Nine innovators, 500 associates and our first sustainable innovation forum
Circularity takes center stage
It’s Fall 2018 – in a space at Calvin Klein’s headquarters usually reserved for showing each season’s new fashion trends, a different kind of innovation is on display at PVH’s first Sustainable Innovation Forum. The two-day internal event brought together sustainability innovators, PVH leaders and over 500 associates to explore ideas that are transforming the industry.
PVH leaders and associates had a chance to meet nine innovators, drawn from Fashion for Good’s network of sustainability-focused start-ups. They presented some of the newest solutions for circularity – from waterless dyeing to recycling ocean-bound plastics – to help inspire new thinking and innovation across the business.
Although it is the first such forum hosted by PVH, innovation is something that comes naturally to many of those working in fashion. Emma Scarf, the Ventures Analyst at Fashion for Good, helped select the innovators for the forum and she suggests there is an obvious link: “Fashion is about reinvention. That comes from innovation – and events like this Forum bring concepts like circularity to life in an authentic and real way.”
Aksel Parmaksiz, VP of Global Innovation Management for PVH Europe, believes that reinvention is crucial. “Today we have a linear ‘take-make-dispose’ economy – it is a one-way system that creates high levels of waste and pollution. It has to change.”
The numbers make the size of the challenge and opportunity clear. According to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation (another PVH partner), greenhouse gas emissions from textiles production are more than those of all international flights and maritime shipping combined. Today’s linear model of clothing manufacturing is a key reason for that. Less than one percent of the material used to produce clothing is recycled into new clothing, representing a loss of materials worth more than $100 billion each year, while the average number of times a garment is worn before it ceases to be used has decreased by 36 percent, compared to just 15 years ago.
This is why PVH is committed to innovating for circularity. A circular approach is restorative and regenerative – it designs out waste from the system, keeps products in use, and recovers materials at the end of each product’s life.
Parmaksiz is unambiguous about the scale of innovation needed. “We’ve set bold targets – ensuring three of our most commonly purchased products will be completely circular by 2025. That requires new thinking at every stage. It means product innovation, process innovation, and even business model innovation,” she says.
As Head of Innovation Management, this is a critical piece of her role. As she describes it, she is working “to make PVH future-proof by putting a sustainable lens on innovation.” But she is not alone, adding: “We always say that innovation is a team sport. The Corporate Responsibility team is our biggest partner on this journey.”
That journey has a long way to go but it has already begun.
There is work happening across PVH, as well as partnerships with multi-stakeholder groups like Fashion for Good and the Ellen MacArthur Foundation. “We’re training our designers and people who create our products to think about how we can use different kinds of materials and create a product that can be recycled or reused, or is biodegradable,” Parmaksiz says. This is why innovators like Spinnova were invited to the Sustainable Innovation Forum. The company turns FSC-certified wood or waste stream-based biomaterial into textile fiber without using harmful chemicals.
Innovation challenges and opportunities
According to Parmaksiz, even something that sounds straightforward, like post-consumer recycling, presents innovation challenges.
For example, recycling clothing to create high-quality material that can be reused is not always simple – especially when dealing with blended fabrics. This is an issue that Forum exhibitor Moral Fiber is tackling by creating the world’s first textile fiber made from 100% post-consumer textile waste.
There also isn’t a robust mechanism for taking back products from consumers that allows them to be resold, reused or recycled – especially by wholesalers without a physical retail presence. Stuffstr, which also exhibited at the Forum, has a platform that allows brands to buy back any of their items from consumers who have finished using them.
For David Sirkin, President, Dress Furnishings Group and DKNY at PVH, Stuffstr is an example of how doing the right thing can also be profitable. “If you look at resale of authentic or vintage clothing, it shows that circularity and sustainability can be a strong business and marketing model. There are billions of dollars in the resale business – sustainability and profitability go hand in hand.”
Innovation starts with inspiration
Events like the Sustainable Innovation Forum may not lead to immediate solutions, but they are important. “PVH associates are really interested in sustainability and innovation – this is the moment for them to see what is possible out there. We’re bringing the outside in to see how they can use these ideas in their own jobs,” Parmaksiz explains.
David Sirkin agrees. “I think the Forum was a light bulb moment for some people to realize we can be doing good, we can be improving the environment, and we can be making money. It’s something that inspires the entire team.”
That inspiration was evident amongst attendees like Jennifer Horner, an Assistant Sourcing Manager for women’s fashion and underwear at Calvin Klein, who is also studying for a Masters in Sustainability. “Events like this give my job purpose, it motivates me knowing that I work for a company that support initiatives I’m passionate about,” she says.
And that’s music to Parmaksiz’s ears because, as she says: “Innovation starts with inspiration”.