On responsibility and care. Q&A with Kristin Buswell from icebreaker

On responsibility and care. Q&A with Kristin Buswell from icebreaker

by Charli Cox

In this new series, we’re engaging with our people and talking about the future we want—a future of equity and compassion, one where we all thrive. And Mother Earth is not choked by waste. Our first is with Kristin Buswell, APAC Marketing Director of icebreaker

People will keep buying clothes, so what changes would we like to see in the garment industry? How can we make it work towards a better future? What would it mean to place care at the very centre of life, of businesses? Read on for the full interview. We are fortunate to receive multiple donations from icebreaker throughout the year. Much of these garments are new, so we’re able to provide our community with insulated, waterproof jackets made of high-quality materials, socks and other items that are not accessible otherwise, and we’re beyond grateful for this.

Kia ora, what is your name, and what is your role at icebreaker?

Kia ora, I’m Kristin Buswell, APAC Marketing Director

What moves you to do what you do?

Knowing we’re doing the best we can for people and the planet. For icebreaker, that means enabling people access to a clothing system designed from the outset to support more natural, sustainable choices. Making a choice for more natural clothing has a wider spread impact to build demand for product that supports respect for the fibre, the land it grew on, the animals, people and planet. I’m passionate about supporting a brand and product that celebrate working in symbiosis together - not against each other. 

We all have a footprint, but we believe sustainability is the pursuit of a more responsible approach to everything we do, limiting our environmental impact. What are your strategies?

Honestly there are many, and it’s not, and can’t be just one thing. At the heart of it, icebreaker believe nature has the answers and aim to work with nature not against it. So we are focussed on the move to natural™, it’s a mindset for a more natural way of living, but also to move people to natural fibres vs. plastic fibres in their clothing. We are proud that 95% of our total fibre consumption is natural or plant-based, but we still have 5% to go. It’s a challenge, but no progress was ever made without a challenge.

Beyond this, we have a responsibility to ensure the ethical, sustainable, renewable credibility of our fibre sourcing and our relationships through our full network are at the forefront. We also are working towards more regenerative farming principles with our merino growers to help lighten our environmental footprint. Regenerative agriculture aims to promote biodiversity, enhance water cycles, improve soil health and reduce cardon emissions.  Sustainability is a huge topic, and If interested we have a number of initiatives from people, planet and product you can read more about here! https://www.icebreaker.com/en-nz/transparency.html .

Looking at the future of the garment industry, are you optimistic and/or daunted by what we have ahead of us in terms? What are your priorities as a brand to address these environmental challenges?

I’m optimistic about people and the change we can make together. Humans have solved and progressed through incredible issues together, COVID-19 was an example of that. It’s going to be a big job, but we need to understand that individual contribution does have an impact, even if that means simple reducing demand for brands and products we don’t need or believe may have negative impact on the planet. At icebreaker, for now our main priority is to prevent plastic from entering our product life cycle from the outset. Why choose unnecessary plastic when we have a miracle fibre in merino that is thermoregulating, naturally odor resisting, comfortable and renewable. Not to mention when we wear these pieces in our favourite natural places - the trails, the mountains – why wear unnecessary plastic if natural fibres are a naturally better option?

Exploring the relationship between people and nature, icebreaker is an advocate for natural fibres. Why has the plastic in our clothing become the focus? And what has the response from the public been to your more recent campaigns?

People are aware of the impact of plastic bottles, plastic straws and bags. However what about clothing? The apparel industry is the second most polluting industry in the world, which presents a big opportunity to make some serious change. Once plastic is created, it’s on this earth forever. It’s not the consumers fault, it’s simply our responsibility as a brand to get people to think about what they are wearing, and then present a solution of why natural fibres are naturally better than unnecessary plastic. When was the last time you stopped to look at your label and distinguish that nylon and polyester actually means plastic? Our latest campaign was to provoke thought and simply to wrap someone in plastic, to jolt people to question if they were ‘still wearing plastic?’, this is step one to then discovering the miracle benefits of a natural fibre like merino.

What is your vision for the fashion industry: what systemic change would you like to see take place and why?

I would like to see more accountability for the full supply chain. I think consumers are doing a fantastic job at holding brands accountable for their choices, product life cycles, including end of life. There is a rising awareness and movement towards more conscious shopping, but it’s simply not enough. Yes, we need to see this from governments, countries and industry bodies coming together to regulate and make big change but we also need to drive it individually and hold brands accountable.

At icebreaker, you’ve been able to renew a commitment to our community by directly giving back to Koha Apparel through charitable donations. Why is community one of your most important tenets?

Without community we wouldn’t be here. We consider our community connected through our full value chain, from our growers in the South Island of New Zealand, to our vendors in Asia, to our retail partners, through to our consumers and icebreaker users across the globe - that’s you guys. We can’t lead a movement by ourselves, we need people to join the movement with us and believe there is a better way. This means respecting diversity of thought, being open minded and ensuring a sense of inclusion and belonging for all in that journey. To enable the Koha community to have access to a natural product brings more equity, belonging and connection.

And any other causes you care deeply about. Please list other organisations, local or worldwide, to which you have donated.

To name a few: Welsey Primary School service days and contributions, Salvation Army Food Box packing service days, 2nd Life Project Australia product contribution to aid the homeless and school communities, Sir Edmund Hillary Trust Outdoor Education Programme and Media School Student support in sponsorship, product and mentorship days, Growers Fund product donations for our local Growers Club Community.

What would it mean to place care at the very centre of life, of businesses? To care for our people and our Earth?

It would mean respect. It’s in human nature to ensure we feel the responsibility to care for people, land and animals. We must respect how we work together as an ecosystem. Without that respect, imbalance occurs and we have a problem. We need to work together, with nature, not against it.   

What is next on the horizon for icebreaker?

Continue to find natural solutions for our final 5% to go until we are plastic free fibres, as well as working hard with our growers on the ZQRX Regenerative program to continue to ensure we leave our land in a better way than we found it.