Our commitment to transparency: Join us in a brief tour through ourvalue chain and what lies behind the clothes we sell. We want to show andexplain our thoughts, choices, dilemmas, tough compromises and decisions onbest practices. Our aim is to counter greenwashing by offering facts instead offiction – and to exemplify a path towards greater responsibility.
1st stage: Raw materials
1st stage: Raw materials
Our value chain starts with raw materials – our fabrics – and a careful consideration of their pros and cons. Here, the road to responsibility and a better planet is a matter of consciousness and necessary compromise.
Our fabrics are produced in Northern Italy by the company Carvico. It is based on the yarn ECONYL® produced by the Italian company Aquafil. ECONYL® is regenerated nylon based on waste from land and sea. Our fabric is 78 % ECONYL® fibers and 22 % elastane (lycra). Carvico is fully integrated – knitting, dyeing and final control.
The ECONYL® yarn used by Carvico is produced in Slovenia by Aquafil. The elastane is produced in Northern Ireland (UK). With our production in Romania this means we keep our whole value chain in Europe.
Carvico itself is OEKO-TEX® certified, i.e. a guaranteed FAIR AND SAFE production of all their fabrics. The certificate is proof that no harmful substances are used, and all products are approved by the global textile industry. To read more, check https://www.carvico.com/en/quality-and-certifications/
ECONYL® nylon is the main material of all our clothes. It is a recycled nylon yarn coming 100 % from waste material such as fishing nets, old carpets, fabric scraps, etc. The waste material is collected from all over the world. Let us take old, dead fishnets as an example. They mostly come from aquaculture and the fish industry and include different types such as gill nets, purse seine nets, trawls, and fish farming nets. Other fishing nets come from the seas and oceans.
The collected nets are treated and transported to Slovenia where the nylon part is recycled and then extruded and spun back into nylon yarn once more. Then it goes to Carvico that weaves it into fabric.
To learn more, either check here on our webpage under “ECONYL®” or visit www.econyl.com. There you can read about the material and brand in general, download reports, etc. On www.aquafil.com/sustainability/econyl you can find the whole life cycle analysis of ECONYL® yarn complete with a 40-page report (download) on all the technical aspects and footprints involved in its manufacturing.
Elastane is a crucial component to give a stretchable fabric. We need that because it enables us to largely avoid such things as buttons and zippers, which have equally complex footprints and origins (metal for zippers alone is a massive production chain). In short: Elastane ensures a freedom of design. This freedom is crucial to develop styles so beautiful that our customers will want to wear them for years – the only way to break the cycle of worldwide over-production. In other words: The downside of elastane is a compromise against other major benefits.
Elastane, which is 22 % of our garments, is – to date – a mostly fossil-derived fiber. The raw material is called polyurethane. Bio-based alternatives based on i.a. soy, sugars and algae are being developed, but Carvico finds that the quality for yarn is not there yet. This is also suggested by research. Polyurethane is ca. 41 % carbon. That means that 100 g of the standard material (see composition here) can potentially emit ca. 150 g CO2, but that figure is not the whole story. The total CO2- and environmental footprint (sourcing, transport, polymerization, etc.) is immensely complex and nobody has a truly accurate assessment of these figures. The best approximation is based on the main raw materials for polyurethane, a family of compounds called polyols. 1 kg of polyol has the emission profile of 3.22 kg CO2-equivalent. However, one other ingredient (called isocyanate) is required to make polyurethane. We have so far found no accurate sources on the footprints of isocyanate. In its place, we choose the crude assumption that isocyanate has the same CO2-profile as polyol. In other words, a total emission profile of 6.44 kg CO2 per kg polyurethane. It is probably a high estimate.Based on this assessment, the material of the elastane in a standard style such as the “Mira” dress (weighing 239 grams) has a CO2-equivalent footprint of 338.6 grams. This is fortunately offset by the averted CO2-emission from ECONYL® yarn which amounts to 1.21 kg (see our page on ECONYL®).
Elastane – even if made from fossils – is simply an essential ingredient to make our fabrics work. And to unlock the many advantages that the ECONYL® yarn has. It is a compromise we have chosen to make, because the perfect solution – the perfect fabric – simply does not exist out there. To the best of our knowledge and judgement, this is as good as it realistically gets. And most importantly: it enables us to reach other positives to offset the negatives
2nd stage: Production
In manufacturing, our concerns extend from pure science and emissions to ethics and human decency: Good work conditions, fair wages and general quality of life are basic rights for all. Here is how we go about it.
Geography & transport:
We have three places of production – two in Denmark and one in Romania (near Bucharest). All ensure a short shipping path to our warehouse in Denmark. Transport is done by truck on roads; even if transport by ship was possible, within Europe it has no better emissions profile than road transport as judged by EU statistics across a time period of 15 years. A better form seen from an emission point of view is rail transport, but we have not been able to find a supplier of this yet (that guarantees rail). So, road it is for now.
Facility selection process:
We have decided to keep all manufacturing within the EU as EU-legislation ensures basic ethical rights to workers. That is of course not the same as the legislation always being followed – there are corrupt factories in Europe as well. Therefore, we have taken great care when selecting where we have our garments made. A long dialogue has been supplemented by personal inspection, interviews and day-long meetings with the owners. We also consulted in the Danish embassy in Bucharest to assess the company. They gave us the thumbs up.
The place we chose employs only women and is owned by two women – Elena and Izabela. It is a relatively small facility, fitting our principle that we do not want large productions as this may cause over-production. Rather many smaller ones where the garments are actually being sold and used (hopefully for many years).
Wage levels are fair and reasonable; exact numbers could not be disclosed, but this is obvious to us is that all employees have a decent standard of living. Pay is by the hour. The women get regular breaks (we have witnessed several) and enjoy the freedom to call days off – even with almost no notice – if they want to spend more time with their families.
The facility itself is in two stories. Lower floor is for storage and cutting fabrics, which is all done by a machine to save employees the awful workload it is to cut by hand. A freight elevator takes the cut fabric to the 1st floor which is the sewing workshop. It is a large, nice and airy rooms with big windows and good lighting. By all our scrutiny, an immensely modern facility by almost any standard.
The power mix in Romania is 43 % from sustainable sources (hydro, solar, wind), 39 % fossil and 18 % nucelar. It is debatable where to place the nuclear power; it emits almost no CO2, so is extremely climate friendly, but there is the question of nuclear waste. We leave the answer to be decided by our customers. By comparison, Denmark has a power mix of 32 % fossil and 68 % sustainable. Looking purely at CO2-emissions, this places Romania 6 % behind Denmark in terms of fossil power. Significantly, according to Eurostat, Romania imports less energy
Summary on production:
Romania: The wage levels, ownership, rights of employees, working conditions, space, light, and careful planning of workflows come together to make our Romanian production both ethical and defensible. The CO2-footprint of the energy supply is decent and almost comparable to Danish standards. In short, we are satisfied.
Our visits continue to make sure that standards are maintained.
Our production uses polyester thread. Polyester is a plastic-type material, but as thread it is simply necessary to provide the strength in our garments that enables them to last for years. Another necessary compromise.
We go for European suppliers but have found it hard to ascertain exact footprint or origins beyond this level. The supplier Amann, for instance, has 4 production sites in Europe but also 3 in the East. It is unclear what comes from where, and that mixed picture goes – as far as we can see – for all high-quality suppliers.
The best we can say is that (1) thread is made by machines, not humans; there are no sweatshops involved. And (2) that thread is a very minor ingredient in our garments – estimated less than 0.1 % of the total weight. The footprints are correspondingly small – and unfortunately not possible for us to calculate.
We have set a target that up to 5 % of our styles (by weight) can be made of materials other than our normal ECONYL®/elastane fabric. The reason is that we want to create styles so beautiful that our customers wish to keep and use them for many years – to break the vicious, worldwide cycle of over-production. That goal does sometimes require extra freedoms of design. It is a compromise.
For alternative fabrics we routinely use vintage-fabrics, i.e. leftover textiles from excess production in the 1980es and 1990es which are otherwise destined for landfills or destruction.
Pitfall: With such high age, the exact origins of these fabrics are lost to time. We cannot accurately assess their origins or footprints. The only thing we can say is that we try to sweep up the textile mess that the past has left us all with – and make good on the costs to the world that they brought those 20-40 years ago. It is our way to avoid any new production – and overproduction.
Our main supplier of vintage fabrics is Danish and gets them from warehouses in central Europe, mostly Germany. This ensures short routes of transportation to Denmark, where we pick the fabrics by hand.
We rarely use buttons. When we do it is often magnetic ones. These are based on standard ferrite-magnets – as opposed to those based on scarce rare-earth element such as neodymium or samarium. And of course, they are nickel-free. We use local suppliers whenever possible.
Pitfall: Magnets have complex compositions and means of production. It is therefore too difficult for us to accurately describe their various impacts (climate, environment). The only thing we can say is that (1) we limit their use, (2) make sure that their compositions are based on abundant resources and (3) their materials are based on up-scale productions as this considerably limits all footprints.
The labels – brand label, care instructions, etc. – that are sewn into our clothes are included in the 5 % target. Their materials vary but must all satisfy the basic criterion that they survive washing (no fading, bleed, loss of legibility). The choices are forced. This limits our opportunities to optimize on footprints. We use local, Danish suppliers.
3rd stage: Transport
Our entire value chain is held inside of Europe. This ensures short transport and lower emissions but we want more – namely actual numbers and technical standards to show the real impact. Here they are.
Choice of shipping partner
We use DHL road transport from our Romanian production facility to our warehouse in Copenhagen, Denmark. Based on calculations from DHL a shipment by truck of 66 kg of product and cut-aways (equal to 3 rolls of fabric, standard shipment) emits 16.49 kg of CO2-equivalent on the “Well-to-Wheel” assessment basis, i.e. the grand total of all emissions created in the whole fuel supply chain including refining, transport to gas stations, etc. Everything.
The corresponding travel of 3 rolls of fabric (66 kg) from Carvico in Bergamo to our production facility accounts for 11,34 kg of CO2-equivalent, again “Well-to-Wheel”.
Calculating a footprint
By example, a “Mira” dress weighs 239 grams, corresponding to 41.1 grams of CO2 for transporting the fabric from Bergamo to Romania and another 59.7 grams of CO2 to get the final dress from Romania to Denmark. A total of 100,8 grams CO2eq for the whole transport.
Based on different calculation scenarios, we estimate up to 5 % inaccuracy on the CO2-equivalent from transportation, as exact figures depend on box sizes (chosen by Carvico and our Romanian facility, respectively), on how heavily loaded the truck happen to be (we do not know) and whether any minor deviations occur from the main route.
We always strive towards more environmentally friendly transport of our products. For starters, we apply the “Green Logistics” CO2-reduction services that DHL provides. We are also engaging in dialogue with the DHL experts on minimizing CO2-footprint to continuously improve our figures and transparency.
We have chosen DHL as a logistics partner due to its high level of support on emissions and freight transparency. In time we may also develop local logistics partnerships in Romania to support local business. It is on our minds.
4th stage: Handling & Shipping
The final stage of our value chain is after our products arrive in Denmark. To most companies the chain ends here. We have chosen to think a bit further than that.
Our warehouse is in Copenhagen. It is powered by the Danish power mix of 68 % sustainable electricity with district heating based on a similar mix (biomass and gas). It is a typical profile for Denmark.
Our packaging is recycled, FSC-certified cardboard produced locally in Denmark. It is called "Ethical Packs". While there is no accurate CO2-footprint provided for this material - at least none have been disclosed to us - we observe that cardboard production has been around for ages, and recycling of cardboard too. They are both up-scale processes with large throughputs, which means increased energy efficiency (big machines or factories are always more efficient than small ones) and hence a minimized CO2-footprint.
Based on these considerations, and the nature of the material, it is our estimate that the making of one "Ethical Pack" cardboard box is responsible for only a few grams of CO2-equivalent. Probably even less.
As potential alternative, we have considered bio-degradable plastic packaging. However, when taking a closer look, the term “degradable” is not always what it seems. Apparently, a lot of bio-plastic only degrades under very specific (and narrow) conditions – or on an unrealistic timescale. Bottom line: Real technological challenges remain and much greenwashing is already going on. Therefore we stick with the “standard” recycled PET. For now.
Naturally, we keep scouting for new packaging materials. However, as with the bio-plastics we want to feel certain that whatever solution we choose actually has true merits – not just pretend ones. A possibility which has our interest is recycled paper derived from FSC-certified wood; we are working to separate facts from falsehoods in the hope to find a credible solution in this arena.
Recycling of packaging
We strongly recommend that you recycle our packaging if you have any chance to do so. As was pointed out by Forbes in 2020 (see reference), the difference between “good” or “bad” packaging has less to do with the material and much more with how we handle it. Recycling is key.
If recycling is not possible where you live, you have two possibilities:
Throw the packaging it away (most likely to a landfill)Burn it (if you have a wood-burning stove, fireplace or similar).
Neither option is nice. The landfill scenario is an environmental burden no matter what you throw away, while burning will release CO2 into the atmosphere. We must leave it for you to decide.
Our hangtags are an integral part of our brand identity meaning that certain printing techniques and -materials are required. It is not possible to pursue the origins and footprints of these (inks, foils, etc.). However, we always use local (Danish) suppliers, typically in Aarhus, and try to print on FSC-certified paper whenever possible. This is currently the best we can do. It is a continuous work in progress.
To most companies the final part of a product’s journey (from warehouse to consumer) is considered “the customer’s own problem”. Very little transparency is offered, usually. We try to do better and have chosen to pay extra attention to the final shipping of our products.
For now, our shipping is taken care of by the standard mail service. For our customers in the Nordic countries, we are currently working with our logistics supplier to have CO2-compensation scheme integrated into all shipments (e.g. PostNord).
However, we are faced with the problem that international postal services do not really “speak together” across borders, and therefore offer no joint climate/environment protection schemes. The option of using couriers (DHL, TNT, etc.) for every single shipment runs the risk of being much too inefficient in terms co-packaging and fuel requirements. In general, large-volume shipping always have the lowest average footprints.
Offsetting with trees
For now, our solution to the dilemma of responsible shipping is to supplement our postal delivery service with a pledge: We will plant a tree for every shipment we send.
This is our attempt and “best take” at countering the CO2-emission caused by our shipping. We make it even though the math of emission (transportation) is as hard to do as the math of reabsorption (trees). There is no simple equation to solve this. The best thing we can say is that crudely estimated, 1,000 kg of wood has a holding capacity of ca. 800-900 kg CO2. How much of this is actually realized depends on the type of tree, its growth profile and how long it lives. And how high the emissions are that we need to offset of course depends on how far away from our warehouse, the ordering customer lives.
Our partner in this endeavor is One Tree Planted (www.onetreeplanted.org), a choice based on positive public review and planting record.
Be aware: Planting trees as a means of CO2-compensation is not an easy, clear-cut thing. While there is broad scientific agreement that reforestation is an efficient and cheap way to remove CO2 from the atmosphere there are also real concerns about abuse of these schemes for greenwashing purposes. Naturally, we have every faith in the work done by One Tree Planted. Extra trees on the planet do make a positive difference and they do take down CO2. We just cannot give an exact mathematical answer to how much or how fast.
If you want to know more, a very comprehensive study on tree growth rates (and hence their CO2-absorption abilities) was published in Nature in 2014. Another study, offering a set of supplementary perspectives, was published in 2020 in the journal Forest Ecology and Management.