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How Europe’s Most Sustainable Outerwear Brand Gets Consumers Interested in Eco

When it comes to sustainability, the notion of ‘if you build it, they will come’ doesn’t always apply. Consumers may feel good when they find out something was produced with less impact on the environment, but only a select set are actually seeking that out and spending more to support it.

On the brand side, promoting a closed loop production process or setting up clothing recycle bins in stores, won’t always translate to the bottom line—consumers have to be educated and involved, and Germany-based outerwear brand Vaude, seems to have figured that recipe out.

Speaking at the 56th Dornbirn Man-Made Fibers Congress in Austria Wednesday, Vaude CSR manager Hilke Anna Patzwall said it’s all about the ecosystem.

The B2B only brand—which won the 2017 European Business award for sustainability and was nominated for CSR by the German government this year too—thinks of its product as an ecosystem where everything under its Green Share label is: carefully developed for a long life, made using sustainable materials, fairly produced, environmentally friendly, competently advised, durable and easily reparable, recyclable and reusable.

“It’s a whole system of criteria around a product lifestyle, things we have to meet,” Patzwall said.

And more than just making a greener product, Vaude works to engage its suppliers to create a greener process overall.

“We are not our own supply chain, we depend on our partners,” Patzwall said. “Instead of putting more and more pressure on the supply chain as most of our industry does, we have been working with a partner on an empowerment project.”

That project, called DeveloPPP, is an effort to install environmental management into its supply chain, working with suppliers to implement self-sustaining systems and cut back on things like water, chemical and energy waste.

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So how does the consumer get involved?

Though many sustainable companies are chasing after closed loop, where new clothes are made from existing clothing and textiles, Patzwall admits Vaude isn’t there yet. Instead, the company promotes a slow loop process.

“We encourage our customers to use product for a long time,” Patzwall said. Though garments are designed for long life, Vaude still has its own repair service center at its headquarters in Tettnang, Germany. “We repair every product. Even if it’s 20 years old.”

And even though Vaude can fix it, the company encourages consumers to repair products themselves, getting them involved and excited about doing their part for the environment.

Vaude partners with an online platform called IFIXIT—it was the first textile brand to partner with the e-company—and through the site consumers can order new parts for their pieces and click on links to DIY videos walking them through the repair.

[Read about how eco consumers really are: Infographic: What do Consumers Really Think About Sustainability Anyway?]

Since Vaude gear is likely to last longer than the consumer may be interested in wearing it, the company also provides a platform on eBay where their shoppers can sell their goods. This gives them some control over the sale of goods with their logo on it and gives shoppers seeking Vaude product on eBay some security in knowing they’re getting the real deal.

Outside of maintaining the product, Vaude encourages the trend toward the sharing economy, providing a place for customers to borrow outdoor gear with IRENTIT. There’s a button on its website where shoppers can donate used clothing too.

So far, its efforts are working, as the brand has substantially outperformed its European outerwear counterparts in recent years. Even amid the changes retail has been facing.

“Now, retailers buy brands, brands buy retailers, everything is mixing up. The industry is really tightening up,” Patzwall said. “Many, many companies, especially the fast fashion brands say they are really trying to close the loop. They put collection bins and ask consumers to bring their stuff. For now, we are trying to slow the loop, to really prolong the life of our products.”