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Sustainable Sportswear is the Future

Sustainable Sportswear is the Future


Due to their technicality, sportswear is rarely ethical, sustainable or responsible. Possenia was born from the desire to solve this seemingly untenable equation: to combine high-performance and ethical equipment.

Born in South Africa, Melissa Vostriakova is a cycling enthusiast. Her brothers were also professional runners there. When she arrived in Switzerland, she worked at the IMD campus and met entrepreneurs there. It is this environment open to innovation that convinces her to launch her project: a sportswear brand capable of combining great technicality but also all the criteria of sustainability (low carbon footprint, social responsibility, environmental quality of products). Melissa Vostriakova is convinced that the market, and innovation, are valuable solutions to ecological challenges, making it possible to go beyond the simple scale of individual actions, necessary but limited.

Founded in 2021, the company has two sources of income: the first and main, comes from B2B, since Possenia manufactures series of personalized sportswear, all disciplines combined, for companies (jerseys for the internal cycling team at Romande Energie, for example). The second, the B2C, comes from online sales to individuals, and only concerns the field of cycling and streetwear.

Today Possenia, based in Geneva in Grand-Saconnex, has a small full-time team. Its suppliers are exclusively based in Europe. Founded with private capital and seed funds, it is today partly owned by external investors.

Its turnover, 50,000 francs in 2022, grew by 200% in the first quarter of 2023, driven by an exponentially growing outdoor and leisure market. This year the young brand is aiming for a figure of 500,000 francs, which it hopes to double by 2024, when it plans to expand into German-speaking Switzerland. Possenia plans to enter the European market by 2024/25.

You have chosen to embark on sustainable entrepreneurship. Why invest in this particular segment of sportswear, including cycling?
Melissa Vostriakova: The textile industry is dirty, dominated by fast fashion. But the sports sector has an even more negative impact on the environment for a number of reasons: it is technical clothing, which makes it difficult to use natural materials. The colours for example call for particularly toxic chemical components. It is impossible to recycle clothes at the end of their life, because they lose their properties.

The consequence is that in the production chains, many vulnerable people are exploited. We will show that it is possible to change the situation, to create an ethical, sustainable product, without having to increase its final price or its quality. Cycling is my passion, hence the choice of this niche.

And finally, sportswear and outdoor are sectors marked by significant growth, the potential for profitability is enormous and increasing.

Where and how did your innovation fit into the industry?
We innovate on several levels. We developed a complete collection made from recycled plastic, and another labeled Bluesign®. But we are now developing with suppliers of clothing made from biodegradable materials, which offer the same performance and the same lifespan as the others. For us, sustainability is not enough. We have moved towards full circularity of our products and potentially zero-waste, which is an innovation in the field of sportswear.

Additionally, we are also innovating by seeking to integrate social and environmental projects directly into our supply chain to directly support our supplier communities. We don't have any concrete projects yet, but we are currently working on it with our suppliers. We could meet the needs of the community and it requires many discussions to understand their needs, and how to help them in the best way.

What is your main challenge?
Traceability and transparency. To be sustainable, ethical, responsible, it is necessary to be able to trace each component. It is therefore necessary to find the right partner, who agrees to be transparent, to understand what is happening at each stage of the production chain. It is only after having done this work in the smallest detail that one can claim a sustainability certification.

For us, obtaining these certificates was easy because we chose transparent partners from the start. For an established brand with hundreds of suppliers, the task is much more difficult.

You have chosen the Bluesign® certification, not well known to the general public, why?
Because it is the most in-depth approach for our sector. We also have other certifications and so do our suppliers. Our supply chain is built with manufacturers who already adhere to the highest levels of sustainability.

But Bluesign®, (a label founded by the Swiss company Bluesign AG in 2000 and recognised worldwide, editor’s note), attaches great importance to questions of toxicity and chemicals. But it is precisely here that most brands lose their sustainable dimension, the choices that damage the environment and health are made. And so innovation is left at the door!

In addition, Bluesign® insists on the issue of social projects within the value chain, it is they who have helped us to reflect on the needs of our manufacturers. They also help us improve our impact year after year.

We are also considering a B Corp certification (recognised certification in the field of sustainability, editor's note). For the moment we are a young startup and a little small in terms of income to meet these standards, but in two years why not.

Having several certificates is useful in terms of fundraising, but also as a signal for the outside world: greenwashing is everywhere, acquiring as many labels as possible shows that we are serious in our approach.

What does GENILEM coaching and coaching in general bring you?
Our coach, Pascal brings an incredibly important outside perspective as well as direct guidance and advice on how to move forward. For example, like any brand, we sometimes have to deal with serious unforeseen events in the supply chain, which can affect our ability to sell. We therefore have to rethink our sales plans for the year in question because suddenly we no longer have the same product, or the same quantities, etc. Pascal helped us reassess our sales strategy to overcome these production challenges.

What is your development perspective?
Our six-month goal is to expand our sales channels throughout Switzerland, achieve carbon neutrality and exceed the sustainability criteria we had set ourselves. Within a year, we would like to have a solid market among corporate customers, but also sports teams and clubs. Over five years, the goal is to be recognised as one of the leading sustainable and niche brands in the field of sportswear.


Translated from the original French version, written by the talented Camille Andres for Genilem 


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