GANNI’s Founders on Why They Don’t Want You to Call Their Brand "Sustainable"

Courtesy GANNI

They prefer the term “responsible.”

“You can’t run from the fact that producing fashion is inherently bad. We are driven by newness and produce four main collections a year. We are pretty transparent about that,” says Nicolaj Reffstrup, co-founder of GANNI, arguably one of the coolest labels to come out of Scandinavia in the past decade.

While some may say that Reffstrup’s candor and straightforward approach may be off-putting and detrimental to business, his honesty and willingness to call them as he sees them are actually refreshing, not to mention necessary, especially in an industry that is one of the main contributors to pollution and climate change. After all, admitting you have a problem is the first step in fixing it.


Courtesy GANNI 

“But on the other hand, we also acknowledge that fashion isn’t going away,” he continues. “It’s not going to disappear, so doing nothing isn’t an option. The situation is so serious that we all need to take responsibility and do better every day—and that’s really what we try to do […] Behaving responsibly has become our biggest priority. We don’t use the word sustainability any more really.”

In fashion, “sustainability” has become the term du jour and is thrown around all the time without much explanation as to what exactly is hiding behind it. Reffstrup sees it as “diluted” and devoid of meaning and he calls for brands to start acting responsibly instead. For both him and his wife, Ditte, who is the creative mastermind behind the brand, this is a moral obligation. So together with their team, they have launched more than 30 initiatives encompassing everything from their production process to life in their Copenhagen headquarters (a catering company regularly provides vegetarian lunch for their employees, for example).

Even their new stores are built responsibly.

“My favorite projects at the moment are related to how we build out stores using discarded textile fibers for plasterboards, rugs made of old collections, displays made of single-use plastics such as yogurt pots and water bottles or mannequins made of residue plastic from furniture production,” Reffstrup explains.

GANNI’s new Miami location, which opens today, is the physical embodiment of everything Reffstrup talks about.

The goal, according to the company’s sustainability fact sheet is “to reduce our carbon footprint.”

“We have been mapping and carbon compensating the full footprint of the company since 2016. I’m totally aware that carbon compensating is to some people controversial as it could look like you are paying indulgence. However, to me, it’s a kind of self-imposed tax, in lack of politicians imposing these. In this world we’ve created there’s nothing like monetary punishment to adjust behavior,” says Reffstrup. “Being responsible adds to your cost base no matter what people tell you. And there isn’t a consumer willing to pay for that right now, so it’s up to you as a business to cover the added cost.”

One of GANNI’s most important sustainable (sorry, Nicolaj!) projects is sourcing and using organic and recycled fabrics. For their pre-fall 2018 collection, the brand used biodegradable thermoplastic instead of Polyurethane (or PU) to create their outerwear pieces—something that has since become standard for them. Recycled polyester and recycled polyamide have also been introduced across certain lines—most notably swimwear. For Spring/Summer 2020, half of their collection will have a certified sustainable element and they will be introducing an alternative to viscose, a plant-based fabric, the manufacture of which requires the use of a lot of water, chemicals, and energy.

“Adding recycled materials, lowering our carbon footprint, or trying out new innovative fabrics just adds to the excitement,” says Ditte Reffstrup. “Trying to do better has become a bit of a sport internally and across all departments.

The brand has also launched GANNI Lab, or “an experimental department” as Nicolaj Reffstrup refers to it, where their team tries to come up with impact-neutral projects they can be implemented more widely in the future.

But the bucket doesn’t stop with them. The brand is constantly trying to engage their customers as well. For their take-back initiative, GANNI placed boxes in their Copenhagen and London stores where customers can drop off old or unwanted clothing and shoes from any brand that then GANNI re-uses, turns into new fabrics, or recycles. And there is also GANNI Repeat, the company’s rental service (for now only available in Denmark), that allows customers to rent pieces form old and current collections. The brand even has a store in Copenhagen entirely dedicated to selling pieces from past seasons and one-off samples—GANNI Postmodern.

“We know we are not even close to being sustainable—maybe fashion never will be —but we are stubborn about trying and really strive to be open and transparent about our endeavors,” adds Reffstrup. “It’s a moral obligation and an insurance policy—hopefully also a sound business model in the long run.”