Interview: Sustainability & the Environment with the Vice President, Global Business Management Textiles at Lenzing
Florian Heubrandner, Vice President, Global Business Management Textiles at Lenzing, talks to FashionCapital about his career journey, the Lenzing ‘innovative by nature’ company ethos and how sustainability and eco-friendly practices need to be adopted by all product producers today…
FC: For the benefit of those who are new to the company, please provide a bit of background on when Lenzing began and what products the company provides.
FH: “Lenzing is an international sustainable fiber producer that has been producing high-quality sustainable wood-based fibers via eco-friendly and innovative technologies for over 80 years.
“TENCEL™ is a specialty brand under Lenzing that covers textile fiber offerings for apparel and home. Its product portfolio defines a new level in terms of sustainability, functional benefits and natural comfort. TENCEL™ branded fibers are produced using environmentally responsible production processes and are compostable and biodegradable, thus can fully return to nature.
“Product brands under TENCEL™ include TENCEL™ Active, TENCEL™ Denim, TENCEL™ Home, TENCEL™ Intimate, TENCEL™ Luxe and TENCEL™ for Footwear.”
FC: How about you? When did you join the company and what was your previous experience?
FH: “I was appointed as Vice President for Global Business Management Textiles at Lenzing AG in December 2018 after joining the company back in 2016.
“Before joining Lenzing, I spent nine years at a global management consulting firm in Austria and Brazil, serving a wide range of clients on strategic and operational topics.
“I was thoroughly impressed by Lenzing’s expertise and passion for brands and retailers. What attracted me the most was Lenzing’s reputation as industry leader in developing products that make fashion more sustainable.
“At Lenzing, not only do we get to work in the exciting and ever-evolving fashion industry, we simultaneously find ways to help the industry become more eco-friendly. It’s often a very interesting mix.”
FC: Can you share some of the brands that currently use Lenzing’s cellulose and fibers?
FH: “Our biggest retailer brands include H&M, Ted Baker, Victoria’s Secret, and J.Crew, among others.
“For activewear and footwear, we work with brands such as Allbirds, Athleta, Nctivn and Converse.
“Customers can look up a comprehensive list of Lenzing brand partners under the ‘Where to buy’ page of the TENCEL™ website.”
FC: Clothing has so many supply chain stages that it can be extremely difficult to say how ethical and transparent a finished garment is – how do you get around this?
FH: “Step by step, Lenzing is working as a “change agent” to help address the trust deficit and history of bad practice in the industry supply chain with suppliers and partners.
“As a founding member of the Sustainable Apparel Coalition (SAC), an initiative was set up by the world’s leading textile brands and companies. Lenzing participated in the development of the global “Higg Index” standard. The index offers a standardized assessment framework that allows visibility across the supply chain and measures the sustainability performance of brands.
“Ecological accreditations, such as the EU Ecolabel, have also become an important benchmark to promote supply chain transparency.
“These certifications provide consumers with clarity on the sustainability rating of a brand’s supply chain. At Lenzing, the EU Ecolabel is an important benchmark in our sustainability journey and planning.
“Recently, Lenzing partnered with tech company TextileGenesis™ to use blockchain to improve transparency and traceability in the textile industry. We foresee that using data and blockchain technology to track clothing from raw material to the consumer will be an upcoming industry trend.”
FC: The latest consumer statistics reveal that attitudes are changing when it comes to making sustainable fashion purchases. However, the majority say that of the sustainable products on offer, most are too over-budget. How can sustainable businesses like Lenzing change this mindset?
“Lenzing sought to rebrand in 2018 to break out from the B2B trade sector and engage with consumers directly. We believe that by partnering with fashion brands and providing ongoing consumer education, we can help raise consumer awareness towards eco-fashion and lower consumer reliance on non-sustainable clothing.
“In fact, consumers nowadays are already willing to challenge traditional conventions. According to a survey by Fashion Revolution in 2018, it stated more than one-third of the respondents consider the social and environmental impact when buying clothing. 80% also think fashion brands should disclose their manufacturers.”
FC: Why do you think it has taken so long for the fashion industry to address its poor record when it comes to sustainability and the environment?
FH: “The current fashion industry is very fragmented. Often many companies are involved across the production process throughout the value chain in different countries. This explains why it took a while for the industry to realize and acknowledge its huge impact on the environment.
“For instance, the production of a simple cotton T-shirt usually involves several intermediaries, from yarn mills, fabric manufacturers, garment factories, to wholesale or direct retailers. The complex supply chain made it problematic for brands to be fully aware of how their fabrics are sourced and made.
“Also, easy entry to the fashion industry makes it even more challenging to drive sustainable change as many initiatives require a large-scale cumulative effort. With each stakeholder having different degrees of awareness, interest and capability for sustainability, it is difficult to swiftly improve the industry’s environmental practices.”
“As a designer, you need to make the right choices in terms of materials at the beginning of a garment’s life, to make sure it doesn’t cause environmental damage at its end.”
FC: What advice would you give to a new designer or brand looking to create positive change?
FH: “When designing a fashion piece, we should think about its full lifecycle, including post-consumption. For example: What will this garment become after it has been used? Will it involve micro-plastics, or can it be biodegradable?
“As a designer, you need to make the right choices in terms of materials at the beginning of a garment’s life, to make sure it doesn’t cause environmental damage at its end.
“Currently, most garments are made of cotton or synthetic fibers. However, synthetic fibers are made from crude oil and washing them produces micro-plastic particles that affect ocean ecosystems.
“As an alternative, I would highly recommend using wood-based fibers which are sourced from sustainably managed forests and produced in clean and circular facilities.
“In addition to eco-friendliness, wood-based fibers are also highly versatile and practical. For instance, TENCEL™ branded lyocell fibers have a smooth microscopic surface that is soft to touch, offering ultimate comfort. These cellulosic fibers also absorb moisture more efficiently than cotton, offering a natural thermal regulation mechanism to keep the skin cool and dry.”
FC: Do you believe that the fashion industry is able to catalyze the scale of change needed to commit to long-term sustainability challenges?
FH: “Definitely – more and more fashion businesses are realizing the need to achieve greater sustainability and transparency. With the rise of innovations and technologies, I believe the industry will be able to better control its supply chains and production processes moving forward.
“As Lenzing continues to lead in the dialogue for the adoption of more eco-friendly practices, we work very closely with industry partners to find ways to deliver more sustainable products. We hope that our proactive approach will help drive further awareness and foster more eco-friendly business opportunities.
“In parallel, assistance from governments, regulators and industry associations to incentivize sustainable and circular solutions are also vital to speed up the industry’s eco-movement.”
FC: And finally, what have you done outside of work to live a more sustainable life?
FH: “On a daily basis, I try to avoid plastics as much as I can, especially when shopping for food. In addition to using reusable shopping bags and containers, I also look out for items with recyclable packaging.
“When it comes to garments, I usually go for natural fibers that don’t cause micro-plastics. Selecting clothing with natural fibers is very easy – simply start by paying attention to the care label. It usually shows the material composition, country of origin, apparel care, optimal cleaning methods, and construction techniques for each piece of clothing.”