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How the sportswear industry plans to become more sustainable

By Regina Henkel

Jan 31, 2020

On the occasion of the 50th anniversary of Ispo Munich, the sporting goods fair presented a new message for the coming seasons: More sustainability and expansion of the platform concept.

A 50th anniversary would be a reason for many to spend a long time looking at the past - with nostalgic pictures and all that goes with it. This was not the case with Ispo Munich, which ended after four days on 29th January. In view of the great challenges of our time, instead of looking back, the fair is looking forward: The goals are to link topics like sustainability and corporate responsibility even more closely to the Ispo; the fair wants to promote cooperation within the industry and in the future, the activity itself, i.e. sports, should play an even greater role. Away from being a pure product show and towards more movement - pun intended.

Cooperation with the conference programme of Neonyt

Visitors already got an idea of how such a cooperation could look like on the first day of the show. As a surprise, sustainable fair Neonyt showed up in Ispo’s conference programme. In the Ispo Sustainability Hub, sustainability experts from the world of fashion discussed different topics together with Thimo Schwenzfeier, Neonyt’s director and head of marketing communication textiles & textile technologies at Messe Frankfurt. “Sustainability efforts have led to numerous new cooperations between brands; between trade fairs it is still a rarity," said Schwenzfeier.

New event in 2020: Ispo SDG Summit

In the next few years, Messe München intends to increase the cooperation between all stakeholders and the expansion of the fair as a think tank. "The world is going through a great social upheaval. Developments such as climate change, globalisation and the division of societies have a major impact that are triggering discussions worldwide," said Klaus Dittrich, chairman of the management board of Messe München. "Solutions must be found before it's too late." Therefore, the fair will organise the first Ispo SDG Summit on 29th June 2020, parallel to the OutDoor by Ispo. The abbreviation ‘SDG’ stands for the 17 Social Development Goals of the United Nations, which are dedicated to ensuring a sustainable development on an economic, social and ecological level. The aim is to develop solutions and joint projects for the different sustainability goals.

Sustainability is the overriding theme of the fair

It is already hard to overlook the change in the industry: The issue of sustainability is being taken up by more and more brands. While earlier, competition between brands used to focus on classic functional issues such as waterproofing or lightness, today the focus is on sustainable innovations. Numerous new ideas were presented from new fibres, membranes and processing technologies to the development of new business solutions.

Outdoor brand Bergans of Norway presented the latter with a new backpack project. The pilot project "Collection of tomorrow" is about circularity. Using a co-owner approach, Bergans integrates consumers and gives them the right to have a backpack recycled after its use and to have a new product made from its material. The product consists of the fibre Spinnova and is completely recyclable. A technical innovation was presented by French action sports brand Picture Organic Clothing: The brand developed a three-layer waterproof jacket with BenQ's innovative Xpore membrane, which consists only of carbon and hydrogen. The outer fabric of another jacket consists of a bio-based polyester and can be recycled.

Investment in longevity

While some use innovative, sustainable materials, others want to achieve sustainability through better quality or a longer durability of each product. "We want our products to be used longer,” says Nikolai Rabaek Christensen from shoe manufacturer Ecco Outdoor, for instance, "even if this means that consumers will buy fewer pairs of shoes." Nevertheless, Ecco is working on new tanning processes such as DriTan, which consumes considerably less water. "Next year, we will switch the entire collection to DriTan." With the durability aspect, the correct care of the product moves also more in the foreground. At Fjällräven's booth, one could learn how to wax the robust G1000 material - for which the brand is known - and make it last for a long time. Versatility also manifests itself as a new sustainable trend and thus questions the development of recent years that everything has to become more and more specialised.

Conclusion: Sustainability is a process

There is no such thing as 100 percent sustainability, it's always about becoming more sustainable compared to existing processes or models. That is why supporting tree planting projects is already better than no sustainable commitment at all, even if product improvement still leaves much to be desired. Greenwashing is omnipresent, but only if sustainability is understood as a final state and not as a process. The future will show who is willing to continuously improve. What is clear is that in the future, designers will be increasingly involved in responsibility. They set the course already during the development process for the durability, versatility and disposal of the product.

Photos: FashionUnited / Regina Henkel

This article was originally published on FashionUnited DE. Edited and translated by Simone Preuss.