In February, Saskia van Gendt was just starting to settle into her role as the first head of sustainability at Rothy’s, where the direct-to-consumer brand is known for its real-time, waste-reducing, 3-D knitting process, zero-waste design eye and 100 percent recycled polyester blended knits.
Previously at Method, leading the sustainability strategy, and having studied as an environmental scientist, she began her career with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
WWD: How do you cater a sustainability strategy coming from Method, which is largely mass consumer?
Saskia van Gendt: The data and rigor of science no matter the size of the company will lead to the same sort of strategies. No matter if you’re making 100 units or 100,000 units, you can use data and the materiality assessment to inform that.
“Evergreen issues” on sustainability apply to every industry. Everyone should be looking at carbon footprint and materials.
WWD: What are some of the tasks ahead for Rothy’s? Is a recycling program or take-back initiative in the works?
S.V.G.: When I started looking into the recyclability of apparel for the footwear industry, I was a little alarmed that there was almost nothing in place. But I think there are some good initiatives that are keeping products in wear for longer.
The solutions that I’m thinking about are very much collaborative. Very much working with other footwear brands to create the scale of the capacity that we need.
WWD: What are some of the checkpoints reached so far in the Open Innovation Coalition?
S.V.G.: It was truly bred in supporting our communities. Sensing how COVID-19 would change our lives, we immediately started prototyping hospital gowns, isolation gowns, masks (which we did commercialize). I think we were all shaken up by this new reality.
It really was a grassroots effort in our network to collaborate. We are 80 percent towards our goal of helping reach 1 million people and have 25 brands involved.
WWD: What is Rothy’s carbon footprint for its materials and manufacturing?
S.V.G.: We have not publicly released a carbon footprint. It’s one of the metrics I’m developing robust material around.
WWD: Is “radical transparency” a myth?
S.V.G.: It’s almost a way of pointing away from conventional operating as a business. The idea of radical transparency aims to burst that open, with information be it diversity metrics, practices in the supply chain — it’s that sharing will create more accountability.
The ambition of sharing information is the way. For me, it is about the total responsibility of the company.