POWER WOMEN WEDNESDAY – Dr. Anna Brismar
When you google the definition of sustainable fashion, hers comes above wikipedia. Everything you need to know around sustainable fashion is Annas expertise. To sit down and chat with her makes you want to know so much more and to do a lot more research. Read this full interview about something so profoundly important and meaningful that Anna is trying to achieve with her hard effort of educating people of the fashion industry to become more sustainable.
Tell us a little bit about your story and what you are doing?
I work as a sustainability consultant within the fashion, apparel and textile industry through my own consultancy firm Green Strategy (since 2012). Today my clients are mainly Swedish apparel companies and textile organisations, but increasingly I am gaining international clients located abroad. Also, I am managing an international network, the ‘Circular Fashion Network’, which I founded in 2014. The Network today has around 100 members, mainly in Sweden and all working professionally in different roles with sustainability or circularity issues related to fashion, apparel and textiles. The purpose of the network is to create a platform for members to meet, exchange ideas and discuss various circularity/sustainability issues of the fashion, apparel and textile industry.
What does it take to be able to call yourself a Dr. or Ph.D.?
The English abbreviation Ph.D. (or Dr. in short) stands for ‘Doctor of Philosophy’. This academic title means that you have attained a doctoral degree in a special field within the wider area of sciences. Before you can attain this title, you have to complete various steps. Firstly, you have to enrol in a doctoral program as a Ph.D. student at an accredited university. This program normally takes about 4-6 years. During this time, you have to complete a number of academic courses (taking about one year), some which are compulsory courses (for example in research methodology) and others which are individual courses selected to match your field of research. In addition to these courses, the Ph.D. student also has to plan and perform original research work within his/her selected field. The research work must result either in a monography (a book) or in four to six articles, all which must be submitted and accepted by peer-reviewed (scientific) journals. The articles must thereafter be summarized and compiled into a dissertation or Ph.D. thesis (a final book) for publication. Finally, this original research work is orally defended before a panel of expert examiners (and witnessed by a public audience). If you pass the examination by the panel, you are officially awarded the title “Doctor of Philosophy” (Ph.D.).
Personally, I received my Ph.D. degree in 2003, within the interdisciplinary field ‘Water, Environment and Development’, from the Tema Institute at Linköping University in Sweden.
Tell us about Green Strategy, how did it come up, and when did you decide to start?
I decided to start my company in year 2012. I had been diving into the field of sustainability for many years, as doctoral researcher and consultant for various organisations and companies. But also I had a long-standing interest in human psychology, and a private passion for design, textiles and creative work. So all this together, combined with my inclination to help people, and my work experience as coach (which I did for a few years), became the foundation for Green Strategy.
When did your interest for these questions occur?
I have always been interested in nature, psychology and textiles. All these interests have been present since I was a teenager. At first, in my late teenage years, I knew that I wanted to work with sustainability issues and to learn more about nature-human interactions. In my early twenties, I realized that I wanted to work on an international level, holistically and with global issues. However, the choice to work specifically within the textile, apparel and fashion industry came much later, only about five years ago (in 2012), when I realized that I could combine my three areas of interest (that is, sustainability, coaching/psychology and textiles/design) into one profession as sustainability consultant within my own company.
What are your goals in life? Have they evolved over time and are different to when you were younger?
I have been drawn to these international issues for a long time and have a tendency to keep a bird’s eye on things. But before I started my company, my interest for textiles and design was more on a private level compared to now. However, since 2012 thanks to my company, I finally have the ability to combine these areas of interest and my main competences into one role, which creates a wonderful opportunity to do something good and meaningful on a larger scale.
Many people have just recently come across all these new concepts in fashion. There are so many different ones. Can we clarify a bit, what is for example down-cycling, upcycling, sustainable fashion, circular fashion etc.?
The word sustainable fashion has been around for a long time and so far there still is no common and agreed-upon definition for the word. However, you could say that ‘sustainable fashion’ is about choosing more sustainable practices during the whole lifecycle of a product, i.e. the sourcing phase, the design phase, the production phase, the user phase, and the end-of-life phase. In other words, it is about taking a lifecycle perspective on a product and to make it as sustainably as possible. Sustainability requires consideration to environmental, social and economic issues, yet with extra weight given to the environmental and social issues (which normally are not sufficiently addressed from a traditional business perspective).
‘Circular fashion’ is a new term that was coined in spring 2014, by two actors independently of each other, i.e. by H&M and myself. Specifically, sustainability staff at the H&M headquarters in Stockholm began using the term ‘circular fashion’ internally around May 2014. By chance and unknowingly, I coined and started using the term in June 2014 at a project meeting while planning for a new sustainable fashion show in Stockholm. From my perspective, circular fashion can be seen as a somewhat wider term than sustainable fashion, as circular fashion contains both the typical or conventional issues of sustainable fashion but also additional issues, such as circular design strategies, circular business models (which provide services such as rent/lease, repair, redesign and second-hand as opposed to producing and selling only virgin products), but also the importance of collaboration around materials, products and services in society.
‘Upcycling’ is about creating a new product out of one or more existing products, which hereby gives the new product an overall higher value than the former product(s). Down-cycling is when you create something new out of an old product or material, while at the same time lowering the perceived overall value of the product. Also, it is important to distinguish between up/down-cycling of a material and of a product. For example, when you turn PET-bottles into fleece garments, you are upcycling the product but actually down-cycling the material (because the polyester molecules become shorter when you transform the polyester material in the PET-bottles into fleece garment material, making it more prone to break and shed in washing water).
What motivates you?
I am motivated at different personal levels. As a consultant, I am motivated to help my clients to advance their sustainability work in various ways. At a higher level, I am motivated to contribute to advance the global fashion, apparel and textile industry to adopt more sustainable practices at large. In the long term, my wish is to help create a healthier, more ethical and sustainable society and ways of living, with care for the Earth and coming generations.
What can each individual do in order to live a more sustainable life?
First of all, I believe that we need to think more about the way we consume clothes and other products. In every purchase situation, we should ask ourselves: do I really need this product? Generally, we should try to avoid synthetic products, particularly downcycled materials such as fleece. Also, we should try to look for products made of 100 % organic or recycled natural fibres, such as organic cotton, hemp, flax (linen), silk and wool, as well as other ‘more sustainable’ man-made fibres such as Tencel (as opposed to conventional, non-recycled and synthetic materials).
Do you have a role model or source of inspiration?
There are two persons at the moment that I am particularly inspired by, i.e. by Alan AtKisson who is a high-level UN consultant and sustainability adviser, and Karl-Henrik Robert who is one of the founders of the organisation The Natural Step. Both of them are very visionary and courageous in their agendas, and with an international and holistic perspective to their sustainability work.
If you could give yourself an advice to a 20-year old Anna what would that be?
My advice to her would be to follow her own passion and intuition and to choose from the heart. I would tell her to choose courses that really interest her, rather than to think too much about what others such as family and friends think, or what programs that would easily lead to employment. In fact, the most successful choice in the long run may be to create your own academic program based on individual courses, rather than to choose a set program with pre-defined courses. So in sum, listen to your own passion and intuition and do not let any other people’s opinions and advice mislead you – sooner or later you will need to listen to your inner voice and heart anyway (to be happy and grateful with your life!).