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Carla Murphy Vice President, Global Brand and Product, icebreaker

MOVE TO NATURAL

 

Why do you consider yourselves unique?

At icebreaker, we consider ourselves natural performance pioneers. Today 87% of our clothing business is based on natural fibres.

 

In an industry primarily using petrochemical synthetics, this high percentage of natural raw materials remains unheard of in outdoor apparel. We ask – why wouldn’t you wear natural, where possible, in a natural environment?

 

From its very beginning, icebreaker has led from the front with a deeply embedded sustainability ethos, driven by a commitment to end-to-end transparency in its supply chain.

 

Clothing firms often have long supply chains, how can you ensure integrity?

We were founded on the need for greater transparency, openness and honesty in the clothing industry, and to pioneer the availability of nature-based functional apparel.

 

People should know exactly what they are putting next to their skin, how it was made and all the effects their apparel choices are having. icebreaker has maintained its transparency by developing a business ecosystem based on close, long-term relationships, and it’s the first company in the world to develop deep, long-term contracts with merino farmers.

 

In 2018 we initiated the icebreaker Growers Club, empowering merino growers to plan long term, with a financial commitment from the brand on the wool-buy, adhering to icebreaker’s high standards and strict conditions on environmental and social issues, and on animal welfare.

 

Most importantly, our ground-breaking Transparency Report titled ‘Made Different’ was released in 2017 and it set the benchmark for supply chain transparency in the apparel, fashion, textile and outdoors industries.

 

How did the natural world inspire you?

icebreaker was founded in 1995 by Jeremy Moon, a 23-year-old New Zealander with a belief that nature has the answers.

 

We challenge an apparel industry filled with synthetics by focusing on garments made from natural fibres like merino wool – a true innovation of nature – which as a sustainable and responsibly-sourced material provides year-round benefits in temperature regulation and odour management properties.

 

Natural solutions are at our fingertips and we work hard, in symbiosis with nature, to create products that reflect our dedication to sustainability and environmental protection.

 

We can’t reverse the damage humans have caused to our natural world, but we can work as a collective to help reduce future harm. It’s natural to ask questions. It’s human to be progressive.

 

How transparent are you about your business?

We champion natural solutions and absolute transparency. Our reports deliver one of the most detailed supply chain overviews in the outdoor apparel industry. We disclose every partner at every tier of the chain and the relationships between them, despite this opening our business up to risk from competitors. For customers, this report is designed to build trust and make more informed decisions. It builds value into icebreaker’s natural performance proposition.

 

Why is it important?

icebreaker is about icebreaking. We explore the relationship between people and nature, and believe that latter knows best.

 

It’s about kinship, not conquering. Nature is our hero and we know that we can be transparent with how we’re using nature-based solutions, to connect us more closely to our global community. We acknowledge that transparency alone is not enough. But it exposes the structures we use so we can better improve them.

 

How is icebreaker responding to the UN’s SDGs?

icebreaker has specifically highlighted some SDGs to focus on that apply closely to our ambitions and goals, and where we think we can make the most difference.

 

Our specific targets include; #3: Promoting healthy and active lifestyles; #14:

 

Reducing micro-fibre plastic use, Responsible use of chemicals, Packaging and Nature has a better solution; #15: Land and product stewardship, Natural resources and materials; #8: Human rights and ethical labour practices, Worker safety and wellbeing, Fair wages, Equal work opportunities, Diversity and inclusion; and finally #12: Environmental stewardship, Move towards living a life less plastic, Empowering sustainable lifestyles for consumers and Innovation and Industry collaboration.

 

What will be the role of the SDG’s for clothing moving forward?

Our hope that the UN SDG’s will provide direction, guidance and accountability for brands and individuals within the space. As we unify to create a more impact driven but less environmentally impactful industry, the SDG’s will offer a unique and community-driven network of thought-leaders and changemakers to inspire, motivate and answer to.

 

What have you recently achieved?

This year, we launched our ambition to be plastic free by 2023 and focus our materials on being 100% natural. We know our plastic-free goal is ambitious, but we believe that setting a big intention is the way to make a big difference. We'll be focusing our energy on making this goal a reality and while we don’t have the answers today, we're committed to seeking them out for tomorrow. In times of great challenge, people and industry are at their most innovative.

 

Natural fibres, from merino wool to eucalyptus-derived Tencel, make up 87% of the material composition of icebreaker’s fabric consumption. By 2023, we will lead the industry to natural fibre product solutions, by aiming to replace and reconstitute all remaining synthetic materials in our product line.

 

We are also taking part in a life cycle assessment of our extensive base layer collection, as a step to understanding our carbon footprint per garment. Transparency means a commitment to full and regular public disclosure of all policies, procedures, progress and real-world impacts on workers, animals, communities and the environment. For icebreaker, this means opening all our decisions up to scrutiny and assessment.

 

How can businesses, small to multi-national, begin to introduce more transparency and responsibility in their operations

We know that no business is perfect. All business requires trade-offs.

 

Transparency opens us up to the deepest possible feedback on the decisions we make, and that is what will allow icebreaker, the industry we work in, and our entire economic system to evolve and improve. We encourage other brands to take steps towards transparency, in ways that make sense for themselves and their communities. When your customers and partners feel knowledgeable about your business, they feel valued and heard. We want our community to be heard and we are listening.

 

What are the brand benefits of going against the grain of the wider industry?

Rather than a ‘brand benefit’, our direction is intrinsically linked to our ethos and values, and we hope to inspire other brands and consumers to question the status quo and make changes to help support a move to natural. While we provide natural performance alternatives to synthetic based apparel, to create a healthier more sustainable future for our species and the planet, we encourage others to find their own purpose and impact-driven journey.