“I felt like I had to do something… I used the network and experience I had to make a sustainable way for doing things.”
You may be shocked to hear that the fashion industry is the second most polluting industry. In order to produce one pair of jeans it uses around 7000 litres of water. Now, entrepreneurs, businesses and fashion designers are looking to alternate ways to produce the latest fashion without harming the environment.
Producing one pair of jeans takes 7,000 litres of water and what is worst it that it takes even more energy to transport these items in landfill sites. However, over 90% of textile waste in landfills are recyclable. Alongside his own personal business ventures, this is what has driven Bert van Son, ( @BertvanSon ) CEO of Mud Jeans ( @mudjeansNL ) to pursue a vision which will take jeans into the sustainable market. With over 30 years in the industry, Bert alongside his team of five has learnt a lot along the way and he has ambitious plans for the next few years. In his very busy schedule, Bert finds the time to speak to Bio-Based World News’ reporter Emily O’Dowd to discuss his role and the challenges that he has faced along the way.
Emily O’Dowd (EOD): What has led you to this role?
Bert van Son (BvS): I have been in the textile industry for 30 years. When I was 23 I moved to China where I was able to see everything that was going wrong in the textile industry. From this experience I then started up my own company and formed a licencing textile company in France ten years ago when I saw a gap in the market. There was a lot of pressure in the business but I learnt a lot about brand image and how customers will be willing to pay more for things. I then sold my shares in the company in 2008. Later on in 2008 I decided to take a few years off to travel the world and think. By 2012 I felt like I had to do something to do. I brought my own experiences and networking together to create a fashion brand that could be produced in a sustainable way. I wanted to use the right raw materials and be different. Mud Jeans is registered under the ‘B Corporation’ alongside the likes of Ben & Jerry’s which will help me use business as a force for good getting the right balance between making profit and being sustainable.
EOD: What do you enjoy most about your role?
BvS: A combination of things. Because the textile industry is the second most polluted industry in the world I wanted to make a difference. I like the principles of the circular economy and wanted to contribute towards a sustainable society by using original bio-based materials.
EOD: What is the biggest challenge that you have faced in the industry?
BvS: Finance. I’ve found that financing a sustainable business is nearly impossible, with other competitors like Primark being able to produce the jeans so cheaply. Also it is difficult to make people choose the sustainable option. It’s a difficult story. We didn’t make any profit in the first two years and so far I have had to finance the business independently but I’m now looking for partners to help support me. This year we have managed to double our turnover even though I’ve had to manage the business myself but I’m looking to double it again next year.
EOD: What advice would you give for someone starting work in the sustainable/bio-based industry?
BvS: Don’t do it… Ha ha. I would suggest that it would be best to make a very solid business plan, talk to financial people and make sure you choose your budgets. By doing this you can decide your turnover, divide this by two, increase costs by two and then see if this is viable.
EOD: What single change would help develop bio-based/sustainable industry further?
BvS: Well from my own experience it would have to be financial support. It is important to have investors and money to get the turnover going, as well as generating a good volume of products. So far we have had a lot of help and interest from universities in particular so the demand is there we just need that financial push.
EOD: Where would you like to see your company in 5 years’ time?
BvS: I would like to be able to sell one million jeans as well as recycling them to be able to really make an impact.
EOD: What is your favourite bio-based/sustainable product aside from your own product range?
BvS: There are some great examples from Holland of course! I think Waka Waka ( @WakaWakeLight ) is great. I also like Dopper a lot too which is a sustainably produced plastic bottle. Tony’s Chocalonely (@TonyChocalonely) is another because the company produces slave-free chocolate.
EOD: Thank you for your time today Bert and good luck with the success for Mud Jeans.
*This story first appeared on Bio Based World News