Yarkoni is one of the main executives behind Colorifix, a company that caught the attention of the Swedish giant H&M, and that is specialized in dyeing textiles with microorganisms.
Colorifix began as a project that research water pollution, which led its founders, Jim Ajioka and Orr Yarkoni, to realize that much of this pollution was caused by the textile industry, especially the chemicals used for the process dyeing. Both scientists decided to work together to develop a technology that minimized the environmental impact of this process, avoiding the usage of water and chemicals. The model attracted the attention of a big one of the industry, H&M, which acquired a stake in the company. Orr Yarkoni believes that the support of large companies certainly adds credibility to startups like Colorifix, but its not a shortcut.
Mds: Will it be possible to produce 100% sustainable garments?
Orr Yarkoni: Nowadays there is a huge drive towards sustainability. Brands are making better, more conscious decisions in order to reduce their impact whether it is reflected on their products or strategy. 100% of sustainable production is still very far in the future. I think we’ll get to 70%, 80% of sustainability production in our lifetime. Better productions practices are more and more part of the everyday.
“The key is to make people understand the need for change rather than forcing the change”
Mds: Is more regularization needed in the dyeing process?
O. Y.: Proportions of regulations are really important, but I think the problem shows up when regulations are being forced. Regulations are mostly going in the right directions and approaching further areas that are being more regulated than before and looking forward more thing are going to happen it. The key is to make people understand the need for change rather than forcing the change.
Mds: To address sustainable transformation, are more scientists needed in fashion companies?
O. Y.: Absolutely. Definitely it is an important are to focus on, everyday there is a new are to focus on, where a couple of people with more ideas would be a big improvement. We need more people with more good ideas. any small improvement will help. There’s significant difference in technology in the past 30-40 years. Innovation Is so important, we need more people with ideas, we need scientists and we need more money to develop more ideas in order to keep improving and making change happen.
Mds: Is it expensive to be sustainable?
O. Y.: Every decision people make comes with a cost. The main cost of sustainability is actually paying attention. Turning the lights off while they are not being used or avoiding unnecessary water consumption. Little things make good change and most of them don’t represent a big cost. We try to minorize our impact, improving production.
Mds: Is the consumer willing to pay?
O. Y.: I think there are some people that are more willing to pay more for something they feel more identified for, they see that spending their money someway its better towards the environment and this also is translated to fabrics. The issue with implementing new technologies is that the pricing is off-scale, if you compare the product of mass production with products where new technology was used, or that you have scientist working on it, the revenues are going to decrease so we have to be a little bit more expensive because we can’t compete in our scale with global scale. It has to start with being more competitive than the others.
Mds: What motivates change the most: consumer pressure, government regulation or survival?
O. Y.: It’s a combination of those. The ultimate driver, where everything started is impact and making a changer for better and that means looking ahead for regulations and checking what’s happening now and the consumption behavior. Making sure that you have a technology that would last and that is what consumers are looking for. The future can be uncertain and if there is no demand for a new product or new technology, it would ultimately not sell if it’s not viable enough.
Mds: Are producers in Asia conscious about sustainability?
O. Y.: I would say for some of them is even more important because things are happening in their doorsteps. I talked to a manufacturer in India and one told me that he runs a dying house and it bothered him the impact it has. There is a big internal pressure out there because they can actually see the consequences or effects of the problem in their doorsteps, there is definitely more appetite there towards sustainability.
“There is a big internal pressure in Asia because they can actually see the consequences or effects of the problem in their doorsteps”
Mds: Is it harder to sell your project to a producer in China or to a large retailer?
O. Y.: It’s not challenging towards where it is located with our specific technology, there are many dying houses where we can work at the same time. We started in Europe, then one in India and we are looking forward for one in China. We haven’t found rejection in any of these countries because there are so many people interested in these kinds of solutions, challenges so far are mostly logistical, things can take a little bit longer.
Mds: H&M has invested in numerous sustainable innovation startups. Could you investigate that much without the support of big names in the industry?
O. Y.: I think it is possible, it just would have been harder. And It would have been impossible to do it without anyone. There is a big wall, a big market and no one can achieve impact on their own. Having the support of big names help, but ultimately, it comes to having people trust what you say. Big names validate a lot of what you say but at the end people want to see things from themselves, so it helps but it doesn’t really create that much of a shortcut. Because if you don’t have what is mentioned before, it won’t go that much further.