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Up Close: In Conversation with Spinnova’s Emmi Berlin

Up Close is Sourcing Journal’s regular check-in with industry executives to get their take on topics ranging from personal style to their company’s latest moves. In this Q&A, Emmi Berlin, head of communications at wood-based fiber company Spinnova, discusses the post-purchase environmental impact of apparel and her company’s commercial-scale move.

Emmi Berlin Spinnova
Emmi Berlin, head of communications at Spinnova Courtesy

Name: Emmi Berlin

Title: Head of communications

Company: Spinnova

How would you describe yourself as a consumer?

Since joining Spinnova, the sustainable material company, I’ve become very aware of the sustainability challenges of the textile industry. I used to be quite careless with my shopping, but not anymore. Like in that movie, “Confessions of a Shopaholic,” I always ask myself: “Do I need it, or just want it?” I also recycle properly and buy as many things as I can secondhand. In everything, buying contemporary design made with high-quality materials is a sustainable choice. With my two teenage kids, though, being sustainable is not quite so simple. They seem to want new stuff every week! Some 30 percent of the environmental footprint of textiles over their entire lifecycle comes from us consumers! Over-washing and drying have an especially big impact. I don’t wash unnecessarily and don’t use a dryer.

As a consumer, what does it take to win your loyalty?

These days, brands that show concrete climate action win my loyalty. Sustainability efforts can and should be big, such as committing to cut CO2 emissions, but they can also be seemingly small; for example, secondhand resale or repairing services. Prolonging the lifetime of a garment alone has huge environmental impacts. Levi’s is a brilliant example of this. By setting up a shop for pre-owned Levi’s clothes, they cannibalize themselves in a way, but this is such great climate action that I’m sure they will increase their brand loyalty.

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What’s your typical work (or weekend) uniform?

I now work remotely almost 100 percent, so my typical workwear is comfy tights and a hoodie. If I have meetings with someone other than my team, I usually switch the top to something more businesslike.

Which fashion era is your favorite?

I’d say the 1940s and ’50s, when my grandmothers were young women. Their feminine style with always wearing a skirt or a dress and high heels was really lovely. Also, since it was just after the war, clothes were carefully selected, cared for and dearly valued. If we cared about the planet more, we too would start looking at clothing this way instead of always wanting new stuff.

Who’s your style icon?

I would say Stella McCartney, partly because of her own style and her brand’s, but mostly because of the tremendous sustainability effort that her brand is making.

What’s the best decision your company has made in the last year?

We decided to start building our first commercial factory together with our partner, the world’s largest wood pulp producer Suzano. This means that our super-sustainable, wood-based fiber and materials will be available to consumers at the end of 2022 through our partner brands.

How would you describe your corporate culture?

Spinnova is a material innovation company, so innovation is in our core. Everyone is encouraged to innovate and learn through trial and error. ‘Fail fast, succeed faster’ is a saying that suits us very well. We would not have come from laboratory scale to building our first commercial factory in just six years without this kind of mentality.

What can companies learn from Covid-19?

The pandemic is scary and worrying, but climate change is even worse. Efforts to counteract that must not be stopped or delayed because of the virus. We have been glad to find that our brand partners are so committed to joint product development that none of our collaborations were put on hold last year, despite their struggles as retail companies.

What should be the apparel industry’s top priority now?

Sustainability efforts and investing in innovation. Stepping out of the linear economy’s comfort zone and investing in new, circular materials requires management commitment, though. I’d like brands to see sustainability as a strategic differentiator that will, in time, be a competitive advantage.

What keeps you up at night?

The climate change is real, and I do worry about all the scary phenomena we’re already seeing related to it. How will these escalate by the time my kids are grown-ups?

What makes you most optimistic?

Working for an innovation that will probably disrupt the way textiles are made to help mitigate climate change is what gives me hope. There is a lot of innovation, effort and drive in this space in textiles alone, but also in other industries. People around the world reach out to us all the time, congratulating us for our fantastic innovation and telling us of their sustainable business ideas or efforts.

Tell us about your company’s latest product introduction:

We recently announced we are working with the H&M Group, among other great brand owners. Like them, most leading apparel brands are committed to become climate neutral or even climate positive. Since Spinnova materials’ cradle-to-gate emissions are considerably less than those of cotton, it’s a radical improvement to existing textile fibers. Spinnova’s fiber already works well in blends with other natural fibers, especially cotton. In big volumes, Spinnova blends alone can have a big positive environmental impact. We will be announcing a number of further new brand collaborations and products later this year.