NEEMIC Interview

Posted by on 22.04.2013 in Fashion, Interview
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Initiated in 2011 by Amihan Zemp and Hans Martin Galliker, NEEMIC is founded with three main visions at heart: to create outstanding fashion, to help make China’s fashion industry more environmentally sustainable, and to build bridges between Europe and Asia.

Based in Beijing, NEEMIC is a member of Agrachina (a network aimed towards promoting organic agriculture in China) and collaborates with young designers from London to Tokyo to create a particular metropolitan aesthetic, using the finest natural fabrics “for a comfortable feel”. Design China caught up with Hans Martin Galliker to find out more.

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When and why did you set up NEEMIC?
We started NEEMIC in Hong Kong in 2011, and also co-founded the Hong Kong Organic Textile Association. Motivated by (more) promising cultural and artistic opportunities, we moved to Beijing in April 2012, with the aim of setting up a Beijing Organic Textile Association. The latter hasn’t been fully realised yet because we’re still on the lookout for interested parties to collaborate with. Even after widening our scope – with the aim of establishing a Beijing Fashion Collective – we have not yet discovered or met enough fashion designers who are seriously interested in the organic/sustainability sector. However, the spirit of the Beijing Organic Textile Association constantly prompts us to think about how we operate.

What is your brand philosophy?
NEEMIC actually started as a project of Agrachina, which supports young Chinese entrepreneurs whose projects are helping Chinese agriculture to become more environmentally friendly, and to offer better prospects to young farmers (you can read more about this here). In short, the idea behind NEEMIC is to create and foster eco-systems around sustainability and creativity. We want to encourage the use of organic or upcycled fabrics and to foster artistic events around this idea.

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What has been the most surprising thing that you have discovered about the Chinese fashion industry so far?
I’ve been surprised at how less developed, compared to India for example, the domestic/Chinese market for organic and fair trade fabrics is. There are some positive signs though. In early February, for instance, I attended the 8th Annual Meeting of China Textile Roundtable Forum in Beijing where audiences have started to consider environmental protection with much more concern. The panel praised textile entrepreneurs who had implemented water and electricity-saving bleaching techniques, and predicted that companies who do not scope these “new” market requirements will be out of business in 5-10 years time. Some years ago, it was forbidden to discuss such issues so publicly at an event like this! So, I feel that something is changing here in China – it is just delayed. On the retail market, on the other hand, there is very limited choice in terms of organic fabrics available for purchase, which makes it hard for independent fashion designers to practice sustainably. We say that we are “almost” an organic fashion brand, since only 20-30% of our collection truly complies with this statement.

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What do you think needs to be done in terms of raising more awareness about sustainable fashion and prepping the Chinese market to use organic/fair trade fabrics?
In Korea and Japan, the market for organic baby clothes has developed to a very mature level: significant market volume, ever increasing consumer demand, multiple suppliers, and professional retail sales points that offer high quality products and education about the advantages of sustainable fabrics. Fashion designers, on the other hand, mostly require thinner, better-looking woven fabrics (not the knitted fabrics used for baby clothes). So, we’re dealing with a completely different product. Also, market drivers, like the demand for “healthy” fabrics, is something that fashionistas don’t care much about; therefore, even in more developed markets there is still a long way to go.

In China, we are still at the beginning. More and more health conscious parents import “chemical-free” baby clothes, but there is still not much consumer interest for high-end sustainable fashion. For eco-conscious Chinese fashion designers, the bottleneck is the retail channels that stock limited organic fabrics. Also, the quality of domestic organic fabrics I’ve seen at textile fairs so far hasn’t convinced me.

Finally, I think it’s necessary to get in touch with existing organisations at both governmental and non-governmental level – get them on board, start campaigning amongst producers, and spread the message to the public. Once there’s a basic consumption, demand and supply, there will be a price premium that will make the business lucrative for suppliers. Small but agile organisations like Beijing Fashion Collective could foster this process by unifying B2B market participants and supporting independent fashion designers via a hands-on approach.

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Coming back to NEEMIC, what are you most proud of?
I’m proud of the fact that, since 2009, I have been working on projects that are increasingly impacting public awareness. This work has led to some fantastic experiences, but I also pay a high price: since I haven’t found an investor to professionalise our projects yet, I’m working on average 14 hours a day without holidays, but with piled up debts. Some call me a dreamer or naïve, but I believe in what I do, in the power of our projects, and in the creativity and efforts of our members, so I embrace outsider critique and ignore it at the same time. This is not always easy, especially when it comes from old friends or my family from rural Switzerland. For them, it’s hard to understand what I do and why.

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Where do you hope to be in 3-5 years?
While exploring China’s agriculture in 2009, my vision developed: I wanted to help improve livelihoods and create more sustainable production processes for millions of citizens in China’s rural regions. With my versatile background (in farming, as a former IT engineer and B2B Key Account Sales/Communication specialist) I understand it as my mission to support young entrepreneurs working in sustainable agriculture.

From 2010 to 2020, these projects should build up capital, knowledge clusters and import relationships in China, which will later be used in countries like Africa to establish large-scale, organic agriculture and holistic permaculture projects via a joint-effort with Chinese companies and local government. This will not only improve rural livelihoods, but also lead to healthier food for consumers, as well as aid in environmental protection.

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As of yet, I haven’t crossed paths with many young Chinese entrepreneurs who are serious about sustainable agriculture. And this is why we’ve founded projects like NEEMIC. I’m open to discussing with different start-ups – from venture capital seeds with future IPO, to completely NPO social businesses. With the latter, I have drawn some positive conclusions from Coop and Migros (two leading Swiss retail companies). They have multi-billion turnovers and over 80% of market shares – and both are NPOs. Every Swiss citizen loves them since they offer good products at competitive prices while seriously considering social and environmental impact. I believe they can serve as models for China, and this is what we are working towards.

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