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Why This German Brand Is Ditching the ‘Sustain-a-Bull****’

Armedangels is ditching the “sustain-a-bull***.”

The German fashion brand is revamping the way it communicates about sustainability by starting with the understanding that there is no such thing as a new, sustainable product.

“Every newly manufactured product leaves an ecological footprint, no matter how consciously and resource-efficiently it was produced, it harms the planet more than it benefits,” Armedangels wrote in its recently published 2022 Action Report. “Therefore, we stopped making misleading and vague claims, calling our products ‘100% eco’ and cleared out all our communication to become radically honest.”

The pivot from greenwashing has meant unlearning old language patterns like “going green” and “carbon positive” and instead highlighting specifics, the brand said in a LinkedIn post published Thursday. Armedangels provided an example of this distinction, contrasting the claim “Organic cotton saves water, energy and restores soils” with the statement “Using organic cotton lowers the use of water and supports to restore soils compared to conventional cotton.”

“Since it is part of our mission to support consumers to make more conscious choices and reduce their footprint, we are as transparent as possible, not only in terms of our supply chains, but also within our communication,” Armedangels’ impact and innovation director Katya Kruk told Sourcing Journal. “We strive to provide clarity on what we have done on the product side to reduce the product footprint. At the same time, we want to enable consumers to understand the impact of their choices on their environmental footprint.”

Though Armedangels is aware any new product it creates will necessarily negatively impact the environment, it still intends to do what it can to minimize that impact. Its material strategy, for example, contains three components: reducing “high wardrobe turnover” by only producing high-quality garments that can “stand the test of time”; choosing lower-carbon footprint materials; and using less fossil-fuel-based fabrics and more natural materials.

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To improve material quality and keep “reasonable” prices, Armedangels plans to focus on core materials, Kruk said, “then go as deep as possible into each production step and appoint specialized partners who can give us the best possible service at a good price.” This includes cutting out some middlemen and selecting partners that offer “efficient, fair and transparent” services and goods.

Though testing for durability and garment longevity poses logistical challenges, Kruk said the brand believes “quality should be more measurable” and is currently looking for “innovative solutions.” This includes currently working with master students for their final thesis on textile durability and how it can be measured and improved, particularly regarding natural fibers.

“Weighting quality over sustainability is of course not always easy,” Kruk said. “For example, using mechanically recycled natural fibers like recycled cotton does pose challenges to product durability. The recycled cotton fibers are shorter and it takes tedious work to develop and test yarn and textiles to ensure the quality is not reducing. This is also why in some garments we can achieve a 100 percent recycled content, while in others we choose not to—to preserve the quality.”

Like many other companies, Armedangels has made embracing organic cotton a key part of its sustainability efforts. Recognizing the long road farmers must embark on to pivot to organic cotton—it generally takes at least three years—it founded the Armedangels Organic Farmers Association in 2019. The program covers 500 farming families, 365 of which converted to organic cotton in the 21/22 season. With the 22/23 harvest already begun, Kruk said 499 of its farmers have received organic certification. The final farmer remains in the program and is still working on certification, she noted.

Armedangels has also made the dive into resale. In the year since its secondhand store launched, feedback has been “very positive,” Kruk said. “For us, it’s another important step towards a more circular future, alongside repair offers and the use of recycled fibers,” she added.

Though the company hopes to push its environmental impact ever lower, it has also decided to use its platform to push greener lifestyle choices “hard.” This will include “promoting, incentivizing, lovingly coercing and cookie-tracking a shift in greener lifestyle choices of individuals,” Armedangels Impact Report said.

“To promote a greener lifestyle, we use our platforms like our website and social media channels, to give tips for a more conscious lifestyle and provide educational material about our fabrics and suppliers,” Kruk said. “This includes washing tips, a repair guide to do some easy fixes on clothes to wear them longer, we recommend podcasts and books that promote a more sustainable lifestyle and give incentives to change daily habits to reduce carbon emissions.”

This year, Armedangels will test a “handprint” pilot that will offer customers support in enabling lifestyle choices that reduce their carbon footprint. It plans to estimate the impact of this pilot in tons of CO2 reduced by consumers, based on the power of the change and the number of people who decide to make the change with Armedangels’ support, Kruk said.