FaB Berlin brings together beauty and apparel entrepreneurs working towards sustainability
FaB recently held its second event in one of the world’s most liberal and progressive cities, Berlin. Featuring a panel of entrepreneurs thinking sustainably not just on the product level but across the whole supply chain, the event was abuzz with discussions on the things beauty and fashion businesses can do to help improve the state of the world.
Recently on November 14th, FaB Berlin, the German chapter of a community of entrepreneurs and investors working to create new value in the beauty and fashion industries, held its second meetup, this time based on the theme of “Sustainability and Clean Beauty”.
Brands that participated in the event were also largely made up of startups in the vegan and femtech fields as well as companies with products and services that prioritize environmental friendliness. The result was an evening of lively discussions representative of Berlin, a city with an active environmental movement focused on climate change.
Clean beauty in the spotlight
The first panel was a discussion on the theme of “Clean Beauty and Femtech”.
The term “clean beauty” is often used to refer to products made with organic, natural and sustainable production methods and ingredients, however, in reality, there is still no exact definition for clean beauty.
During the debate also, the panelists pointed out that “clean beauty basically means completely forgoing the use of harmful materials that have been proven to bring about bad effects on our bodies, and it’s also the attitude of being transparent about manufacturing methods and ingredients and disclosing that information. However, because this definition is so vague it’s caused a lot of confusion amongst consumers.”
Jenni Baum of the nail brand gitti, which focuses on sustainable production and ingredients, said on the panel that she based her approach on the results of “a US survey where over 40% of consumers said that in order to properly find out about the clean beauty products they’re interested in, the first research across five different online sources before making a purchase.” Therefore, from the beginning, her company has clearly marked ingredients used and manufacturing processes so that consumers can see how the products are good for the environment and peoples’ bodies.
Gitti’s manicures are 55% made from water and are odorless. For color pigments, they use vegan ingredients and refrain from testing on animals. As over half of the product is made from water, the amount of volatile organic compounds is considerably small. Additionally, gitti have set up a system where part of the profits from product purchases go to initiatives for supplying safe drinking water to people in developing countries.
However, despite this, says Baum, “the current technology still cannot realize nail colors that use 100% natural ingredients. Although, we’re continuously working on developing natural raw ingredients with the support of a team of experts.”
Other panelists also mentioned the difficulty in creating products that utilize 100% natural, vegan and sustainable ingredients and production methods. The response to this: all the more reason why ensuring safety to humans and the traceability of ingredients, production, and distribution is so important and that the mindset of brands should be challenged.
Sustainability be used in femtech
Julia Rittereiser, founder of Kora Mikino — a company developing sustainable sanitary goods — is “not only aiming for the safety of products and the traceability of materials and production methods but also 100% transparent information disclosure on our company’s mission and initiatives. We’re helping to bring about progressive change in the field of sanitary goods for the issues of climate change and the taboos surrounding menstruation.”
Waste from sanitary goods is causing considerable environmental pollution. Tampons and pads have always been 90% made with plastic, and the waste produced by these disposable goods amounts annually to 12 billion items, which require around 500 to 600 years in order to fully biodegrade within the landfill. Due to this, Kora Mikino has sought to develop products that have a lesser effect on the environment along with also solving issues associated with menstruation.
Kora Mikino’s “Menstrual Panty” has a high blood absorption ability, doesn’t require the use of a napkin, is made from reusable materials for zero waste, and is certified as a vegan with the main material extracted from beech wood. This is sourced from beech trees in sustainable forests in Central Europe that avoid excessive deforestation. Also, compared with cotton, the distance necessary for transporting the beech wood is considerably shorter and the amount of water required for production is also reduced. Furthermore, the material has silk-like flexibility, good ventilation, and boasts both comfortability and functionality.
In product development, Kora Mikino not only prioritizes the feedback they receive from consumers, but they also collaborate with regional textile factories, traditional manufacturers, underwear experts, and textile scientists in order to aim for a more sustainable development process. The details of this process are also made public in a sustainability report they publish.
Communities growing through relatability
The second-panel discussion took on the theme of “Sustainable Fashion and Fund-Raising”, and the panelists talked about how important it is for startups built on ecological ideas to share their vision and story.
In a survey by the Ellen Macarthur Foundation, a UK-based charity that promotes the concept of a circular economy, it was found that although the amount of clothes produced around the world in the last 15 years has increased twofold, the number of times a piece of clothing is worn until it’s thrown away has reduced by 36%. On top of this, when it comes to disposal, 87% of the fibers used for making all the clothes produced every year, of which constitutes around 21 billion tons (and is equivalent to over US$92 billion), is either confined to landfill or incinerated, and clothing that’s recycled only makes up less than 1%.
Hannah Kromminga, the founder of the fashion brand Silfir, mentioned of her recently-launched endeavor that “while brands that only make clothes with sustainable materials stand out, Silfir is advocating for a more comprehensive form of sustainable fashion that also includes the business model for after a product is purchased.”
Silfir is working to expand its workwear-focused product line, which includes jackets, shirts, and pants that are made from sustainable materials. Their customers are able to have their clothes repaired for free within one year of purchase, and the company has also implemented a recycling system where if the clothes are damaged beyond repair or customers wish to dispose of them, they can be sent back in return for a gift card that can be used towards buying new clothes. All of their items come with labels that allow you to track the manufacturers that were involved in the production process, allowing consumers easy access to this information.
Kromminga explained: “By caring for Silfir’s clothes you’re able to wear them for a long time. Consumption is not necessarily a bad thing, and pursuing external beauty is also something that’s important. However, the reality is that because of the institution of mass consumption and mass production, the environment is being destroyed. So we need business models that are fully imbued with inspiration and user experiences that will make consumers more aware of what a truly sustainable lifestyle is.”
In order for sustainable startups to scale up, it’s important that the vision of the brand and the story of the founder and their principles are shared with consumers and that a community is built up where opinions can be exchanged freely.
When she launched her business, gitti’s Baum first used a small WhatsApp group to share her inspiration and ideas with her close friends. As the business expanded, she moved her platform to social media such as Instagram where she now continues to share diverse ideas and opinions. She has also held events where customers are invited to office lunches and dinners, and in this way, she’s creating opportunities for consumers to experience the vision of the brand.
Finding solutions for global-sized problems
With all the brands that participated in the panel discussion using sustainable, natural and vegan materials not only in their products but also in other unexpected areas such as packaging for distribution, it felt that awareness within the industry as a whole was spreading further and further.
There was also the opinion that what’s essential for realizing sustainability to the greatest extent possible in business comes down to what partners (friends) are selected for each of the processes, whether it be product development or distribution. Berlin startups are active in searching for collaborators who can share their brand philosophy and in conveying to investors, partners and consumers their new values through their services.
The actions of these entrepreneurs of bringing sustainable principles and changes to the forefront are what will educate investors, said btov Partners investor Jennifer Phan. “Of course, financial profit is important. However, in terms of how things are going these days if you just go for the traditional way of making money you won’t have much of a future. Investors need to be thinking as a priority what the impacts to the environment are.”
As citizens’ environmental social movements become a trend and investors and consumers are becoming more environmentally aware, the market is in a state where, despite being awash with information, it’s hard to understand what’s correct or what’s necessary for oneself. FaB Berlin’s second event ended as a night that freshly looked at the importance of advocating investors, collaborators and consumers about not only obtaining correct information on global-scale problems but also the need to build new lifestyles and business systems — an initiative where certain entrepreneurs and companies are currently taking the lead.