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Spotlight on bio-based textiles: Sustainable innovation – don’t be blinkered by large brands

By Tomas Vucurevic, owner and managing director of BRAIND

 “If you have a great new sustainable invention, don’t let yourself be talked into an exclusive agreement with a large brand or retailer, but build your own brand.”

Large brands in fashion, automotive, food or personal hygiene industry are desperately searching for new sustainable and circular innovation in order to improve their own reputation. Their innovation teams scan the market and identify new technologies at a very early stage with the aim of making them as exclusive for them as possible. Why? They want to interweave new innovation stories with their brand to build-up their own “purpose”. Large companies are primarily concerned with the image of their own brand and the associated increase in value of company equity (stock price) and not necessarily to help new sustainable technologies make a general breakthrough.

We know from the past, that, if you offer a new technology that wants to change consumer behaviour sustainably, you need a broad acceptance and a wide range of possible applications. Telecommunication gave us many examples. It was only when leading companies agreed on certain standards such as GSM, DECT, Bluetooth or Android, that wireless and mobile communication made its breakthrough.

Many consumer brands are searching for a new NIKE Air, Audi QUATTRO or Apple’s I-Cloud, but only a few have the brand and marketing power to successfully establish such self-branded, proprietary solutions. Adidas (@Adidas) is one of them. Their collaboration with Parley for the Oceans (@parleyfortheoceans), an environmental organisation that addresses environmental threats towards the oceans, is of an exclusive nature and thus prevents at the same time a wider availability of the cause within the textile industry.

In contrast, companies such as the Austrian Lenzing, the Italian Aquafil or US-based Unifi rely on the ‘ingredient brand’ model, making their sustainable materials available to a large number of (non-exclusive) customers.

This strategic approach results in many fashion companies using ­- and actively communicating – their sustainable materials. This non-exclusive presence in turn generates the required consumer confidence, as consumers and media start to see materials such as Tencel, Econyl or Repreve in various applications by many different brands. In the course of time, the ingredient brand develops into a “seal of quality” and serves as an important orientation aid for consumers. A practice, that companies in the performance fabrics sector like Gore-Tex, Kevlar, Cordura or Lycra have been using successfully for decades.

Which brand and go-to-market model will be finally selected by sustainable start-ups, also highly depends of course on their business objective. If a company is looking for a quick exit and wants to sell the business at an early stage, an exclusive agreement with a strong brand may be just the right thing to do. Google, Cisco, Facebook and other tech giants are constantly buying start-ups at an early stage just to ensure that nobody disrupts their business model. The same practice can be observed for the Fashion, Food or Mobility Industry.

But if a sustainable or circular company really wants to change the world and change consumer behaviour for the better, then exclusivity deals are not the right approach. Then it is a matter of finding as many partners as possible, who can together bring this new technology to life. Only if consumers learn over a longer period of time that there is a new sustainable or circular technology available and they can find it in the offering of multiple brands, then and only then are they willing to slowly change their consumer behaviour. Only in a few exceptional cases have individual brands such as Tesla or Apple alone managed to seduce people with innovative technology and new, proprietary standards. But this is very difficult and very expensive.

This expert view is part of BMI’s spotlight week on bio-based textiles. Guest posts do not necessarily reflect the views of the Bio Market Insights’ editorial team and management.

If you were interested in this story, you may also be interested in the ones below.

Read: Expert view: Will ‘greenwashing’ work out to be good for textiles?

Read: Spotlight on bio-based textiles: How to make sure modern slavery is not embedded in your sustainable cotton products

Read: Deputy editor’s view: Cleaning out one’s closet 

Read: Spotlight on bio-based textiles: Regenerative materials sourced from plants, not petroleum-based synthetic plastics

Read:  Introducing bio-based and sustainable components to long-standing supply chains.

Download:  Standardisation and certification developments in the bioeconomy

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