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Berlin fashion scene breaking barriers in sustainability

By Weixin Zha


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Sustainable fashion is having a moment. With increasing interest from conventional retailers, the topic is becoming less of a niche and more of a mainstream industry focus, as proved by Berlin’s fashion fairs at the start of July.

A colorful, frayed patchwork denim jacket, an oversized sea blue straw hat combined with bright red, pants with slits from the knees down and the models are internationally cast. The catwalk spectacle staged by the green fashion fair Neonyt in Berlin's Ewerk during Berlin Fashion Week is expressive and loud.

Sustainable clothing is fashionable – and Neonyt is driving that idea. The new umbrella brand under which the world's largest trade fair company Messe Frankfurt united its fairs Green Showroom and Ethical Fashion Show took place for the first time in January.

The exhibiting fashion labels must meet 70 percent of social and ecological criteria, then they still have to pass the fashion test, said Thimo Schwenzfeier, head of Neonyt, on Tuesday at the trade fair held in Kraftwerk Berlin. "If a company simply produces scratchy wool jumpers, we won't accept them," he explained.

Picture: Neonyt | FashionUnited

The two lower floors of Neonyt are full, 170 exhibitors show products ranging from handbags made of apple leather, sneakers made using oxblood and viscose dresses made of rose petals. Neonyt and its predecessors Green Showroom and Ethical Fashion Show update the global fashion industry about the latest breakthroughs, Kayla Marci, market analyst at the retail data platform Edited, said by email. "Berlin has long been an ethical trailblazer, and sustainability is a vital theme within fashion week."

Slightly more than half of the Neonyt visitors were retailers in January. Between the stands, you can meet owners of green stores, but also conventional fashion retailers who are considering adding sustainable clothing to their assortment. The growing interest of traditional fashion retailers has also been reflected in the changing composition of visitors to Neonyt.

The interest of conventional retailers is rising

At the first edition of Neonyt in January, the share of conventional retailers was 40 percent, the rest were shops specializing in sustainable fashion. Three years ago it was just 20 percent, Schwenzefeier said. Within the various retail chains, there were also more buyers attending. "We’re also working very, very hard. We want to bring more conventional retailers to the fair here," he said.

Visitors already include buyers of large department stores and fashion retailers such as Selfridges, Zalando, Breuninger and Galeries Lafayette. International buyers attend, who have specialized in green topics but mostly he’s meeting his German-speaking customers here, said Sebastian Thies, managing director of German high-end sneaker manufacturer nat-2, which uses innovative natural materials such as hay, recycled glass and wine corks in its shoes.

Picture: Nat-2 Booth | FashionUnited

Berlin is also an interesting venue to watch for the encounter of conventional fashion retail and sustainable fashion, as it hosts sustainable fairs like Neonyt and also commercially oriented shows like Premium and Panorama. And the two major apparel fairs have also discovered this growing business segment for themselves.

In its fourth season, sustainable brands have already presented their collections under the Xoom format at Panorama in Berlin's West. Silk scarves, vegan shoes and sustainable denim were on display at 15 stands. In addition, a concept store in the middle of the area demonstrated how to present green brands in a store. Xoom is the extended Berlin arm of the Innatex trade fair specialising in sustainable textiles, which was founded in 1997 and takes place in Hofheim-Wallau this week.

This season, the trade fair Premium also declared "Sustainable Future" one of its key themes, bringing 70 sustainable brands to its exhibition space. Overall, the operator estimates that around 250 green brands would be exhibiting at Berlin Fashion Week. Although their share of the total number of brands is around one tenth - around 1800 brands were showing at Berlin Fashion Week - the rapid growth of the segment is attracting attention, as data from Edited shows.

Picture: Concept Store at Xoom / Panorama | FashionUnited

The number of products described as sustainable in the German market rose 64.6 percent year on year until July, according to Edited. "Despite these factors, the presence of fast fashion still lingers," said Marci. "A challenge for any business trying to include sustainable fashion in their assortment is appealing to price-conscious customers. “

Sustainable brands are also reporting growing interest from retailers. Spanish label Avasan, which offers hand-painted kimonos made in Andalusia, has recently won its first conventional retailer, said founder Amy Valentine at Neonyt. "I had a lot of new customers today," said Claudia Lanius, owner of German womenswear brand Lanius, which supplies more than 380 retailers - 50 percent of which are already mixed stores and 20 percent are classic, conventional retailers. She is also convinced that Neonyt is the right place for her, she says, when she is asked about sustainable brands that have migrated to the other fairs in order to win customers.

Bild: Lanius booth at Neonyt | FashionUnited

Veja, the trending vegan sneaker brand, for example, is exhibiting at the trade show Seek - alongside the sustainable denim label Kings of Indigo - to present itself in a streetwear environment. "We are networking at Neonyt and selling at Premium," explains Daniël Beernink, managing director and founder of the Dutch label Rhumaa, which is represented at Neonyt and Premium in Berlin. "While the focus at Neonyt is on materials, the focus at Premium is on design".

Brands moving between the trade fairs reflect the increasing competition for the growing market segment of sustainable fashion. Even though it will still take time before green fashion is established in the mass market, the question will arise as to whether a trade fair with a special focus on sustainability will be needed in the future. A similar question is posed for a city like Berlin that focuses on green fashion. The sustainable format 'Impact' of the Paris fashion fair Who's Next will take place for the first time in September.

"Sustainability is a global issue, if not the most relevant one at the moment. It's perfectly clear that other platforms recognize this and react to it," said Thimo Schwenzfeier. "But we look to ourselves, we have been on the market for 10 years, we are the world's largest trade fair for sustainable fashion and we have a clear vision for the future. For the Neonyt and for Berlin."

Picture: Future area with sustainable brands at Premium | FashionUnited

picture: Homepage picture: John Phillips/Getty Images for Neonyt | remaining photos: FashionUnited

Sustainable Fashion