Sustainable fashion in Germany, Austria and Switzerland
As a German to English translator, fashion fan and environmentally-conscious person, I take a keen interest in what companies and institutions in Germany, Austria and Switzerland are doing in the sustainable fashion arena. German-speaking countries were some of the first to recycle widely and to harness wind and solar power, so it stands to reason that they should also be pioneers in the field of sustainable fashion.
Here is a round-up of some of the key movers and shakers in the DACH region.
NON-PROFIT RESEARCHERS AND CAMPAIGNERS
Future Fashion Forward
Future Fashion Forward is an offshoot of Fashion Revolution, the world’s largest fashion activism movement that draws attention to unethical practices in the textile supply chain. The organisation aims to educate the general public about abuses in the garment industry and to facilitate dialogue between consumers and representatives from the textile industry.
The Bündnis für nachhaltige Textilien (Partnership for Sustainable Textiles Germany), or the Textilbündnis as it is commonly known, was set up by the German government in 2014 in response to the Rana Plaza disaster which killed over 1,000 textile workers in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Its 130 or so members (as of 2017, roughly 50 per cent of the German textile market) work on measures to deal with wage inequality, pollution, sustainable fibre manufacture and supply chain transparency. Its ambitious goals have met with some resistance and it has lost members who have been unable or unwilling to uphold its standards.
Fashion Council Germany
Established in 2015, the FCG represents the interests of the German fashion industry. The Council is currently running a programme called the FCG German Sustain Concept which aims to promote young designers who are committed to sustainable fashion.
Beneficial Design Institute
The BDI researches, develops and tests fashion concepts, processes and systems with a focus on sustainability. Headed up by designer and educator Friedrike von Wedel-Parlow, the institute works with universities, institutes and industry partners across the world.
Hess Natur Stiftung
Hess Natur is one of Germany’s largest and longest established retailers of fair fashion. The Stiftung, otherwise referred to as the Hess Natur Institute for Applied Sustainability, provides consultancy services on sustainability and education within the textile industry.
There are a number of companies in Germany, Austria and Switzerland who are developing and manufacturing innovative materials and technology to support the drive for sustainable fashion.
Here are a handful I have encountered and what they do:
Vienna Textile Lab
Produce textile dyes from naturally-occurring bacteria.
Producers of Tencel™ (sustainably produced cellulose fibre) and Evovero (sustainable viscose) based in Austria. Labels such as Armedangels and Espirit use their materials.
Bavaria-based producers of salmon leather.
Biotech company based in Leipzig that is developing textiles from bacterial cellulose.
This innovative company produces vegetable leather from rhubarb.
Produce fabrics from nettle fibre.
THOUGHT LEADERS & INFLUENCERS
Kirsten Brodde is a former science journalist and Greenpeace activist with a passion for cleaning up fashion. She led the Detox My Fashion Campaign which led to an industry-wide commitment to phase out harmful chemicals from fashion.
Friedrike von Wedel-Parlow
Friedrike von Wedel-Parlow is a designer and founder of the Beneficial Design Institute which works on sustainable design solutions. She is in charge of the Master's programme "Sustainability in Fashion" at the ESMOD Berlin University of Arts in Fashion.
Model, actor and activist Marie Nasemann rose to fame on Germany’s Next Top Model. She is a strong advocate of fair fashion and writes a blog on the subject called Fairknallt.
Michael Michalsky Michael Michalsky is considered one of Germany’s most influential designers. He is a strong proponent of slow fashion and believes the luxury fashion segment should lead the way in encouraging all consumers to shop more sustainably. Magdalena Schaffrin Magdalena Schaffrin is one of Germany's leading voices on sustainable fashion. She was instrumental in founding the Green Showroom at Berlin Fashion Week and is now the Creative Director of the Neonyt trade fair.
Janek & Oliver
This energetic duo regular vlogs about sustainable fashion on their YouTube channel rethinknation.
There are a number of beautifully-presented sustainable fashion blogs and blogazines in the German language, including Mia Marjanovic’s blog heylilahey, Mary Schmidt’s Green Looks Great, which includes a useful eco fashion guide, and Peppamynta, founded by Fenja Kramer, which champions a range of green fashion labels.
DESIGNERS & RETAILERS
There are a whole host of designers and retailers that produce beautiful sustainable clothing, footwear and accessories in Germany, Austria and Switzerland. I have selected a few established examples and one or two newer kids on the block.
One of Germany’s largest and longest established retailer of fair fashion. The company was founded in 1976 and developed the world’s first organic cotton project in Egypt in the 1990s. Its research institute the Hess Natur Stiftung plays an active role in promoting sustainable fashion in Germany.
Armed Angels is another well-established brand that produces Fairtrade-certified casual clothing from organic cotton and recycled materials.
This fashion label is based in Cologne and offers a range of stylish women’s clothing made on their own premises and in India.
Bonnie & Buttermilk
The emphasis is on slow fashion for this label which produces bold and vibrant designs by hand in their studios in Berlin.
Lanius produces elegant women’s clothing which is GOTS-certified and only made from natural materials.
Alma & Lovis
This eco fashion label offers sustainable and ethical business wear and casual ranges for women. They produce their own designer collection once a year which are produced by trusted suppliers and comply with GOTS standards.
Nat-2 produces cool and innovative luxury sneakers made from coffee leather and mushroom leather.
CONCEPT STORES & RETAILERS
A number of green fashion concept stores have sprung up in larger German-speaking cities in recent years, including the upcycling fashion store Aluc in Berlin. A handy app called ‘FairFashionFinder’ can be used to find these and similar types of stores in cities across the DACH region.
Clothing rental services are also on the rise, including the online service Fairnica, which offers capsule wardrobe solutions ranging from 80 to 200 euros, and shops such as Kleiderei in Cologne, which offers a monthly subscription service.
THE SUSTAINABLE FASHION CALENDAR IN GERMANY
Neonyt at Berlin Fashion Week
The first Neonyt (organised by Frankfurt Messe) took place in January 2019 at the Kraftwerk in Berlin as part of Berlin Fashion Week. This format brings together under one umbrella a number of sustainable fashion fairs and conferences (including the Ethical Fashion Show Berlin, the Greenshowroom and the FashionSustain Conference). Neonyt showcases 170 labels, includes the Fashionsustain Conference, holds a special catwalk show and ensures the event operates in an environmentally-friendly way.
Panorama Fashion Fair Berlin
PanoramaBerlin is a platform for buyers, dealers, trade visitors and media representatives from the fashion and lifestyle business. Its fashion fair is run during Berlin Fashion Week and includes the sustainable fashion show XOOM.
INNATEX Sustainable Textiles Trade Fair
The INNATEX fair is organised by the IVN (International Association of the Natural Textile Industry) and takes place at the Messecenter Rhein Main Wallau, Hofheim. It is open to trade buyers only and attracts over 300 exhibitors from all over the world.
Munich Fabric Start
Munich Fabric Start is an international fabric trade fair which takes place twice a year in the MOC event centre. There are over 1000 exhibitors from 40 countries and it welcomes over 20,000 visitors. The fair’s new ReSOURCE platform promotes sustainable innovations and textile solutions.
Fashion Revolution Week
A week of fashion activism across the entire planet.
Greenstyle Munich Fair
The Greenstyle Munich Fair started in October 2018 and takes place twice a year. It describes itself as the world’s first fair fashion fair and conference for trade specialists, consumers and the media.
The WearIt Berlin Conference includes talks and masterclasses on fashion technology and its role in sustainability. Contributors include the Beneficial Design Institute, the Hess Natur Stiftung and Vienna Textile Lab.
Neonyt at Berlin Fashion Week (see January)
Panorama Fashion Fair Berlin (see January)
Greenstyle Munich Fair (see April)
Munich Fabric Start (see February)