The Future of Sustainable Fashion
Young, driven, and a real fashionista, meet Nanette Hogervorst, founder of the recently launched Sustainable Fashion Gift Card. After working for ING and Amnesty this budding innovator is now taking the fashion world by storm. What is her verdict on the future of sustainable fashion?
︎︎︎DEBORAH MELLENBERGH / CRISIS
Nanette has her company located right in the middle of Amsterdam. In a small apartment where the typical big city noises form a constant background song. One corner of the room is currently functioning as desk space, in another there is a variety of promotional materials. It is easy to be fooled by the appearance of this home office, yet it is home to the rapidly expanding Sustainable Fashion Gift Card. So much so that the office will soon be transferred to the Impact Hub, not only offering more professional spacing, but also offering a chance to be discovered by like-minded entrepreneurs.
You started out at ING, how did you end up starting your own sustainable fashion company?
From a young age I was taught the importance of being sustainable by my parents. This mindset came back at my work for Amnesty and ING. I have always had a passion for fashion, but at that time I felt I first had to do more research into the sustainable fashion theme before I could seriously take part in it, that is why I started my own fashion blog Our World. I learned a lot during this time and noticed that there weren't really any sustainable alternatives for the current fashion gift cards. Thus I decided to start my own company; the Sustainable Fashion Gift Card (SFGC). It is my goal to become a serious competitor of the currently popular Fashion Cheque. That gift card is a good example of what is wrong with the current fashion system; you can use it to buy clothes from all kinds of stores, most of which people have no clue where the items are produced.
How has COVID-19 influenced your company?
The launch of the SFGC was right in the middle of the COVID-19 measurements, so the planned big opening party had to be cancelled, and I had to find some creative solutions to other plans. However, the current crisis also shows the world the importance of sustainable fashion, and my gift card. The move towards sustainable fashion was already a trend well before COVID-19 measurements were taken, but it has been a significant accelerator for the changes that were already happening.
On the SFGC website I analyse all our connected brands on their sustainability commitments. A customer that buys something from the SFGC platform can be sure that the sustainable message of the chosen company is genuine, as too many companies still use the trend as a way to greenwash their business.
Do you feel that COVID-19 has changed consumer behaviour?
Sadly, online the move towards sustainability mainly seems to help big companies. In the short term it will be hard for small companies to benefit from this trend, but they will probably be able to reap the benefits in the long term. Luckily, the COVID-19 crisis not only gives a boost to online sales, it also promotes shopping at local companies, an area that allows smaller companies to benefit. And the prospect is that this change of mindset will continue in the future.
We can already see some major changes happening in the fashion world, and it is happening in companies of all sizes. Just three years ago I was the first person to write an article about sustainability at the Amsterdam Fashion Week, after it was acquired by Dutch celebrity stylist Danie Bles. The next year the Dutch television program ‘Genaaid’ was launched, where young designers were confronted with the harsh realities of sweatshops and fast fashion. And in the past year quite some companies have put sustainable commitments in their annual reports, meaning that they are taking the issue more seriously than before. I do wonder however if anyone will still remember these commitments in ten years time. Luckily, there are initiatives like the Fair Wear Foundation that guide and draw attention to these promises. This foundation, along with outlets like popular media and journalism, will play a major role in analyzing the honesty of the messages, and protecting the consumers from greenwashing.
What will be the future of sustainable fashion according to you?
We have to change our mindset! Not just us as consumers but also we as in the companies we buy from. If we don’t the fashion movement will go too slow, or there will be no change at all, something far more dangerous! Currently, there is a surge in selling second-hand clothing at companies like Vinted for example. I have used the platform myself for a while, and I experienced that to stay relevant you had to keep on selling new things. So you have to keep on buying new clothes to be able to put your old items on Vinted, basically a linear mindset in a circular situation. You can’t just buy your way to fast fashion, it is more than just buying sustainable clothes and selling them again online once you’re done with the season. I want to encourage companies to think about the incentives they give to the consumer. In the end, they need to communicate a strategy in which there is less production, with shorter cycles, and with less consumption. The companies have the responsibility to re-educate the consumer.
If you could give fashion companies one advice to become more sustainable, what would that be?
Only by re-assessing the whole cycle can companies become truly sustainable. Change will have to start at the product, the materials and labor, and not at the end of the cycle. Companies will have to become transparent in used materials and labor circumstances, and also have to think of what happens after the clothes have finished their lifecycle. Yet the most important question a company should ask themselves before producing anything is ‘why’, why are we producing this at all? It would educate the customers to more conscious consumption, and thus them buying less. This new system will put in question how relevant some fashion companies still are. That is why companies should already ask the most important question; “will we still be there in this new system?”.
This interview has been lightly edited and condensed.