Filippa K is a defining force when the Swedish fashion industry leaps into a circular future. Active collaborations, design for sustainability and simplicity is the company’s modus operandi.

Elin Larsson talks about sustainable fashion as a creative industry, during an innovation day in Bogotá. Photo: The Swedish Embassy in Colombia.

”We have been addressing important issues for many years, such as reducing our environmental impact, increasing the use of sustainable materials, and managing social issues in our value chain”, says Elin Larsson, Sustainability Manager of Filippa K.

When we first get hold of Elin Larsson, she is in Chile, on her way to attend a conference on circular economy. The next time we talk,  she is in Colombia for an innovation day about creative industries, where she will make a presentation. There is a lot going on right now in sustainable fashion – and Filippa K is in the midst of the growing stream, where the company actively seeks constructive alliances and cooperation and promote innovation (read more in the articles ”Broker gives forgotten fabrics a renaissance” och ”Sustainable hosiery made from recycled nylon”).

Showcasing the best possible technology

The Filippa K Front Runners initiative is a good example of Filippa K’s approach. It is a collection where the company invites others in an attempt to push the boundaries of sustainable fashion.

”Every other year, we select a few products which we call front runners. We put an enormous amount of effort, time, research and collaboration into these products, to maximize their sustainability in a lifecycle perspective, to minimize waste and to ensure recyclability. They are acting as pathfinders, and we continously implement the lessons learnt in our other collections. By 2030, we want all of our products to be front runners”, Elin Larsson says.

This year’s front runner collection includes The Eternal Trench Coat: a product with a 10 year care warranty, made from 100 percent recycled polyester, dyed with SpinDye technology (see the article ”Dyeing the way it was meant to be: fibers instead of fabrics”) and treated with OrganoTex, a fluorocarbon-free water repellent.

Value chain cooperation can unlock immense value, Elin Larsson explains; in the circular economy, the upstream and downstream processes have to be much more integrated, like a single organism:

”I think of  Filippa K as the trunk of a tree. The chain of suppliers is the root system, and our retailers and customers make up the foliage. To make sure that the tree thrives, all of these pieces have to be cared for.”

Perhaps Elin Larsson herself could be likened to an arborist in the metaphor. She definitely has a holistic view, and she is eager to promote perspectives both to the roots and the crown of her tree. Still, Filippa K is just one tree in a vast forest, growing in a global soil; no single company can transform the industry on its own. But Elin Larsson thinks that Filippa K’s location in Sweden gives the company an advantage:

”Sweden is a country investing heavily in creativity and innovation, which are essential elements in a circular transformation. There is also a culture of openness and willingness to work together, which is a necessity to develop new value chains that benefit everyone involved. Obviously, much of the value chain stretches outside the country, and we have to reach out to others to create a complete ecosystem.”

A sustainability framework

In 2011, Filippa K set out five 2030 sustainability commitments for themselves. In 2014, the Circular Fashion framework was adopted as a strategy to reach them, by closing the loop for every garment:

”It is a move away from the linear models that prevail today, where raw materials are inserted in one end and drop out as waste in the other. What we aim for instead are circular models, like the material cycles in nature, where no waste is created and every resource is managed. Circular Fashion commits us to four R:s: Reduce, Repair, Reuse, Recycle”, Elin Larsson says.

The goal is to minimize environmental impact and resource consumption, and make sure that worn out garments can be recycled into new textile fibers. But first, they should be designed to remain in the use phase for as long as possible, which is reflected in both style and quality decisions. The garments are made to be robust and timeless, and in-store repairs, second-hand sales, reuse and lease services prolong their lives even more.

The Throw Away Dress is one of the 2018 concept garments from the Filippa K Front Runner initiative. The compostable dress is made from non-woven natural tencel, dyed with food waste. Photo: Filippa K.

”We are creating products that can be used for a long time, but we are also focusing on more sustainable materials and a more sustainable production process. Our Care concept helps the customers look after their clothes, and Filippa K Second Hand and Filippa K Lease provides alternative ways to keep a wardrobe up-to-date, restraining overconsumption and saving money on clothes that would be used only occasionally or for brief periods of time. Clothes you are not using can be returned for a commission in the Filippa K Collect programme – either for second-hand reuse, or recycling when such infrastructure arrives”, Elin Larsson says.

The company motto is that simplicity is the purest form of luxury. The company is eager to convey that to their customers, and to inspire them to consume more consciously.

”We want to encourage customers to focus on long-lasting quality and design, so that they have fewer but better garments in their wardrobes”, Elin Larsson says.

Alternative fibers are gaining ground

One thing that the company has worked hard on is to replace cotton with more environment-friendly alternative fibers, such as the cellulose-based lyocell. The fiber, which saves a lot of water compared to cotton, is made with wood pulp from fast-growing trees such as eucalyptus in a closed-loop process where solvents are recycled.

”Lyocell is very important for us, it is the fourth most common fiber in our production. It does not have to be made from eucalyptus, it could also be made from Swedish forest products. Traceability and transparency is a big challenge, and it will be even more important in the future”, Elin Larsson says. She continues:

”Today, we are communicating the production history for our garments on our website. We want to reach full transparency, and we are tracing our chains backwards with a new digital platform based on blockchain technology, called TrusTrace. In the future, we will use this platform and modern digital solutions to give information and transparency to our customers as well.”

It is almost unfathomable, the scope of the task at hand for a global textile industry aspiring to be sustainable. The production of clothes have doubled in the last fifteen years. Each garment is used fewer and fewer times, and 73 percent is incinerated or sent to landfill when it is discarded. Nevertheless, Elin Larsson is hopeful.

”We have to change the system, both in terms of technology and of mindsets and behaviour. And it involves everyone: producers, companies, decision-makers and customers. It is a major readjustment, but I think it can be done. And it is important that there are front runners that are willing to take the lead.”

The article was published in January 2019.