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Magdalena Schaffrin: "The new concept of quality includes sustainability"

By Barbara Russ


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Magdalena Schaffrin is one of Germany's most important sustainability agents. In 2009, she founded the Green Showroom together with Jana Keller, which presented sustainable fashion at Berlin Fashion Week. This year, the Neonyt trade fair, which Schaffrin is the creative director of, took place for the first time under the umbrella of Messe Frankfurt, combining both formats. FashionUnited talked to her about the latest edition of the fair and how fashion and the market are changing in terms of sustainability.

What was your personal impression of Neonyt?

The unbelievably positive atmosphere at the event was pivotal for me. This showed that the relaunch - new name, new concept, new radiance - was a complete success.

What does the name "Neonyt” actually mean?

The name stands for the change that we want to promote in the fashion industry. The artificial word derives from the ancient Greek word "neo", meaning new, revolutionary, and the Scandinavian word for new, "nytt". "The renewed new" - "neo" simultaneously refers to the past and interprets this newness in a modern and contemporary way. We represent change in terms of fashion. The fact that the concept is working out is also reflected in the increased number of visitors and the positive feedback - especially for the campaign and the new visual communication. That makes me very happy!

What worked and what could be improved?

By turning the event into a hub, we have raised it to a new level. We noticed that there is an immense need for information on the subject of sustainability. This is where our extensive framework programme comes in, which has enabled us to integrate the various communities very successfully. The hub's fashionable focus is also indispensable. In this regard, the fashion curation of the labels of the Neonyt Trade Show and the Neonyt Fashion Show was very well received. The concept of the Editorial Show with over 50 participating brands from all over the world reflects the development that the topic of sustainability is currently gaining enormous momentum and is slowly playing an increasingly important role even in high fashion and fashion magazines. We're on the right track, but we need to become more widely known internationally. After all, our concept is unique in the world!

Ten-Year-Challenge: How has the market changed since 2009?

In 2009, sustainable fashion was still a question of lifestyle - just remember the definition of LOHAS' new target group. Today it is simply a necessity. It is no longer enough to be a little greener. The industry - and slowly politics - have realised that more sustainable supply chains and products are important to ensure their own sustainability and to solve pressing issues.

Much has happened - more behind the scenes but also with public visibility: Greenpeace's Detox campaign has put awareness of harmful chemicals on the agenda, especially among the big players and in the sportswear/outdoor sector. The tragic accident of Rana Plaza, the subsequent Fashion Revolution campaign and initiatives such as the Accord, and last but not least the German Partnership for Sustainable Textiles have all brought social aspects into people’s consciousness. In addition, the debate about circularity and its movements, such as the establishment of the Ellen McArthur Foundation, is addressing the issue of circularity like never before.

At the moment, the current discussion about microplastics and plastics in general in the oceans, which of course also affects the textile industry, is attracting a great deal of media attention. In addition, broader alliances have formed up to UN level, which has put the topic of fashion on the agenda for 2019.

And how have consumers changed?

Consumer awareness of ecological and social standards has risen immensely. The issues have reached the centre of society and have therefore also reached companies.

What has remained the same and is most frustrating for you?

Lip service that is not followed up by any action. And that everything takes so long. But I am now much more optimistic about the pace of change.

How have your views changed and what were the most exciting insights?

Sustainability is like this: The deeper you get into it, the more complex the topic becomes; the more difficult it becomes to find "simple" answers. I keep learning something new every day and try to pass on my knowledge in as simple and comprehensible a way as possible. One aspect is particularly important: aesthetics. Because we work in fashion, a rather emotional medium. Even if or precisely because the background is complex, we have to reach people through visual language and the joy of fashion - the "right" fashion.

If you had all the power for one day, what three problems in the fashion industry would you solve?

That would be great! First of all, I would improve the working conditions of all people in the textile supply chains. Then I would ban all harmful chemicals and ingredients. Third, I would eliminate excessive consumption so that we all have more time again for the important questions in life and do not spend our time buying new things, managing them and getting rid of them again.

Personally, what are your favourite labels?

Oh, I can't make up my mind there. I'm glad that by now, there are sustainable alternatives in every area and that there are great labels out there. I have showcased many of them in my book Fashion Made Fair.

The other day you said that luxury handbags were "partly hazardous waste" - I found that an interesting thought. What did you mean by that?

I was referring to PVC-coated leather handbags, which are sold by luxury brands, among others. PVC is a material that cannot simply be disposed of in normal household waste but actually has to be treated as hazardous waste. The bags can be recognized by their surface, which is not open-pored but rather plastic-like.

And how can one do luxury better?

The crucial point is quality. For me, sustainable aspects such as high-quality materials are a given. I am convinced that it is not possible to speak of good quality when harmful ingredients are used or when people working in the supply chain suffer. The new concept of quality, as I understand it, includes sustainability aspects.

Photos: 1. Magdalena Schaffrin, 2. Neonyt Fashion Show, Messe Frankfurt GmbH/Zacharie Scheurer, 3. Kraftwerk Berlin /Neonyt/Messe Frankfurt Exhibition GmbH

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

Green Showroom
Magdalena Schaffrin