In 2013, the “Rana Plaza” textile factory in Bangladesh collapsed, claiming the lives of more than 1,000 people. Shocking however, are not just the working conditions of the textile industry – where low pay, hostile working hours and child labor are rampant – but also the environmental impact of production operations in the fashion sector: pollution levels from the fashion industry are second only to those of the oil industry. So there is reason enough to call for change. Fashion Revolution Night, held April 26, 2018, on the Düsseldorf campus of WHU – Otto Beisheim School of Management, provided ideas the industry can use to transform itself.
“Fashion Revolution” is a global movement based on a statement by Vivienne Westwood: “Buy less, choose well and make it last.” This movement’s principal demand is for greater transparency among fashion brands, and hence greater awareness for all concerning the conditions under which our clothing is created. Monika Hauck, Director of the Entrepreneurship Center at WHU, and Anja Gräf, Director of HSBC Alternative Investments, brought the movement to the fashion city of Düsseldorf. “As a fashion metropolis and startup city, Düsseldorf is just the right place to broach this topic,” explains Monika Hauck, adding: “Many entrepreneurs have realized the younger generation’s needs. No longer content to simply buy large quantities of inexpensive goods, they are interested to learn who has produced their clothes, and what they are made of. Young startups in particular have terrific ideas about how to change the industry, and the courage to tread new paths in the world of fashion.”
Two young entrepreneurs were able to demonstrate this courage during the Fashion Revolution Night at WHU. The fashion startup “Wunderwerk” has been based in Düsseldorf since 2012. Tim Brückmann and Heiko Wunder established their company to produce sustainable, fair clothing that nevertheless does not embody the typical “eco look.” They opted for a complete ban on plastic, down to the smallest details, along with fashionable denim designs. Tim Brückmann describes the style of his fashion for everyday wear: “Our clothes can be worn in the office, but also when you pick up your child from kindergarten.” Daniel Beernink, founder and managing director of Rhumaa, was also on hand for the evening event at WHU to talk about his fashion startup. Based on his own experience abroad, in South Africa, the Amsterdam-based company produces fashion using sustainable materials and designs by African artists. The designs are intended not only to look beautiful, but also to tell artistic and cultural stories.
The evening was capped off by a panel discussion featuring entrepreneurs Heiko Wunder of Wunderwerk and Daniel Beernink of Rhumaa, together with experts Professor Dr. Stefan Spinler, chairholder in Logistics Management at WHU, and Patrick Bottermann, Collaborating Centre on Sustainable Consumption and Production (CSCP). Under the moderation of Monika Hauck, the participants addressed a variety of questions. Professor Spinler explained that the transport of clothing over great distances, in addition to actual production methods that use hazardous chemicals, constitutes a major part of pollution. The startup founders Wunder and Beernink discussed their motivations and the difficulties involved in launching a fashion startup. “It’s impossible to create a fashion brand without money,” Daniel Beernink pointed out. There was one question around which all panel members were in agreement: responsibility for fairness and sustainability in the textile world is borne by the fashion corporations, but also by each individual consumer, through his or her individual purchasing decisions.