Heimtextil – on sustainability

2020 has started. First fair out for my season is Heimtextil. I went to Frankfurt with a huge skeptical attitude. Trends…2020… who cares? But I actually found a lot of interesting signs of our times. Call it trend or not – but we still want to talk about design and our surroundings. Perhaps more than ever. But it is not about the next “nice” thing or the “right” colour. It’s about all the other stuff.

I will do my report from Heimtextil in two sections. First one is about sustainability and the other one about standard things like colours and patterns, etc.

But where to start? There is a lot to say. Sustainability is on everyone’s mind. The fair actually had that as an official theme of the year. And everyone is addressing this. Everyone.

It is of course amazingly good that we talk about sustainability and products. Extremely important. But what happens when everyone says they are sustainable? Do we suspect greenwashing?

What do we feel when walking aisle after aisle with these signs? Are we skeptical?

I talked to and interviewed perhaps thirty design producers. There are some intersting learnings. The majority of all companies ara quite new to this. Not all, of course, but for the majority of these design companies, these launches at Heimtextil might be their first collection. It is good, it is important, but the segment is pretty small. To a normal design company this eco line or sustainable line is basically around 10% of the turnover. So it might sound like it is a big thing, but when it comes to sales it is still a fairly small part.

Consumers are still hesitant. The majority of the reason is price. Any sustainble product will cost more than an ordinary products. Perhaps 10-20% more. And even though we are a small group willing to pay for that – the majority is hesitant. And so are shops.

You could say that in the textile industry the majority of the producers approach sustainability as being made of natural fibres (wool, cotton, linnen, hemp), some are working with waste (from own factories) and some recycle plastic bottles to plastic yarns.

Very few are trying new materials. I will come back to that. Above picture is yarn made of plastic bottles.

Fabric made of bottles.

Some companies talk about colouring. It is tricky to get a good colour on recycled materials. So for the person interested in finding extremely good sustainable products – add that question. “So how is the colouring process?”

As briefly mentioned there were quite few new materials like tencel or other wood pulp materials. But if you get the opportunity, talk to a producer. There are some amazing insights and thinking. For instance tencel can be too “soft” for a towel, so you might want to mix it with other materials, or have thicker yarns. Great for clothes and bed linnen – but not necessarily for furniture fabrics or as mentioned towels.

To me, talking about sustainability to these companies opened a whole new world. Everyone is like a pioneer. Everyone is stumbling in the dark doing trial and error. Extremely interesting. How to use recycled fabrics in bedlinnen? It is ok in shorter textile pieces but a sheet needs longer threads… And that is almost (not completely) impossible to make. So are there any commercial recycled bed sets? Maybe…

So materials, recycled components, production, energy consumption and finally outcome. Can you wash your face with a towel that is too soft?

And what about the consumer? One obvious trend is that companies are trying to communicate through certifications.

Oh, and another thing. Ten years ago we said that it was difficult to find eco cotton. Not at all anymore.

How many logos do you need to prove that you are sustainable? And this is also extremly interesting. Are eleven logos enough? When is it enough? Are five ok? But 50 better? Compared to previous years – the number of logos will boom. Especially now. This is a time of uncertainty. Everyone is trying to do good. But how should you communicate quickly at for instance a store? I am sure we will see logo mania a lot 2020. I am not saying this is the way to go, but I think brands will find this the easiest way to communicate.

It was so interesting to see an Italian fabrics brand like Limonta trying to communicate with stories and words rather than logos. This is not the standard way of doing it.

So communications is a challenge.

What is really good and what is just “fluff”. This is a German brand. Early on they experimented with fibres from old jeans. Perhaps three or four years ago… I kind of like that. This means that they honestly have been trying to experiment with sustainable and recycled materials for a longer while. At an age when everyone will want to be sustainable – they prove themselves as have been around with sustainable products for more than five, six years. That is good enough for me.

So what can a fair do? Heimtextil helps buyers and press bu doing organised tours. I think this is much needed. In a world where everything is new, it is nice to have someone point out things that are good.

 

About 30 % of the trend exhibition was all about new materials.

This example from Mexican designer Fernando Laposse has been at three design exhibitions I saw 2019 (New York, London and Eindhoven). And we all need to be inspirered more. It’s made of corn…

So bring it on 2020 – I think it will be fun year with lots of innvation and new talks.

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