Technology meets textiles: Her passion for the environment, business, and design led Karin Backhaus to study textile design at Burg Giebichenstein, and later to join the Spread Group’s Global Operations Management Team. As a Product Test Coordinator, the Thuringian is now responsible for the process optimization of all product and print tests at the European sites, pushing the use of sustainable raw materials in textile finishing. After completing her Master’s degree in Conceptual Textile Design, she worked on various projects for original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) in the automotive industry for six years. Then she came into contact with the complexity of sustainable supply chains. Through her involvement in concepts for environmentally friendly seat covers, she acquired a deep process knowledge of green production, which she now brings to her department in an imaginative way.
Spread Group: How do you define sustainability?
Karin Backhaus: For me, sustainability consists in the moderate use of our resources. People consume more and more these days. But – as a matter of fact – we need much less than even the greenest marketing campaigns would have us believe. I started my own garden during the pandemic, and I’ve been experiencing a new approach to food. As a gardener, I have to exercise a lot of patience and care in order to harvest my vegetables in the end. This was an enriching experience, which made me realize once again that sustainability is not a marketing strategy but must be engraved in the DNA of a company in order to be successful in the long run.
This is why we must not ignore the social dimension of sustainability. Under what conditions are our products manufactured in other countries? And how are the workers paid? Not all brands disclose this information, but the certificates and seals usually give a good indication of how important social aspects are for the brand.
Spread Group: What motivates you to live a more sustainable lifestyle?
Karin Backhaus: My own CO₂ footprint. As a textile designer for an automotive supplier, I commuted between Berlin and Leipzig every day for two years. Since I took the train, I didn’t think my CO₂ emissions were particularly high. But that wasn’t quite right! Since I started working at the Spread Group, I’ve been able to halve my CO₂ footprint in one fell swoop by riding the bike to work every day. As a member of BUND, I’m also actively involved in nature conservation and environmental protection today.
Spread Group: What sustainability projects have you and your team already implemented?
Karin Backhaus: We switched completely to Kornit’s vegan inks some time ago. Their formula is free of any animal sources and hasn’t been tested on animals. It also has the “OEKO-TEX Eco Passport” certification, is much more water efficient in production, and is biodegradable. Since it is free of heavy metals and formaldehydes – among other things – it is also harmless to humans and nature.
We are also investing a new technological infrastructure of our quality management at all production sites. We’ve set ourselves the goal of improving material quality by way of intensified testing methods so that we can achieve a high product longevity. This is a basic requirement for us, so that our customers’ next favorite pieces will last as long as possible. That’s beneficial in terms of sustainability.
Spread Group: What specific sustainability goals have you set for yourself?
Karin Backhaus: We are working to focus our product range more strongly on organic products, so that there will be more than one organic alternative for each product category in the future. This year, for example, we added a baseball cap made from 100% organic cotton to our range – for the first time. When it comes to recycling fabrics, it makes a huge difference whether the fabric is blended or pure cotton. Blended fabrics cannot be recycled properly, but only “downcycled” into e.g. cleaning rags or insulation wool. And we also pay attention to sustainability in our textile finishing. Our polyester yarn, which we use for all embroidery applications of our brands, is made of recycled polyester.
Spread Group: What’s your recommendations for readers who feel like learning more about “sustainability”?
Karin Backhaus: I’m currently reading Uninhabitable Earth by David Wallace-Wells. It’s a book that describes our fears about the future of our planet. It depicts scarcity of foods, devastating wars, the world’s complete economic collapse, displacement of people, and other scenarios. It feels like a realistic forecast of what will happen to our planet one day. And then you realize that it’s our final call to immediate action! We need to assume responsibility now to provide a habitable planet for future generations and challenge the status quo; including capitalism, technology, and politics.