but I would say go beyond those statements. If it is possible, order your textiles yourself and ship them to your manufacturer, and in this way you will know personally where the fabrics are coming from.
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