Hunkemöller’s more sustainable lingerie journey

The coveted Green Product Award Fashion will be presented at the Neonyt fashion fair in Düsseldorf. This year the top prize went to Hunkemöller and there was a good reason for that: the lace, yarns, lining and cups in the ‘Wies’ capsule collection are all made from recycled materials. It was a memorable moment for Hunkemöller – and a statement to the lingerie industry: even as a large company with a long history, you can adapt your production process and take sustainable steps. The most sustainable collection in Hunkemöller’s permanent range, Josefina, is also such a promising example. The bio-preferred cups contain 30% organic material and the cup lamination even consists entirely of recycled polyester. Because of all these small improvements, every design in the collection contains at least 50% certified recycled materials.

This way of thinking fits with Hunkemöller’s sustainable vision, which is formulated as a progressive project ‘Together Tomorrow’. How does the sustainable process continue? We asked Hunkemöller’s Sustainability Manager Anke Fransen, Sustainable Product Specialist Bodil Huisman, and CSR advisor Juliana Batitucci.

Recycling: a bra can consist of as many as 50 parts

Hunkemöller has recycling high on its agenda, something that Fransen says is extremely complicated. “If you look at the options for, for example, organic cotton underpants, you will be at home fairly quickly, but our products are often very complex. A bra can contain between 30 and 50 different types of materials that must be taken apart before they can be recycled again. Conversely, these parts must meet strict performance requirements, because they naturally have to hold something in place. Recycled material cannot always meet this requirement.”

According to Huisman, there is a lot of experimenting with new recycled materials, but the main rule remains that no concessions are made in terms of fit or quality. “We want to keep it very consistent and that is really a challenge.” The best way to get one step closer to closed-loop lingerie is to talk a lot with pioneers and trusted manufacturers. “We regularly call our regular suppliers. That is really a matter of sitting together and looking for a solution for all components. If we want something new and are told that it is not possible, we ask further questions and investigate where the barrier really is. We can’t just sit around and wait for our producers to solve it themselves – we really have to do that together.”

Credits: Hunkemöller

End-of-life of lingerie: “there is still quite a taboo”

Perhaps the most exciting challenge for Hunkemöller is the issue of responsibility after use, something that has become very urgent since the import of the UPV textile on July 1. “More and more strict legislation is coming,” says Fransen with a serious face. “It is important for the circularity story that we find ways to give products a purpose again at the end of their lives, but we notice that this is difficult. Ultimately it is about underwear, a personal product that you wear very close to the body. When we say to our customers: guys, hand in your products so that we can recycle them or offer them second-hand, they think: I can’t just hand in my underpants, can I? ‘Take back’ is a super cool concept that we certainly want to explore, but there is still quite a taboo.”

Better purchasing: Learning and Implementation Community

Due to her knowledge of CSR, Juliana Batitucci is the ideal person to guide Hunkemöller in the Learning and Implementation Community, a global initiative. “It is a learning environment where we sit around the table with other brands, manufacturers and organizations such as Fair Wear and Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI). We meet online about twice a month to exchange ideas, share best practices and create very practical action plans. Production planning, for example, is such a topic: how can we best approach this with our suppliers to make things better for the workers? Our factories are ultimately specialists and that is why we have been asked to invite them too, so that everyone can hear their perspectives as well.”

“It is also very practical in that sense,” adds Fransen. “If we constantly keep adjusting our designs – adding a color or changing materials, this has major consequences for the people in the factories. They may have to work overtime or work faster. Factories within the group give very honest feedback: if you do this, it will have this effect on us. By listening to their experiences, we can look for efficient and sustainable solutions throughout the entire purchasing process. We can then adjust our plans at company level.”

Credits: Hunkemöller

Better working conditions: Wage Management Project

According to Batitucci, these purchasing processes and the working conditions of factory workers are close to each other. That is why Hunkemöller set up the Wage Management project with Solidaridad as a supporting partner on the ground. “We also work with three of our factories in China for this,” she explains. “The main goal is to discover how we can improve the wage systems there. Outcomes of the project could, for example, be that wages will soon increase, but also that workers will receive training or more transparency around their wages. It is very much related to the due diligence laws that are coming. Time will tell.”

All these projects will continue for a while, but according to Fransen, this is also how you should look at sustainability – with a long-term vision. “Together Tomorrow is the framework under which we will continue to scale all our sustainability initiatives, because this topic is never finished. We continue to work with various stakeholders, especially on projects on the ground. It is often at the grassroots where you can make a difference – socially and environmentally.”

Source: by

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