In winter 2016, Robin Gnehm and Nicholas Hänny decided they wanted to make something “of their own”, and came up with the design for a beanie. Having always been close to nature, the two friends wondered how they could have a beneficial impact through style. Finally they thought of the “Treeanie”, a beanie for which a tree is planted. “It was clear to us that the world needed more trees. At the time, we hadn’t thought much more than that about sustainability,” says Nicholas Hänny.
Following the first customer feedback, it soon became clear that the beanie itself also had to be sustainable: “Otherwise it really wouldn’t fit in with the tree planting side, or with our outlook as former scouts.” The two founders saw that sustainable fashion already existed, but was always very expensive. This was how their vision of fashion that is both sustainable and affordable came about.
Ecological & social
Among other things, ecological sustainability in fashion includes local production and raw materials with as little impact as possible on the environment during cultivation and processing, combined with the highest quality standards. “For us, this means for example that we no longer use acrylic for our beanies, but Polylana instead. This allows us to maintain quality while using more sustainable synthetic fibres,” Nicholas reports. “For us, social sustainability means knowing our manufacturers, e.g. a family business from Poland. But of course, our own employees as well: a good working atmosphere and fair conditions are essential.”
...but only if it makes economic sense
“We’re no different to Baloise in this respect,” says Nicholas. “For us to also add value in the areas of environmental and social issues, the economic component has to fit.” Only if a company is also economically profitable can it hire people, pay salaries and invest profits in new ideas and technologies. “We were also the first company in Europe, for example, to use Polylana as a more sustainable alternative. First you have to be able to afford to do so.”
«For us, however, this also means finding a balance between sustainability and affordability. Today, we can proudly say we’re very happy with almost all of our products, while we see some room for improvement with the rest.»
The company’s growth is accompanied by more and more risks that need to be covered. “Alongside the economic and social components, adequate insurance is also an issue.” NIKIN already approached Baloise back in 2016 when it was still a small start-up: “We also visited other financial companies, but we saw huge differences. Our client advisor Stefan Imoberdorf was the first one who didn’t give us an unpleasant feeling, but believed in us and saw our potential. To this day, we continue to enjoy a straightforward relationship. We’ve never had the feeling with Baloise that we’re getting something we don’t need.”
«Our client advisor was the first one who didn’t give us an unpleasant feeling, but believed in us and saw our potential. To this day, we continue to enjoy a straightforward relationship. We’ve never had the feeling with Baloise that we’re getting something we don’t need.»
NIKIN currently has 50 permanent employees and 20 temporary ones, and around 300 products in its range – as well as 1.3 million trees planted with the One Tree Planted organisation.
But how is NIKIN managing the balancing act between sustainable and affordable fashion? “The most sustainable item of clothing is the one that was never produced. But still: We want to reach a broad audience of consumers and ideally get them thinking, allowing us to have a positive effect on a small scale.” Transparency is a top priority for NIKIN. “Have we perhaps produced too much of something? Then we’ll explain it to people and offer them a small discount.” At the same time, NIKIN aims to clearly distance itself from fast fashion: “We don’t get involved with Black Friday, for example. But because a lot more is nevertheless bought on this day than usual, even without advertising, we plant two trees for every product sold.” The rate of returns is also very low, despite online shipping. There’s no free shipping at NIKIN: “We don’t want to encourage a customer to order a shirt in S, M and L, so that two of them have to be sent back.”
We all have our part to play in sustainable development: NIKIN as a young company with sustainable products, NIKIN’s customers, who think before they order, and Baloise, which provides NIKIN with a secure foundation, believes in the business and supports its development.