Monday November 19th, 2018
Ethical Banking and Ethical Fashion –
How does this go together?

(Advertisement with GLS Bank – GERMAN VERSION HERE, auf Deutsch hier)

Thanks so much for your positive feedback on my intro post on ethical banking that I posted on my blog, Instagram and YouTube. It’s great that there are actually some ethical and green banks that are committed to protecting the environment and social projects, consistently excluding dirty businesses such as arms trafficking, child labor and the like. 

Living sustainably requires a bank change and I need to change my bank too!

As I said earlier, I had barely even thought about the topic of Ethical Banking. Now I am convinced that I want to invest my money in a positive way and therefore changed my private bank account last week. I chose GLS Bank, who I am working with again for this blog post. Disclaimer: Yes, I was paid for this post, but not for switching. The switch was 100 percent my decision and I take on all the costs for it myself. I also wasn’t asked to do it either. I simply chose GLS Bank following my own interview (self-influencer, hehe) and after doing a bit more research and reading more, for example in the Fair Finance Guide and personal recommendations. If you guys are interested I will write a review about the process of changing to GLS and if it is really as easy as they say in another post! Today I have a few more insights on GLS Bank.

GLS Bank & Ethical Fashion

As described in my last blog post about GLS Bank, they do not only invest in sustainable residential and energy projects, but they also finance many sustainable fashion companies. Ethical Fashion customers of GLS Bank include Melawear, MyMarini, Wunderwerk, Armedangels, Wijld, Loveco and Avocadostore.

Ethical fashion and Ethical Banking

Since this combination, Ethical Fashion & Ethical Banking, fits perfectly with me and the content on heylilahey, I decided to present another interview to you today. Maybe you’ve already wondered where all the ethical fashion brands actually get their fabrics from. Many labels are still very young and can not organize their own supply chain themselves. It takes a lot of work and money to develop fabrics, conduct trend research and guarantee a clean supply chain for the fabrics. However, as these fabrics have to meet strict criteria (certificates, quality, fair trade, aesthetics and more) as well as affordability for fair fashion brands, the choice is quite limited, especially for young brands. Price benefits from larger fabric providers often only start at 1,000 meters per color and small labels can’t afford such large quantities nor use up all the fabric.

Lebenskleidung offers the solution!

Lebenskleidung is the only clothing retailer in Germany that offers fair and sustainable fabrics in small quantities at wholesale prices. Transparency is a big part of Lebenskleidung business, and they pay attention to socially friendly processing, fair trade and fair prices for the producers, from the cotton field to the dyeing to the retailer. All textiles are certified to the strict GOTS standard. Although sustainability is the top priority for clothing, it is especially important for them to supply the latest colors and qualities.

Benjamin Itter, Enrico Rima and Christoph Malkowski started life clothes in 2008 in a studio apartment in Prenzlauerberg. Initially, they organized bulk orders for many different smaller labels. Today, there are also two collections a year and a large fabric storage, so that they can also supply their customers spontaneously. A preview of the large selection of fabrics is also provided at the large showroom in the Kreuzberg office.

The 8-member team also embodies sustainability in the office: The Lebenskleidung team uses 100 percent green electricity from Polarstern, buys only used computers and when the make new purchases they ensure that they are Green IT products, orders exclusively sustainable office supplies from Memo, prints at the Oktoberdruck (a certified collectively organized company in Berlin), cooks fresh every day in the office with exclusively organic food from a Demeter box from the eco-village Brodowin in Brandenburg, commutes by bicycle or public transport to the office, and has a GLS Bank company account!

A few weeks ago I had the great opportunity to visit the showroom in Kreuzberg, to have a closer look at some of the organic fabrics and to talk to co-founder Enrico about perseverance, hurdles and successes as well as the collaboration with GLS Bank:

  • Interview with Enrico from Lebenskleidung –

Heylilahey: You lived in India for several years and experienced the exploitation in the textile industry up close. What shocked you the most?

Enrico: In 2008, I let myself be “smuggled” from a producer into a conventional, big Indian dyeing mill because I just wanted to see how bad it really is in such factories. You really can not imagine it. Everything was full, there were about 3,000 people in this factory, there was hardly a real floor, everything was full of colors, my eyes immediately started to tear up and my business partner, who was present, immediately had nosebleeds after the two-hour visit. And there you can probably calculate the cancer rates immediately.

What I also understood during my visit: I’ve always wondered why people keep pouring into these cities and factories and looking for work there, even though they all know that this is not good or clean work. This is because the misery already begins on the countryside. If you are not sustainable, e.g. the cultivation of cotton makes the soil increasingly barren, and this leads to worsening conditions. Then the classic rural exodus follows and every bad job is accepted, as the options on the countryside are even worse.

That’s why it was important to us to see sustainability as a whole. For us, ethical fashion starts with agriculture and not just in the production of clothing. Only if cotton is cultivated reasonably and sustainably, only then will there be a long-term perspective for local farmers and young people in rural areas, and only then will we somehow break the vicious cycle.

And it was exactly this realization, seeing a conventional dyeing factory and really getting to know all the backgrounds, that was very influential for me. Dyeing, for example, is just one step in the long textile chain.

Then came the decision to start Lebenskleidung. But what came in between this decision and Lebenskleidung, as we know it today?

After my trip I finished my studies in Germany and in the meantime also accidentally discovered an article in the newspaper about ayurvedic staining methods with ecological cotton. As a result my business partner Benjamin convinced himself and we just said “Come, let’s make something out of it”. In 2008, the company was founded on paper. We started with vegetable-dyed linens, but nobody wanted them. At least not enough that it paid off. So our company evolved towards GOTS certified, sustainably colored fabrics. In particular, we have focused on the fact that even young designers can afford our fabrics and order smaller quantities.

Your environmental policy in the office is great, do you think the same can be implemented by other, larger offices? Or is too difficult?

This is a classic top down process. If the boss is unwilling to implement sustainability in the office, than it will not work. The head has to say “Yes, we will do it!” And then sustainability can be easily implemented in the office. I do not know if there are any big price differences here, because we ordered sustainable office supplies from the beginning. Right from the start, it was very important to me to work holistically and sustainably.

Sustainability is currently a big trend concept and is used in many different contexts. What does sustainability mean for you?

I go back to the origin of the definition and that comes from forestry: You do not cut down more wood than you replant. For me, that’s the blueprint for the whole thing, no matter how far the term sustainability blurs. You do not reap more than you grow, otherwise it just is not sustainable.

Many are trying to live a sustainable and ethical way of life and want their money to arrive in the right places, in ethical fashion, recycling, public transport systems, donations to charitable organizations – how do you think a social-ecological bank will play an important role?

The decision for a social-ecological bank was no question. From the start, it was clear to us that we would open our business account at GLS Bank. I was always aware that banks have a role in things such as food speculation and during the global financial crisis, it was obvious to use that we should open an account at GLS Bank. For us, a social-ecological bank is part of the holistic concept of sustainability. I see it like this: If “money rules the world”, then I want the money to be at least meaningfully invested and not in food speculation, weapons or unethical trading.

What are your experiences with GLS Bank?

We started our company with bulk orders, a bit like today’s crowdfunding. The fabrics were only available to our customers after a successful round of financing. But we quickly realized that the demand for readily available materials was very high. But we also needed more space, because at the start we were delivering everything from our small apartment. At that time, GLS Bank supported our project right from the beginning and made it possible for us, as a small start-up company, to take out a loan in order to invest in a proper warehouse.

Are you satisfied with the GLS Bank?

Our experiences have been very good. Almost ten years ago, during the financial crisis, many looked around for alternative banks, and we already noticed that GLS Bank had come up against their capacity at that time – simply because the demand for fair and transparent banks was suddenly so great. Of course, that has changed quickly and we are very satisfied with our customer service today. For example, we have a solid client advisor who is our age, who is doing yoga, who has been to India before, who we meet with at least once a quarter, have dinner together, and who we are comfortable with to talk both about work and private issues. He is also personally interested in the topic of an ethical and sustainable textile industry and proposed to do a presentation on textiles in-house in the GLS Bank for his colleagues and supervisors.

I hope that in the future GLS Bank will focus even more on the ethical fashion industry with its designers, retailers and more, even though the fashion industry is of course always very volatile. But in any case it is a growing market with a lot of potential, great people and projects that are worth supporting.

What is missing in the industry to take the next step? More customers, more customer awareness, or help from politics?

We are active in the textile alliance “Textilbündnis”, because we hope that on this voluntary basis “the big ones” will commit themselves more. But the longer we are in this alliance, the more I think that the textile industry somehow needs political regulations, filters for example to exclude certain textile products. But the textile industry probably just has too much volume for the state to intervene directly. The only members of the government who are really actively interested in the topic are, for example, Renate Künast, who has been attending the Greenshowroom for many years now, who regularly speaks about the topic in the Bundestag, as well as Katrin Göring-Eckardt, who is also committed to the subject. But still, I wish for more commitment from the German politicians.

Heylilahey: What do you think, how can someone leave the niche and reach the “mainstream” with ethical fashion, or also with ethical banking?

Enrico: I know that from the food sector, it works best when you focus on the taste. For example, I regularly bring my friends in Brandenburg simple, great organic, artisanal bread and because it tastes so good, they ask where it comes from and I automatically create awareness of sustainable products.

__________________

We then talked about the last point for a while, and I agreed with Enrico that we reach more people through the emotional component than just logic and facts. Sustainability can and should be informed by scientific papers and books. But in the fast-paced everyday life, news and products that appeal to us on an emotional level are the ones that reach us the best. I think that a great success factor of my channels, but of course also of many other bloggers, is not only the content, but also the presentation, aesthetically pleasing photos and looks. Sustainable products can not only convince the mainstream with their basic principles and certificates, but must also be visually appealing or be at least very user-friendly. As the online magazine Viertel Vor once wrote, “A product that is good for the world must be at least as good or actually better than the products that already exist …”

Success & Growth

Furthermore, we also briefly talked about the topic of success, how important this is to him. Enrico sees perseverance with steady ups and downs as one of the key factors on the way to corporate success. With Lebenskleidung the founders also pursue no classic growth target à la “faster, higher, further, more!”. Their goal is not to eventually have 30, 40 or 50 employees, but a manageable number of people, with whom you can reach the sales goals very well, but which they can also individually take very good care of.

This is exactly where the collaboration with GLS Bank overlaps:

In contrast to many other financial institutions, the ethical bank GLS Bank does not focus on “higher, faster, further”, more and more consumption and more growth without natural limits, but on business practices and projects that are sustainable. And these are often not always projects that bring large profit immediately, such as ethical fashion startups that have to gain a foothold, but have great plans and contribute to the well-being of mankind and the environment.

You find out where GLS Bank invests exactly here or on the GLS blog. I also recommend that you read the interviews with the T-shirt label Wijld or Armedangels on the GLS blog, where you learn even more about sustainable banking and ethical fashion!

Let me know if you would like to know more about Ethical Banking and how my account change to GLS Bank is going. I am currently changing my private account and have already sent all the data to GLS Bank. Now I’m waiting for my bank card and to gain some initial experience to write a detailed review for you.

If you have specific questions, please let me know so I can include them in my review. Also: Leave all sorts of questions that you have on the topic here in the comments section. Then I can pick this up in the third post. I am looking forward to your feedback!

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