It all began with a first collection containing only 2 items: a T-shirt and a sweat shirt. Robin Cornelius wanted quality products that were colourful and respectful for any family budget. He turned Switcher into what it is today: a leading company in the domain of social responsibility. After running Switcher for more than 30 years, Robin Cornelius will continue to devote himself to the traceability of products and to lead various other projects. Learn more about his story in the interview or live at the IFJ Startimpuls in Berne.
Robin, you’ve seen and achieved a lot. What was the time like, when you founded Switcher SA in 1981?
34 years ago when I founded the textile company Switcher SA, the time was classically oriented, everything was done according to the political correctness, in order to be different from others you had to be creative and less competitive.
Can you describe the Swiss economy back then?
Everything was smoothly organized, no internet, no blogs and very little entrepreneurship.
In those days, was sustainability already important to you?
I discovered the word sustainability after the Rio Summit in 1992 with my Indian partner Duraiswamy. During my frequent trips to India we implemented a lot of social and ecological projects: School openings, medical dispensaries, water distribution, although at that time (early eighties) in business schools nobody was talking about “giving back” to the local economy.
How did people react to your ideas?
Positively for those who knew about our realizations – at the time before internet, the information was not outspread like nowadays.
How do you describe sustainability?
Doing the best efforts you are able to sustain any activity in respect of man and nature – always in the limits of your financial and intellectual possibilities.
You earned a lot of awards for your work. Are the awards important to you?
Yes, in a way it brought me self-confidence that “I was on the right track.” And it gave sense to the achievements of the entire staff of Switcher, because getting all those awards was just part of the game. What is relevant is not what we achieve, but how.
Your focus is now on Product DNA SA. Why?
After having worked for more than 30 years in the textile business, my mission nowadays is to bring producers, brands and consumers to share the following vision: any responsible purchase fits necessarily in a dynamic of transparency, at every stage, to measure, monitor, compare, correct, and improve any process of production from the raw material to the finished product.
In a few words: What is the goal of this company?
Product DNA SA acts as a specialized consulting company offering a range of services in the field of traceability and publication of supply chains through on www.resepct-code.org. Our competencies include: Collecting and analyzing specific data relative to production lines (code of conducts, health & safety, minimum wages, ecological aspects), providing recommendations necessary to prevent any potential risk of reputational damage, recommending verification tools (certifications, audits, labelling of factories or products) through respect-code.org, the independent and transparent publication of production process, adding value to brands by an adequate communication of their investment in transparency: www.productdna.com
What is your vision about the consumer of tomorrow?
Today the existing information available to the end consumers often includes only brand and price positioning. This situation results in maintaining the consumers in a state of semi-ignorance. Tomorrow all kinds of extra-information, such as water foot print, CO2 emissions, place of production, minimum wages, audits, certifications that go beyond the product itself, will be part of the decision process of the consumer for a go, or a no-go in his purchasing decision.
In a few words: What is respect-code.org?
Probably the best tool to change the vision of any end-consumer. It is the 1st online platform that informs on the traceability of consumer goods’ supply chains, independent and efficient. All information mentioned above can be available to the end user through a code printed or stitched directly on the good linking to the website: www.respect-code.org.
Is it easier for you nowadays to clinch a deal with your household name than back in the 80’s?
Well, I frankly do not know, as ever since the beginning, I put the same passion and energy in any project I deeply believe in.
Do you have any main-advices for young entrepreneurs?
Do not analyze only (SWOT, etc.) before acting, you’ll miss the train. Follow your instinct when required and always feel free to change your mind.
Get more insights into the projects and visions of Robin Cornelius and register now for the free Startimpuls event on June 1 in Berne.