ARMEDANGELS are heroes in the sustainable and ethical fashion market, and employ Corporate Responsibility Managers to ensure ethical standards are kept on top of at every point of production. This means no child labour, honest wages and the use of only organic substances.

We caught up with Lavinia to find out exactly what a day in the life of a Corporate Responsibility Manager at ARMEDANGELS is like...

What is sustainable fashion?

Sustainable fashion can be described as fashion that is produced and consumed in the most sustainable manner possible, taking into account both environmental, socio-economic and ethical aspects. From the ecological perspective, the aim should be to minimize any undesirable environmental effect of the product’s lifecycle. From the socio-economic and ethical perspective, everybody in the supply chain should work to improve working conditions for workers on the field, in the factories, etc. by aligning with mutual and good ethics and best practice.

My personal opinion on that is that sustainability should be a) business as usual and b) that further thinking, sustainability is not enough. We must think about regeneration, regenerative and circular systems. Fashion companies should contribute to encouraging more sustainable consumption patterns, caring and washing practices and overall attitudes toward fashion. And we have to not only tackle the problem of our globally diminishing resources, but we also have to tackle the problem of the waste created by the industry and consumption.

What inspired you to become a Corporate Responsibility manager for ARMEDANGELS?
I slipped into the fashion sector via sustainability consulting and got to know the industry through it. I was gripped by the complex system, I deliberately say complex because it is complex, not necessarily complicated. The fashion industry is a sector in which a lot has happened due to rapid growth and extreme dynamism: global trade networks, global value chains, international division of labour - all super-exciting topics. Of course, that caught my interest first and I wanted to find out what and why there are so many grievances at all. The same circumstances do not lead to the same problems everywhere in the world and there is no uniform "best practice" solution to decorate the whole thing "sustainably". The opportunities and risks of the future for the industry are many and varied, and I'm eager to work on them. After eight years in consulting, I wanted to have a closer look at the insight of a brand. So, what you need for this is; Curiosity. You have to be curious and you have to question the status quo - constantly. You must act out of 100% conviction, want to take your colleagues with you on the journey, network, integrate and never stop thinking strategically. I think ARMEDANGELS has always been doing this and that is what inspired me to become a part of it.

Can you describe a typical day in your role?
My typical work days are always very eventful. I communicate a lot with our suppliers, prepare the audits & inspections, draw up cooperative corrective action plans; I also communicate a lot internally and hold employee training sessions, because sustainability is an integral part of our lives, so everyone must always be up to date and have an opinion (which we value a lot); and I am also always on the lookout for innovative processes and projects that have to be agreed with the various departments in the company and then tackled with our partners.

I am furthermore constantly “on-site”: These trips to the different stages of our supply chain are essential and important to carry out regularly. Our aim is to get to the bottom of things and fully understand their interrelationships. To do this, you always need first-hand information. In this way, we build long-term relationships at eye level with our partners. You also have to keep checking and validating whether what we do and build together also has the impact and benefit that the projects have had at a certain status quo. We always dig deep! 

We noticed a general shift in public opinion towards unsustainable materials like plastic in the last year. Do you feel that the change has reached the fashion industry in the same magnitude?
Yes, definitely. The plastic issue has not only reached ethical brands like ARMEDANGELS, but it has also reached the big players as well. Having a look at the big outdoor and sportswear brands, they have huge projects on ocean plastic and recycled synthetic materials. Besides, the fact that we release microplastics with each wash in our washing machines and eventual allergic reactions on our skin may appear, we really have to have a closer look at the aspects of plastics in fashion. I think it’s going to take more than cleaning up oceans trying to get the plastic waste in our clothing, a plastic bottle ban or to use recycled polyester from PET-bottles where we only give the bottles one more life. We are not saving the world by only cleaning up. We have to dig deeper and get the socio-economic facts! It is an issue of disorganized urbanization, lack of sanitational infrastructure and adequate dump sites, the cycle of poverty, corruption, lack of recycling, bad economies that generate more waste, lack of recycling projects, lack of enforcement of laws, lack of land use plans. Climate change exacerbates all these problems. It is about redesigning fashion without harmful plastics. 

Do you believe that we will ever fully stamp out fast fashion?
Well, I have to and I am. Otherwise, I would be doing a bad job. We, as ARMEDANGELS, are here to make a difference. And we are at a super-interesting turning point as we are reaching more and more people. And we are showing that fashion can be made differently at larger scales. But, the shift to a fully responsible industry might take some more decades.

What are the challenges ARMEDANGELS faces on their mission?

As mentioned before, we always have to dig deeper. The more you get to know, the more responsibility you must take. But also, the better you get. We have reached to become a fashion brand which only uses sustainable resources and which has traceability and ethical practices in all its supply chains. We will now take the challenge of the waste problem.

Are there any common misconceptions people have about sustainable fashion?
Yes, there are a lot of misconceptions. For example the perspective on sourcing countries. As the fashion industry is such a dynamic industry with players all over the world, you cannot lump a manufacturing country together. There are exceptional green factories in Bangladesh nowadays, the working conditions in China have improved significantly over the years. Furthermore, the aspect of the transport and its impact on CO2-emissions being part of a product lifecycle. The wet processing stages during production and the consumer phase are definitely the stages which have the most impact. Having ecologically-optimized wet-processes and for example, washing every 10 times a product is worn instead of every 2 times reduces energy use, climate change impact and water intake by up to 80% (which you can do with a pair of jeans).

Are there any other sustainable brands that you think people should know about?
Oh yes, there are. We have a lot of friends in the game. Especially in the UK a couple of really interesting players have entered the field the last years, like Mother of Pear and Kitty Ferreira. Then there is Eileen Fisher and People Tree, who have taken sustainability in fashion to a next level already for years now.

Finally, what is your favourite piece from this season's ARMEDANGELS collection?
One of our new denim styles: Inga Skinny Fit High Waist. This is also a “raw denim” without any treatment except a quick rinse wash, the most ecological denim we have.