12.02.2021 202030

Interview with SALAH SAID, Zalando Fair Fashion Interview with SALAH SAID, Zalando Fair Fashion

“If there’s something you think is not cool, then do something about it!”

Salah Said, 30, has made a name for himself in Berlin with his WorldCitizen association. After studying political sciences and sociology, he worked in the CSR divisions of such companies as SAP, Schufa and Boeringer Ingelheim and also mentored young entrepreneurs including Tip Me and Conflictfood in the “Social Impact” programme. He joined Zalando as a corporate citizenship manager and has since also taken on the position of strategic projects manager, where he devotes himself to tackling the great global challenges of fair fashion in the areas of sustainable products, circularity and skilling.

Interview: Uta Gruenberger

Before you started at Zalando as a sustainability strategist, you were something of an NGO expert …

I have always felt the need to make the world a better place, but I’d previously been interested mainly in social companies. That started 12 years ago when I founded my own WorldCitizen association. Among other things, I organised workshops for young people that addressed the topics of diversity and inclusion. My parents were refugees from Palestine, so I knew what it was like to feel different from my own childhood. I learned early on: Yes, you can make a difference. And if there’s something you think is not cool, then do something about it! But when I was with “Social Impact” I also asked myself: what gives me the greatest leverage and how can I achieve it?

And then you joined Zalando?

That was actually the first time I’d had anything to do with the textile industry and the world of fashion. Little did I know how much potential there was to improve things there. Of course, that piqued my interest. And working with a retailer the size of Zalando.

We offer our 35 million customers almost 3,000 fashion brands to choose from. Our vision at Zalando is to be a sustainable fashion platform that has a net-positive impact for people and the planet. That means we aim to run our company in a way that gives back to society and the environment more than we take. Being “less bad” just isn’t good enough.

Are more and more companies taking steps towards sustainability?

Most companies in the textile industry have been doing a lot these past few years. Our senior executives have also recognised the relevance of this topic and are actively participating in our sustainability projects. A fundamental shift in attitude is taking place at the moment. More and more financial executives no longer see the higher budgets for fair fashion production and transparent supply chains as an irritating profit drain, but rather as a crucial investment in the future.

“Keeping track of the carbon footprint is imperative!”

By now it’s dawned on everyone that the textile industry in particular has a huge impact on the CO2 balance, that it is a massive climate offender, and that we have no other choice but to keep track of our carbon footprints.
A global awareness is taking hold, especially when it comes to things and products that are close to consumers’ bodies, like food, clothing, etc. People now want to know exactly where these products come from and what raw materials are in them.

But customers who care about these things are then usually stymied by the countless certificates …

Sustainability is an enormous, complex, interconnected universe. Zalando is working together with the Sustainable Apparel Coalition (SAC) and Higg Co to standardise this certificate jungle, and we offer brands and traders the option of evaluating our performance with regard to ethical and ecological parameters. These include human rights, fair wages and CO2 emissions.

“Take it at face value …”

But the more compelling question is, how do I get end customers to care about this transparency? How can I make the information about origin, etc., appealing and digestible, without overwhelming people? I think, in reality, most consumers don’t feel the need to know every last detail about a product. They just want to be able to take it at face value. They want to rest assured that a statement like “this product is fair and clean” is actually true! And I think customers may reasonably expect simple, uniform standards, instead of each company serving up its own sustainability story.

Wouldn’t a coordinated roadmap for the industry make sense?

If we want to realise the vision of only sustainable products being produced in the long term, industry initiatives, NGOs, fashion brands and retailers will need to work together closely. Everyone will have to be on the same page, both at EU and global level. It would be fantastic if we could make it work without legal constraints.

Zalando recently launched a re-commerce service …

Currently, less than 1% of all clothing material is recycled. That’s shocking! What if our raw materials run out sometime soon? As of this past autumn, Zalando customers can buy pre-owned garments or trade in their own clothes for credit.

The so-called circular economy has finally reached the fashion industry, and the range of circular innovations is impressive – from recycling and rental to re-commerce. Companies that hold themselves accountable and take a creative approach to the new challenges will be the celebrated pioneers of tomorrow.

You reckon with visionary producers and critical consumers claiming a lot of responsibility.

If I look at the common theme in my career up to now, responsibility is the topic that has always interested me the most. For instance, how can a business company find its own values, while at the same time truly representing the values of its target group?
It’s no longer just about the product on the market. The entire message and the world behind it must correspond with the consumers’ point of view.
I find it exciting to translate all that into concrete climate or social impact projects, where companies voluntarily commit to real action. In this respect, the fashion industry is an extremely enticing and fertile playing field and area of innovation.

More information:
Salah Said