Vigga Svensson used to run the sustainable clothes company Katvig, which closed down in 2013. A major reason for this was that, as Svensson puts it ”we spent our energy solving half a problem”. For 10 years, Katvig felt they did everything right.
”We made clothes from biological materials, we cleaned up our supply lines, and politicians came to us with their questions on the issue”, said Vigga Svensson from the conference stage.
However, when they used Facebook to ask their customers how much baby clothes they owned and how much of it they actually used, the answer was surprising.
”The average family owns 200 pieces of baby clothing. They only use about 25 of those, one of eight”, says Vigga Svensson. ”Babies outgrow eight sizes from age 0-2, and their parents buy an average of 270 pieces of clothing in that time. The clothes that are actually worn are then only used on average 5-10 times”.
That made Vigga and her husband, co-owner Peter Svensson, do some calculations. They reached the conclusion that the average baby family could save up to 70% of their clothes budget if they changed their consumer habits slightly. If a baby only uses a onesie seven times before outgrowing it, it is almost inconsequential how sustainably it was produced.
That led to the clothes concept VIGGA in 2014, which kicked off as a project supported by the Fund for Green Business Development and with Design School Kolding, The Danish Business Authority, University of Southern Denmark and PlanMiljø among the partners. 18 months later, the company has 50.000 pieces of baby clothing in circulation with baby families. Unlike traditional clothes brands, VIGGA’s customers give the clothes back.
Pass it on
The VIGGA business model is built on circular economy. Through a subscription plan, baby families receive high quality baby clothes and have it replaced when the nipper is ready to change sizes. The customers return the clothes by mail and receive something a few sizes larger.
The concept was chosen as the world’s most sustainable solution in the fashion industry 2015 by Sustainia at COP21. It also won the award for most innovative business concept in retail trade 2015 by European retailer network Ebeltoft Group. However, things are just starting up for the company, which now expands to the international market. And, according to Vigga Svensson, the fashion business’ eyes are only now opening up to the opportunities in sustainable business models.
”The fashion business is broken – it stands for overexploitation of resources, use of dangerous chemicals, dangerous labour conditions and massive waste from the use-and-discard society. The business speculates in ’fast fashion’ – what drives the business is the production of as much garment as possible in as poor quality as possible. That means that it sells cheap, and its short lifespan means that the consumer will soon need to buy new again”.
Durability and quality is the way to go
VIGGA is determined to make high quality and durability their business driver instead. Therefore, sustainability, longevity and high quality are at the heart of their business model.
For years, Design School Kolding has researched the fashion and textile industry and how it may go greener without compromising on quality and aesthetic value. One conclusion to come from this work is that sustainability is not something you can latch on to an existing ’Fast Fashion’ business model. For it to make sense, the business model, as with Vigga, needs to be the centre of the business strategy.
One conference speaker, Dorte Vigsø of the Danish Business Authority, said that today, long-lasting products are becoming good business. Denmark’s potential for circular economy is enormous. Transition to green economy could potentially mean an annual plus of between 25 and 45 billion on the BNP, between 7.000 and 13.000 jobs and up to 50% savings on raw materials and natural resources, particularly water.
Design School Rector, Elsebeth Gerner Nielsen, said on the conference that VIGGA blazes the trail towards the fashion of the future. ”The fashion business cannot continue down the path it started on in the 1900s. We must open our eyes to the fact that we need to tread new paths, because we only have one planet”.
Some of these new paths were examined on the conference, which was attended by, among others, the Danish Business Authority, Design School researchers Anne Louise Bang, Louise Ravnløkke and Vibeke Riisberg, Trine Bruun Petersen of University of Southern Denmark, and the eminent British textile and fashion researcher Kate Fletcher from the London College of Fashion as keynote speaker.