Ms Deppe, what do product quality and the durability of workwear have to do with sustainability?
Melanie Deppe: A great deal. As I see it, the durability of products is a fundamental requirement for the sustainable use of resources. Every garment which does not need to be produced again reduces our ecological footprint. Here at CWS, we purchase millions of new items of clothing every year. Extending the useful service life of these products by just 10 per cent translates to hundreds of thousands of garments which do not need to be produced. And there have already been cases where quality improvements have allowed us to almost double the useful service life of a product.
How do you do that?
Melanie Deppe: As far as possible, we design all of our collections to be durable from the outset and, at the same time, also ensure that they are easy to repair if they become damaged. To this end, every piece that we develop undergoes special testing in our test laundry in Bielefeld, allowing us to ensure their durability even before the garments are launched on the market. We also take our everyday product quality and repair experiences and reincorporate them into the process.
How do you tell if the quality of a garment needs to be optimised?
Melanie Deppe: Through close cooperation with our laundries and customers. They let us know which items of clothing require frequent repairs. We then analyse the reasons for this and attempt to identify the fault. That often requires true detective work, as you really have to pay attention to the smallest of details. We recently had a case with a jacket where the edge was extremely frayed after not even a year. To begin with, we weren’t really sure: Is the material the problem? Is it being used incorrectly? Is the processing to blame? In the end, we were able to solve the issue with simple means: by replacing the single stitched seam with a double stitched seam at the point in question.
What factors influence the durability of a garment?
Melanie Deppe: It varies greatly. Every collection is different. You could even say that each individual garment is different. Something as small as the quality of the cotton or the needles can affect the overall result. Even the person sewing the piece influences the final quality. The seemingly most insignificant details can be what tip the balance. The same applies for the washing processes: we employ different laundry concepts associated with different machine lines and detergent suppliers. As these factors can also affect durability, an analysis is often challenging. Our job is to identify the right levers among this myriad of variables to achieve maximum product durability.
How do you track down a fault?
Melanie Deppe: Due to the multitude of contributing factors, there’s no standard formula. It is also often not just a single problem which causes a fault, but rather a number of them at the same time. It usually begins with us noticing from the data evaluation from our laundries that a certain item frequently requires repairs. Sometimes a customer complaint also alerts us to an issue. Then we check first of all: Is it a problem in all laundries or just one? For one customer or many? This information allows us to produce hypotheses about the reasons for the faults, which we then test in our test centre using comparative wash tests, for example.
Where will CWS be in terms of product quality and reparability five years from now?
Melanie Deppe: We aim to improve the durability and recyclability of our garments continuously. I think that we will be able to increase the durability of our products considerably within five years. In addition, all other aspects of cycle management will also have improved significantly by then. For example, we will be far more efficient at recycling individual components such as zips, buckles and buttons, so that at some point we will produce far less or perhaps even no waste at all. That is the point for me when the completely closed material cycle will actually be within reach.