Cheap Monday: Rocky af Ekenstam Brennicke on the brand's 100% sustainability goal
Swedish denim brand Cheap Monday, of the H&M group, has decided to scale up sustainability in its business model. Growing the project from a capsule collection to its main line, the brand is now targeting 100% sustainability for its Fall/ Winter 2018 collection. Marketing director Rocky af Ekenstam Brennicke explains to FashionNetwork.com the steps, and the challenges, that the brand has faced along the way.
FashionNetwork.com : Why have you chosen to be a sustainable brand? Is it something important for consumers?
Rocky af Ekenstam Brennicke : We want to contribute to a better, more sustainable future and believe that our consumers are looking forward to embarking on the journey. We aim towards inspiring and engaging our consumers to recycle unwanted textiles and to save energy and water when caring for their garments.
FNW : How has Cheap Monday switched from a sustainability capsule to a main line sustainability strategy?
REB : We started with the first edition of the capsule collection “C/O Cheap Monday” back in September 2016. The entire collection was based on the typical Cheap Monday look: A bomber jacket, a sweatshirt, a t-shirt and jeans. The twist was that each piece was created from old garments which were dissembled and reassembled into new ones. That is – today – the most sustainable way of producing garments. C/O Cheap Monday this year – it launches in September 2017 – explores another path: the t-shirts and hoodies are all made of organic cotton. Organic cotton has an environmental impact lower than conventional cotton by 46%. All the denim in the collection is made of recycled cotton from post-consumer waste which, simply put, are old garments, or more generally, old textiles, which have been collected to be spun into new threads. They are then mixed with organic cotton as unfortunately today, threads from post-consumer waste are too short to produce garments. The response to both collections have been good and post-consumer waste will be integrated to the main collection from Pre S/S18. From understanding what we could actually do to improve production within a capsule collection, we take the techniques that prove successful and include them in the main collection. C/O Cheap Monday is a laboratory of some sort for us, where we try different techniques. When proved successful we then integrate those techniques throughout all our collections.
FNW : How can you improve product sustainability in your collection?
REB : First by constantly researching new and different technical improvements, techniques or fabrics. Then, also by improving finishing processes, such as washing, use of chemicals and amounts of water.
FNW : What are the issues?
REB : A couple of examples. Recycled cotton from PCW still needs to be mixed with new cotton. And for accessories, with jewellery and sunglasses, the difference in pricing is really significant here, mostly because there is a shortage of alternatives in materials. However, the advantage of technology is it constantly evolves. It is our role as a brand to stay informed and continuously research for new alternatives, improvements etc.
FNW : In order to reach your 100% aim for FW18, will you have to drop any garments?
REB : The collection will indeed be smaller however the essence of Cheap Monday lies in the following pieces: denim, bombers, sweatshirts & t-shirts; there are techniques for the production of these pieces to be improved. Even if we have had to drop some garments, we still feel confident we can offer solid collections of true-to-brand Cheap Monday pieces.
FNW : With regard to denim, first, how significant is it in your collection? And does that mean that you don't mix cotton with polyester or any other materials?
REB : We are a denim brand! Denim is the most important product category for us. We talk a lot about cotton because of that, however all other materials are also under constant scrutiny: we use recycled polyester for example. Recycled polyester comes from oil-based waste, in our case PET bottles. Elastane is still used for fitted denim and isn’t a sustainable material. We are therefore looking into finding a sustainable option.
FNW : The denim industry doesn't currently know how to recycle denim with mixed material. What is your opinion on this? What will you do with those garments when they are finished with?
REB : That is definitely a big challenge. Being part of the H&M group is a great advantage though: last year for example, the H&M Foundation partnered with a research centre to fund research on textile recycling.
The surplus from our group garment collecting initiative is donated to the H&M Foundation. Half of this surplus is invested in social projects driven by the foundation, the other half is used for financing research for new recycling technologies. The foundation has teamed up with the Hong Kong Research Institute of Textiles and Apparel (HKRITA) in a four-year-long partnership (2016-2020) to find technologies to recycle blended textiles and so that fibres can be used to make new garments. In the meantime, clothes that we gather (through the in-store bins for example) go to a company called I:CO* where the mixed material garments are sorted to be sold second-hand or to be used in other industries such as in padding for cars.
FNW : Still on the subject of denim, material is one thing, but what about the finish? The finishing process uses a lot of water and/or chemicals to finish jeans. What is your position on this?
REB : We are looking into more conscious alternatives for the finishing processes. Our denim is measured and scored based on water, energy and chemicals use. In the FW17 collection a big part is produced with a water and energy saving process and there are no high impact washes. We work with the Environmental Impact Tool (EIM développé par Jeanologia) for denim which allows us to choose the best possible wash for a model to save water and energy.
FNW : In Sweden, Nudie Jeans has had a sustainability strategy for a long time. How can you propose sustainable denim far cheaper than theirs?
REB : By being part of the H&M group we have for example access to bigger production facilities and to a larger portfolio of producers.
FNW : What about your actions in store and with the consumers?
REB : The goal is to extend the lifespan of the garment by encouraging our consumers to mend their clothes, wash them at lower temperatures and ultimately to close the loop by bringing old garments back so they can be reused or recycled into new garments.
In order to gather old textiles and garments, we have installed collecting bins in the Cheap Monday stores (H&M stores also have them). Anyone can come by and drop their old pieces in those bins. From FW17, we will also communicate massively through all our channels about our sustainability journey. The goal is for consumers to be able to make informed decisions about what they buy but also simply to involve them in this new challenge and start a conversation.
It is also key to realize that denim, our core product, is an interesting one in terms of longevity and therefore sustainability: denim lasts longer, only gets better with time and does not necessarily need to be washed as often as other products.
FNW : You're part of the H&M group. Is Cheap Monday's strategy a test for the group? Have your developments in denim been taken up by other brands?
REB : We are not at the origin of any brand strategies the other brands might have. Each brand within the H&M group has their own independent strategies.That being said, when it comes to sustainability, we all share the same backbone within the group with a shared sustainability strategy, and for example a joint approach when it comes to sustainable materials.
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