The German fashion brand S.Oliver has become a member of Fair Wear Foundation with the aim to create value through sustainability and innovation in fashion, and along the entire value chain.
Sabrina Müller, S.Oliver’s head of sustainability, explained why the group took this decision and what actually changes the initiative will mean for the company.
Being a family-owned fashion group, responsibility has always been an important value for the entire S.Oliver Group. When I joined the group as Head of Sustainability in 2021, we were right in the middle of the COVID pandemic, and we all agreed we needed to double down on sustainability values even more and evolve as a group. Therefore, we’ve revised our Sustainability Strategy and built a great team around it, focusing on three essential topics: People, Future, and Planet.
But, as change doesn’t happen overnight and is best achieved through strong collaborations and partnerships–and this is especially true for the complex international supply chains in the fashion industry–, when we revised our sustainability strategy and set the goal to improve working conditions in our supply chain, it became clear that we would need a strategic partner to support and guide us along the way. From there on, the decision to become a Fair Wear member was an obvious choice.
As a multi-stakeholder initiative, Fair Wear has the expertise and network that will help us improve working conditions in production countries–that for us are mainly Asia and Eastern Europe–and, for example, by setting up a social dialogue program and a grievance mechanism. Being a Fair Wear member further allows us to connect with other fashion brands that share the same vision. This way we can all learn from each other and even join forces to push the industry towards change.
How will the collaboration with Fair Wear be implemented across the different brands in the group’s portfolio?
We are working with a centralised supplier base for all our brands, so the work we’ll do to improve working conditions with Fair Wear will involve all brands at the same time. Nevertheless, all our brands do have an individual character and topics that are at the heart of the brand’s identity. Wherever possible, we want to integrate these identities in our activities and utilise them to reach our overall targets.
In the Planet strategy, we deep dive into climate protection to reduce our GHG emissions, while in the Future strategy we are working on converting our product range to be more sustainable, focussing on more sustainable materials and – with a view to the future – on the circularity of products.
In the People strategy, we – in cooperation with Fair Wear – want to improve working conditions for the workers in our supply chain. We plan to go beyond the auditing of our suppliers and aim to create lasting improvements in working environments in our production countries – in close collaboration with workers, unions, and suppliers.
We’ve set ourselves a high bar, which we aim to reach by integrating sustainability into all processes and departments, with support from our management and all teams across the group.
How exactly will S.Oliver’s products become more sustainable and circular?
All of our products meet our minimum social, ethical and ecological requirements with regard to material and production: social and safety standards, chemical standards and product safety as well as animal welfare standards. Our more sustainable products go beyond this and fulfil at least one sustainability criteria in the areas of materials and production. In this context, we are significantly strengthening our targets relating to the use of more responsible and innovative materials. For example, we aim to obtain 100% of our cotton from more sustainable sources like, for instance, BCI, Organic Cotton, CmiA, and others, by 2023, and increase the percentage of recycled polyester fibers to 25%.
But to move towards circularity in the long term, we are looking more on all aspects of the product, beyond the materials we source.
They are already part of our product portfolio and identifiable via a special Hangtag. Furthermore, we are working to increase sustainable materials and product capsules in our brand portfolio step by step.
What new programs or initiatives will the group focus on after the joining of Fair Wear Foundation?
The first topics we will address will be the establishment of a central grievance mechanism as well as a pilot for a social dialogue program. Furthermore, we have been in contact to discuss the process and engagement with the former workers of the Jaba Garmindo factory (*) to contribute to a relief fund for them.
(*) Editor's note: According to industry background information, in 2015, the Jaba Garmindo garment factory in Indonesia supplied products to various global brands, including S.Oliver, Uniqlo, and Jack Wolfskin and it closed down without paying its approximately 2,000 workers their legally owed severance, as well as several months’ wages. That case has taught us a lot about the fashion industry and about what it means to be a responsible company.