Sustainability is very important to us. While we realise that it is impossible for a fashion brand to be 100% sustainable, we still strive to continuously improve our brand practices, from the way we design our garments, what materials we use, as well as how and where we produce them. Part of this ongoing process includes actively talking to and learning from leading experts in the field of sustainability in fashion. Our founder and designer Irina Gusakova had the opportunity to interview Dio Kurazawa, who is the founding partner of the sustainable production agency The Bear Scouts, advisor for the Copenhagen Fashion Summit, and lecturer at the Amsterdam Fashion Institute. Dio talks about his vision and approach to tackling fashion’s sustainability problem, and shares some insight into what brands can do to be more sustainable.
You have 20 years experience in working on the production side of fashion. Given your experience, where do you see the industry now? Are we doing better? Have you seen a fundamental change in the production side of the industry? For example, the way the workers are treated, fair pay, working conditions.
The industry, like most things, has evolved. However, the move to produce cheaply with volume as a focus has not made things better for the regions offering cheaply made goods. Brands did not move to 3rd world countries because of the craftsmanship found there. It has all been about cheap labor. China and India now have more disposable income than ever. This has brought prices up in those regions, but there is still much room for improvement. In my opinion, goods should be made in the regions that they are sold in. We should all embrace quality goods over quantity. This helps us to maintain circularity.
Has your view on sustainability changed since launching the Bear Scouts?
My family has been manufacturing clothes for close to 100 years now. I launched TBS 7 years ago, at a time when almost no one gave me any attention. I now see loads of brands, retailers, and earthlings jumping on board, helping to change things. It’s a great thing, but I’m often amazed at the lack of knowledge and the massive amount of GreenWashing out there. I struggle to stay positive about humanity, that has not changed over time.
In your search for sustainability, has there ever been a moment in your career that you thought you couldn’t overcome a challenge or a problem? Could you please share this moment with me, and tell me how you managed to overcome it?
I was brought up to believe that “A belief is only a thought you keep thinking; if you believe anything long enough it becomes true.” Life is all about experiences. Some of them can feel challenging if you believe it to be so. I don’t believe that I have control over any circumstance beyond myself. I’m the only one responsible for my happiness and growth. This turns what you call challenges into desired life experience.
How do you think the current situation [COVID-19] will affect the fashion industry as a whole in the short and the long run? What do you think we as an industry can learn from the current situation and to take forward with us into the future?
We believe this pandemic is the first of a wave of issues associated with our desire for more. Many still don’t realise that deforestation, the killing of animals and the consuming of animals have placed us in this situation. The desire to fill our insecure existence with shit we don’t need continues to take precedence over our care for the planet. Greed and Ego will still be here once the various lockdowns end. The industry will do what it always has, sell sell sell. Capitalism is the issue.
On your website you say that Bear Scouts can take away the overstock items from brands you work with and give them second life by either selling, recycling or up-cycling them. How does that process work and do you partner with other companies/ organisations when it comes to the recycling and upcycling processes? Can you please briefly describe the process to me?
We work with some of the best organisations in the industry that either break down (shred) garments and reweave the yarn into new fabrics, or we work with influential designers and retailers to up-cycle. We embrace circularity, full stop!
You help brands with creating a circular strategy, taking into account both environmental and social factors. What has been the most challenging aspect for brands when it comes to working towards becoming circular? And what has been the most successful approach for brands?
We offer brands the opportunity to embrace circularity via sponsorship programs that enable them to work with us free of charge. They also then get the opportunity to experience our circular production process free of charge. This means they can sell products with no investment. We implemented this strategy in order to appeal to their greedy pockets. This has worked out tremendously.
Have you seen consumer habits change in the last couple of years? Do you get to see it in the brands you work with? Can you think of something that changed now, and was impossible 10 years ago?
We don’t believe in voluntary shifts in consumer behaviour and we don’t try and push this. For us, it’s all about how things are made. If everything was made to consider the planet without waste, consumers wouldn’t have to change. We need about 10% of the things we buy, the rest is simply fodder. Again, we lead by example and through that others may follow, if they resonate with what we’re doing.
Do you have any advice for brands that are engaging in sustainability, and are trying to enter the industry at this point in time?
Consider all of the above! Be transparent. Provide LCA [Life-cycle Assessment] for all things. Be kind!