Dr. Regina Henkel
Dr. Regina Henkel

Activists for a Sustainable Garment Industry

Fashion Changers: Education Alone Is Not Enough

More and more consumers are demanding that the clothing industry act instead of talk, and are becoming increasingly active themselves. Three Berlin fashion activists explain what they are all about with the community platform Fashion Changers.

"Who made my clothes?" Fair working conditions are among the claims of the Fashion Changers.
"Who made my clothes?" Fair working conditions are among the claims of the Fashion Changers.

The social pressure on the clothing industry is growing. More and more people around the world are taking to the streets to take an active stand against the waste of resources, exploitation and environmental pollution. You can see this in the protest actions of animal rights activists as well as in the Fridays for Future movement. The fashion and sports industry has also long since become a target. And that's a good thing, say Berlin fashion activists Jana Braumüller, Vreni Jäckle and Nina Lorenzen, who founded the community platform Fashion Changers two years ago. In their blog and on social media, they not only write about sustainable fashion, they also mobilize like-minded people and take to the streets for their demands. They also actively seek contact with politics and business, give lectures and organise panel discussions - most recently at the trade fair for sustainable fashion, Neonyt, in Berlin.

Their first book "Fashion Changers. How we can change the world with fair fashion" was published by Knesebeck Verlag in March. In the context of the Fashion Revolution Week from 20 to 26 April, the question arises: How can activists change the clothing industry?

ISPO.com: You call yourself Fashion Changers - what exactly do you want to change about fashion?
Vreni Jäckle: We actually want to change the whole fashion industry and make fair and sustainable fashion more visible. It is also about fashion becoming more diverse and inclusive and not always showing just one type of person. We want, so to speak, a more compatible fashion for people, the environment and society.


From Common Goals to Community

How was Fashion Changers created? How did you three find each other?

Nina Lorenzen: We have different professional backgrounds. Nevertheless we all had our own blog with a feminist or ecological focus and knew them. At some point, we met offline and started to organize first small events for bloggers with similar topics. We thought it was important to bring the community closer together and work together. At first, it was all about fashion and sustainability, now we talk also about other socially relevant topics. Why the three of us? Everything is better when there are three of us! We are sometimes very surprised that the advantages of the idea of cooperation are not yet a consensus.

At the same time you describe yourself as fashion activists - what does that mean exactly?

Vreni Jäckle: Just because we have a magazine on sustainability issues and question the status quo does not make us activists in person. That's why part of our work consists of political actions and driving forward demands, supporting petitions. For example, we organize demo blocks on the subject of fashion and try to get people on the streets. We also work together with other activists and meet regularly, for example with Fridays for Future and Parents for Future and many others, in order to support each other.

But Fashion Changers is not a club, but a company. What does your business model look like?

Nina Lorenzen: We are a start-up and have our own online magazine. We create content for it, also organize events in cooperation with companies. For example, we recently had an event with a natural cosmetics brand that was about body images. We give lectures and organize panel discussions, for example at the Neonyt fashion fair here in Berlin.

We Want to Mobilise

Should we only consume sustainable products or should we avoid consumption altogether?

Vreni Jäckle: Sustainable fashion consumption involves more than just changing the wardrobe to green. We want people to stop being passive consumers. We want more debate about how a product is created and also whether people really need it. In our communication, we do not call for a renunciation of consumption or for rapid consumption. This is not how consumption works in reality - no one does either one or the other. Our approach is: thinking. Buy consciously, pay attention to good quality and durability. And use different ways, you can also borrow, exchange and buy second-hand. It's all about the mix, which brings more responsibility and doesn't take away the fun of fashion.

Nina Lorenzen: This is also what our book is about: We want to show possibilities. We don't say that everything is bad and then leave the readers alone with it. That is too depressing. That's where the climate angst comes from, for example, and it paralyzes. We want to mobilize the community. It is important not to fight alone. Also we are not saying that all companies are doing everything wrong; we are aware that we have to take the companies on board in order to be able to change something.

What is the reaction of the companies to your work?

Nina Lorenzen: Sustainability has become a buzz word and now it is up to us to apply journalistic care to show who is serious and who is greenwashing. Of course, change does not happen overnight but it is important to exert public pressure and demand transparency from companies.

In the course of the sustainability debate, many companies - including those in the outdoor industry - now like to refer to the fact that they make particularly durable products. Is that sufficient?

Nina Lorenzen: Durability is, of course, a key factor when it comes to sustainability. In this respect, clothing produced in a sustainable way should of course always last for a long time. If an outdoor brand advertises with durable products, that's good, still we would ask: Where does the fabric come from? Were the people who processed it properly paid? Can it be recycled? Are the components of the garment from sustainable sources?

The Berlin fashion activists Jana Braumüller, Vreni Jäckle and Nina Lorenzen (from left to right) want to make fair fashion better known - increasingly also with actions.
The Berlin fashion activists Jana Braumüller, Vreni Jäckle and Nina Lorenzen (from left to right) want to make fair fashion better known - increasingly also with promotions.

Sustainability Paradox in the Outdoor Industry

You are also concerned with feminist issues: fashion is primarily a women's issue, and in the battle for sustainable fashion, women are also seen as the main players. Why is that so?

Vreni Jäckle: Men often tell us that they only buy three things a year anyway. The idea behind this is that fashion has nothing to do with them, which is not true, because we all wear fashion. As a result, interest in fair and sustainable fashion is often lower. By the way, social issues often have a female connotation, too - fair fashion therefore has nothing to do with supposedly male role models in a double sense. What's more, cheap fashion consumption is primarily aimed at female target groups. It also reflects the pay gap between men and women. Moreover, it is mainly women who work in global fashion production and trade. Perhaps this is why women feel particularly motivated to bring about change here.

In the sports and outdoor segments, there are sustainable collections and a primarily male target group. What is the situation in these areas?

Nina Lorenzen: The outdoor segment is aimed at people who are close to nature, so it is only logical that consumers and companies in this area find environmental protection important. At the same time, we are dealing with the paradox that functional clothing is particularly difficult to produce sustainably because it often requires resource-intensive processes before an item of clothing can be waterproof or particularly breathable, for example.

What do you think must change in the sports and outdoor industry?

Vreni Jäckle: In our opinion, the outdoor industry offers a particularly large potential for innovation. For example, we would like to see more resource-conserving processes for impregnation and a more sensible use of the materials processed; Cradle to Cradle is a good approach here. The outdoor industry also processes many textiles of animal origin, such as wool, because of its antibacterial and breathable properties. This is where ethical and environmentally friendly animal husbandry is needed.

The Berlin fashion activists Jana Braumüller, Vreni Jäckle and Nina Lorenzen show examples of sustainable fashion consumption in their book 'Fashion Changers'.
The Berlin fashion activists Jana Braumüller, Vreni Jäckle and Nina Lorenzen show examples of sustainable fashion consumption in their book 'Fashion Changers'.

Conclusion Today: We Need More Regulations

Fashion Changers have been around since 2018 - what is your conclusion so far?

Nina Lorenzen: The media coverage has already changed a lot. Movements like Fridays for Future have also brought the topic further forward. Sustainable fashion is also benefiting from this. But we can also see that resource consumption worldwide is higher than ever before and continues to grow. We are also aware of the knowledge-behavior gap that people want to become more sustainable, but don't behave like that. So our conclusion is that we cannot wait for everything to improve by itself. Even with organic food, which has already achieved a certain market penetration, the percentage is only five percent. There is no more time for voluntary commitment. We need regulations, we cannot leave it to the consumers alone.

Vreni Jäckle: It's a fairy tale that everyone becomes sensible if they are just properly enlightened - that's unrealistic. The will to change must come from different directions - from consumers, politics and the economy. This is why we have become more and more activist in our work.

What is your forecast?

Vreni Jäckle: In fact, the climate crisis is in full swing, we will have more and more problems in the future. Therefore, the topic of sustainability will continue in the future. At the moment there is still a lot of talk about it, and my hope is that we will soon enter an active phase where a lot of action is being taken.

What new actions are planned for 2020 so far?

Nina Lorenzen: We are now going to promote our book and are in the process of preparing for Fashion Revolution Day on 24 April and for the next Berlin Fashion Week, where we are organising another panel discussion. In autumn we will also be holding our first Fashion Changers Conference. But the date has not been fixed yet.

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Dr. Regina Henkel
Dr. Regina Henkel
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