GC Magazine’s exclusive interview with Eva Kruse, the Chief Global Engagement Officer of leading sustainable fashion brand PANGAIA
From founding the Global Fashion Summit and launching it alongside the UN Climate Change Conference COP15 in 2009, creating the Global Fashion Agenda to mobilize global leadership towards positive change and responsible innovation in fashion, to founding the Copenhagen Fashion Week and now as the Chief Global Engagement Officer at PANGAIA, a brand that is revolutionizing sustainable manufacturing practices in apparel, Eva Kruse has been a pioneer in promoting sustainability in fashion since 2007, successfully putting it on the global political agenda.
As a global voice for sustainability in fashion, what was it that made you realize that the industry was in dire need of change?
“I think when I first joined the fashion industry, coming from the media side first, I was just fascinated by the creativity and the products; everything that people normally enjoy about it. But I have two very politically engaged parents, and they always brought me up knowing that I had to contribute to the world with more than just improving people’s bottom line – it was more about how you can make an impact and difference for others. That always stayed with me and made me question and challenge how things were behind the scenes.
In the early 2000s, we didn’t know much about the impacts of the fashion industry, and people didn’t talk about the issues of environmental and social impact; so, when I started digging, I couldn’t find many stats or facts. At that time, the term sustainability was not used, rather we called it corporate social responsibility; and it was mostly something a big company would have. Usually, it would be one person sitting far away from the executives, mainly to risk mitigate. What we knew at the time was that fashion was one of the world’s largest industries, so naturally there had to be some implications, and we knew there had been some issues with child labour. When former United States Vice President Al Gore’s ‘An Inconvenient Truth’ came out in 2006, it was one of the first popular public facing documentaries that really put the climate crisis on the agenda; that struck further interest with me and made me want to dig deeper into it.
That’s when we had the first convenings with the Danish fashion industry to start involving them to discuss our sustainability footprint. I remember at that time businesses were not really ready to talk about it much, mostly because they didn’t know. They had some idea of their supply chain, maybe to the second tier, but definitely not all the way to the field – they had no idea where all the elements in their products came from. So, it clearly showed that we had a long way to go. And we’ve come a long way, but there’s still much more to do.”
Cotton is the most widely used natural fiber for manufacturing clothes and accounts for about 30% of all garments – the world’s current cotton production is leading to significant levels of environmental depletion. The production of wool and leather products raises questions for animal welfare. For years, the fashion industry’s apparel manufacturing practices have been a cause of concern for our planet’s future.
How is PANGAIA actively forging a connection between sustainability and fashion to pave the way for a more responsible and ethical future in clothing production?
“We look at the material input because the material is where the biggest environmental footprint of the industry lies. Looking at the materials, we approach it from two sides; with material innovation and science that can replace harmful materials with exciting, new and better ones, as well as taking inspiration from nature. In today’s world, people talk a lot about circularity as a concept, but Mother Nature has been doing it always. We see nature as our biggest ally; mimicking and learning from it has been a big part of the inspiration for us.
For instance, cotton is a very land-intensive crop. It’s one of the most thirsty crops in the world; it has a very high intake of water, and it’s also one of the most pesticide-intensive crops. I think a lot of people think it’s good because it’s a natural fiber, but really, it isn’t if you look at the bigger ecosystem. At PANGAIA, we’ve done three things in terms of cotton. For virgin fibers, we’ve had organic and are now transitioning into regenerative – that refers to the practices that are applied when you grow the cotton; everything from not tilling the soil, to how you treat the biodiversity around it and avoiding pesticides altogether. In addition to that, we have a lot of recycled cotton and we’re looking into optimizing the usage of fiber that’s already there. And then thirdly, we’ve been looking at alternatives to cotton.
We’ve found extremely exciting waste materials that include fruits and plant waste, or even nettle and hemp that you can blend with organic cotton to make an incredible denim fabric. When it comes to fossil fuel based materials, which is 60% of the industry, they’re made basically of plastics and synthetic fibers that will stay in our environment for a very long time, even if they’re recycled. That’s where we really need our scientists to develop new inputs for bio-based fibers that are durable, have all the competitive advantages of other fibers but are also biodegradable and where the input isn’t toxic.”
Since its inception, PANGAIA has been at the forefront of innovation in sustainable fashion – what has been its proudest achievement so far and what does the future of the brand look like?
“I’d say we’re most proud of having changed the agenda in fashion because we came into the world wanting to create industry transformation through material innovation, driven with sustainability at the heart of it. We wanted to be a blueprint for building a business model that is, what we call, Earth positive. It’s both a philosophy and strategy to innovate in the way we do business, the way we produce products, the way we we consume them and what we do with them after we’re done – to essentially create a business model that gives back more than it takes.
Our focus sits in a triangle between combining science and purpose with good design. We understand and appreciate that in the world of apparel and fashion, of course, the product has to be super interesting and appealing. You wear it, right? So, it becomes part of you, and who you are or want to be. And I think that intersection between those three has been really exciting to explore and to actually see that it is positive to change the narrative and and to inspire others to do better.
We’re very grateful for the response we’ve had from both our customers and the industry since we launched. We came at the right time because people were ready for something new, and wanted to be able to find products that are made in the best way possible. It has just been exciting to see how interested people are in finding products that you can stand behind, not only for the look and feel, but their quality and the values they stand for. A product made for a reason and not just for a season. Something of lasting value.”
70% of the 100 crops that feed 90% of the world depend on bees and other pollinators – we must protect and save them to save ourselves. Can you comment on how humanity’s actions are endangering the world’s biodiversity and ecosystems, and how PANGAIA’s ‘Bee the Change’ movement is sparking a butterfly effect to address this threat?
“Back in 2020, PANGAIA embarked on a journey to save the bees and other pollinators, and we set up a fund called Bee The Change to support their protection. But more help is needed to save our pollinator friends, so we want to increase the scope and impact of the campaign. We’re inviting other businesses and organizations to join us on this mission to create a global campaign to raise awareness and funds, and change our behavior towards nature.
Although the initiative is called Bee The Change, it’s important to underline that it’s not just the bees we aim to protect, it’s the bigger group of pollinators, which includes hummingbirds, butterflies, bats and flies, and many more. Essentially, they represent the bigger ecosystem of nature and are the guardians of biodiversity. Unfortunately, man-made actions have brought our ecosystems to a near collapse. With the climate crisis on people’s minds, most businesses are looking at how can they lower their carbon footprint and emissions. While that is a tremendously important piece of the puzzle, the ecosystem and nature in which we exist is as much as risk. Some of it due to climate change, but some of it also due to the way we’re extracting and exploiting nature.
The way a lot of our agricultural systems are set up, we’re basically taking from nature and not giving anything back. We’re monocropping it, which means that we have the same kind of crop on the fields, for example cotton. If you don’t have shifting crops and you don’t protect the natural biodiversity, you will, at some point, extract so much from nature that it can’t give anything back. Nature actually holds the ability to sequester and hold carbon for us, to be our ally – but not if we keep torturing Mother Earth the way we do. The use of pesticides is killing pollinators, pollutes our environment, ends up in our food and essentially, in us. That’s where a lot of the pollinators are at threat.
What we really want people to appreciate is that we’re a part of nature, we’re not apart from nature. Humans are part of a bigger ecosystem. We forget that sometimes because we live on bricks and we don’t really connect with nature – we find our groceries, fruits and vegetables on the counter, we put them in a basket and go home. We are living in the age of the Anthropocene, we’ve made the mess we’re in, but we also have the power to reverse the damage and bring balance back to our planet and nature – that’s what we want to propose with our Bee the Change campaign. By focusing our biodiversity campaign on the bees and the other lovely pollinators, we can tell a story that is simpler, more relatable and tangible to many of us. We can link to things we love, give people concrete actions to take, and then raise funds to support nature restoration, field projects and all the efforts being made to protect our planet and our pollinators.”
In a world that is moving rapidly towards greater interconnectedness, you are one of the leaders in a brand that is committed to shaping a more responsible, ethical and sustainable future. Do you consider yourself a Global Citizen, and do you believe that if we come together, we could change the world for the better?
“Yes, 100%. That’s what I live by every single day. Considering where the world is right now with what’s happening in Israel, Gaza, Ukraine, and in so many other places that we’ve forgotten about, with the climate crisis, I think we have a tendency to lose hope as individuals. I do understand why people sometimes feel a sense of disconnect. But if we actually came together, we’d feel empowered just by being with others who also want to do good. That’s actually why I travel to the different COPs and other global events, because it reassures me that there are more people driving and striving for the same goals. It’s why I work with my colleagues here at PANGAIA, because we do profoundly believe that the collective actions of the many is what is needed.
We need to bring back the sense of individual empowerment, that it actually matters what you do, what you say, how you spend your time, and it definitely matters where you spend your money. If we all realize that “I actually matter,” then I think we would consider our actions differently. There are a lot of people who think, “does it really matter if I recycle?” It definitely does! And if we all recycle, it will massively matter. Every little action counts.
The butterfly effect is one good metaphor, but also thinking about how bees work together in a hive, they all provide a little piece of the puzzle, but together, they have a massive impact. Coming together, I believe, is really critical. So, it is definitely how we at PANGAIA see the world, and why we want to rally people behind Bee The Change movement. I would hope that more people out there came to that sense of connectivity with others even across borders, and realized that we do need to think and act as global citizens.”