Behind The Seams

| RagTrader | MNB Team

The iconic sustainability business partner Nicole Conroy, KMD Brands Head of ESG Shasta O'Loughlin, and founder of her eponymous label Lorna Jane share the steps in signing up to Seamless - the new clothing stewardship scheme.

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Seamless is a voluntary scheme. How are you navigating costs in transitioning to more circular models?

Lorna: At a business level, with me and my husband owning Lorna Jane, you'd think that I would have free rein to follow any path that I'm passionate about. But I clearly remember the conversation with [Australian Fashion Council CEO] Leila Naja Hibri and [Seamless project director] Daniele Kent. My team was so excited about it, they'd already had a meeting beforehand, and I was excited. But I did have all those things that you're talking about in mind, all those... 'Oh, I'm not ready yet, and also the economy's going to slow down, it's going to be tough.' But there's never a right time to do anything. There's never a right time to follow your dream. And this is a dream that I feel we need to get together as a country and work on. But still, I told my team 'Let me take it to the financial team', and I am sure they were thinking, 'Really? Lorna Jane has to go talk to the financial team who work for her?' But, you do have to think about that. Because as I said, we were going into a time when people were saying the economy was going to slow down. Our business had already put on a sustainability officer; we had a sustainability lawyer looking after us - we had all of these things to set up the design and production side of our business - which, for me as a producer of fashion, that's the easier side. But we need help with reuse and recycle. We are an island. We're not Europe, we don't have all this industry around us to help us. And that's what I said to the finance team, and we got the tick.

Nicole: I'll start by acknowledging that for a large shareholder-owned business, it's actually quite complicated to think about starting to transition our business model at a time when there is a tough economic situation going on. For us, the key was to think about it as a long game. So, of course, in these initial phases, we needed to think about where this initial $100,000 was going to come from. Where will this four-cent levy sit across the value chain, keeping in mind it's a just transition that we're aiming for? But then beyond that, once the scheme is up and running, we're looking at the benefits that we'll reap from things like participating in pilot schemes, which are very difficult for an organization, even the size of ours to put into place and to have running. And also thinking about things like what other measures we can take so that less of the share of our assortment is actually subject to the levies. So where can we make money from reselling things? What can we do in terms of eco-modulation and just looking to change the way that our business model works financially?

Shasta: We have been doing some work with the Australian Fashion Council for a long time, and then being part of some previous working groups, and the collaboration piece was such a positive element that we could bring to our business to share with other brands what we were doing internally to have impact. But we don't have those groups at the moment, so we were looking for something else to be part of, and we started some conversations about when the scheme was starting to develop. I kept the business up to date with what was happening and the conversations that were happening. So it didn't come as a surprise when our CEO put an email requesting for the top 30 brands to be part of this scheme. So it actually came to me from the CEO to saying, I think we should support is. So, we ran some numbers, and obviously the financial piece was a big consideration - and obviously, we've got a group of brands underneath KMD - but we chose to just take a step forward with Rip Curl - an Australian business with a mission on protecting the ocean and the environment. So it made sense for us to put our hand up and say we want to have a seat at the table. Because we've got schemes that we do at the moment, and we're struggling to find recyclers for certain hard-to-recycle textile waste. We've got our own strategy that for hones in on circular design, but how do you actually implement that across your business? And how do you make it make sense? So we were looking for help anyway and this was seen as something to collaborate, bring it together, and we look forward to doing that.

How involved are you in the advisory process for Seamless, and what are your expectations when it launches next year?

Lorna: It's still early days. We've only had a couple of meetings, but we're putting together how the scheme is going to run. It's all foreign to me, and I obviously have sustainability officer who sits in on those. For me, the most important thing for me is that everybody is involved. It has to be something that everybody who produces fashion gets to be part of, and it needs to be a solution for everybody. We're trying to provide an industry-run system. It's the first in the world. I want to see us build this as an industry and that the regulatory bodies don't come in. We now have a race against time. We need more support and more funding, but I really feel that if we can get together and do this as an industry, that's what I'm looking for. Because it's the reuse and recycle part - I tried to do it as well, but there's nothing available. There's just nowhere to go. You look for things and there are no options. I make activewear, am I going to sell second-hand activewear? If you're a swimwear brand, are you're going to sell second-hand swimwear? And what do you use these materials for then? Will we get together with another industry and start stuffing lounges? It's just difficult, especially in such an isolated country. We can't send it back to the manufacturer. It's too far away.

"The plan is to bring a real operational sense, a business sense and a sustainability sense at the same time."
Lorna Jane Clarkson
Founder and Chief Creative Officer

Nicole: As Lorna said, it's in the early days. We're in the process of setting up governance. But, the things I'm really looking forward to focusing on are, first of all, the standards around circular design – coming up with an industry-wide, nationally agreed standard that we can all work towards. The second thing that I'm really interested in seeing come to fruition is a national digital product passport. This is the ability to embed a digital carrier within a garment - such as a unique thread or QR code - that holds all the information about that garment. With both of those things, there's a huge opportunity. If we can all start moving in a single direction, then we can ensure that there's the right investment in the right areas, there's skill building there's technology being developed. And if we understand a product's full lifecycle, how it was made, what it was made, from, where it's been and where it's going, the value it might have for resale and how we can actually collect it and sort it when it reaches the end of its life, then that really facilitates the system. So I think both of those things will be really key policies.

Shasta: We had a lot of conversations behind the scenes. The contract eventually came where we had to sign on the dotted line to hand over a hundred grand, but there was obviously conversations, concerns shared, all of that. The plan is to bring a real operational sense, a business sense and a sustainability sense at the same time. How do we make this work so it is going to be embedded into a business - and not just a policy? Our code has been a bit of a burden for us in past years, whereas now we've tried to change our attitude to use it more in an advisory sense. Let's try to attend all the meetings and go to the daily events. Because with some of these legislation pieces, you do it because you have to. Whereas with Seamless, we're trying to take that different approach; let's actually be part of the conversation, let's ensure that it can be operational, that it does make sense to us, and we can communicate internally. And also, how are we going to communicate that externally to customers? Behaviour change for customers is going to be the key because you can put out a product that's all organic, and if one costs more than the other, a lot of the time a customer's going to go for the cheaper one. How do we educate customers to understand that if they're investing in a piece of clothing, that product is theirs? And by charging them an extra four cents, does that push to look after that piece of clothing and wash it properly and take care of it? It's gonna be interesting to see that part of the process.

What is the next stage moving forward?

Nicole: The most exciting thing about circularity is that it's a chance not to do less in order to cut back negative impacts. Instead, it's really a chance to do things differently and do things better to create really positive impacts. It's something that excites me in my position at The Iconic, and around the new business models that we have a chance to explore. So I'm really looking forward to seeing how we're able to bring to life all the great conversations we've had in the resale space, about the potential for rental, about the potential for repair. Working together, we can come up with some of the nuts and bolts. But then it's going to be up to every brand to think about how it works for their brands, and their customers, and the types of products that they put into the market. It's really a chance to create something that inspires people to take part, as well as making it very easy for them to take part.

Lorna: Well, I'm hoping that more people get involved. Because I really feel like driving this as an industry is a very powerful thing. When I heard the 200,000 tonnes of fashion waste going into landfill, it really riled me. I really wanted to change the way people thought about the fashion industry. What I want to see is to change how people feel about fashion and about our industry and see that we are doing the right thing as an industry. And we really do want to turn this around and be better citizens when it comes to what we produce. Of course, we all have challenges in our businesses. We have over 100 stores, we employ a lot of people. We have to act responsibly so that we can keep those people in jobs, so they can pay their rent and feed their children. We're all going through this. But I feel like this will be a great thing for the industry if we do it together. If a handful of us do it, then it won't succeed. But if we really band together and get behind this, and really start to educate the consumer on what we would like them to do, or what the fashion industry's goal is, then I think we'll be successful. And sometimes we have to buy into someone's dream and make it our dream. We just have to make it happen.

Shasta: I'm really excited to see who steps into the CEO role at Seamless. I think that's going to be a key appointment. Obviously, they're going to need to be someone who can really talk to brands and government, and really be able to understand the industry and the challenges. I'm really excited to get some support and some answers on some challenging circularity projects that we've got going on. We all know what happened with REDcycle and plastic being stored in warehouses. We're partnered with TerraCycle for our wetsuits takeback program and we also use Upparel in our Kathmandu brand, and we trust in these external parties to be doing the right thing. But if we don't have the foundation and the network to support those circular programs, are they going to fall over too? I'm excited to see the movement that comes with appointing the board and the CEO, and which other brands step up and become part of it. I feel like we're doing a sales pitch up here, and it is. It can't just be a couple of us doing it, it has to be more.

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