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Interview with Sandya Lang

Sandya Lang
Sandya Lang
Chief Sustainability Officer (CSO)
Nudie Jeans
Nudie Jeans

Our goal is to increase the revenue within the circular business models
Nudie Jeans, founded in Gothenburg in 2001, is dedicated to creating high-quality, long-lasting jeans that become better with age. Emphasising sustainability and community, its wear-and-tear philosophy ensures that each pair is designed to be repaired and handed down through generations, embodying the essence of future classics. Speaking to Fibre2Fashion, Chief Sustainability Officer Sandya Lang explains the company’s sustainability and circularity model.

How do you see the role of sustainability evolving within the fashion industry over the next decade, and what challenges and opportunities do you anticipate?

It is much connected to the increased legislation on sustainability, and it will be a challenge for many brands reducing emissions, working on human rights due diligence, digital product passport and sustainability communication in line with Green Claims legislation.

What emerging trends or technologies do you believe will have the greatest impact on advancing sustainability practices in the fashion sector?

The digital product passport and the connecting technologies will have an impact on brands, as for legal compliance as well as for traceability and transparency in the value chain. Other areas are circular activities that are actually profitable.

In your opinion, what are some of the most effective strategies for encouraging consumer behaviour change towards more sustainable purchasing habits in fashion?

We try to push for buying clothes that you are going to use, not for three or six months but for years—and provide services for users to be able to use the products for a longer period. Also, to change the mindset that a new product may be new for the user but not newly produced, thus promoting the use of second-hand clothing.

How can collaboration and partnerships between fashion brands, suppliers, and policymakers be leveraged to drive meaningful progress towards a more sustainable industry?

Collaboration is key. We participate in a number of different networks and organisational collaborations, driving change in the industry. At many of our tier 1 suppliers, we collaborate with other brands to leverage our sustainability efforts. For example, the living wage programme in Türkiye, where we are now four (FWF) brands collaborating and paying our share of the living wage gap.

From a broader perspective, how do you think the fashion industry can balance the pursuit of profitability with the imperative of social and environmental responsibility in the long term?

We do not have a choice but to balance it to stay relevant in the market. However, many of the companies in the fashion industry, depending on their business model and shareholders, still tend to balance in favour of short-term profitability, and that is the main challenge for the whole industry. Isolated sustainability initiatives cannot change things. What is needed is a radical view on new business models where sustainability is built into the processes from the start.

How does Nudie Jeans integrate sustainability into its core business model, beyond just marketing initiatives?

At Nudie Jeans, sustainability is well integrated into the company strategy, ‘Create Tomorrow’s Vintage’. Create is about how we do this together with our users, Tomorrow’s about creating products in a good way (socially and environmentally) suitable for tomorrow’s world, and Vintage is about the product, that ages well and is designed to be used and reused for a long time.

Can you elaborate on Nudie Jeans’ approach to ensuring ethical sourcing and labour practices throughout the supply chain?

The social and ethical side is a key component of the strategy and a long-term core value of the company’s founders. To work with ethical sourcing and better labour practices, the supply chain partners must be known, and not too many. Therefore, we have a strict sourcing policy that limits the sourcing countries and then consolidates the number of suppliers in those countries.

What specific measures does Nudie Jeans take to minimise its environmental footprint, from production to distribution?

Within the environmental and climate work, we map and measure CO2 emissions in Scope 1, Scope 2, and Scope 3 according to the GHG protocol. We have used organic cotton for all denims since 2012, and other cotton products since 2017. We work with suppliers who have water treatment plants for treating and reusing wastewater.

Circular economy principles are central to Nudie Jeans’ ethos. How does the company promote circularity in its products, and what are your long-term goals in this regard?

Our core product is dry denim, which is perfect for circularity as it breaks in nicely. We encourage the pair to be worn for a long time. We provide free repairs in the stores globally, and we have a trade-in programme where you get a discount on the products when handed back to the stores. If the jeans are in good condition, we wash and mend them, and they can be resold in the Re-use programme (second-hand jeans) in our stores. The leftovers are fed into our fabric recycling as well as some upcycle projects such as rugs and blankets etc. Our long-term goal is to have a more industrial setup that provides free repairs as well as streamlined ways of handling our resources (and not looking at old jeans as waste) globally on all markets. The overall goal is to increase the revenue within the circular business models.

What impact has the denim repair service had so far?

Our free repair service aligns not only with the sustainability goals but very well with the company strategy, where developing the circular business model is one crucial aspect of Create Tomorrow’s Vintage. So far, our revenue within the circular business activities is low (1 per cent in 2023), but the potential of this is great.
Another impact is the customer loyalty. By offering the repair service and take-back programme, we establish a loyal customer base that help us create tomorrow’s vintage.

In what ways does Nudie Jeans engage with local communities and stakeholders to foster social and environmental responsibility?

We have a collaboration with local stakeholders and partners in the countries we operate in; normally, this is done through different projects like the Sag Salim project in Türkiye. The supply chain partner, on the other hand, also collaborates closely with local stakeholders, and we encourage the local perspective on things.

How do you address the issue of textile waste, both within your own operations and in collaboration with consumers?

As explained earlier, we take responsibility for all our own waste (or resources) in our own channels and encourage the users of our products to bring them back to the store for a second chance. The difficult part is when products are sold to external retailers, and we do not have the same kind of control over what happens later in the product lifecycle.

Transparency is crucial in sustainability efforts. How does Nudie Jeans ensure transparency regarding its practices, materials, and supply chain?

Before transparency comes traceability, and again, it is important to have a short and consolidated supply chain with long-term relations. We have been working with supply chain traceability and transparency for a long time. We publish our full supply chain on the product card online and provide the users with a lot of information, for example, water and CO2 use, and if we have visited the supply chain partner or not. (We have visited 49 per cent of the supply chain tier 1-4). In addition to the sourcing strategy, we have a set of policies where we select the best possible material (organic cotton and now moving towards regenerative organic cotton) for our products. There is a close collaboration between design, product development, production and sustainability departments in achieving supply chain transparency and traceability.

As the Chief Sustainability Officer, what challenges do you face in advancing sustainability within Nudie Jeans, and how do you overcome them?

The challenge today, I would say, lies in the balance between increasing demands on sustainability reporting and time for developing actions that have an impact on the supply chain. As a company of our size, we have limited resources regarding reporting and carrying out actions at the same time; we need to do both and one of the strengths of the brand is to be innovative and explore new ideas together with our supply chain partners.

Looking ahead, what innovations or strategies is Nudie Jeans exploring to further enhance its sustainability performance and influence within the fashion industry?

We continue to work on our existing projects, such as living wages, transparency, climate action, scaling circularity activities etc. We are seeking to collaboratively develop programmes for social impacts at our suppliers, for example, transformative trainings.
Interviewer: Shilpi Panjabi
Published on: 14/06/2024

DISCLAIMER: All views and opinions expressed in this column are solely of the interviewee, and they do not reflect in any way the opinion of Fibre2Fashion.com.