Interwiew mit Katie Chappuis
Die hessnatur Stiftung fungiert als Kooperationspartner für Katie Chappuis, Masterstudentin an der AMD Berlin. Die studierte Designerin konnte mit ihrem finalen Abschlussprojekt zum Thema nachhaltiges Baumwoll-Sourcing unsere Experten überzeugen.
Katie, the focus area of your project is sustainable production and textiles. What led you to emphasis on that particular area of research?
The very beginning of the supply chain, farming, has always been what interested me most when thinking about sustainability, particularly issues around sustainable agriculture such as GMO/pesticide usage, fair trade, and environmental degradation. To focus on cotton and ways to advocate for sustainable sourcing methods seemed a natural fit.
By focusing on sustainable production and textiles within my master’s project it is allowing me to tackle the issues surrounding sustainable agriculture and supply chains to a depth that I would not be able to do otherwise.
What is the purpose of your Master project?
The focus of the project is on cotton farming and specifically how to make it easier for brands to make more sustainable sourcing decisions, using fair trade and organic cotton as the benchmark for ‘peak sustainability’. The issue with cotton isn’t that there isn’t enough information on the subject, but that there is almost too much and easy to get overwhelmed.
Through developing a set of sustainability indicators, I would like to present information about cotton coming from different countries which will then make it easier for a brand to pick where they want to source from. In practice, a brand will take a short survey to determine what it is that is most important to them regarding sustainability, and then based on their responses and the accumulated country data we are able to see which countries would be the best fit for their sourcing.
What led you to emphasis on cotton/ sustainable cotton strategies?
Cotton is a crop that is grown in over 100 countries and has an impact on hundreds of millions of people. There are many problems that surround cotton that can make it appear to be an undesirable option in terms of sustainable materials. However, demand for cotton will not be disappearing anytime soon, and so the need to advocate for producing, buying, and selling cotton in more sustainable ways is key.
What are the challenges in implementing sustainability in cotton sourcing strategies? What information/ solution can the market obtain from your tool?
There are many challenges faced regarding cotton and creating more sustainable sourcing strategies. For a brand, one of these is simply the overwhelming nature of the cotton industry, and just how much information there already is out there for a brand to have to work through.
Once a brand decides they want to become more sustainable and what ‘sustainable’ means to them, they then need to choose where to source from. Hopefully, this project is able visualize and disseminate the relevant information needed for a brand in a way that is coherent and eases this decision-making process.
The hessnatur Stiftung is collaborating with you on your Master project. What are your expectations and present experiences on the knowledge sharing with our experts?
My expectations were that I would have the chance to exchange ideas with experts in the realm of sustainability who are doing what I hope to do in the future. I’m grateful for the opportunity and so far it has matched, if not exceeded my expectations.
You really feel like you are getting an inside look at the industry through working with hessnatur Stiftung, and so for this project, the insights gained about what information brands may be lacking for understanding cotton sourcing better has been vital in its’ development.
How does the progress and expected outcome of your project benefit from this collaboration?
For this type of project to be successful in the ‘real world’, it is largely reliant on the brand or whomever you are working with to trust what it is you are telling them. Being able to partner with hessnatur Stiftung in a way gives the work a validation and ability for the content to be delivered to a broader audience.
Additionally, through this collaboration I am able to gain insight into what it is brands are really looking for regarding information about sourcing cotton, allowing me to tailor this project more specifically to the demands of the industry. This in turn means the project has a greater chance of making an impact.
What would you recommend students/ future change agents pursuing a career in the global fashion and textiles industry?
The most important thing to remember when working towards change in this industry is that whatever it is you choose to focus on, remember the context within which you are working. The impacts of what you are working on will likely impact not just the one area you are focusing on, but rather have a ripple effect on many different parts of the fashion supply chain.
This is meant as encouragement, in the sense that any positive change we may be able to affect through our work, no matter how small we feel it may be, will likely have a larger impact than we realize given the scale and interconnectivity of the industry.
How do you envision your professional career evolving in the cotton market/ global textile and fashion industry after completing your studies?
I would like to see this project through to completion. That is, be able to have all the cotton producing countries represented and then to be able to maintain and update that information over time. Additionally, I believe this framework could work in addressing many textile supply chains, not just cotton, and so expanding this to other materials would be a worthwhile pursuit.
I would like to continue this work either in a professional setting in the context of consulting and/or through academia and PhD work.
Having recently finished my MA Thesis, ‘Fielding Through Cotton’, I feel as though I am now able to properly reflect on that process. I can say with utmost confidence that working in partnership with hessnatur Stiftung during this time proved to be an invaluable opportunity for various reasons.
Through my thesis work I focused on developing a decision-making tool called The Sustainable Cotton Atlas with the aim to help fashion brands looking to shift their raw material sourcing towards more sustainable practices.
The Sustainable Cotton Atlas is an online research and data visualization tool that allows people to explore cotton production conditions across different countries, and create action plans that would lead towards the increase in more sustainably grown and sourced cotton. Through the Cotton Complex Methodology, the Atlas highlights systems within a country preventing and advancing more sustainable souring practices, and offers targeted recommendations on how to address those barriers.
To do this, I firstly had to amass information from a wide range of stakeholders that relate to the cotton industry, then find a way to gather and present that information in a way that would allow various perspectives to be understood in the simplest terms. The industry expertise hessnatur Stiftung provided meant that I was able to gain the needed knowledge and information from their side while also being able to determine with them whether my work was relevant and accurate from an industry perspective.
Additionally, I was afforded the opportunity to be introduced to various connections through their professional network that added a great depth of knowledge and expertise to my project that I wouldn’t have otherwise been able to meet. Throughout the development of my thesis, I would also meet with hessnatur Stiftung once a month to discuss the status and direction of the project.
This became a wonderful way for me to organize my workflow, as these meetings would act as external timelines I would give myself to stay organized. The staff at hessnatur Stiftung were genuinely interested and encouraging of the work I was doing, and the meetings were often very productive and filled with interesting discussions.
Having the support of hessnatur Stiftung was a strong motivating factor to work harder on the thesis and I am certain that the collaboration was a factor its success. In the future, the goal is to bring this project into fruition, and develop the Sustainable Cotton Atlas into a live, active online platform representing the top cotton producing countries.
As the Atlas grows in data, the audience can then expand towards NGO’s, academia, and government bodies seeking information to best direct their aid and development resources. To support this, pursuing aPhD is the ideal next step in conjunction with continued collaboration with some of the connections that have been made in the last year.
Overall my experience with hessnatur Stiftung was a very positive one. I was able to acquire insight into the industry while simultaneously feeling supported by the staff. I look forward to future possibilities of working together again in som capacity and would highly recommend the opportunity to collaborate with them to those who are interested.