Interview with Grėtė Švėgždaitė, Gretes : How...
Interview with Grėtė Švėgždaitė, Gretes

How to minimize the environmental impact of fashion

Grėtė Švėgždaitė (Source: Gretes)
Grėtė Švėgždaitė (Source: Gretes)

Grėtė Švėgždaitė has created recyclable sleepwear made of eucalyptus and pine pulp.

Your brand JSC Gretes insists that with the vegan values entrenching many layers of fashion, natural silk will be replaced by sustainable textiles in due time. What does it take for a fashion brand to become sustainable?
I would stress the importance of knowledge here. Sustainability requires certain know-how, and it needs to be improved constantly. I would say sustainability is rather a journey, not a destination because manufacturing takes many steps, as well as time and effort to make each garment sustainable — and then make it sustainable even more by improving the processes.
I would say the same about myself — even though I use sustainable fabrics, all of my packages are recycled, I ensure the fair pay for my seamstresses and just recently made my clothes recyclable — there are still areas where I cannot make much impact. For example, how sustainably my parcels are shipped. So, it’s all about time, patience and values.
Values are also important in brands’ communication — how we as a brand communicate about sustainability and what real actions we take. These 2 must align, otherwise it’s just greenwashing, which, unfortunately, is widely evident in today’s fashion brands.

As a consumer, it now feels like more and more clothing manufacturers are paying attention to sustainability. How many are really sustainable or is there a greenwashing problem in the industry?
First, it’s a very good sign that more and more companies are speaking about sustainability. To me the problem is the different interpretations of sustainability, as well as different standards. It’s deeply connected with the regulations in the market — while we don’t have laws and legal definitions on sustainability, greenwashing will continue. I wouldn’t even say greenwashing is the real problem, it actually takes attention from what’s really important — the regulations and real solutions to sustainability.

How do you see the role of the industry in implementing a functioning circular economy, and what is the role of the consumer?
I think the role of the consumer in this process is really undervalued — and consumers themselves add up to this by not understanding that all power is in their hands. They are the ones who choose whether to buy or not. So, if — and I hope, when — they finally choose to read labels and buy sustainable products, the industry will have no other choice but to adapt to the demand.

Microplastic pollution in the oceans affects marine life. Clothes and textiles from synthetic fibers make up a part of the world's microplastic pollution. Do you have an idea how this problem can be solved?
This is a huge problem, and I don’t see other solutions but to refuse textiles that have microplastics, such as polyamide, polyester, elastane, etc. For now, I don’t see a better option, just to take them out of the market and recycle them into something sustainable. We don’t have to be naive here — those products with microplastics won’t disappear, so we have to find a solution on how to reuse them. As for myself, I continuously read science articles and count on scientists to find a good option here.

From 2025, used clothing and other textiles will be collected separately throughout Europe to facilitate reuse and recycling. Can you share any ideas yet on how this plan will be approached and implemented at Gretes?
I already implemented this — just recently I started to cooperate with I:CO, German recycling company. Firstly, we will encourage our clients to return our loungewear after it’s no longer used: depending on the condition, we will either recycle the garments or use them in secondhand market. Secondly, we’ll also recycle all textile waste that is left after sewing.

Are the current European regulations sufficient for a sustainable and climate-friendly textile and clothing industry? Is the current commitment of companies sufficient to address climate change with their contribution?
I would say it’s a good start, but we definitely need more clarity and regulations, as I mentioned before. Just recently I came home from a conference in Munich, where many speakers already said out loud on the stage that certificates don’t work, and they rather choose just to communicate openly about their manufacturing process and be transparent. But the critique about certificates shows that we don’t have a unified system or agreement, which leaves it up to each company to decide, how much it wants to address the issue. So, we are not yet in the chapter of solving problems that needs to be solved now.
The interview was conducted by Mechthild Maas, editor of TextileTechnology, with Grėtė Švėgždaitė, fashion designer and founder of JSC Gretes, Vilnius/Lithuania.

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