Sustainable, fair, authentic. New entrepreneurs are looking for meaning. They want to found a business that feels right. The key factor: slow growth derived from little startup capital. The Steinbeis Consulting Center Sustainability – Strategy – Innovation has developed a “sustainable business design concept” for this special kind of business founder.
“I see fairjeans as a way of actually doing something, not just talking about it,” says Walter Blauth, to which his business partner, Miriam Henninger, adds: “Good working conditions and the sustainable production of raw materials have to become the standard in the long term.” They are standing in their shop in the Vauban district of Freiburg, where they sell their men’s jeans. They tell us how their vision took shape: “We were talking about the shortcomings of the fashion industry with respect to the personal dignity of workers, sustainability, and ecology. We wanted to do better. We set out to create jeans because it’s a product that has continually established itself on the market over decades and it’s a product that’s generally made in environmentally damaging conditions that aren’t socially acceptable."
Researching the industry quickly revealed that there is a genuine market gap for ecological jeans produced under fair conditions – a gap that the large producers have yet to fill. There was a real opportunity there, so fairjeans OHG was founded to create a quality product that was both fair to the environment and to people.
The Steinbeis Consulting Center Sustainability – Strategy – Innovation stepped in to support the young entrepreneurs with this endeavor. The consulting focused on developing a concept that fits to the character of the modern entrepreneur. The founders want to grow slowly, starting from modest startup capital. The “component system” – i.e., building stable partnerships – is ideal for this. Modern entrepreneurs want their business and their products to contribute to a future-ready and sustainable economy. The Steinbeis experts have developed a new process for establishing “green” business models. It’s a combination of Fichter & Tiemann’s “Sustainable Business Canvas” and Faltin’s “Entrepreneurial Design Concept”: the “Sustainable Business Design Concept.”
The “fair” jeans are produced in the EU from high-quality Turkish cotton and they are certified by the GOTS (Global Organic Textile Standard). This renowned international seal of approval defines eco-technical requirements and social criteria. The two young entrepreneurs quickly realized that they wouldn’t produce the jeans themselves, but rather looked for good partners instead. The location of business partners was very important to them. Since the jeans should be affordable, producing them in Germany was unfortunately out of the question. The founders ultimately opted for a partner in Posen, one of Poland’s most bustling cities. In a next step, Blauth and Henninger went on the lookout for high-quality organic denim and set out to design the final product. Their primary aim: seeing their sustainable, basic cut jeans make it into every man’s closet. The jeans are offered in three levels of washed denim, with a classic cut that fits most men. This is also a reason why online sales have been so successful. Online business will be the focus of their activities in the future.
The young entrepreneurs’ next goal is to make more use of materials and processes that extend the durability of products. As with all things so far, they continually run up against barriers because there are limits to what the market can currently offer. But Blauth and Henninger are optimistic that more and more producers will follow suit over time. fairjeans is a trend-setter in reducing product lines down to a few basic options. It stands for long-term durability and sustainability and intends to hold down a secure position in this niche market. Blauth and Henninger pay close attention that all of their partners and suppliers offer socially acceptable working conditions and that they work in line with ecological standards. The motivation is simple: fairjeans should serve as an example of how easy it is to bring respect and dignity into the production of fashion.
Christel Rosenberger-Balz is director of the Steinbeis Consulting Center Sustainability – Strategy – Innovation. The services offered by this Steinbeis Enterprise are geared toward new founders as well as companies guided by values that place an emphasis on sustainability.
Steinbeis Consulting Center Sustainability – Strategy – Innovation (Freiburg)