Tougher legislation, complex traceability and deeper CO2-calculations are just a few issues sustainability teams need to tackle – with the global environmental polycrisis as backdrop. How can outdoor companies find their ways, and not get swamped in daily operations? In this interview series, Suston reaches out to industry changemakers to hear their long-term perspectives. This time, we ask Kim Scholze from Sympatex.

Together with Dr. Rüdiger Fox, you are managing Sympatex. Before this, you were part of building up the successful Sustainability Hub at ISPO and OutDoor by ISPO in Munich and other pioneering projects. From your perspective, has the outdoor industry made significant progress over the years?

Yes, absolutely! I think we from time to time need to look back and see how much we actually have achieved together, the last five–ten years. And also as companies. In our case, I think that Dr. Rudiger Fox and Sympatex have been important advocates for an outdoor industry without PFAS – that finally is starting to happen. To look back and see what we have accomplished can give us confidence to take even bigger steps, moving forward.

At the same time, I see that some important parts still are missing, that we have tried to address for many years. I think mainly about the infrastructure for the new circular economy and the lack of systems for recycling textiles.

“Close the loop” is the main mission of Sympatex – as well as many others. What can an ingredient brand like Sympatex do on its own, and where does it need to collaborate?

I would say that collaborations are crucial in nearly everything we do. Yes, we at Sympatex have set bold circularity goals for 2025 and 2030, when we will only offer products made from closed loop materials. But of course, we need to do this journey together with our clients and partners. If they wouldn’t buy into this, we could never finance our transition. And we also need their ideas and solutions. So, to have a continuous and open dialogue with other brands is a given.

When it comes to the large-scale shifts, we need to reach out even broader. We don’t just want to optimize our own products, we also want to help create a circular infrastructure throughout the entire textile industry. That’s why we are involved in various industry-wide projects.

Sympatex is also politically engaged, as another way to create change. What are the reasons behind this?

We need to face it: The textile industry is a huge polluter, globally. Voluntary and market-driven new solutions can make a large difference, but to create systemic change, our industry needs tougher legislation.

For Sympatex, the political engagement goes many years back. Rüdiger Fox was the first one signing the Fashion Industry Charter for Climate Action and was also one of the initiators.

Following the EU Green Deal and the German government’s increased sustainability efforts, the topic of a circular economy has finally gained political relevance. And various other textile-related topics are also being driven forward by the European Commission. Sympatex actively participates in the development of these legislative proposals. We for instance work closely together with Pascale Moreau and her team from Ohana Public Affairs and take part in various working groups, such as the EU Policy Hub, which aims to accelerate our sector’s transition to a circular economy.

Looking forward to 2030, what do you want Sympatex and the outdoor industry to focus on besides closing the loop?

No more overconsumption, less overrated change of products every season, and more functionality. Super straight regulations for those who see no responsibility but their own growth. And that we, together with others, manage to create a circular infrastructure without shipping materials and products back and forth all over the world. For instance, by setting up a series of regional circularity hubs, where high quality outdoor products are designed and produced with recycled mono-materials for the nearby markets, with networks of collectors, sorters, and recyclers around them. And last but not least: More industry cooperation, from the global level to the regional.


Images: Sympatex (Portrait: Copyright 2021 Sandra Steh)

Gabriel Arthur
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