We have the tools today to make the change the world needs, says engineer, author and futurist, Peter Diamandis, on the latest episode of the Innovators podcast.
Speaking from Summit LA19, an annual gathering of today’s brightest leaders, he explains why we must remember that our mindset matters more than ever before as we head into 2020.
“I think this is the most extraordinary time ever to be alive. I think that we are living in a time where if you want to make a difference in the world you can. You’re more empowered as individuals to take on the world’s biggest problems than heads of nations and kings and queens were just decades or centuries ago,” he explains.
During a time when we’re surrounded by negative news – something we pay 10x more attention to than anything positive – it’s easy to get dragged down. But it’s time to feel optimistic, he notes. We have a new decade ahead of us, which presents more opportunity than ever before.
“I’m more bullish than ever before. Yes, we have problems. Yes, we have environmental problems. Yes, we have political problems. Yes, we have all those things. But the fact the matter is, we also have the tools to challenge them and change them and make the world a better place. We’ve romanticize the past, but the past was pretty brutal, pretty brutal compared to today.”
During this conversation, Diamandis explains why there’s a crazy idea behind every breakthrough innovation, how the next decade will be a critical time to reinvent much of humanity, and the one thing you need to know to prepare for this future.
There is so much opportunity in being a big business that there’s no excuse for not doing the right thing, says Christopher Raeburn comparing his British-born Raeburn brand with the global scale of Timberland, on the latest episode of the Innovators podcast.
Raeburn has been creative director at the latter since late 2018, where he says he is focusing on putting responsible, innovative design at the centre of its strategy. But it’s through his work and experience for the smaller Raeburn business that he’s able to do so, he explains.
“One of the ways I’ve always looked at Raeburn is almost like a Remora – those small fish that clean sharks… sometimes they can clean the teeth and everything like that. I think it’s a really interesting analogy, because by swimming alongside sometimes those big big fish in the ocean, A) you have the opportunity to clean them, and that’s exciting because they want to be cleaned. B) you have the opportunity to talk to them a little bit and then maybe you can start to really steer them. And if they want to be steered and it’s a really good partnership then you’re going to go in the right direction together,” he says.
Raeburn, which was founded in 2009, has built up its business focused on three key areas that all come under the circularity header: reduced, remade and recycled. But that was the case long before sustainability itself became a “trend”.
“I never really set out to start a responsible company. It was more a company that started from common sense. And it fascinates me, as I say, that there is all of this stuff out there. And why can’t we reuse and remake it before we even need to buy anything new,” Raeburn notes.
Join us as we also explore why scaling such a model is essential for the future of our industry, how much opportunity is coming down the pipeline from what we currently consider trash, and the role business has to play in education today.
Introducing legislation along the lines of a Global Green New Deal is mandatory for the future of our planet and the existence of the fashion industry within it, says designer and activist Katharine Hamnett on the Innovators podcast.
“That’s the dream, isn’t it? We reclaim the destroyed lands, we get out of burning fossil fuels and killing the planet, we go to renewables. People find interesting jobs, rewarding jobs… you know, building a better world – it’s exciting for everybody and is the way that we’ve got to go,” she explains.
AGlobal Green New Deal suggests investment in key areas such as net-zero greenhouse gas emissions, clean-energy jobs and infrastructure, clean air, water, access to nature and more. It’s not brand new, it’s an evolution on from a United Nations paper in 2009 that focused on helping power a job-rich global economic recovery through decarbonization, and before that a Franklin D Roosevelt term from the 1930s.
While it’s got a lot of mixed opinions, it supports the idea ultimately that we need a stronger push around climate change legislation, and that the needs are now too big for businesses to do it alone.
The commercial endeavours of industry full stop mean there just isn’t incentive enough there to do so in a way that results in any tangible change. So we have to make it mandatory, and, as per Hamnett’s thoughts, we have to lobby existing governments to introduce the sort of regulatory methods that will actually lead us somewhere.
Hamnett herself is one of the original fashion activists. Her brand is now celebrating its 40th anniversary, but she is a designer that has become particularly well known for her t-shirts supporting various movements, from helping refugees to indeed, supporting a Global Green New Deal. And she’s now lobbying for it too.
Join us as we dive into what her view is on the sort of regulations we need in the UK and Europe particularly, what activism today should really look like both for businesses and for us as individuals, and why she doesn’t believe the answer is about reducing how many clothes we all actually buy.
“Being creative gives us the ability to help change the world”, says Roland Mouret, a designer on a mission to eradicate single-use plastics in the supply chain, on the latest episode of the Innovators podcast.
“Let’s not consider our creativity penalized by the fact that we have to become responsible,” he explains during the recording at the British Fashion Council’s annual Fashion Forum this year.
His view is that the concept of luxury that dominated the past few decades has been destroyed by the climate crisis, meaning having money, logos and power are no longer the values consumers want to be associated with.
Instead, we’re seeing a global shift to a more sustainable approach, he explains. This makes for a highly complex business shift, he acknowledges, but he’s doing so by taking a small step that could add up to a big change if adopted across the industry.
Consequently, one of his focuses is around the humble coat hanger. Not those glamorous types you see in luxury stores, but the cheap plastic ones that flood the supply chain to get products from manufacturer to shop floor, and ultimately end up going to waste. He is working with a startup called Arch & Hook to do so.
He refers to hangers as the plastic straws of the fashion industry, highlighting their need to be replaced by sustainable alternatives. In doing so he ties the fashion supply chain in with the overconsumption challenge of single-use plastic. Worldwide, about eight million tons of it leak into the ocean every year.
Join us for this episode where we also talk to Mouret about why he’s on a mission to make sustainability sexy, the major trend he thinks is dying out in fashion right now, and how the climate crisis is redefining power and the luxury industry.
The most important question everybody needs to ask themselves relative to a more sustainable fashion industry is around cost and long-term thinking, explains Nicolaj Reffstrup, founder of Danish fashion brand, Ganni, on the latest episode of the Innovators podcast.
“If you really want to do something, you need to look at the fabrics that you’re using and see if you can convert those to recycled fabrics, or at least organic fabrics. But that comes with a cost. So the biggest and most important question everybody needs to ask themselves, is literally how much are we spending on converting our company or our brand and our product towards a more sustainable future?” he asks.
Oftentimes, the immediate follow-up query to what is the cost, is who is going to pay for it. The majority of brands in the space – including those actively making moves towards adapting their business processes – are measured on short term returns. And yet sustainability is not an overnight fix. To make the changes that are really necessary throughout the supply chain is a big and long-term investment.
So how do we convince CFOs and shareholders that it’s worthwhile – that we have to take a hit now in order to benefit in the future. Or more importantly, that there is indeed a business case there to do it full stop?
Ganni is one exploring it from all angles. The fact it’s small and agile means it has more ability to do so, but it also means it relies entirely on an outsourced supply chain to drive the agenda forward. Power is therefore limited, but ambition is not.
Join us as we discuss with Reffstrup how the brand is flexing its muscle as well as making investments to drive towards a more sustainable future. We also explore how he’s watching innovation from other industries like food, the new rental business model he’s testing, and why he believes sustainability and fashion is a contradiction that needs to be faced by all brands.
“[The fashion industry] is 60% larger than it needs to be relative to the actual quantity of demand,” says Paul Dillinger, Head of Global Product Innovation at Levi’s, on the latest episode of the Innovators podcast by the Current Global.
He is referring to the fact six out of 10 garments produced every year are being discarded to landfill or incinerated within the first year of their production. The result is that those working in this world need to either think about how you can eliminate overproduction, or instead build new business models around only making and selling the four that are actually wanted, he explains, even if it affects business growth.
An alternative response to that concept is the so-called “circular economy”, whereby items are not discarded but put back into the system, which to overly simplify matters, enables businesses to continue with growth while aiming for lesser impact. But Dillinger believes such moves are merely providing brands with a guilt-free alternative to keep overproducing at a point when the technology for a truly circular system isn’t yet scalable. He instead refers to the idea of credible “circular industrial ecologies”, which are much more complex to operate and achieve.
“One of them is a corporate compliance officer selling a new shiny penny to a board of directors in the C-suite, and the other one is a studious and scientific approach to really tackling a real challenge,” he explains.
At Levi’s, Dillinger is otherwise looking at key areas like reducing the brand’s use of water. “I think people’s right to drink fresh water should be prioritized above a company’s right to access fresh water for production,” he explains.
In this conversation, hosted in front of a live audience at the Current Global’s Innovation Mansion at SXSW 2019, he explains what that looks like through the innovative work he’s been doing with hemp. He also gets technical with host Rachel Arthur about the many ways in which Levi’s is working to make its supply chain responsible in one of the most complex industries in the world.
“Collaborations to me, are a love affair,” says Eno Polo, US president of Alpagartas, the parent company of the world’s most popular flip flop brand, Havaianas, on the latest episode of the Innovators podcast by the Current Global.
Collaborations are at the core of both the brand’s success and its wide reach, but in order to become successful, they need to remain authentic, he explains. “It has to be two-way. I think a lot of brands out there force collaborations, they pay for collaborations. But if you pay for going out with a girl, I don’t call that a love affair. I’d rather it be a natural feeling – she likes me, I like her – and we go out together. That’s what I call a true collaboration, and those are the ones I think are most successful.”
Havaianas shot onto the international stage when French designer Jean Paul Gaultier accessorized his models on the New York and Paris catwalks with the flip flops in 1999, instantly turning them into an object of desire. What followed was a series of fashion brands wanting to collaborate with the now-iconic brand, hoping to borrow some of the color and freshness that only a Brazilian label could bring to the table.
Today, Havaianas produces over 250 million pairs a year, or 10 pairs a second, and is Europe’s number one sandal brand.
Beyond its ambitious expansion plans across the globe comes a mounting pressure for the brand to tackle the issue of sustainability, which may well still be in toddler stages in its native country, but is steadily becoming a business imperative elsewhere.
For Polo, the fact that the company is scaling its retail footprint and office count across Europe and the US means there is a growing internal pressure to become more sustainable. The brand is doing so by focusing on employee welfare, but also wants to tackle and own the fight for sustainability at the beaches where its products are so ever-present.
During this conversation, Polo also talks through the company’s history from catering to Brazil’s working class to hitting the beaches of Ibiza; the importance of creating a retail experience that puts a smile on the customer’s feet; and why creating such a simple product allows the brand to remain fun.
Consumer demand for more responsible products is clearer than ever, and companies – from legacy names to newer players in the field – are evolving their business models to incorporate more sustainable practices.
To hit their ambitious sustainability goals, the approach is diverse, from using blockchain in the supply chain to finding new ways to bioengineering innovative textiles.
Last year, TheCurrent Global’s Innovators podcast spoke to some of the world’s top brands and companies on what it means to be sustainable at this day and age, and how to create a more responsible future that will enable them to still be around in decades to come.
H&M has some of the fashion industry’s most ambitious goals: by 2030, it aims to use 100% recyclable or sustainably sourced materials. Nina Shariati, who leads transparency at H&M, spoke to TheCurrent Global on how the group’s size in the fast fashion space could work in their – and everyone’s – favour: “We see it as a positive thing that we are a large company where we have [these ambitions], and we see that with the help of our size we can drive this change that we want to see.”
For example last year already, 36% of H&M’s total material buy was recycled or sustainably sourced. “What we want to do with transparency is to set a measuring index that harmonizes the industry so that you can compare your product across brands,” adds Shariati. “We are far from the time where it’s OK to work in silos.” The ultimate goal, she notes, should be to empower consumers by enabling them to make more informed decisions.
For Matt Scanlan, CEO and co-founder of the disruptive cashmere brand Naadam, being sustainable means transforming your supply chain into a community. The brand was conceived after he spent a month with local communities in the Gobi Desert learning about their lifestyles. He eventually returned with $2 million in cash to buy tons of raw cashmere directly from herders, thus allowing them to earn 50% more profit than in a traditional fashion supply chain. His ambition to disrupt the cashmere industry has grown rapidly since.
But Scanlan still holds some skepticism about reaching 100% sustainability in the supply chain, which he thinks is both fake and impossible to achieve. Speaking to Innovators co-host Liz Bacelar, he also talks passionately about the human side of the industry which, after all, is built on relationships.
Ikea is focusing on creating products and services that can support consumers to live more sustainably, and more healthfully, every day.
According to Joanna Yarrow, head of sustainable and healthy living at the Swedish giant, to achieve its sustainable strategy, the company’s approach is threefold: look at its use of energy and resources – by 2020, it will be generating at least as much energy as it is consuming in their operations; focus on its people and its supply chain; and lastly, work on how to improve its customers’ lives overarchingly.
Since the original episode was published, Ikea has opened what it claims to be its most sustainable store in the world in Greenwich, London, featuring solar panels, rainwater harvesting and a geothermal heating system. It has also introduced a furniture leasing pilot in Switzerland.
Blockchain has an emerging and important role in sustainability, and UK-based designer Martine Jarlgaard was one of the early adopters of the technology in order to investigate a more sustainable supply chain.
In 2017, her namesake label teamed up with London-based startup Provenance to register and trace each step of the journey of a garment on a blockchain platform, which consumers could access by scanning a QR code found on its label.
Speaking to co-host Rachel Arthur last summer, Jarlgaard weighed in on how brands need to redefine the value of a product to change the way in which consumers shop, and emphasized the huge responsibility that sits on the industry’s shoulders to start driving sustainability ahead. “We are such a closed, centralized system. Being open and transparent is the only way forward.”
San Francisco-based bioengineering startup Bolt Threads is arguably one of the most known names disrupting the fashion industry, largely due to its relationship with eco-luxury label Stella McCartney. Working with the brand, it has so far launched pilot products such as a dress made of of lab-grown spider silk, as well as most recently, a ‘leather’ bag constructed out of mushroom leather, or mycelium.
Sustainable innovation and the power it now carries are a direct response to a shift in consumer behavior, he says. “Ultimately it is up to the consumer. [We’re] seeing the speed at which consumer taste is changing – 2017 was a transformative year for sustainability,” adding, “It is getting big really fast and it’s becoming one of the issues at the forefront of the industry because it touches everyone.”
Ask any direct-to-consumer brand and the answer is clear: the death of retail is greatly exaggerated.
Throughout the year, the Innovators podcast by TheCurrent Global spoke to some of the top businesses disrupting the markets they’re in to uncover the secrets to their success.
The one thing they seem to have in common is finding an industry that has long been left untapped, and focusing on a single product category – whether it be shoes, luggage, underwear and more. But they’re also winning by bringing in strong elements of community, having a sustainable story at their heart and launching into physical retail.
Here are our top ones from this year’s podcast episodes:
In April, TheCurrent Global spoke to Toby Darbyshire, CEO of UK-based hosiery brand Heist Studios, on how the brand is innovating such a traditional category. “It struck us that in the age of Harvey Weinstein, the fact that my wife, who is a pretty modern woman, walks into Selfridges’ underwear section and it says ‘listen love, put this on – one of sort of four or five societal normalized views of sexy – and then you can fulfil your purpose’. That seems like an industry at its fundamental that is both broken from a brand point of view but also totally out of kilter with the cultural discourse,” he said at the time.
Heist plans on fixing the industry by placing a large focus on its product development, which begins at the customer and how they feel about tights, to product innovation that takes cues from other industries, such as sports, to better understand the performance and wear of textiles.
Mattress brand Casper is arguably one of the category’s biggest success stories, said to be worth over $750m today, with plans to open over 200 retail locations over the next three years. Today, brands should be deploying three different tools to achieve a successful retail experience, said chief experience officer Eleanor Morgan: trial, service and entertainment.
The brand, which introduced the mattress-in-a-box experience to American homes and beyond in 2014, now paves the way for digitally-native brands that are transitioning from online to offline spaces. Its stores, most recently the Dreamery space in NY, don’t focus on inventory availability and convenience. Instead, the focus is giving customers the ability to enjoy moments with the brand, which involves more practical elements such as try-on and expert consultation.
Cashmere brand Nadaam has built its entire business on relationships, said founder Matt Scanlan. “There are fundamental shared experiences across the human experience that we don’t think about when we’re making clothing; that we don’t think about when we’re trying to look nice” he told co-host Liz Bacelar earlier this year.
Since inception, Nadaam has focused on building a strong bond with the communities that trade raw materials that become its products. That was an important factor to establishing a more sustainable supply chain, and part of a plan to build the biggest platform he could in order to share his message. Consumers are ready for this, he said, which only helps drive his message forward. During the conversation, Scanlan also talked about why 100% sustainability is both fake and impossible, and the challenges of growing such a brand.
These days, Away’s mindset of creating a lifestyle rather than a single-product brand is exemplified by a travel magazine called Here, several successful collaborations with everyone from model Karlie Kloss to basketball Dwayne Wade and a slew of physical stores that sell beyond the simple suitcase.
Footwear label Allbirds was conceived on the idea of creating a simple shoe that had two main focuses: sustainability and comfort. The aim was two-fold because according to co-founder Tim Brown, people don’t buy solely based on a brand’s sustainability credentials, but whether the product itself does what it says on the tin.
During this podcast conversation, Brown also honed in on the importance of businesses taking a responsibility in ensuring a greener future, rather than expecting the consumer to do it themselves. He also talked about the fact the brand has been making strides in product development that aligns with its ethos of sustainability: it recently launched a new flip flop range made with renewable sugarcane soles, the “recipe” of which is open source so other industry names can join in.
Soon after the episode was initially published, Allbirds took its mission online with Meet Your Shoes, a platform that showcased the provenance of the wool and tree styles. For wool, for example, users can read the ‘sheep dossier’ and even pet individual sheep as they stroll across the screen in a video.