Well thought out and well made, but in the end no one buys it. This might be a surprising way to summarize the current state of the eco-fashion industry. Especially in times of discount wars, Black Friday and inflation. This has also become a downfall for an industry pioneer. The Bleed company in Helmbrechts in Upper Franconia had to declare bankruptcy.
Paradox: climate change is destroying ecological fashion
Pensive and melancholic, company founder Michael Spitzbarth unrolls a large pink banner in the Bleed Store sales floor. He indicates the sample sale on the weekend. Difficult times for the fashion designer: he has to sell all of his products before the end of the year. His fashion brand with fairly and sustainably produced clothing is insolvent.
“The bad business in the autumn was really bad, it was too hot: winter jackets, knitwear, etc., up to 24 degrees in October, so you can imagine sales were not very good.” In the end, says Spitzbarth, it is precisely the eco-label that has become a victim of climate change. “Although we do everything we can to fight climate change, it is really paradoxical,” says the founder of Bleed.
Hemp, cork and jeans, entirely made in Franconia
The 41-year-old founded his fashion brand 15 years ago. His mission: fashion produced in a fair, sustainable and ecologically sensible way. According to experts, sustainability in fashion is increasingly important and more and more customers give it importance. With Bleed, Michael Spitzbarth is one of the pioneers of fair fashion in Germany. He deliberately only produced two collections a year and always relied on innovative materials: hemp or cork. The “Frankonian Denim”, for example, is a pair of jeans made entirely in Germany. In reality, everything seems to be going well in Bleed, only the buyers are missing. With the start of the war in Ukraine in February 2022, purchasing behavior in Germany decreased significantly, says the owner.
Lena Hoffmann is also overcome with emotion as she unpacks the sweaters, jackets and shoes she is now preparing for sample sales. She has been at Bleed for ten years and as her bachelor’s thesis she designed a recycled functional jacket for the eco-label: this gray-purple jacket is now hanging here for a special sale. She wipes the tears from her cheeks and says, “On the one hand, you are proud of what you have achieved; on the other hand, it hurts me to see it now.”
But it’s not just Bleed that’s in trouble. The entire sector is currently reeling: well-known fashion brands such as Hallhuber, Gerry Weber and the shoe brand Görtz have been forced to declare bankruptcy; most recently, the mail order company Madeleine de Zirndorf. Xaver Aschenbrenner from the Bavarian Textile and Clothing Association talks about difficult times. Production cost increases would be met by rising energy prices and inflation.
The fair joins ultra-fast fashion
Fair fashion and eco-fashion currently have a market share of almost six percent in Germany. But in times of inflation and ultra-fast fashion like that offered by online retailer Shein, eco-friendly fashion is finding it difficult to increase its share. In some stores, jerseys don’t even cost five euros. It is still much cheaper to ship a container of cheap fashion from the Far East to Europe than to produce fairly in Germany, continues Aschenbrenner of the Textile and Clothing Association. Only customers could change that. However, producers would have to convince them that buying clothes involves more than just meeting an immediate need. That it is worth investing in a sustainable product.
What would help Bleed now is an investor who supports the ideals of sustainably made fashion. Designer Michael Spitzbarth looks hopeful as he prepares for the rest of the sale at the Helmbrechts store. Behind the racks and piles of shirts and sweaters hang the awards that the founder of Bleed has received in recent years. Including a Designer of the Year award.