Ethical laundry: Detergent-free, in cold water or by hand?

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Image from Consumer Reports

Ethical laundry: Washing without detergent – is it possible?

 

Because this blog deals with fashion, it is only natural to ask: “How do you wash your clothes?” Recently, I wrote about sustainable fabrics for fashion and one way of reducing the environmental impact of your wardrobe is by washing consciously.
So may I ask you: How do you take care of your clothes in the most eco friendly way?
One option is to wash your clothes less or not at all and occasionally rub off stains locally.
Another one is to use the most eco-friendly detergent.
A further possibility is to wash without any detergent. My colleague recently told an anecdotal story where she put in a load of washing but had run out of detergent. Her laundry still came out smelling nice and looking fresh, so it is possible.
However, if you want more cleanliness or have stained clothes (including from messy outdoor activities by your kids) you need something that is strong and effective.
But lets look at Japan, one of my favourite countries! Not only because it is a mix of ancient tradition and ultra-modern technology, or because it just launched a Hello-Kitty-themed Shinkansen bullet train, but simply because of its dedication to improving, inventing and augmenting the way we live. And this is true for laundry, too.
Japan has recently brought a new product to the market which promises to be 100% eco friendly when it comes to detergents.
It is called Terra Wash +Mg.

I quote this source: “‘Terra’ means ‘Earth’ in Latin, Magnesium is a key element necessary for the life on Earth. Terra Wash+Mg is the new laundry revolution from Japan that aims to change the world with power of this miracle element, magnesium!

Terra Wash+Mg is ideal for off-grid and sustainable living since you can use water from washing clothes with Terra Wash+Mg for irrigation of your garden. Magnesium contained in used water can help crops grow healthier.”

The eco-friendly product features are listed here:

  • Reusable for 365 washes/ 1 year > Save time and money!
  • Works for laundry load up to approx. 8kg(17lb)
  • Works for any type of washing machine.
  • Works for both soft and hard water/ cold and hot water > Using hot water may be stronger in cleaning property, but using cold water may be more economical and Eco-friendly.
  • Best in body odour removal [Fragrance Free] > About 10 times stronger than regular detergent.
  • Suds-FREE> no need for white vinegar, fabric conditioners or rinse cycles. Saves money!
  • Human friendly > 100% free of toxic and synthetic chemicals = Perfect for sensitive skin and  kids. Protects people’s health by keeping the washing machine hygienic.
  • Earth friendly > Leaves zero trace of chemicals and save tons of water and power.
  • Fabric friendly & Antibacterial > Maintains fibers and colour. Great for organic cotton.
  • SAFE for children and pets – no threat of spilling and poisoning
  • Best Quality > Made in Japan using patent-protected innovative technology with certified test result.
  • Cleans your pipes at the same time, preserving the life of the washing machine
How does Terra Wash work?

This seems like a real break-through product for the fashion life cycle and environment and I am tempted to try it. However, it does come at a hefty price to start with at over GBP40. It is intended to last 365 washes, but still is probably ten times as expensive as one large bottle or regular laundry detergent.

There are also several international competitors on the market: Washwow, the SmartKlean Laundry Ball, Lavmatic Washing Ball or Biocera Green Ball. Alternatively, there are soap nuts which are a type of dried fruit with cleaning properties.


Ethical laundry: Washing without microplastics – is it possible?

A further way to tackle the washing conundrum is by using the latest washing machines.

The ETHICAL consumer lists washing machine ratings here and informs about environmental impacts. One that has been at the center of attention lately is microplastic and microfiber which is found in clothing, cosmetics and other products.

I love the educational video:

The Ethical Consumer consults on microfibres and what to do about them:

“60% of clothing is now made from polyester, a fabric that sheds tiny strands of plastic every time it is washed. According to Greenpeace, one item of clothing can release 700,000 fibres in a single laundry load.

Once in dirty washing water these bits of plastic go to water treatment plants and then into our taps or into the sea. In fact, between 15% and 31% of marine plastic pollution could be from tiny particles released by households and businesses, rather than larger plastic items that degrade once they reach the sea.

Such plastics are putting marine ecosystems at risk, as they are consumed by fish and other animal populations. They clog up marine organisms’ intestinal tracts, suppress their hunger by making them feel full, and cause infertility. They also damage corals (one of the most effective protections from the effects of climate warming).

The Plastic Pollution Coalition has suggested a few ways to minimize the impact when you wash your clothes:

Wash cooler. High temperatures damage clothing, releasing more microfibres.

Change to liquid detergent. Laundry powder scrubs at clothes releasing more fibres.  (Although the irony of this is that liquid detergent is more likely to come in plastic packaging …)

Fill the machine. A full load causes less friction.

Buy a lint filter – around £10-20.

Purchase a Guppy Friend wash bag. Some tests found that these caught around 99% of fibres, when clothes are placed inside the bag before washing. They also minimise the number of fibres released in the first place. The bags cost £20-25, and can be purchased through Langbrett or Patagonia for shipment to the UK.”

 

Ethical laundry: Washing cold – is it possible?

 

Did you know there is one country in the world which has default eco-friendly washing machines? Of course, it is Japan (did you guess?)

When I lived in Japan, I got to have a first-hand experience with washing in Japanese machines. What is different about them? They wash exclusively on cold cycles with cold water. There is an entire history to this industrial decision and the outcome could be judged as a default eco-friendly approach to washing. According to the New York Times (2011)”about three-quarters of energy use and greenhouse-gas emissions from washing a load of laundry come from heating the water – a practice that, say scientists, is often wasteful and unnecessary.”

Selection of laundry appliances in a Japanese store. Image source here.

However, as this blogger My Japan Slice anecdotally describes her washing plight in Japan, sometimes the clothes do not come out smelling fresh or stain-free and generally the washing detergents need to be reformulated if we were to use with cold water in other parts of the world.

Procter and Gamble estimate that 38% of laundry washed globally is currently using cold water cycles. This is a great business proposition and many manufacturers of washing detergents are trying to break into this new market to make profit. For me, it would need more research to establish the pros and cons of using these detergents vs. eco-friendly ones with hot water. How much damage do the new cold water detergents cause to the environment? Is this really more sustainable (paired with the cold water) or just a marketing gimmick?

 

Ethical laundry: Is it a first-world problem?

Image Source from Greener Cleaner

It must be said, that this a first-world issue where we have access to mountains of cheaply made fashion, where nearly every household or building has a washing machine and our shelves are full of myriads of detergents. If you owned the very basics of clothes, lets say one shirt, one sweater, one coat, a few pairs of socks and underwear and one pretty dress (or suit), you would have much less to wash and you would automatically wear each item longer and with more care not to get it soiled as washing it would leave you out of clothes or with only one substitute. You might have to wash your one tshirt by hand with a bar of naturally-made soap in naturally cold water in the most eco-friendly “washing machine”: a tub. In fact, I would recommend to everyone to try and hand-wash their clothes for a week. It can change your perspective and make you re-evaluate the modern commodities we use, the labour that they reduce but also the frequency and ignorance that is automatically implied when using modern appliances.

If you really want to give it a try, I recommend reading this article “How To Hand Wash Clothes Without Detergent – The Ultimate Guide with instructions” by Thetipsforyou.com

How to hand wash in the most eco-friendly way.

 

Or perhaps you might want to find ancient historical recipes that were used in ancient Rome, Egypt and Asia such as sulfur, charcoal, soda or even urine. Yes, as unappetizing as it sounds, in ancient Rome urine was frequently used due to the natural ammonia to wash clothes.

On this note, I would like to re-post a few images from The Spruce where manual laundry habits from around the world have been poetically captured.

Laundry Around the World

The chore of doing laundry is universal. Every country and culture has its own routines; some are primitive and others have evolved as the country’s infrastructure has modernized with electricity, natural gas, and running water.

As you travel around the world, observing how laundry is done offers an insight into the area’s economy and culture. When we complain about having to do laundry in the United States in our automated laundromats or inconvenient basement laundry rooms, take a momentMOR

 

Dhobi Ghat, Mumbai, India

Mumbai
Bethany Clarke/ Getty Images

Nearly every early morning in central Mumbai, India, more than 8,000 people can be found hard at work at Dhobi Ghat. Known as the world’s largest laundry, Dhobi Ghat has 800 wash stations with flogging stones where local workers report at 4 a.m. to begin handwashing clothes and linens for schools, hospitals, hotels, and individuals.

The washing done by the Dhobis, as the workers are called, is very different from our idea of handwashing a few delicate items in a sink. The clothes and linens are literally beaten on a rock surface to loosen soil and then rinsed and hung to air dry.

 

Mozambique, Africa

Mozambique
Camilla Watson/ Getty Images

This Mozambique woman headed to the river to wash the clothes and linen for her family, spreading them out on the fresh, clean grass to dry.

-> See all the beautiful images here.

 

How do you do your laundry? Which detergents do you use and what kind of washing machine do you have, if any? Is there a way to reduce the environmental impact?

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Alek Wek? LCF Graduate, Author and Ambassador for the UN (and Supermodel)

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Image source here.

Alek Wek is known to many as a supermodel and cover girl for the most prestigious fashion houses, walking down the catwalk or posing with her gorgeous figure and striking looks. But this superwoman has an incredible history and biography which is not only limited to the fashion modeling industry.

To begin with her super biography, Wek entered a new life, when she came to the UK after having originally been born in South Sudan and fleeing war there. Signed by a modeling agency back in the 1990s, she embarked on an exciting modeling career and became a role model for many women of colour around the world.

In terms of higher education, Alek Wek is a London College of Fashion alumna as she studied Fashion Business and Technology at the very place where I now teach.

She is a humanitarian at heart and a UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador, making the most of her refugee background and helping others in need.

Her voice as an author is printed in several publications, recounting her biography and urging us to help, too.

For many years, Wek has tapped into her experiences and background to reach other people in need and help them get through hardship.

Several years ago, in 2012, The Daily Mail reported on Wek visiting a refugee camp which brought back her own bitter memories:

[Wek] said that the hardships she lived through will be impossible to forget: ‘Having witnessed it first-hand, and at a very young age, even if I put it at the back of my mind, it is still there.

‘I’ve heard stories like, “I’m going to die anyway, I might as well die, why should I even try?” That really resonated, not knowing what tomorrow is.’

The model put her strength of character down to her powerful, selfless mother, saying: ‘Whenever I feel I am going through my own ‘little’ challenging moment, I just think about my mom.’

Remembering the past: Alex Wek has revealed that returning to her South Sudan hometown brought back a lot of painful memories of when she fled the war-torn country with her family as a teenager

Remembering the past: Alex Wek has revealed that returning to her South Sudan hometown

brought back a lot of painful memories of when she fled the war-torn country with her family as a teenager.

 

The model has also authored some books about her journey and thoughts such as Humanitarian Action: A Shared Responsibility (UN Chronicle, Vol. LIII, No 1, 2016) and you can read Alek Wek’s contribution here.

She has also authored Alek: My Life from Sudanese Refugee to International Supermodel and this book is available here.

She writes:

“We have a global displacement crisis on our hands, and as a global community we must address it. We must engage. We must empathize. We must figure out what we can do as individuals, as families, as neighbourhoods, as communities, as States, as nations. As a Goodwill Ambassador for the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and a former refugee, I am committed to building awareness and to giving a voice to the millions who are forcibly displaced around the world. I have spent two decades advocating for the rights of refugees. In every instance, I find there is nothing more powerful and educational than the telling of a single human story. And today I would like to tell you mine.”

Throughout her inspiring journey, it seems that she always believed in inner strength, resilience as well as education and the power it can give you. It is really admirable to see that a person who has been through so much hardship but also success is able to give back to society, to show concern about the well-being of others who are still less fortunate and whose daily life is a struggle beyond our imagination.

I hope that Alek Wek one day will come into LCF as a guest speaker to inspire us all. My university is engaged in using fashion for the improvement of lives and here is a case that proves that a connection between the two is very much possible. Check out LCF’s Better Lives here.

Well done Alek!

 

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Image source here.

 

More information About Alek – from the UNHCR

Supermodel Alek Wek was appointed UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador in 2013, after years of committed support. As a former refugee from what is now South Sudan, Alek knows what it is like to be forced to flee her home. She now travels across the globe using her voice, her platform and her story to advocate on behalf of refugees and to support the life-saving work of UNHCR.

Alek was only nine when civil war broke out in Sudan. “Life as we knew it came to a devastating end,” she remembers. “Our parents tried to shield us from the conflict but the sounds of gunfire and the vibrations of explosions filled us with dread. Dead bodies filled the landscape.”

Alek and her family fled their village and survived in the bush, foraging for food and taking shelter in abandoned huts until they managed to escape to Khartoum, from where Alek’s mother sent her and one of her sisters to London. “I knew with all my heart that she was doing what was best for us, but that didn’t ease the pain.”

Having lost so much, education became the only thing that mattered to Alek and she was fiercely devoted to learning, despite arriving in the UK without her family intact and unable to speak English. Soon after being discovered by a model scout, Alek embarked on a successful international career in the world of high fashion. “In a matter of years, I went from a faceless refugee statistic to one of the most recognizable faces in the world.”

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Image source here.

In addition to visiting refugees and witnessing UNHCR’s frontline work, Alek has helped amplify the refugee cause through many different projects. For World Refugee Day 2016 Alek joined refugees, UNHCR staff and other high profile supporters in our video message of solidarity with forcibly displaced persons around the globe. Alek later spoke in the UN General Assembly Hall at the handing in of UNHCR’s #WithRefugees petition, the largest-ever petition for refugees, to the UN Secretary General, ahead of the historic UN Summit on Refugees & Migrants in September 2016. In December of that same year, Alek served as the face of H&M’s holiday campaign which raised $3 million for UNHCR and supported the education of refugee children.

Alek has honoured the work and staff of UNHCR by attending multiple events, including the 2016 Arab American Institute Gala where she presented the  Khalil Gibran Award to our Deputy High Commissioner, Kelly Clements, who accepted on behalf of UNHCR and the 2015 German Sustainability Awards where she presented an Honorary Fellowship to then High Commissioner, Antonio Guterres. Alek also helped launch the Sustainable Development Goals at the 2015 Social Good Summit in New York.

Alek has spoken passionately about her work with UNHCR in numerous publications across many territories, including The Guardian, Marie Claire and NPR.

 

Can you wear what you eat? Yes, sustainable fish, mushrooms and pineapples…

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Image source here.

 

In June, I was very lucky to attend a course on Sustainable Fashion Textiles at London College of Fashion, run by Amanda Johnston from “The Sustainable Angle” and her associates.

Our team of students was international and vibrant, with participants from the fashion and textile industries who were all keen to find out more about sustainable textiles. Of course, in my teaching, my students have had to look at sustainability and together we have acquired quite a bit of knowledge on this subject (we watched “True Cost of Fashion” and “Home”, we looked at fast fashion, Patagonia and luxury brands). At this short course my hope was to find out new things and develop new thoughts and indeed, it had some great surprises for me in store, such as fish leather, mushroom leather and a fabric made out of pineapple!

Amanda and her colleague Christina Tiran taught an engaging and inspiring day, speaking about the fashion industry, which according to some statistics is the second most polluting industry in the world, right after the oil industry. With consumers demanding lots of cheap fashion items, producers growing and sourcing not sustainably and designers ignoring the cradle-to-cradle approach when creating, it is no wonder that we cause a great misery to our planet. In fact, when Amanda asked us to brainstorm about what Sustainability means, I came up with the following thoughts:

To consider the state of the world which we leave for our children;

To return to a time when there was harmony with nature, pre-Industrial Revolution;

Treating nature, animals and humans in a dignified manner.

And although these are just my thoughts, as we learned, Greenpeace also suggested to move away from mass-production and consumption but embrace and respect each material individually. When I lived in Japan, I also learned this material lesson, as the Japanese culture has an ancient tradition of cherishing things, repairing and restoring them and not wasting them. For this, there is even a unique word: “mottainai” – litterally meaning “do not waste” or “too good too waste.” I love this concept and I feel that we should all embrace it in our lives.

 

Since The Sustainable Angle features the Future Fabrics Expo, an expo which helps to show, promote and communicate “textiles with a lower environmental impact to designers, buyers, press and global organisations, in a setting that is designed and curated to introduce textiles for the future with a lower environmental impact” – our class got to experience the innovative textiles and closely inspect them. This was very exciting and I want to share just a selection of incredible sustainable textiles with you below. Interestingly, most of them come from sources which are edible and so they are mostly bi-products of the food industry. It is not new to wear what we eat, as historically leather, fur and some plant fibres were part of people’s food.

Here are my top 8 favourites and perhaps some of the most exotic ones I have ever come across – to wear or to eat!

 

1. Apple Fabric

Apple fiber textile. Is it edible?

2. Mushroom Fabric

3. Plastic Trash gets a new life

This plastic sequin is made from recycled plastic and thus gets a second life instead of a trip to the landfill.

 

4. Pineapple Fabric

80% PINEAPPLE!! & PLA + Foil

5. Tree Fabric

“How a tree becomes a fibre” – an illustrative box by Lenzig which is great fun for tactile people like me…

 

6. Salmon Skin

Salmon skin in blue. It even works for cars! Yes, when I visited the BMW headquarters in Munich, I found out that there is a bespoke BMW model and any wish can be incorporated. A wealthy client who is a fish farmer thus had the interior of his new ride outfitted in salmon leather!

 

7. Ostrich Leg Leather

 

8. Pirarucu Fish Skin

And here is my absolute favourite: The Pirarucu fish, that lives in the Amazon region and can grow to nearly 3 metres (10 feet) and a weight of 220 kg (485 pounds) – according to Britannica. It is a carnivorous fish with a bony tongue and surfaces to breathe air. This fish is traditionally eaten by indigenous people and they are the only ones who are permitted to kill it.

However, if it becomes popular as a skin, my thoughts are that the fishing will need to be controlled to prevent overfishing. In fact, as recent as 2014, a study found that the fish was depleted at more than 90% of the sites examined and well-managed or unfished in only 7%. (Castello et. Al, 2014 and Gough, 2014). So again, whoever produces skins for commercial reasons has the big responsibility of ensuring the continuity of this species. Nova Kaeru is one of those companies.

This is fish skin, very light, beautiful and naturally pink! It didn’t smell fishy at all and the skin is light and flexible. This is the PIRARUCU fish below.

 

A beautiful yellow handbag made out of Pirarucu fish skin. It also works well for shoes. Image source: Pinterest.

 

What’s great about these fabric samples is how the labels are designed: Not only do they tell you the regular information of fabric composition/ weight/ size or price, it also gives you insights into the company that produces them as well as how the textile meets ecological and sustainable prerogatives. That is an innovation and should be available on all textiles! Apart from these exotic samples, there is also linen, cotton, wool, Alpaca, viscose and the rest of the textile gang.

Sadly though, this is only a fraction of the efforts that we should put into preserving biodiversity, respecting all living things on our planet and changing the fashion industry which is far from being sustainable nor circular in any way.

As the Business of Fashion recently explained in an article entitled “Circularity: Sustainable Fashion’s Holy Grail or Greenwashing?” quoting Maxine Bédat, co-founder of sustainable fashion brand Zady:

Circularity is three things: keeping resources in use for as long as possible, getting the most value from those resources while in use, and, finally, recovering and regenerating products and materials at the end of each service life. We can’t forget the first two components of this concept.”

But Kirsten Brodde, a campaigner for “Detox My Fashion” at Greenpeace has a more critical approach:

“The current discourse about circularity depicts a society that can continue to make, buy and discard as much fashion as it likes. We need to stop thinking about growth and speed and start thinking about extending the lifespan of clothing to slow down and limit our excessive wasting of precious natural resources.”

This is a point well made and so pertinent to the fashion industry and those giants who cause grief to the planet. As soon as a company is listed on the stock exchange, as soon as it has to achieve profits every quarter, every year and pay dividends to its investors, you are in a viscous circle. You can’t slow down and ignore profit, as investors will turn away, sell shares cheaply and put the company’s health at stake. Equally, if you keep feeding the “machine” like Seymour fed his Audrey II, you are bound to engage in unsustainable practices.

Image source: Good on You.

Perhaps you want to explore more on this topic? If so, there are a few good websites, books and fairs to start with:

Check out The Sustainable Angle and their Future Fabric Expo, have a look at the Fashion Revolution or the Sustainable Apparel Coalition which was set up by Patagonia, as well as Good on You. You might also like to get your hands on the international bestseller  “Cradle to Cradle” by Michael Braungart and William McDonough or the Handbook of Sustainable Luxury Textiles and Fashion by Gardetti and Muthu.

And if you can travel to Berlin, why not visit the Ethical Fashion Show in July? It’s a fashion event entirely dedicated to sustainable brands. At the University of the Arts, we have a Centre for Sustainable Fashion, which you can visit here.

As I close this blog post, I want to ask you: Have you ever worked with sustainable fabrics?

Have you recently seen anything in the shops that was made of either organic, bio or recycled materials? How do you recycle your clothes or decrease your environmental impact? Have you encountered a fabric made out of a food?

And how can we improve the industry and educate consumers?

Feel free to share your thoughts and contribute to the discussion!

 

 

 

Aesop – this is fabulous branding and amazing skincare

Recently, Business of Fashion asked the question: “Can Aseop Keep Its Cool?” when they wrote about the Australian cosmetics and skincare brand when it contemplated the expansive growth of the brand and a risk of brand dilution.

This sparked a strong emotion and I decided to write my own article on Aesop because many years ago (about 15?) I worked for the brand, when it was still unknown in the UK.

Image result for aesop shelf

While I was a student at St Martins, I had a part-time retail job, working at the infamous Liberty department store on Regent Street and selling for a new and unknown Australian brand which was founded in 1987 but only made it to the capital in the early 2000s. I absolutely LOVED LOVED LOVED selling Aesop products and that means a lot, because I am not a cosmetics type of person… Anecdotally I would later become friends with the family which bought the Liberty department store and I must absolutely dedicate an article to this infamous building, where I also worked as an intern in the buying department. (But that’s for later.)

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The Liberty department store in London, with an incredible history. (Hint: It’s constructed out of two ships.)

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Back then, Aesop had a small product range but it was already remarkable: Natural and sustainable ingredients (it would be a forerunner of the current “clean” trend), a very honest description of the sources and supply chain and an equally ethical philosophy of giving pure and effective natural products to the different skin types. All this with beautiful natural invigorating smells caringly put into brown bottles that had a reassuring medicinal look to them – a simple sleek design concept. They had one single shelf and a small table in Libertys and this is where I would work once or twice a week.

 

 

Student days…

 

I loved selling this product, because I actually believed in it. I did not need to make up anything about its qualities or lie about perfect beauty and the end to aging. Aesop did not promote false beauty aspirations or the hope for something unattainable like the reversal of human aging. Aesop simply offered high quality skin care and a bit of essential oil indulgence. My customers would ask about this brand and I would explain, demonstrate and motivate to try something that was just a really really good quality product. The customers loved it and always returned for more!

Another incredible part about this brand were the people who ran it. Dennis Paphitis, the founder and his lovely UK retail manager as well as other staff like Suzanne Santos or would meet in beautiful locations for relaxed team meetings. Everyone was valued at this brand – no matter what your position was. The management style was relaxed, motivational and respectful. In my perfect world, more brands should have such a management approach.


When I moved on to work for other brands and continue my fashion career, I was sad to leave. And over the years, I would spot Aesop concessions opening here and there, as well as the first flagship stores in Europe and I would go in and chat with the sales assistant telling them that I know and really admire the brand and how lucky they are to work for them. There was a flagship in Zurich back in 2009 (when I was living there) which had an incredibly designed interior. This is when I spotted a new and strong directive of the brand. They were pioneers in offering a retail experience where the location is designed to take the customer on a sensory journey and the product is the backdrop of it all. It is a retail concept which is not pushy (unlike so many aggressively marketed beauty brands) and invites to linger and try. (And if you try, do try the Rind hand cream. I have yet to meet a person who does not love the smell!) Aesop is not about loud promotions and advertising, it goes against their concept.

I was equally overjoyed to see their concession in the Ludwig Beck department store in Munich (when I moved there) and probably made the sales assistants feel uncomfortable by smiling and beaming at them like some weird woman. To put it short: The brand has been steadily growing and establishing itself with a unique signature in an overcrowded and fierce beauty market.

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Aesop store in Zurich

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Aesop store in Munich at the Ludwig Beck department store



So what is Business of Fashion talking about?

BoF praises Aesops business concept and performance:

“The Australian brand, which was founded in Melbourne more than 30 years ago, works very hard to cultivate its appeal to young creatives by being wherever they are. Aesop also partners with literary magazine The Paris Review and employs buzzy architects like Milan’s Dimore Studio and Norwegian’s Snøhetta for its stores, conjuring a lifestyle for customers to buy into along with the company’s $55 room sprays and $40 hand washes.”

It has been stocked by the top concept stores such as (the sadly now defunct) Colette, Luisa Via Roma, Barneys New York and Fred Segal. By 2003, the brand was still small but profitable, generating about $2 million annually but struggling to grow further. Breaking into department stores would boost awareness, but they were still dominated by brands from major beauty conglomerates such as L’Oréal and Estée Lauder.

So far so good, right? According to Bof, Aesop decided to move away from wholesale by offering their product direct-to-consumer and Aesop “immediately set itself apart with its unique shop designs that aim to become one with local environments. See the blue-tiled Los Angeles store inspired by David Hockney paintings, for example. There’s also the company’s in-store demonstrations, tightly curated product selection (Aesop’s range is about a quarter of the size of most competitors) and personal service. “It’s always about the relationship with our store staff. Skincare is innately personal and if you just make it transactional then you really lose something,” says O’Keeffe, one of the managers.

 

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Aesop’s store in Kyoto (Kawaramachi)

In Asia, Aesop has made themselves profitable in Japan and as of 2009 they took back control from distributors in Singapore, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Taiwan and South Korea. They also increased their store openings in Australia, opening one or two stores a year, with some funding from a private equity investment firm Harbert Private Equity who gave $3.9 million.

These stores were designed with impulses from Paphitis who reportedly distributed the “Ten Principles of Good Design” by Dieter Rams, the famous German industrial designer lauded for his work for Braun. (By the way, I urge you to google Dieter Rams vs. Apple and look at the results!)

Co.Design reported on Aesop’s unique store designs when they spoke to Marsha Meredith, Aesop’s creative director.

“The core thing that we try to do is create a little respite from the clutter of everyday live,” Meredith explained. “The shops offer a moment of sanctuary and calm—you can appreciate the sense that good design offers.” And Aesop keeps the brand identity by rejecting sameness: “From the first store in St. Kilde, even though we didn’t have a rule book, [founder Dennis Paphitis] instinctively rejected sameness.”

Business of Fashion also praises this aspect by comparing Aesop to “the Apple of the beauty and skincare business”. It’s not only the Aesop products in store, they write, it’s a sensory experience. The stuff smells great, it looks amazing, the packaging is beautiful, the stores are beautiful and people who work in store are a cut above — they care about what they do […]”

Its emphasis on brand experience is not the only way Aesop’s strategy runs counter to prevailing industry trends. The company also shuns social media influencers, launches stores with little fanfare and while fast-beauty brands offer new products weekly, Aesop sticks to a two-year research and development cycle, resulting in about four to six new products a year.”

BoF further praises Aesop’s vertically integrated business approach because they control everything from the product to the store experience.


In fact, my impression is that if you look at Aesop from the point of view of Kapferer’s brand elements of his “Brand System”, you will notice that all three elements are in place and have a strong presence.

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And how about the financial side? According to Bof, in 2012, Natura Cosmeticos, the Brazilian beauty brand whose direct-selling business is the Avon of Latin America, took a 65 percent stake in Aesop for approximately $71.6 million, valuing the overall business at about $110 million. Private equity investor Harbert exited and Paphitis and the company’s management sold their stakes but stayed on, with Paphitis as consultant and O’Keeffe as chief executive. At the time, Aesop was turning over roughly $40 million with 61 stores. In 2016, Natura which is an absolute giant, bought the remaining stake in the company. Aesop now has 209 stores and sales have grown five-fold to $215.4 million in 2017. (The brand has also helped boost Natura, which last June purchased the Body Shop from L’Oréal, to total revenues of more than $3 billion in 2017.)

Natura did wonders for the brand helping with up to 30 store openings a year in the various countries where it is based. Since then, same-store sales have remarkably grown at between 15 and 20 percent per year. Compare that to L’Oréal, owner of Kiehl’s, where same-store sales rose only 4.7 percent last year.

However, as in any business you have to be careful in evaluating risks and making the right strategic choices while running it. Lisa Payne, beauty analyst at Stylus and a trend forecaster told BoF: “There is an element of once something gets too big it loses its general appeal, you lose this exclusive membership vibe.” And speaking of big, with plans to enter new markets in Portugal, Spain, Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Vietnam, the Philippines and across the Americas, Aesop is clearly trying to grow. The company is also increasing its focus on e-commerce, which makes up just 5 percent of sales versus 60 percent from retail stores, 25 percent from department stores and 10 percent from other wholesale partnerships. This might be a wise strategic move as department stores can house a myriad of competitors who are just as unique.

Today, you can go to any department store and have 15 different competitor options with better formulations, cheaper prices, packaging as beautiful and the kudos of using something a little more niche,” adds Payne.

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Liberty’s beauty department

Aesop will have to fight hard to stay relevant and keep its cool. “As we grow, we have to have an even more distinctive voice,” acknowledges O’Keeffe. “You try to dilute that and brands become soulless creatures.”



So can Aesop keep its cool? Absolutely so! I’ve known the brand for 15 odd years, seen it grow and flourish and remain true to its unique brand identity and ethos.

In my expert marketing opinion and with all the love I feel for Aesop, I would suggest to the brand to look into promoting its unique brand identity with clever campaigns and the right hand-picked influencers. They might really benefit from some more pop-up stores (like it recently did in Paris) and a mail-order surprise box of goodies. Aesop can be the next Joe Malone which is still unique in its product proposition but available in many department stores and even in travel retail. Or it can remain relatively “niche” like LeLabo. I see a future of an Aesop hotel with spa packages (like Jurlique), Michelin-starred individual health-enhancing meals and intellectual gatherings in front of a fireplace.

Since the parent company is now Natura, Aesop could be like Patagonia and tap into the food market or become a B-Corp and actively invest in our planet’s sustainability.

This is easy to do, because the brands history, ethos and products are all well aligned with this vision! Health and wellness, both for us humans and for the planet is definitely a trend that Aesop should follow. It is also easy to achieve because Natura is already a company big on eco-friendliness and sustainability and can pave the way for this brand to thrive. Afterall, Natura also owns The Body Shop.

Have you ever tried this brand? Please share your experience with Aesop or similar brands!

 

Is it ethical to make fast fashion even faster?

Stumbling upon the latest article by McKinsey from 18th May 2018, I felt alarmed about the topic: “Faster fashion: How to shorten the apparel calendar.” Is this real?

At a time when a high number of fashion companies, from luxury to high street are acknowledging their contribution to this world’s fashion problems through consumption and supply chain, when many are at least trying to evoke the impression of caring about the world, when some are applying CSR measures and opening dialogues about how we can consume and produce more responsibly, there is still a need to make things faster and more profitable. But an increase in production would mean the use of more natural resources, increase of labourers in terrible conditions, more pollution, more irreversible damage to the eco-system and more trash (=disposal of old garments to be replaced by new ones). And, if you look at it from a psychological side, the consumers remain in a pattern of blindly consuming instead of living, exploring and finding another meaning in their lives. They will be catering to feelings of insecurity, to be numbed by excessive consumption.

Everything Is Fine, Keep Shopping

As Adbusters wrote: “Corporations aren’t necessarily evil, though plenty are diabolically evil, but they can’t help themselves. They’re just doing what they’re supposed to do for the benefit of their shareholders. […] IKEA can’t help but level the forests of Siberia and Malaysia to feed the Chinese mills building their flimsy disposable furniture (IKEA is the third largest consumer of lumber in the world). Apple can’t help it if the cost of extracting the “rare earths” it needs to make millions of new iThings each year is the destruction of the eastern Congo — violence, rape, slavery, forced induction of child soldiers, along with poisoning local waterways. […]

This is how giant corporations are wiping out life on earth in the course of a routine business day. And the bigger the corporations grow, the worse the problems become. (Adbusters.org)

1000 Years Soil
Image source: Adbusters.

 

Dumbfounded by the article which was written by Achim Berg, Miriam Heyn, Felix Rölkens and Patrick Simon at McKinsey, I am reposting part of it (and a link to the rest of it) below and would like to hear your thoughts on this.

Is faster fashion for all fashion companies ethical? Can it ever be ethical?

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Faster fashion: How to shorten the apparel calendar
By Achim Berg, Miriam Heyn, Felix Rölkens, and Patrick Simon

To get new styles into stores more quickly, fashion companies must improve internal collaboration, tap into consumer insights, and start to digitize the value chain.

When Burberry and Tom Ford began experimenting with the fashion-industry concept known as “see now, buy now” in 2016, their efforts were met with a little skepticism and a lot of excitement. The thinking was that consumers, especially millennials, have become accustomed to instant gratification and are therefore much less willing to wait several months to own the latest runway styles. The so-called “fast fashion” companies—the likes of Forever 21, H&M, Inditex, and Primark—were already producing replicas of fresh-off-the-runway items and selling them in stores in a matter of weeks, and consumers were rewarding their speed to market: revenues at those companies rose 8.2 percent in 2017 in aggregate, whereas overall apparel retail grew only about 3.5 percent in that same period.1 With a see-now-buy-now sales model, luxury fashion companies, too, could capitalize on the media coverage surrounding Fashion Week events in New York, London, Milan, and Paris, and translate the buzz into full-fledged sales campaigns.

But skeptics wondered whether “see now, buy now” could work for higher-end apparel. Indeed, it hasn’t been an unqualified success. A handful of designers, including Tom Ford, have since reversed course, citing the misalignment between the timing of Fashion Week and store-shipping schedules. Still, more than 15 leading fashion companies are continuing to experiment with “see now, buy now.” Is it a feasible model for the long term?

Our answer is yes—so long as fashion companies are willing to embark on a dramatic transformation of their processes and mind-sets. Shortening the fashion cycle isn’t a quick-fix undertaking.

 

The phases of the fashion cycle

Broadly speaking, the fashion cycle consists of three phases: planning, design, and product development; sell-in; and production and delivery. The length of each phase varies widely by company. A phase can be as short as 12 weeks or as long as 30.

The planning, design, and development phase is typically the longest and has the widest variability among companies (exhibit). Therefore, that’s where the greatest potential for compressing the calendar lies.

 

The duration of an end-to-end fashion cycle widely varies by company.

 

The length of the end-to-end fashion cycle depends on a number of factors, including the company’s business model and retailer requirements for the assortment. For example, vertically integrated players (such as H&M and Zara) can make decisions faster and skip the sell-in phase because they operate their own stores. Even within a brand, different product groups might follow different calendars: women’s tops are typically refreshed more frequently than women’s jeans, for instance. Basic items (such as plain white T-shirts) don’t have to follow a seasonal collection rhythm because sales of such items are fairly consistent and easier to predict. Still, some basics retailers—Uniqlo, for one—are constantly finding ways to shorten their fashion cycle.

Continue reading the article here!

Berlin (Steglitz) 2018 – feisty Miniso next to Uniqlo

What’s retail doing in Berlin’s up-and-coming Steglitz area in 2018?

Here is a little update:

On the large and long shopping Street of Schloßstraße in the South of town, a remarkable little shop has opened up and is situated right next to Uniqlo.

The shop is called Miniso and when I first passed it, I had to do a double-take as I was sure it must be a Muji store, or was it a new establishment by Uniqlo? It’s very hard to tell at first glance as the logo, its colour and typeface is very similar to those famous Japanese Brands.

The Miniso logo – does it remind you of anything?

I stopped by this shop and looked inside. It looks very much like a Muji store with little items for personal care or the home. Below the logo it even states that this is a “Japanese Designer Brand.”

Inside the Miniso store in Berlin Steglitz.

So what is this mystery store? Well, according to thelowdown the retail brand describes itself as:

“Established in Tokyo, MINISO, the Japanese fast fashion designer brand. MINISO pursues a “simple, natural and quality” life philosophy and a brand proposition.”

But other sources report that MINISO is founded by Chinese, run by Chinese, and headquartered in Guangzhou, China. It uses the name of a Japanese graduate Miyake Junya from the famous Bunka university in Tokyo as one of the founders, but reportedly this person is more a PR stunt it seems.

Miniso’s branding looks like a combination of Muji, Daiso and Uniqlo. From the goods they sell, to the design of their stores, even down to their logo, they have a very Uniqlo look to it. They started in 2013 and have been expanding aggressively and globally:

According to their own website, they have opened 2600 stores around the world within four years. By 2015, MINISO’s global revenue reached USD 750 million and is expected to grow to USD 1.5 billion by the end of 2016. In 2017, the sales volume of MINISO reached USD 1.8 billion.

And unlike pseudo-Japanese brand Superdry, Miniso is not shy to establish itself in the country which they emulate. It has shops in Japan and products even feature Japanese writing, as one would have seen on Muji labels. However it is said to be grammatically often incorrect because the brand uses a free online translation tool.

As I passed the store, I wondered how ethically correct it is to blatantly copy the successful competitors and even position the store in Berlin’s Steglitz right next to someone it is copying, namely Uniqlo.

Miniso-Uniqlo_POST

Other remarkable things on Schloßstraße is the now defunct but trendy “Bierpinsel” tower which is rumored to soon house a restaurant or bar again. It reminded me of the Nakagin Capsule complex in Tokyo which I blogged about in the past.

Bierpinsel Tower in Steglitz has been spray-painted by an artist not long ago. It stands empty as far as I could tell but is rumored to soon house a restaurant or bar.

Let me know your thoughts and in the meantime, greetings from Berlin!
xx

The Brooklyn Museum is talking to Kansai Yamamoto about David Bowie – May 17th!

How exciting!

Kansai Yamamoto is one of my favourite designers who I have previously reported on when I discovered a cool sweater in London’s Hammersmith! And now the Brooklyn Museum is hosting Kansai Yamamoto in person, who will be speaking to Vanessa Friedman, fashion director and chief fashion critic for the New York Times.

If you happen to be there on Thursday, May 17, 2018 from 7–9 pm do go to the Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Auditorium, 3rd Floor.

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The Brooklyn Museum

 

Friedman and Yamamoto-san will be discussing his sartorial collaborations with David Bowie, including creating the iconic “Space Samurai” jumpsuit for the 1972 Ziggy Stardust tour and several of the objects featured in David Bowie is.

The Fashion Network reports: “The discussion is part of the “David Bowie is” exhibition currently being hosted at the Brooklyn Museum, which is the exhibition’s last stop after five years touring the globe. Many of the pieces that Yamamoto created for Bowie are among the over 400 objects on display, which include Bowie’s original costumes, handwritten lyrics, photographs and videos, and have been sourced primarily from the David Bowie Archive.

The exhibition, which is organized by London’s Victoria and Albert Museum, is described in a release as “an immersive, multimedia installation” and seeks to track Bowie’s creative journey throughout his life, exploring how the original artist’s legacy has shaped contemporary culture and society.”

Image source here.

The evening with Yamamoto-san is part of an exhibition on David Bowie which launches on March 2. In New York, it was organized by the institution’s Senior Curator of Fashion and Material Culture Matthew Yokobosky together with the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, where the exhibition debuted in 2013 and reportedly became the most-visited exhibition in the gallery’s history.

THE CUT writes that “at the heart of the exhibition are hand-written lyric sheets, drawings, paintings, music videos, television clips, and costumes by the late British designer Freddie Burretti alongside seven costumes that Yamamoto designed for Bowie during his “Ziggy Stardust” and “Aladdin Sane” tours.”

If you would like to read up on this topic, I can recommend this article by THE CUT entitled: Dressing David Bowie As ‘Ziggy Stardust’ who ahead of the Brooklyn Museum opening, spoke with Yamamoto about his memories of Bowie and the Japanese theater techniques that inspired the singer’s legendary performances.

Enjoy!