Founded in Frankfurt am Main more than a century ago, Messe Frankfurt has established itself as the world’s largest trade fair organizer with a turnover of more than 715 million euros.
With a portfolio of more than 50 textile trade shows, the company, jointly held by the city of Frankfurt and the federal state of Hesse, has held a quasi-monopoly on sustainable fashion fairs for almost a decade. It acquired Paris-based Ethical Fashion Show and Berlin-based Greenshowroom in 2010 and 2011, respectively, and combined them into Neonyt, a business-to-business hub for sustainability, innovation and fashion. The first Neonyt event was held in January in Berlin.
Here, Messe Frankfurt’s managing director Detlef Braun and vice president of textiles and textile technologies Olaf Schmidt talk about sustainable requirements as new standards.
WWD: As the global market leader in the textile trade show segment, what prompted you to acquire niche concepts like the Berlin Greenshowroom and formerly Paris-based Ethical Fashion Show?
Detlef Braun: We’ve always been early birds in regard to our investments. At the moment, we’re actively expanding into Africa because we think that this region will have a bigger role for the textile industry in the future. We started tech textiles 25 years ago when it was a niche — it’s now the fastest-growing textile segment. Acquiring Ethical Fashion Show and Greenshowroom in 2010 and 2011 was a conscious strategic move because, while the sustainable fashion segment was still a small niche, we saw the development potential and it was a very conscious strategic move. Our textile network Texpertise includes more than 50 fairs, a whole universe of its own that covers the entire value chain of textile and apparel production — and green was the one part that was missing. And if you look at how fast the debate about sustainable fashion moved in the last couple of years, it was the right decision.
WWD: You almost immediately made Berlin the location for both fairs. Do you think of the city as a green hub?
Olaf Schmidt: In 2012, sustainability was pretty much at the beginning. Besides some Scandinavian cities, Berlin was already home to start-ups and creative agencies with a very progressive and sustainable outlook, regardless of fashion. And Bread & Butter was still around, so it made sense for us to bring the fairs together.
WWD: What are the most significant changes you have witnessed almost a decade on?
O.S.: There was an awareness when we took over Green Fashion Show, but it was mostly among a small group of people who were very conscious about environmental issues and that question, what is going to happen in the next decade? That’s not the case anymore. Sustainability has become somewhat of a standard and even conventional companies feel obliged to develop sustainable ideas throughout all industries — Zara and H&M are some very good examples.
WWD: What about the collections you have seen at your fairs?
O.S.: In 2012, the brands were sustainable, but not fashionable. What you’d see at Ethical Fashion Fair was apparel. That has totally changed. When you visit Neonyt now, you see fashion. But it’s not just the design that has changed, and thus become more sustainable because people tend to keep a beautiful garment longer — the technical framework has changed, too. Thanks to textile innovation and progress in the processing and production of garments, there’s a whole new variety of materials and colors that has become available for the sustainable fashion designers and producers. There are recycled synthetics that didn’t exist 10 years ago, new natural fibers like paper textiles, dyeing and weaving techniques, for example. Sustainability was an ethical matter for a long time, it has become a commercial issue now.
WWD: What’s driving the change?
D.B.: We look at a lot of studies, and according to some of the newest, 70 percent of the consumers value a sustainable and eco-friendly lifestyle. It’s another matter whether the consumer acts accordingly at the end the day, but there is definitely a shift in awareness. And it’s a shift largely driven by Millennials who put enormous pressure on companies to become more sustainable. It’s a whole different outlook compared to previous generations. The growing awareness for sustainability has become a standard, not only in the textile segment back throughout all parts of life. It’s not singular; it’s a global phenomenon.
WWD: So the green surge is mainly influenced by consumers?
D.B.: The need for companies to become more sustainable also comes from the financial markets. An increasing number of investors are looking for companies that address sustainable and social causes. And that change of capital flows puts companies on the pressure. Capital is discovering climate and that’s a trend that will push through the markets. Sustainability has become a paradigm of our time.
WWD: You’ve had somewhat of a monopoly on sustainable fashion. How do you address the new competition with sustainability growing out of the conventional brands and trade shows becoming greener?
D.B.: After nine years as lone pioneers, we can clearly see the tide changing. We went in very early and worked long and hard on it, so we welcome the surging awareness for sustainable issues in the textile industry. Competition stimulates the business and drives excellence. We think we can profit from it — both because it forces us to be better and because we profit commercially from a growing market.
O.S.: We are already addressing the change of perception with the merge of Greenshowroom and Ethical Fashion Show into the recently launched Neonyt, a platform for sustainability, fashion and innovation that goes beyond the conventional trade show format with fashion shows and conferences. Sustainability is one innovation factor, but we added value to the development by bringing together our expertise in the entire value chain of textile production.
WWD: How much does the Texpertise Network play into this?
D.B.: Neonyt is a clearly sustainable product. But we have more than 50 textile fairs, and we started to dedicate parts at our other fairs to sustainable products to show that it is becoming normality. Sustainability is growing throughout our portfolio, from Intertextile in Shanghai to Texworld in Paris. Everything is moving in a green direction. At our Frankfurt Texprocess fair, we introduced a special certificate that highlights companies that present sustainable solutions in regard to textile production, cloud solutions, energy-saving solutions, micro factories, localization and other processes.
WWD: Nevertheless, certification remains an issue and consumers, in particular, are still insecure about what really is sustainable.
O.S.: Certification indeed remains difficult. Ask people about what sustainability is and you’ll get very different answers. There are a lot of different labels that address different aspects of sustainability, like GOTS or Blue MSC, but it’s hard to get a gold standard label. Take a jacket made of fibers from recycled PET bottles. The jacket would be considered sustainably produced, but not so the source material. It’s still very difficult to look into every detail of the production. That’s also why it’s so difficult to quantify the growth of sustainable fashion — we lack a clear definition. The German government is very proactively working on a standardized label that might help the consumer and we are closely following the progress.
WWD: How do you make sure the brands at Neonyt are sustainable?
O.S.: We look at three aspects of sustainability: the materials and resources, the production processes and the workers involved. At Neonyt, we employ a system of certificates and a jury to make sure the brands meet our standards. We are the only trade show to have this guarantee and we’ve been originally sustainable from the very beginning.