As the global fashion industry is struggling with sustainability and responsibility, Copenhagen-based GANNI has an ultimate goal of designing ‘the zero-impact collection’ while being completely up-front about how difficult that is.
In 2019, GANNI took part in an SDG Accelerator program launched by the United Nations & the consultancy Deloitte, aiming to accelerate business solutions with the UN Sustainable Development Goals.
The aim was to create a 100% impact free collection, and the project was titled GANNI Lab. The initial idea was to create a capsule collection that consisted of the brand’s key bestselling silhouettes in high quantity fabrics, creating a 100% impact free version of these commercial products. As an output of the project, GANNI would be able to take all the learnings and implement them into the way they do business across all products. Their aim was to rethink the way the company operates across the entire value chain to reduce the brand’s impact on the planet.
"Today, digitalisation is everywhere. We have to think about responsibility in the same way as we do about digitalisation: it has to be part of every major decision you make."
Motivated by wanting to become radically more responsible in a very short amount of time, GANNI chose to work with some of the highest volume fabrics and styles in their existing collections.
They took a holistic approach, working across all relevant departments from design, equipping the team to design for circularity, to production, who did a deep dive on creating less waste on the company’s polybags.
The team collaborated with 4 external stakeholders and 11 suppliers. This resulted in an internal sprint process that generated information sharing across all ends of the business and accelerated the use of sustainable fabrics (organic, certified and recycled) across seasons from just 4% in July 2019 to 52,5% in August 2020.
With fabrics sourced through the GANNI Lab project, GANNI were able to achieve traceability on 3 out of 4 stages (75%) of its supply chain, from the fabric manufacturer to the dying, printing and yarn mills. This mapping process would usually take years for companies to achieve.
Instead, GANNI were able to implement the knowledge they were harvesting from GANNI Lab at a running pace, meaning that they were able to implement learnings on their main collections.
This process completely reinvented GANNI’s way of creating a responsible supply chain from within.
For example, by leveraging the traceability aspects of the Ganni Lab project, the company was able to collaborate with its suppliers in Italy, Spain and Greece on creating garments made of pre-consumer and post-consumer waste, thus massively reducing the environmental footprint of their products.
We do not call ourselves sustainable. As long as the planet consumes clothing the way we do right now, I think any fashion brand will have a difficult time claiming that. So, we talk about trying to be responsible and behaving better every day.
In fashion, our drive is newsworthiness and we invent new products and collections all the time. As long as we do not have a zero-impact collection, I would not call us sustainable. To create a zero-impact collection that is at the same time relevant and exciting – that is our ultimate goal. Therefore, we work with a holistic approach to sustainability.
In a lot of cases, people focus on switching to organic fabrics and that’s it. That is definitely a step in the right direction, but you have to approach the issue of sustainability on a lot of levels to really make an impact. It is about logistics, packaging, the afterlife of the product, the whole value chain. We have come to realise, that the actions that have the highest positive impact sustainability-wise are in a lot of cases really mundane, boring stuff, like nit-picking every detail in your supply chain and optimizing it with sustainability and the Higg index in mind. And that demands that you design your organisation in a way that makes sustainability an issue everywhere. It cannot be something you just park in the sourcing department. That is why we established GANNI Lab which is a virtual cross departmental team with representatives from all departments.
I have a background in tech, and you can make the parallel that 15 years ago digitalisation in most companies was about a website and it was something that resided with marketing. Today, digitalisation is everywhere. We have to think about responsibility in the same way as we do about digitalisation: it has to be part of every major decision you make.
But you have to think about motivation. The actions that make the biggest impact: supply chain, certification, traceability – those are difficult to rally around as a company. That is why we make small projects all the time that we know will not save the world, but that create awareness. We make beer out of hops grown in our courtyard, we grow oyster mushrooms in the coffee grinds from our office, which are also used to make soap. These small projects are about storytelling. They are instagrammable. You see them every day. And that is what you need to change the mindset of the company.
Danish fashion is very…. We do not have tradition for luxury in Denmark. Our key competence is making a broadly accessible product that marries great design with good quality and craftsmanship. In a way, it is the same philosophy that defines the whole heritage of Danish furniture: to let good product design benefit a lot of people.
Our take on that philosophy has been to behave like a luxury brand with campaigns, presence in major world cities and high-end retailers and shows. But our price point has still made the product accessible to – if not everyone, then at least many more than the thoroughbred luxury brands.
That price point has been natural for us coming out of Denmark where the taxes are high, and people have less money for consumer goods. And I like that we sell at a price point that would be termed a democratic or an honest price point, depending on which side of the Atlantic you are on. But in the storytelling and the branding we behave like a luxury brand. In stores our products are placed alongside Balenciaga and Prada because of the design. That is becoming increasingly common now, but when we first started this take on affordable luxury was new.
At the same time as we have built up GANNI from scratch since 2009, we have friends who have built up affordable luxury brands within the world of furniture and interior design in parallel with our journey with GANNI: HAY and Muuto. We have been following each other and you can draw a lot of parallels: they are also about offering exquisite design and high quality, but at a price point that makes their products accessible to a broader audience. So, in that way you may say that we are part of a broader movement originating in Denmark.
In terms of quality of life and what we take with us from Danish lifestyle, we have talked a lot about how we are designing for ‘The Copenhagen Girl’. If you look around Copenhagen, the girls you will see on the street her are maybe not as outré as what you will see in some places in New York or Shanghai. But they are confident, they are not culturally subdued, they live in a balanced society with one of the better records on gender equality and they bike everywhere. That calls for versatile clothes: you bike to work and go on from there to a party changing from sneaks to pumps on the way. And with that character, ‘the Copenhagen girl’, it is not the brand wearing the girl as you sometimes see when people buy a certain brand to prop up their confidence. We want the girl to wear the brand, and not the other way around.
Based in Copenhagen and owned and run since 2009 by husband-and-wife team Creative Director Ditte Reffstrup and Founder Nicolaj Reffstrup, GANNI has developed exponentially over recent years with its Scandi 2.0 sense of style full of personality and contrasts. From what started out in 2000 as an idea and desire to create the perfect cashmere knit, GANNI is now represented in more than 400 of the world’s finest retailers as well as through 29 own stores across Europe and the U.S. As the global fashion industry is struggling with sustainability and responsibility, GANNI has an ultimate goal of designing ‘the zero-impact collection’ while being completely up-front about how difficult that is.