3 Questions for Philippe Schiesser
Director of Ecoeff Lab

Philippe Schiesser is the Director of Ecoeff Lab, an agency for eco-design studies, consulting, and training. Mr Schiesser (thanks to support from DEFI) has assisted the Fédération Française du Prêt-à-Porter Féminin, Promincor-Lingerie Française, and the Fédération Française des Industries du Vêtement Masculin in the creation of the Eco-design for Responsible Brands guide [le guide Éco-conception pour Marques Responsables]. Here’s a closer look at some of the main concepts in this practical tool for social change. 

What is the framework for eco-design? 

Eco-design is a holistic method corresponding to five principles. First of all, it takes into account all the stages of a product’s lifecycle, from manufacturing to a potential new life. It also involves considering all the environmental aspects, which is accomplished by compiling information. The third principle is to seek an overall coherence with eco-design goals. For this to happen, concrete indicators should be identified for evaluating design choices in relation to stakeholders’ expectations. Finding a compromise is also essential and requires conducting a review of the advantages and inconveniences of environmental demands and alternative solutions while maximizing what ISO 14006 standards term “net benefit.” And the fifth and final point concerns the ongoing improvement of roadmaps, regular reviews of objectives, and communication efforts with the concerned parties. 

What factors push a brand to begin an eco-design process? 

No business today can avoid thinking about their social and environmental responsibilities. There’s no vaccination to avoid some of the dangers affecting our planet (such as climate change). So we have to act. As well, French consumers hold a lot of sway and are ready to boycott brands that don’t meet their criteria for acting responsibly. This conjunction of an alarming environmental situation and citizen demand makes eco-design unavoidable. From now on, the concept has to be part of a brand’s DNA. 

Certainly, fashion is an industry where everything moves fast, and where one collection follows another. We don’t always have the time to spend on this topic which necessitates a step back to gain perspective. So in the guide we present a two-step method: First there’s the approach the brand or business takes, then there’s how collections are handled. It’s during this second phase that we work with style, purchase management, and manufacturing sites. These are the players who can encourage eco-design in prototypes. To commit to this path, leadership is fundamental. A strong stance is required as well as giving all the departments the necessary means to work together, especially in task forces. This is how we move from management to method, and it’s how to go even further than the manifesto. In the guide we share tools such as the eco-design textile wheel along with eight major themes, 28 chapters, and 40 questions to help users connect all these ideas. 

Do eco-design and innovation seem inseparable? 

Yes, since eco-design implies setting up new tools and, of course, investing in research and development. Innovation for eco-design mostly revolves around four major axes: the natural element, which affects materials’ production and traceability; minimalism, with a search for more timeless and long-lasting pieces as well as rethinking the seasons and production methods; circularity for inventing – and why not – materials that can be perpetually reused; and biomimetics, inspired by how natural elements behave, or in summary, a striving for good sense and wisdom. 

These directions lead to a reinvention of business models. We see this, for example, in the surge of second-hand businesses, in 3D design, in virtual fashion, in manufacturing on demand, in recycling … But all this progress shouldn’t make us forget that eco-design cannot be disconnected from social responsibility. Using organic cotton to produce clothes in poor working conditions (in conflict with human rights and International Labour Organization standards) is not acceptable. And informed consumers will take note of such choices.