Sustainability is no longer an option, it is a need.
Samsonite recognizes that travelers are increasingly looking for ways to reduce their environmental footprint, and sees an opportunity to leverage its commitment to
sustainability and legacy of innovation to address a critical global issue – plastic waste.
The result is Recyclex™, an innovative fabric made from recycled materials that is as durable and reliable as its polyester fabric made from virgin materials, but with the added benefit of reducing plastic waste.
Continuing to embrace the core DNA of Samsonite bestseller SPARK SNG, the eco version of this renowned collection – SPARK SNG ECO is made entirely out of Recyclex™ fabric.
Retail in Asia had the pleasure to interview Mr. Subrata Dutta, President Asia Pacific of Samsonite and understand more about his vision for a more sustainable-oriented business.
RiA: If you have to define what Samsonite stands for, what would be your statement?
Subrata: To put it a little philosophically, we stand for our consumers, as they are our reason to exist.
In terms of that one single value that is very important to us, we believe in innovating in every field of life as we progress. So innovation has really brought us here after a hundred and ten years.
RiA: In terms of your expansion in Asia which countries represent your focus for the next two years?
Subrata: We got a very developed Japan and we got a very underdeveloped east Africa which is also part of the region.
There is Australia, on one hand, which is almost similar to USA in characteristics. And there is China of course. If I would just single out two targeted countries for development and growth in the coming years, I would say China and India.
RiA: As we are here to talk about innovation and sustainability, can you share with us about your latest collection?
Subrata: Of course the idea is that in every one over the last few years has realized the importance of doing things in a sustainable manner. And it changed a lot from let’s say 30, 40 years back. It was only consuming. Consumption-based kind of status of a country would be defined by how much the citizens consume.
Today, it has changed entirely to how responsible the country is or how responsible the company is. Therefore, we realized that it is our job to not only use our innovation to give the best of products but also to use our innovation, a way of thinking, to give, and to play a role in sustainability, which would be ultimately leaving behind a better world for the next generation.
RiA: What was the response of the consumers towards this Eco Collection?
Subrata: I always have a lot of faith in our consumers. They have been extremely supportive of the new Eco Collection from Samsonite.
In fact, one of challenges for us is how to do it in such a way, that we meet the sustainability objective, but at the same time we make products which are continuing to be good and useful for the consumers.
One part is really clear, consumers would be really interested in the idea, but at the same time as they are consumers, they would also want a product which works and works as well as the general products. So that is where we come in.
RiA: Do you find that new generations are more keen to get sustainable products or does it work across all demographics?
Subrata: Everyone is interested. especially new generations. They talk a lot more about it because they are much more there on the social media. So when you hear the disciple and the voice of sustainability, you hear it more from the Millennials.
But I think the non-millennials, the slightly aging profile, they are realizing much faster that they have not done justice to the environment over the years, so they are making amends very very fast.
So we always say the Millennials are very supportive, they are very excited with something that is sustainable, but I think the other part is also equally true.
RiA: Does Samsonite have any other activities in place in terms of sustainability?
Subrata: We have quite a few activities in place and what we tried to do is to keep it simple. There are many things we can do, but we know there are some of them that will not be physically or practically easy for us to do, so we have hit upon a few ideas which we take it to the next level.
One is, of course, the use of recycled plastic. That is something that we focus on very much because our business is all about making durable products using plastics, we are a bigger consumer of plastics. If they are recyclable, automatically we should be doing it. This entire plan is first to estimate how many plastics we need to use for production, then slowly change the production using Recylex™ materials, so to use as much post-consumer recycled plastic (rPET) bottles as possible.
We are not just looking at selling more products made with the Recyclex™ materials, but we are looking at how much we can do or recycling of plastic bottles. And we are actually looking at larger projects where we convert 100% post-consumer rPET bottles to Recyclex™ materials. That is one part.
The other part is tree plantation. This has been kind of an obsession for all of us for many years. We keep doing these two as clear initiatives. But beyond that there would be many other things which are of interest to the countries individually, but these are the two which we consciously drive very hard.
I mean given a choice, let’s say some years down the lane, I could have told you that everything that we make is recycled, that would have been a dream. And that is the kind of dream we would like to work towards, but practically says that it would leave some percentage. The higher percentage we can convert, the better.
RiA: In terms of this Eco Collection, is it available in all countries?
Subrata: We have Eco Collection available worldwide. There are a few lines which have been launched in Asia. Two lines of luggage – SPARK SNG ECO, and OCTO ECO , one line of backpacks – MARCUS ECO. And we will be coming up with new lines that are made from recycled materials such as rPET bottles or recycled polypropylene.
RiA: Can you explain what is Recyclex™ materials?
Subrata: Recyclex™ fabric is made from 100% post-consumer rPET bottles that could otherwise end up in landfill. These bottles are processed into a liquid polymer, purified into filament yarn, and then woven into a durable fabric that meets Samsonite’s high standards for purposeful innovation, performance, and sustainability. Products made from Recyclex™ fabric are built to save the planet and perform for consumers as they move around it.
RiA: Do you have a R&D center in Asia?
Subrata: We have a number of R&D centers, so one is, of course a R&D center in Belgium. And in Asia, we have one in Hong Kong , and one in India.
RiA: What is the biggest innovation you made in terms of product development?
Subrata: I think for eco, the biggest innovation has been converting 100% post-consumer rPET bottles into polyester and using it for making bags because polyester fabric for bags, it has to be very tough, yet fashionable. So when you look at, you know, plastic bottle in one hand and the end product here.
But if I were to tell you the biggest innovation that the company has ever made I would say a bag on wheels. The invention of the wheel was a turning point.
So while this has gone to the museum, we have come up with contemporary products.
We keep doing stuff with the wheels. They became upgraded because they are good for the back, so you do not have to bend.
Also most people do not know that Samsonite was the one who brought up the idea of having wheels on the trunk, but we are the one doing the same innovation.
Of course apart from that, I mean converting that into a plastic case. Our other irony is that plastic is a very strong material.
Another characteristics we keep working on is weight, today the lightest that we sell is 1.8kg.
RiA: How do you collect the plastic bottles?
Subrata: There is a system of collection, through the disposal system and we just pick it up from there. Pick it up as in the person whose making it will buy it from there.
We have certified partners who specialise in doing that. There is a certification body that certifies plastic bottles got consumed and so much yarn got made, and from the yarn so much of the material got made, and it got used in the bag.
Because otherwise, very often you can lose sight of what it is really recycled. Everything got recycled, but really is not. So that entire monitory and certification process are very thorough and very well documented.
Source : Samsonite Asia
And of course we have to be conscious because we use plastic which is inherently strong, durable plastic and to be recyclable, we would visually think it has to be not very durable. So the challenge for innovators point of view in Samsonite is the combination of durable yet environmentally friendly.
In second half of 2018, more than 400,000 500ml rPET bottles were used for this eco collection in Asia only.
This is the first time we do, but we are not stopping here, we are increasing line ups, also changing all the packaging solutions into eco friendly things. Now we are removing all the plastics packaging for the new products. And again the planting and the factory environment and everything we are trying every corner we meet during the process.
Our reasoning is bigger than this and we only talk about the tangible outputs, not only talking about the numbers. This is something which you can immediately see and relate to, or even the tag says 31 500ml rPET bottles consumed.
Everything we do is multipliable with so many bags we sell, so each small step makes a lot of difference.