Reading Time: 10 minutes

DIMPORA: HIKING TRAILS WITHOUT A TRACE

Photo by: Philippe Maurer, dimpora.com

From the revelation that mountain lovers are often the ones polluting nature, to a friendship that turned into an outdoor-wear revolution — Dr. Anna Beltzung shares everything behind dimpora, her brand born in the picturesque Alps of Switzerland, and a finalist in this year’s Vogue YOOX Challenge.

Words By Marina Hoyer 

December, 2nd 2020

The Vogue YOOX Challenge 2020 shook up the industry this year with its trailblazing conscious fashion creatives. Titled The Future of Responsible Fashion, the competition was created by Vogue Italy and YOOX of the YOOX Net-a-Porter Group with the aim of supporting sustainable fashion start-ups and designers. In the end, the prestigious jury selected twelve finalists — Staiy being among them. Although the other eleven co-finalists may be our competitors, we are nothing but thrilled about the diversity of creative and innovative ideas shared by all participants. For us, the Vogue YOOX Challenge is more than just a contest. It is about embarking on a journey with other innovators who share our mission: to accelerate the transition towards sustainable fashion. It is about fighting for a common cause, creating opportunities as a team, and empowering each other.

This is why we got together with one of our co-finalists: Swiss brand dimpora. The label’s two founders — both of them outdoor enthusiasts and scientists — discovered that trekking-wear often impedes the joy of hiking through nature by leaving traces of fluorinated chemicals. These compounds were originally designed to keep functional clothes waterproof and provide breathability. Unfortunately, they severely harm the environment, most notably during production and by damaging Mother Earth’s ozone layer when burned at the end of their garment’s life. For Dr. Anna Beltzung and Dr. Mario Stucki , this was unacceptable, so they started searching for an eco-conscious alternative featuring the same properties. When they couldn’t find it, they decided to come up with a solution themselves.

Photo by: Philippe Wiget, dimpora.com

Pursuing their vision of putting science at the service of nature and performance, the two chemical and bio-engineering graduates of the prestigious ETH Zürich used their backgrounds to develop a new functional membrane. The innovative dimpora membrane ensures breathability without using the per- and polyfluorinated chemicals (PFCs) that Greenpeace condemns as well. Beltzung explains: “PFCs do not degrade at all. Scientists found them in remote mountain lakes, where the only way they could have ended up in these areas is because people went hiking there wearing garments that contain these chemicals. It’s ironic to go to the mountains because you love the mountains, but then you are the one polluting nature by doing that.”

What makes dimpora’s membrane unique is that it is fully rooted in science. The project initially started out as a PhD thesis that grew beyond that and is now continuously being improved through follow-up research. While many brands might promote their products as new inventions with original technologies, more often than not, these are merely marketing claims. “At dimpora, we have a profound, in-depth understanding of what we’re doing and which materials we are using. With this knowledge, we have created an actual innovation,” states Dr. Beltzung.

Photos by: Philippe Maurer, dimpora.com

Dimpora distinguishes itself from similar companies by striving for accuracy and perfectionism in all areas. Focusing on either sustainability or functionality has not been the approach for the two Swiss scientists. With their fluorine-free, breathable membrane, Beltzung and Stucki aim to have a product that is flawless in both aspects. However, when we ask Beltzung whether this perfectionist mentality is rooted in her academic background, she humbly laughs and disagrees. “I could never bring myself to say that our product is perfect, because it’s not. The perfect product probably doesn’t exist,” she contemplates and then continues: “I agree with you that the dimpora membrane has outstanding qualities and we know that. But we are never satisfied and improve it constantly. This is how we drive ourselves. We always think about how we can do better, especially with regard to sustainability — to remove a step in the production that probably still releases some CO2, or to develop the membrane further. Our next products are going to be bio-based or biodegradable. And another step will be to design mono-material membranes and textiles to simplify the recycling streams. The technologies and the research behind dimpora must always be state-of-the-art.”

When Beltzung started her PhD, she was originally aiming for a career in academia or as the leader of a corporate Research & Development team. It was dimpora’s co-founder, Dr. Mario Stucki, who wanted to use the membrane he had developed during his PhD, and who asked Beltzung to join him. “Mario and I had already been friends during our bachelor and master studies, we were often working together on university projects or in study groups. We have always been a good team, so we knew the baseline would be great. But when you found a company together, it’s almost like a wedding,” says Beltzung and laughs. “You are signing something, so you need to be sure. We gave each other three months as a test phase to see if we would kill each other or if it would work out. Luckily, the latter happened and I am very happy with the career path I eventually took.”

dimpora.com

Beltzung still recalls the excitement she felt when dimpora started producing on a bigger scale, as well as the moment when she and Stucki saw their membrane in an end product for the first time. “Having the initial jacket prototype in our hands and putting it on, that really made us proud,” she says with a smile. Since then, dimpora has grown rapidly. “Winning the Global Change Award with the H&M Foundation definitely helped,” states Beltzung. “It was money we could really use to continue developing the membrane as we wanted. We could postpone the need for external investors and instead center our energy on the scientific research. I am extremely grateful for this because science forms the core of our brand and is one of our biggest assets. Dimpora’s fluorine-free membrane is designed with great precision and relies on advanced technologies. As scientists, we are at the forefront of research and innovation, but this also means that we have set the standards for dimpora extremely high.”

Sustainability has played a major role in Beltzung’s life since her childhood. With a mother ahead of her time that already refused to use plastic bags for groceries in the nineties, Beltzung grew up conscious of her ecological footprint. Later in life, Beltzung decided to also make sustainability a topic in her research: “I think the point when I first felt the desire to actively fight climate change came up during my master’s. That’s when I performed extensive research on new materials and plastics chemistry, creating for example a CO2 filter. What I’m most proud of though is a tracer I designed in my PhD thesis. These are particles I developed to help track microplastic pollution and numerous research groups use them.” 

The only downside: Anna Beltzung now encounters major difficulties when looking for new wardrobe staples. “I have never been an irresponsible shopper, but with all the knowledge that I have now, I find it really hard to buy clothes with a clear conscience,” she says and adds: “Maybe I should check out Staiy.” That would be an honour for us, Dr. Beltzung!