EP28: Implementing Sustainability: A Conversation with Lieve Vermeire, Sustainability Manager Van de Velde

Published on 8.2.2024 By Ellie.Connect 

Welcome to the 29th episode of Ellie.Talks, your gateway to the world of sustainable textiles and fashion. Today, we’re honoured to host a special guest, Lieve Vermeire, the Sustainability Manager at the renowned Belgian company, Van de Velde. If you’re a fashion enthusiast, you’re likely familiar with Van de Velde, the creative force behind luxury lingerie brands like Marie Jo, Prima Donna, and Andres Sarda.

This episode delves into the complexities of implementing sustainability in a major fashion player like Van de Velde. Join us as we get personal insights from Lieve about her journey, her passion for people, and the unique challenges of driving a large company towards sustainability. Numerous interesting insights, relevant for every company working around the topic of sustainability.

Ellie.Talks EP28: A Conversation with Lieve Vermeire on Implementing Sustainability

Here are already some of the key takeaways, but make sure to read the full blog post, or better listen to the full episode. 

  • Inclusivity Drives Impact: Engaging the whole company fosters a culture where every employee can become a sustainability pioneer.
  • Start from Scratch: Defining sustainability requires asking fundamental questions and ensuring a clear understanding of what sustainability means for the company.
  • Design and Sustainability Merge: Seamlessly integrating sustainability into design is challenging but crucial for a lasting impact.
  • Adaptation is Key: Sustainability is a dynamic journey that demands continuous innovation and adaptation to new technologies.
  • Transparency is Non-Negotiable: Overcoming challenges requires transparency, especially in complex industries like lingerie.
  • Knowledge Powers Transformation: Knowledge, and taking the time to built this, is key in building a sustainable future.

Meet Lieve Vermeire: A Glimpse into Her Odyssey

Lieve introduces herself as a joyful mother of two, aged 22 and 24, with a profound passion for people. Her love for working with and positively impacting individuals extends beyond the workplace to her family and beyond. She emphasizes the satisfaction derived from witnessing positive changes in people, be it in mindset, growth or happiness.

Lieve’s second passion lies in the pursuit of quality in various aspects of life, from textiles and fashion to design objects, architecture, and even the finer details of food presentation. For her, the joy comes from discovering and experiencing high-quality elements that elevate everyday experiences.

From Material Engineer to Sustainability Manager: Lieve’s 25-Year Journey at Van de Velde

Lieve takes us through her remarkable 25-year career at Van de Velde. Starting as a material engineer, she played a crucial role in finding the delicate balance between aesthetics and technical requirements in lingerie. As the company grew, she transitioned to operational manager of the design department, overseeing a team of pattern makers, material engineers, and production engineers.

Her journey continued as she took on roles such as innovation manager, brand design manager for Marie Jo, and, most recently, sustainability manager for the past two years. Each role presented unique challenges, from building collections and managing design teams to spearheading sustainability initiatives across the entire company.

(c) Marie Jo – Van de Velde

Navigating the Shift: From Brand Manager to Sustainability Manager

Lieve shares insights into the transition from brand design manager to sustainability manager. While both roles involve setting directions, providing structure, and motivating teams, the shift to sustainability broadens the scope to involve the entire company. The change introduces a new level of complexity, requiring Lieve to delve into areas like energy management and the use of recycled fabrics.

Building a Sustainable Foundation: Starting from Scratch

When Lieve started in her role as sustainability manager, the first step was to start from scratch. With the company’s century-long history, they decided to define sustainability for Van de Velde. They embarked on a journey to answer fundamental questions, ensuring a clear understanding of what sustainability meant for the company.

Empowering the Whole Company: The Importance of a Collective Approach

To foster a culture of sustainability, Lieve and her team started to engage the entire company through lunch & learn sessions. These sessions served as a platform to communicate Van de Velde’s commitment to sustainability, define priorities, and invite employees to join the sustainability movement. The response was interesting, with individuals from various departments expressing their eagerness to contribute to sustainability projects.

(c) Sustainability Report 2022 – Van de Velde

Building a Sustainable Future: Every Employee a Sustainability Champion

Unlike having a dedicated sustainability team, Van de Velde’s approach involves having project leads for sustainability projects within each business department. This decision not only distributes the responsibility but also motivates individuals within different departments to actively engage in sustainability initiatives. For instance, employees from the purchasing department are empowered to dedicate time to sustainability projects, creating a more inclusive and collaborative approach.

Sustainability in Design: Merging Design and Ethical Practices

One of the challenges Van de Velde faces is integrating sustainability seamlessly into the design process. Lieve explains how they navigate the intersection of aesthetics and ethical practices, ensuring that each lingerie piece not only meets the highest standards of beauty but also adheres to sustainable principles. From sourcing eco-friendly materials to implementing ethical production practices, the design team collaborates closely with the sustainability vision.

The Quest for Sustainable Materials: A Constant Exploration

Key elements: high quality and longevity (c) Van de Velde

Lieve takes us on a journey through Van de Velde’s commitment to finding sustainable materials. This involves extensive research and collaboration with suppliers to identify alternatives to conventional fabrics. The goal is to reduce the environmental footprint of each garment while maintaining the luxurious quality that defines Van de Velde’s lingerie. The result? A collection that not only captivates with its design but also stands as a testament to responsible sourcing.

Sustainability Metrics: Measuring Impact and Progress

Lieve emphasizes the importance of measurable goals in their sustainability journey. Van de Velde started to implement first key metrics to track the impact of their initiatives, from carbon footprint reduction to the percentage of recycled materials used. This data-driven approach not only holds the company accountable but will also help to provide transparency to consumers who search ethically produced and sustainable fashion.

Championing Sustainability: A Continuous Evolution

Our conversation with Lieve Vermeire picks up as she shares insights into the ongoing evolution of her role as Sustainability Manager at Van de Velde. As she emphasizes, sustainability is not a static project but a dynamic journey that involves setting up strategies, evolving from conceptual stages to practical implementations, and navigating challenges along the way.

Lieve sheds light on the importance of informing and building knowledge within the company. She discusses the significance of taking the time to help everyone understand the risks and opportunities associated with sustainability. For her, creating awareness is a crucial aspect of fostering a culture of sustainability within an organization.

Facing Challenges Head-On: Transparency, Complexity, and Innovation

As with any transformative journey, Van de Velde faces its fair share of challenges. Lieve candidly discusses the hurdles they encounter, with transparency being a central theme. She delves into the complexities of the lingerie industry, highlighting the intricate nature of (+40!) bra components and the challenges of transitioning to sustainable materials.

Lieve also sheds light on a significant shift within the industry, one that emphasizes transparency and due diligence. Companies, including Van de Velde, are experiencing a paradigm shift in how they handle questions about transparency, especially regarding certifications and proof of sustainable practices.

(c) Sustainability Report 2022 – Van de Velde

Lieve highlighted the impact of evolving legislation, with the introduction of due diligence requirements prompting key accounts and stakeholders to scrutinize transparency measures. This change, though perceived by some as a burden, introduces a new dimension to sustainability efforts. For many in the supply chain, it’s now a mandatory aspect that demands attention.

The obligation to provide certificates and validate sustainable practices is creating a chain effect within the supply chain. Companies are now compelled to gather and verify data not only internally but also from their suppliers. While this process may seem daunting, it holds the potential for a positive ripple effect, motivating others in the supply chain to embrace sustainability.

While acknowledging the administrative burden and the additional complexities this brings, Lieve encourages viewing it as an opportunity rather than a threat. She emphasizes that despite the challenges, navigating through the new rules and legislation is a tangible way to make a positive impact. It’s a collective effort that, once embraced, can lead to a transformative shift toward sustainability, ultimately making a difference in the industry.

Looking Ahead: The Future of Lingerie at Van de Velde

The future, as Lieve sees it, involves continuous innovation and a commitment to adapting to new technologies. While she doesn’t provide a definitive picture, she shares that Van de Velde has an innovation team actively exploring various avenues. It’s a journey of discovery that involves looking at possibilities like 3D knitting, considering alternatives to fossil fuel-based materials, the complexity of balancing sustainability with product quality and longevity and reimagining what the lingerie of tomorrow could be. 

A Message to the Sustainable Fashion Community

As we wrap up this insightful conversation, Lieve leaves a message for the Ellie.Connect community. She underscores the importance of not underestimating sustainability, emphasising the need to take the time to inform and build knowledge. 

Lieve encourages everyone to start with the basics, understand the possibilities, and make decisions based on data and facts. She highlights the transformative power of knowledge, urging companies to build their sustainability journey on a foundation of facts. Lieve emphasizes that sustainability is not just about estimations; it requires a commitment to understanding and making decisions based on reliable information.

Join the Sustainability Movement

Whether you’re a fashion enthusiast, a sustainability pioneer, or a curious individual interested in the evolution towards sustainability, we hope this conversation with Lieve Vermeire has provided valuable insights.

Join us in driving the sustainability movement and stay tuned for more engaging discussions on Ellie.Talks!

Looking for more insights on sustainability implementation? These podcasts are tailor-made for you:

Ready to take a giant leap in your sustainability journey? Join Ellie’s Ecosystem today and experience how the combination of the Ellie.Connect ecosystem platform and the Expertise from the Ellie team can help you grow your (circular and innovative) network, find the right knowledge and provide you with a boost of inspiration.

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