”It’s so much greenwashing out there!”

The owner of hair company Björn Axén and Chairman of Association of Swedish Hairdressing Businesses is frustrated about how the hair and beauty industry is not advancing faster in terms of sustainability. But, he also sees development.

— For example, now is the first time that I can use 100% recycled plastic in our bottles and be totally sure that the ingredients will not go through the packaging. We’ve used green plastic, made of sugarcane, before. It’s not 100 %, but it’s better. And we were one of the first to introduce our products in a refill packaging to reduce the plastics. Next spring, I hope that we’ll launch refill stations on all our salons, for the customers to fill a reusable bottle with shampoo and conditioner. The latest initiative also rewards customers when contributing.

— We’re the first hair company to work with PantaPå, about to change their name to Bower this December, a Swedish start-up aiming to allow any company to offer money back to their customers for each package they recycle. You download the app and when you get to the recycling station, you scan the code on our package and get 10 % off of a new product from us. The circle is closed and the empty bottle can be used to make a new one. We see how this encourages customers and invite big companies from all industries to be apart of it.

How do you think the beauty industry needs to transform itself?

— First of all, the companies producing ingredients need to take away the really harmful ones. Despite the tough EU regulations for what you put in a bottle, it’s sometimes ridiculous what ingredients are forbidden and which ones are not. Just like we need to work so much faster with better solutions for sustainable packaging, we need to be tougher with ingredients to accomplish real change. It’s so much greenwashing out there! But, most of all, the ones in power are the end consumers and as long as they don’t care about it so that the companies lose money, nothing will happen. I hope the younger customers will be a driving force here.

And how do you work to contribute to this transformation?

— During 12 years, no chemicals have left our salons. We collect everything and Stena Recycling takes care of it, to ensure it doesn’t end up in nature. We’ve also developed a system together with Stena to make it easy for every single hairdresser in our country to recycle their stuff, to do good and make a change. And we tell our producers and factories what changes they need to make in order to improve. If not, they’ll lose a hell lot of money. So they change. Thanks to the size of our company, we now have the power to make a change and then I believe it’s our responsibility to do so, says Hellström, adding;

— What frustrates me is how the world doesn’t understand that it should be cheap and easy to make the right choices and cost you time and money to choose bad stuff. Today, it’s quite the opposite. I’d like to create a new label for sustainable hair salons, to help customers make the right choice. That’s always a start!


”If we enforce transparency as a standard we push the industry towards accountability”

August Bard-Bringéus, co-founder of ASKET, has since the company’s launch in 2015 tried to change our shopping habits. ASKET is the company that wants us to reevaluate our shopping habits, and step by step eventually win the war against fast fashion. According to August, being brutally honest and transparent about your CO2 footprint is one major method to counteract greenwashing in the fashion industry. Therefore, ASKET today launch The Impact Receipt.

What is the Impact Receipt?

— The fashion industry is one of the most resource-intensive industries on the planet and right now we don’t put a price on the environment. So, in launching the Impact Receipt we want to show the true cost of a garment’s production. While a traditional receipt represents proof of a financial transaction, the impact receipt goes far beyond the traditional itemized cash receipt. Instead, it breaks down and shares the true environmental impact of a garment’s creation, including; CO2 emitted, the amount of water required and energy consumed. The aim is to encourage not only ourselves but also our customers, and the industry as a whole, to think about the environmental debt we’re creating. But more than just disclosing information, the Impact Receipt represents an agreement: we’re asking our customers to acknowledge the impact of their purchasing decision and encouraging them to maximize the use of their garments — rather than displacing them with new ones. After all, the single best thing we can do for the planet is to keep and use each garment longer.

”Every decision we make has an impact on the planet. And we’re of course no exception, after all, we are in the business of creating clothes” 

Why is it important to expose your garments’ history?

— For us, this level of transparency (cost, origin and impact) is a tool for driving positive change in the industry. If we fully understand the resources and the craftsmanship that goes into every garment we’re better able to appreciate that piece. There’s a joy in knowing what you’re buying; who made it, its origin, what materials are used, its construction. If we can hold on to that satisfaction in the garments we own, we’ll be free from short term material satisfaction and impulse consumption. Beyond that, only by tracing the journey of our clothes can we better understand the process and recognize the impact it has on people, the planet as well as animal welfare. Once there is a broad scale realisation that the way, and the rate at which we produce clothing, is incompatible with a thriving planet will we start to see change. If we enforce transparency as a standard, not only do we raise awareness of the value and impact of clothing among consumers, we also push the industry towards accountability. 

Do you think transparency is the best weapon in the war against greenwashing?

— The conversation around fashion’s social and environmental impacts are riddled with jargon (climate positive, carbon neutral, carbon negative, conscious… spring to mind), for all their good intentions most of them are supported by vague claims and untraceable statistics. Without transparency, we lack good quality, with it preventing brands from making sound decisions on how to reduce their impact or for consumers to compare against competitors. What’s more, vague definitions of sustainability and opaque working practises allow many companies to make green claims that go unregulated, allowing them to engage in high-profile greenwashing campaigns without any real efforts to improve. This also means that smaller, well-intentioned brands often have their voices drowned out. We hope our new receipt will go some way in sorting fact from fiction and with it set a new gold standard for the industry. 

What concrete changes do you want to see for the fashion industry?

— With fashion under the spotlight more than ever, there has been a lot of discussion on how the industry can do better but our fear is that many of the discussions are not more than mere lip service. The reality is, as long as cheap and fast alternatives are still available it’s too easy for consumers to buy garments that are pitched as cheap fun when in reality the cumulative damage to the planet and individuals in the supply chain is colossal. To counter this, we need legislation to accelerate the conversion towards lower impact business models and more accountability. The tipping point will come when an increase in general consumer awareness coincides with harsher legislation on brand responsibility — at that point, the commercial viability for the old way of doing business, at the expense of people and planet, will evaporate and responsible business will become the only financially sound alternative.

”We can’t tackle all the world’s challenges, but we’re dead set at fixing fashion.”

More and more people are starting to realize how environmentally hazardous their living habits are.  What are you guys doing to reduce your environmental footprint?

— Every decision we make has an impact on the planet. And we’re of course no exception, after all, we are in the business of creating clothes. But rather than talking about sustainability (which as we’ve already mentioned is vast, hazy and difficult to define), we instead use a different word; responsibility. Responsibility is holistic and with that in mind, we approach every single aspect of our business with responsibility, making decisions that we know can transform the way the industry operates.    

— Among the single biggest environmental impacts in the fashion value chain occurs at the raw material stage, with 10 – 20% of fibre production being attributed to the total climate impact of a garment. Fiber selection can also impact how long a garment will last, how it should be washed and whether it can be recycled – all have a considerable impact when it comes to the environment. So earlier this year we outlined a new material matrix that focuses on reducing our environmental footprint; we’ve banned leather, are transitioning to 100% organic cotton and have just sourced pedigree recycled cashmere and wool for our latest fall garments. With materials like these we won’t even need to consider using virgin fibres anymore. 

Do you ever feel eco-anxious or eco-guilt?

— It’s hard not too. Every day we’re confronted with stories of climate change; from the forest fires in California to David Attenborough’s most recent BBC documentary: Extinction (I highly recommend watching it). At the same time, it’s also the fuel that keeps us pushing for change in the industry with ASKET. We’re only 5 years in but our feisty team of 12 work hard to drive industry-changing practises and get them talked about too, so we hope to be making a positive impact. Whenever we’re feeling anxious, it’s important to keep your focus. We can’t tackle all the world’s challenges, but we’re dead set at fixing fashion.

Is it hard to balance both encouragement and discouragement to purchase more ASKET clothes at the same time?

— The single biggest challenge facing the fashion industry is the amount of overproduction and waste, which is fuelled by the current business model of constant renewal. Just to put it into perspective under a business-as-usual scenario, the growth in the material volume of textiles would see a 3-fold increase in the amount of non-renewable inputs, up to 300 million tonnes per year by 2050. And while it might sound paradoxical, for an apparel brand to tell you not to buy clothes, our theory goes that the fashion industry can be just the same in terms of value but at a fraction of the production output, if garments were made under full transparency and accountability. As for ASKET, we don’t want to thrive by growing the size of the industry or growing the number of items that people purchase, rather if we grow, it should be because someone chooses us as a better alternative to something else.