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Oct 19, 2022
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Surf Summit focuses on the sector's eco-responsible needs

Translated by
Oct 19, 2022

Innovate, envision new business models and rethink uses. The surfing industry has the capacity to initiate change, particularly through some new start-ups. The young start-up Sea Locker, which last year created a surfboard rental application working with shapers and surf shops on the Atlantic coast, is presenting a self-service concept where rental boards are available and can be reserved online. This concept envisionned by Nicolas Farolfi, combines a service offer with digital accessibility for both professionals and individuals and also opts for local production. 


But while start-ups often have an environmental component in their projects, the surfing industry, from equipment to clothing, has, according to many sector leaders, been late to the party on the issues of transforming practices to improve their environmental and social impact.

In this respect, the second day of the Surf Summit organised on October 13-14 by Eurosima, went into detail on how to transform the business models of the economic players, but also provided serious food for thought on the levers to activate. 

First was David Salas y Melia's presentation. A climate researcher at the National Centre for Meteorological Research, he deciphered the conclusions of the various International Panel on Climate Change reports, pointing to the evidence of global warming and, not surprisingly, the impact an urban and industrialised humanity has on it. The scientist outlined the consequences, such as the increase in the number of heatwaves per year and the risk of fire, or the shift in storm zones and the increase in their intensity. For the meteorologist, there are many actions to be taken and each actor can play a role, but to do so: "We must go beyond the 12 points of inaction, such as being all talk and no action or saying that we will not succeed. We need to stop associating consumption-growth-production and carbon energy". Ending on a positive note: "Human beings who are so fond of performance could divert their current objectives and choose other indicators. By making massive reductions in greenhouse gases, we still have the collective capacity to limit global warming to 1.5°Celsius.

Experts and entrepreneurs committed to change

To initiate these transformations, which are presented as unavoidable and which may appear radical to decision-makers in already well-established organisations, the Surf Summit brought together experts and entrepreneurs committed to change. Aude Penouty, founder of Entada Textile, a consultancy firm specialising in circular economy issues in the textile industry, began by setting the context with a motivating moto: "change is a journey and the journey, if well prepared, is exhilarating". 

She began by pointing out that millions of tonnes of clothing are put on the market in Europe: 8.7 million by 2020. Products for which an ecological approach to design, composition and end of life are rarely thought through. But the speaker also tackled industry behaviour: the programmed obsolescence of certain products, the creation of "green" lines that complement the collections, the use of recycled polyester that ticks off the eco-responsible box.


Consolidating supplier relationships (or even partnerships), traceability, transparency and even relocation are challenges for decision-makers. But for brands, not taking action probably exposes them more. "When you see a player like H&M making a Yulex suit that is poorly made, do you really want players like that to speak for you?" the consultant chided. "Actors who don't transform, fall off. We saw it with Camaïeu recently. The Gorpore trend, which is to apply the codes of outdoor to the city, with collaborations between luxury brands and outdoor brands, or a brand like Aigle which has just presented at Paris Fashion Week. There is a place for your brand. You have to go and find it."

Searching for ones place requires a socially and environmentally responsible approach

For a brand, finding its place requires a socially and environmentally responsible approach. With the ambition to reduce their impact, brands can become involved in the development of a more circular business model. The good news, according to Aude Penouty, is that even if "the perfect material and the ideal production process do not exist", decision-makers are not alone in initiating their change. They can rely on institutional players such as Ademe, ReFashion, sectoral federations such as the European Fashion Alliance that was created this summer, NGOs like the Ellen MacArthur Foundation or even on their peers.

On the Surf Summit stage on Friday, Patagonia's Ocean Marketing Manager Gabe Davies explained how the Californian brand started developing wetsuits made from Yulex, a material made from a fatty plant that grows in the American deserts. For the former pro surfer, this development provided an alternative to the use of neoprene, which is very polluting to produce and complicated to recycle. But while some other labels have jumped on the bandwagon, or looked for other alternatives, the majority of today's wetsuits are still produced in neoprene. "And yet, there is a capacity to increase production. But the brands have shown little interest in the possibilities. We are convinced that we need to move away from neoprene."

Aude Penouty points out that it is in the best interest of brands to move forward on these issues, especially seeing as the vast majority of their environmental impact is in the production and transformation of materials. "We need to put performance indicators in place on the transparency of sourcing, the quality of materials, the proximity of production or eco-design and recycling. The law will help companies on these points by setting frameworks," she says.


From 2023, the Agec law will require brands to provide information on the composition, origin and recyclability of new fashion and sports items, excluding jewellery and leather goods with an environmental label. But companies caught in the act of greenwashing may also be fined.

Introducing more circularity while remaining aware of economic imperatives

Above all, consumers, but also company ambassadors and employees, are increasingly sensitive to these issues. "We need to be able to move from the Love brand, which consumers follow for its products, to the Care brand, which they cherish because they trust it and share its commitments. And for the director, the voluntary involvement of managers is essential to initiate these changes, whether they are general managers or, even more importantly, middle managers in companies. They are the ones who will be able to initiate or apply the transformations of the model to introduce more circularity. And this, while remaining aware of the economic imperatives. But by having to control the end-of-life of their products, brands are faced with new challenges. They will have to develop recyclability, repairability and promote the reuse of their products.

Ludovic Quinault, at the time head of the SKFK brand (formerly Skunkfunk), which had been working on the labelling of its material sourcing since the early 2000s, set up a rental solution in 2019. "We are all confronted with overstock, even if we are ethical and sustainable. The existing solution is sales and then destocking, and clearly this is a drop in value and a drop in the image of the brand. As a manager, we ask ourselves: why produce if they only wear a garment for a week or three weeks? Why produce more when there are so many products available? Renting is interesting because for the consumer the product will have maximum utility. The idea is to rent a wardrobe in the form of a subscription, which allows for stock optimisation. The cost of the product is fixed, so the more rental cycles we have, the more profitable it is... and the higher the quality of our products, the more cycles we can achieve. It's a win-win situation. And I would like to point out that when we launched it, we had to pay back large loans, so it had to be rational. But four years later, the system is still there and has helped us gain new customers and generate additional traffic online and in shops.

These changes take time. Skunkfunk had been working on the quality of its sourcing for a long time, while Oxbow has been developing Made in France products, with materials sourced in France and Europe, since last year and explains that it had to take on some of the material purchases and suffer a few setbacks for its first two seasons before aiming for an upswing.

The Chanvres de l'Atlantique company, launched by Vincent and Jenny Lartizien in 2016, must constantly try to convince partners and the industry of the feasibility and interest of using this material from a plant that consumes little water and grows in France. To convince people, they developed their own brand. Named Nunti Sunya, the label avoids mixing materials and thinks about recycling from the product design stage, notably with finishing elements that do not alter the recycling chains.

For established brands, changing day-to-day practices is an important exercise. But in the end, it must allow the brand and its teams to be valued and to find profitable business models that are less polluting.

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