Last month I had the honor of speaking to about a hundred CEOs and other top managers in the industry called “outdoor” — that is, makers of clothing and equipment to go camping, climbing, hiking, mountaineering or whatever strikes your fancy.
Now, you might think that companies in that branch already get sustainability, and indeed, many do. One of the world’s most iconic sustainable brands, Patagonia, is an outdoor company. The organization that invited me to speak, European Outdoor Group, even has a sustainability and CSR manager ready to advise corporate members on knotty problems related to chemistry, sustainable production, worker well-being and all the rest of this demanding agenda. (Her name is Pamela Ravasio, and she really knows her stuff.)
I’m particularly proud of our own clients (obviously) in that industry, the Fenix Outdoor group, which owns Fjällräven and other popular brands. We at the AtKisson Group partnered with our friends at the Sustainable Fashion Academy a few years ago to help Fenix advance its CSR work, which resulted in a wonderfully clear internal guidance document called The Fenix Way (PDF). In that document, you also will find the first formal adoption of my firm’s Sustainability Compass as a corporate platform for CSR work. (It helps that one of Fenix’s divisions, Brunton, makes compasses.)
There are other sterling leaders in this industry group, too. But to my mind — and I shared this view with the CEOs — the outdoor industry could, and should, be doing a lot more.
Before I tell you what I think they should do, and why, consider these facts: The amount of time young people spend outdoors is plummeting while screen-time rises. And the average age of people who hike and camp is going up.
From a strictly business perspective, people in the outdoor industry are looking at a seriously worrying future scenario: fewer new customers and an aging, shrinking customer base. (The industry is not just standing idly by and watching this happen. Check out its social media campaign, Be Active Outdoor.)
Now, “nature” is just one-fourth of the sustainability challenge (on our compass, it’s North). But it is a decidedly critical part. Without a healthy, functioning natural world, the human world would probably call it quits. Unless we moved out into space, as in the terrifying children’s movie “Wall-E.”
But unless people spend time in nature, they will never really know it.
Which means they will not be motivated to take care of it.
Enter the outdoor industry. From a pure business perspective, its job appears to be selling tents, boots, shirts and climbing gear.
But from a strategic perspective, it has a different job: to get people to fall in love with the natural world.
Meanwhile, the health of that self-same natural world is under serious threat from climate change, loss of biodiversity, pollution and poverty (desperately poor people have more important things on their mind than the integrity of national parks and species habitat). Not to mention the specter of increasing neglect driven by the above-named social, technological and demographic trends (national park managers are also worried about these and related issues).
End result, if not much is done: less “natural world” for people to fall in love with.
Which, ergo, drops people in the outdoor business smack dab into the heart of the sustainability business. (No sustainability = no business.)
So what should these companies do? My recommendations are simple, and they are all designed to create business benefits in addition to sustainability advances. In the outdoor industry, these two things truly go hand in hand.
1. Set higher goals
A modern founder of sustainable business practice, Ray Anderson, talked about “climbing Mount Sustainability” — and going all the way to the top. He envisioned creating a completely sustainable company, one that gives back to nature, and to people, more than it takes out. A few outdoor companies are also aiming to do that.
I was particularly impressed with the German company Vaude (German), whose CEO told me that its sustainability ambitions are hitting the boundaries of the technically possible.) But actually, they all should be climbing Mount Sustainability. The whole outdoor sector could be a sustainability pioneer and leader, not just a few star companies. (Think about the impact that an industry-wide commitment to sustainability could make.)
2. Get more involved
Many outdoor companies have relationships with an NGO or two, and many outdoor leaders support conservation efforts. But there is so much more they could do. Consider the Mountain Partnership, a global effort to promote sustainable development in all the world’s poor and mountainous regions. Many of those regions play host to the hikers and climbers who patronize outdoor companies.
The outdoor sector could more clearly engage with and support that and other similar efforts, such as by matching up companies with relevant and specific outdoor travel goals — and not just mountains. This would be especially timely, considering how the new U.N. Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) will be calling on these companies, and everyone else, to really raise the bar on partnership and engagement.
3. Be more communicative
Finally, the outdoor industry needs to get a whole lot better at telling its story. Many companies in that sector are small, which means they do not experience the same demands for transparency that big companies in apparel or sports often face.
But unless they get a whole lot louder, and more compelling, they are not going to break the spell of iPads and smartphones and attract new, young climbers and campers. Setting high sustainability goals, and talking about what they are doing to reach those goals, can add some “oomph” while synergizing beautifully with “normal” marketing messages — and helping these companies differentiate and stick out.
“Want to save the planet? So do we. But first, try climbing it.” (Happy to sell that idea, so contact me if you want to buy it. Proceeds go to conservation efforts.)
These three actions, pursued intelligently, would not be new “costs” for these companies; they would be extremely wise investments in the future. They would help push sustainability forward, while also helping these companies tackle a business problem (a potentially shrinking market) that will get more challenging.
In this vision, raising the outdoor sector’s bar on sustainability, and communicating loudly about it, would result in more people getting involved with the natural world, visiting it, advocating and acting for its health, while the companies themselves grew — and still reduced their environmental impact while improving their social impact. (Hey, if Unilever can aim for that, selling soap and deodorant, surely outdoor companies can do the same selling sleeping bags and climbing boots.)
The day after my speech, I wandered into the giant outdoor trade fair that was just getting under way, in Friedrichshafen, Germany. The sight of all those beautiful tents, backpacks and fancy boots was inspiring. So were the not-infrequent information tablets explaining the “sustainable,” “recycled” and other qualities of some of the products.
But I look forward to a future fair, where virtually every product is similarly badged and competes for buyers who demand not just the best but also the most sustainable.
**This story first appeared on GreenBiz here.
Last week saw the premier of The True Cost, a documentary about the clothes we wear, the people who make them and the impact the industry is having on our world. It was directed by Andrew Morgan and features interviews with leading influencers including Stella McCartney and Livia Firth.
The price of clothing has been decreasing for decades, while the human and environmental costs have grown dramatically. The film is a harrowing look at the consequences of fast fashion, which will make many people think twice about buying that ten quid dress.
We communicate who we are through our clothing, but behind the personal narrative our attire hides a story. The film seeks to tell this tale by taking viewers on a journey along the supply chain.
It shows how mass advertising and social media drive our need for more: the constantly changing trends, ‘haul’ video bloggers bragging about their latest shopping spree including the $5 T-shirt they’ll probably never wear, and CCTV footage of stampeding shoppers on Black Friday in America.
Next we visit the factories in developing countries which too often have poor and unsafe working conditions. Some consume vast quantities of fresh water which is contaminated in the process and released as wastewater, often untreated, into rivers. Local people can be exposed to chemicals used in the industry with serious health implications.
The promise of globalization was supposed to be a ‘win-win’. People in the developed world would get cheaper clothes while people in poorer areas would get jobs to escape poverty. Highlighting the disconnect between some firms and their workers, a former sourcing manager of a US fashion brand says: “There are a lot of worse things they could be doing.”
This does not make sense. Why would companies erode the very things on which they rely to generate revenue? It is because human and natural capital is grossly undervalued in the marketplace. The current model is simply unsustainable, and nature and public opinion is biting back. Companies are increasingly having to pay these hidden costs:
- Target, the Australian supermarket chain, was among several clothing stores that had to recall clothing items after the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission identified carcinogenic azo dyes within 37 product lines, impacting almost 208,000 items.
- Mulberry found that the rising cost of raw materials, such as leather, caused its margins to decline, contributing to a 36% fall in pre-tax profits.
- H&M saw a 30% reduction in net profits after internalizing soaring cotton prices in 2011.
Events like these are driving a move towards more sustainable models of sourcing and production. Of the companies that come to Trucost to understand where their human and natural capital hotspots are, many are not just looking for ways to improve transparency, reduce risk and build sustainable brands, but for ways to grow their businesses. Some firms are leading the way, profiting from innovative ideas that benefit people, planet and the bottom line:
- After a Katvig swap party, customers start chatting to their friends about it on Facebook. It is a much more cost-effective marketing tool than traditional advertising and produces a sharp rise in sales.
- Vigga Svensson has calculated that through its leasing model, company revenues rise 50%. Clothes are not wasted, but taken back for refurbishment and recycling.
- In 2013, the US market for organic cotton increased over 16% compared to the previous year, reaching $690 million.
- NRDC Clean by Design found that by implementing 200 improvement recommendations, 33 Chinese textile mills achieved collective operational cost savings of almost $15 million.
- Farmers producing Better Cotton benefit from up to 44% higher profits when compared with farmers from the same region.
I came out of the cinema hoping that the film reaches a wide audience, especially among young consumers most in need of its revelations. We need more people asking questions about the impacts of fast fashion and demanding sustainable alternatives.
Fashion isn’t broken; it’s shifting, bringing new challenges and opportunities that require different ways of thinking and innovative business models that guarantee growth. With the number of middle-class consumers expected to rise by three billion over the next 15 years and the number of conscious consumers to grow, all these changes present an opportunity for companies to gain competitive advantage. Businesses that innovate to meet demand more efficiently while minimizing social and environmental impact will deservedly take the lead in this rapidly-changing marketplace.
**This article first appeared on Trucost.com here.
Since 2013, Greenpeace’s “Detox” campaign against apparel companies successfully has catalyzed new approaches to eliminate hazardous chemicals from products and supply chains. It’s not just activist pressure, but also the desire within the industry to do good, that is driving the reduction of hazards in everything from children’s clothing to sportswear.
Efforts to reduce hazardous chemicals and environmental pollution in the manufacturing supply chain include the Sustainable Apparel Coalition’s Higg Index, the Outdoor Industry Association’s Chemicals Management Module and the Zero Discharge of Hazardous Chemicals’ Roadmap to Zero.
Traditionally, such efforts have centered around Restricted Substance Lists, which have been used in the textile industry since the late 1990s. They contain restricted chemicals that are usually, but not always regulated. These chemicals can be used in manufacturing and be present in consumer products, as long as the amount is not greater than the allowable limit.
The RSL is a tool to help brands meet regulatory compliance requirements and is typically implemented in three steps:
1. Establish the allowable limit in the product.
2. Train and educate manufacturers to implement the RSL.
3. Verify through product testing.
Because restricted chemicals may be used in manufacturing, there is always the possibility that hazardous chemicals may end up in discharge water.
A fundamental shift to ‘input chemistry’
Today, however, a sea change is placing greater emphasis on managing input chemistry rather than treating effluent. Hazardous chemicals are eliminated at the beginning of the supply chain before they enter the manufacturing facility. This prevents the need to clean up waste water and toxic pollution.
Some tools, such as bluesign, have been available for several years, while others are just being introduced, and some chemical companies are seizing the opportunity to lead in the marketplace.
The initiatives below are gaining wider acceptance and use:
The bluesign system is a standard for environmental health and safety in the manufacture of textiles. It was developed in Switzerland 15 years ago and is gaining momentum with chemical suppliers, manufacturers and brands.
Bluesign works with chemical suppliers to ensure their formulations meet strict requirements. Production sites are audited and a set of guidelines must be met prior to a chemical supplier selling “bluesign certified” formulations. Approved bluesign partners regularly report their continuous improvement and progress in energy, water and chemical usage, and are subject to on-site audits. Many large global chemical suppliers including Huntsman, Archroma, CHT and Dyestar are bluesign partners and produce bluesign-compliant formulations.
Bluesign chemicals are available for all stages of textile production, from spinning to garment manufacturing. This enables brands and manufacturing facilities to make smarter and safer choices.
Bluesign assesses and assigns chemicals to one of three categories:
1. Blue: safe to use
2. Gray: special handling required
3. Black: forbidden
The bluesign system helps factories manage “gray” chemicals and replace “black” chemicals with safer alternatives.
Manufacturing Restricted Substance List
An MRSL differs from a Restricted Substance List (RSL) because it restricts hazardous substances potentially used and discharged into the environment during manufacturing, not just those substances that could be present in finished products. The MRSL addresses any chemical used within the four walls of a manufacturing plant, including those used to make products and clean equipment and facilities.
The Zero Discharge of Hazardous Chemicals group developed and published an MRSL with input from key stakeholders including brands and chemical companies. ZDHC developed one MRSL for the apparel industry. This benefits brands, manufacturers and chemical companies because they only have to adhere to a single set of criteria with the same chemical restrictions, limits and test methods.
Chemical companies are in the process of developing a list of MRSL-compliant formulations that adhere to the strict limits placed on a given chemical formulation rather than the finished product.
CHEM-IQ is a chemical management tool released by the VF Corporation. Developed in collaboration with third-party experts, including the Natural Resources Defense Council, CHEM-IQ provides a proactive, cost-effective method for identifying and eliminating potentially harmful chemicals before they enter manufacturing.
Samples from chemical formulations are tested in a lab for the presence of about 400 hazardous chemicals. If any are present above a certain limit, VF works with its supply chain to determine an action plan to move towards safer alternatives.
In addition to the tools and certification systems described above, two small textile chemical formulators, Garmon Chemicals and Beyond Surface Technologies, are also adopting a “front of the pipe” approach.
Garmon’s conscious chemistry
Innovative Italian chemical company Garmon Chemicals has taken an interesting approach in how it assesses, manages and chooses chemical ingredients in its formulations. It recently announced a partnership with Turkish mill Orta denim and Clean Production Action’s GreenScreen for Safer Chemicals.
Garmon incorporates GreenScreens into its raw materials assessment. GreenScreen chemical assessments are based on the hazard profile of a chemical rather than the risk profile. All intentionally added ingredients are screened and assigned a GreenScreen score. Chemicals scored as “Benchmark 1” (to avoid as a chemical of high concern) are not accepted in any formulation. This approach helps Garmon prioritize efforts to find safer alternatives.
The company has developed a range of specialty chemicals called “environmentally conscious chemistry” using GreenScreen as an inspiration for innovation. Garmon has positioned GreenScreen as a platform to develop products for the eco-conscious consumer who demands transparency.
Particularly impressive, Garmon has eliminated potassium permanganate and sodium hypochlorite, two cheap commodity chemicals used to bleach indigo denim. It replaced them with their Avol Oxy White, which provides a similar visual effect.
The advantages of environmentally conscious chemistry include the capability to:
1. Establish long-term partnerships across industries and co-create new capabilities.
2. Drive science and design, with the goal of developing new aesthetics.
3. Trigger healthy changes throughout the manufacturing supply chain that injects “premium” and “sustainable” and “quality” and “integrity” as operational guiding principles in the garment industry.
Beyond Surface Technologies
BST, a small and innovative chemical company, has a different approach to assessing its raw materials. It selects raw materials with either the highest possible content of bio-based carbon (PDF) or materials approved for use in the personal care or food industry, so that it does not need to worry about contaminants and impurities. If it is safe enough to eat or put on your skin, it is safe enough to be used in apparel.
As these examples indicate, the textile industry is making progress in reducing environmental pollution in the textile supply chain by focusing on the management of input chemistry. Stronger partnerships among brands, manufacturers and chemicals companies; a more rigorous approach towards the elimination of hazardous chemicals; and innovating to find safer alternatives to chemicals of concern are moving the needle towards safer consumer products within cleaner supply chains.
** This article first appeared on GreenBiz.com here.
By Catherine Salfino
In a world where demanding consumers want everything faster, the term fast fashion has taken on a less than desirable connotation: big conglomerates using unfair labor practices to sell inexpensive, poorly made product. Contrast that with independent makers who champion the idea of producing smaller batches of apparel from better materials, using fairly treated skilled laborers. While plenty of fashion is still made fast and cheap, more of the big players are switching to the middle lane, looking for better materials, fair labor, and increased quality. And this is something consumers appreciate.
Kathleen Fasanella, founder of Apparel Technical Services and author of The Entrepreneur’s Guide to Sewn Product Manufacturing, says in the past, fast fashion simply referred to efficiently produced apparel.
“It wasn’t a value proposition of presumed defective or lower ‘quality’ items as it is now,” she says. “Fast fashion can use better quality materials, better craftsmanship, and fair labor. We cannot assume they’re not doing it now — I know people who are. However, this raises the contradiction in thinking that anything produced quickly as being ‘fast’ fashion. We must decide if ‘fast’ means speedy crap or just speedy. Conversely, a lot of people are doing things slowly because they’re inexperienced and inefficient; not because they’re better.”
Whether it’s made fast or slowly, consumers are becoming more aware of sustainably produced apparel. Although slightly less than 4 in 10 consumers (38%) say they actually put effort into finding environmentally friendly clothing for themselves, and that is up from 33% who did so in 2013, according to the Cotton Incorporated 2014 Environment Survey. However, nearly 7 of 10 shoppers (69%) would be bothered if they found out an apparel item they purchased was not environmentally friendly.
Additionally, if consumers purchased an apparel item that was not produced in an eco-sensitive way, Cotton Incorporated’s 2014 Environment Survey research shows 4 in 10 (39%) would blame the manufacturer, followed by the brand (15%), and themselves (12%).
That’s why some of the big names in fashion — be they fast or traditional — have taken a pro-active approach to improve their environmental footprint.
Levi’s has implemented sustainability measures for decades. Its most recent programs include the 2013 introduction of the Dockers Wellthread collection of socially and environmentally sustainable apparel, as well as its Water<Less jeans, which use less water in the finishing process.
Meanwhile, fast fashion maker H&M has teamed with Solidaridad to improve environmental conditions in the supply chain. Together they developed a cleaner production program in China titled “Better Mill Initiative,” which supports cleaner dyeing and printing during wet textile processing. Zara’s parent company Inditex has a Green Code to improve environmental policies during production. Its “zero discharge pledge” serves as a guide on the use of chemicals for manufacturing. And retailing giant Walmart even has its own sustainability index that covers more than 700 product categories.
Of course, even with these programs, work remains to be done within the industry. The Rainforest Action Network (RAN) has called on 15 major retailers and brands, including Forever 21, Abercrombie & Fitch, Ralph Lauren, and Michael Kors, to help stop the destruction of forests. Around the world, RAN states, forests are cut down to cultivate monocrop tree plantations, whose dissolving pulp is used in a toxic slurry to create manmade fabrics like viscose and rayon.
Unlike viscose and rayon, cotton is a renewable, natural fiber that does not undergo chemical processing to becoming a fabric. On the contrary, an independent research report from Field to Market, the Alliance for Sustainable Agriculture, shows the environmental impact of producing a pound of U.S. cotton has fallen substantially over the past three decades. Through modern seed technology, conservation tillage practices, advanced scientific research, and machinery and equipment practices, there’s been a 75% decline in irrigation water used per pound of cotton produced. Furthermore, monitoring by land grant universities in the U.S. found a 50% reduction in pesticide applications has occurred at the same time USDA data shows. Fiber production has doubled without expanding acreage.
Such advances help maintain the positive sentiment consumers have toward cotton. More than 9 in 10 consumers (92%) continue to say they find cotton to be safe for the environment. In fact, consumers rate cotton and other natural fibers like wool and silk (81%) significantly higher in environmental safety than manmade fibers like polyester (60%), and rayon (59%). Additionally, 77% say the claim of 100 percent cotton would be influential to their apparel purchases, followed by Made in the USA (68%), natural (61%), and sustainable (57%).
This natural textile has benefitted from the work and research of Cotton Incorporated, which represents U.S. cotton growers and importers. Cotton Incorporated also collaborates on research with other organizations like the Better Cotton Initiative, whose aim is to make cotton more sustainable by reducing water inputs and promoting more sustainable growing techniques, as well as The Sustainability Consortium and the Sustainable Apparel Coalition.
Of course, cotton works for both fast and slow fashion. When eco-conscious online brand Zady recently introduced its .02 The T-Shirt, it released an infographic pointing out that cotton apparel can last a lifetime yet, once disposed of, can decompose in less than a year. This, as opposed to synthetic fibers, which Zady says can take 200 years to break down.
Rather than choosing fast over or slow or vice versa, Fasanella says all producers should be more efficient in all aspects.
“There’s room for everyone.”
**This article first appeared on Cotton Incorporated Lifestyle Monitor here.
Kering releases the results of its Group-wide Environmental Profit and Loss Account to encourage integration of the value of nature into business Kering released the results of its pioneering Environmental Profit and Loss Account (E P&L)1 today, measuring its environmental footprint in its own operations and across the Group’s supply chains and valuing it in monetary terms. Further, Kering has published its E P&L methodology in order to provide an open-source tool to encourage other corporations to understand their entire impact on natural capital. Kering is sharing this work to support the development of corporate accounting of natural capital, and the Natural Capital Protocol2, a cross-sector industry initiative developing a global methodology for environmental accounting. Through the E P&L, Kering has analysed the impact on natural capital3 from raw materials to the delivery of products to its customers, including logistics and stores. This assessment deepens the understanding of its activities, providing visibility so as to enable better decision-making. In doing so, a company increases its ability to reduce its impact, and also to respond to drivers of change in the supply chain, including fluctuations in raw material quality and availability. “Kering is sharing our E P&L work as transparency and collaboration are needed to scale solutions which will help solve problems of scale, like the depletion of natural capital,” said François-Henri Pinault, Chairman and CEO of Kering. He added, “Our E P&L has already served as an effective internal catalyst to drive us towards a more sustainable business model. I am convinced that an E P&L, and corporate natural capital accounting more broadly, are essential to enable companies to acknowledge the true cost on nature of doing business. It highlights where there are environmental impacts and also business opportunities, to then enable informed strategic decision-making that will underpin a more resilient business in the face of current and future environmental challenges resulting from climate change.” The Kering E P&L Methodology and 2013 Group results report, with the support of Kering’s brands and PwC, outlines the comprehensive seven-step methodology to help a company create an E P&L. The report also presents the consolidated Group E P&L results based on 2013 data and highlights key actions already taken by the Group and its brands to mitigate its impacts on natural capital thus far. The E P&L account serves as a sustainability metric and methodology for the company. It is not related to financial results or financial reporting. Rather, the E P&L is a new way of estimating the cost to society of the changes in the environment resulting from businesses’ activities across the entire supply chain. These changes or environmental impacts are measured through Greenhouse Gas emissions, water use, water and air pollution, waste production and land use changes linked to Kering’s operations (retail, offices and transport) as well as those of its suppliers, from raw materials through to manufacturing. The 2013 Group E P&L account reveals learnings such as: · Of the total environmental impact, 93% falls within the supply chain, with over 50% of the impact associated with raw material production (Tier 4 suppliers). · Within the supply chain, 26% of the impact is associated with raw material processing (Tier 3), and manufacturing and product assembly (Tiers 1 and 2) accounts for 17% of the total impact. · 7% of the impacts are associated with Kering’s operations including retail (Tier 0). · Of the total impact, 35% comes from GHG emissions and 27% from land use, and · 25% comes from leather, while 17% is linked to cotton. The E P&L results will be presented during Kering’s press conference at 2:30pm CET today and live-streamed on Kering.com. To download Kering’s full, monetised Group E P&L results and methodology, click here. To put Kering’s results in a larger context: if Kering operated as ‘business as usual’ and sourced as a typical company of its sector, its E P&L would have been 40 % higher4. Kering is out-performing its sector in reducing its footprint and, further, Kering’s environmental impacts are less than 45% of the global average business based on comparative turnover. In response to the E P&L analysis, and as part of its overall sustainability commitment, Kering has been focusing its efforts on more sustainable production of key raw materials, developing innovative solutions for improved manufacturing processes, and implementing actions to enhance efficiency in its stores and facilities, and transport of goods. Specific details on how Kering is doing this in its brands supply chains are presented in the detailed report. “The E P&L analysis provides us with critical new insights into our business – highlighting where we can design and implement innovative solutions to mitigate our environmental impact, while creating new business opportunities” said Marie-Claire Daveu, Chief Sustainability Officer and Head of international institutional affairs, Kering, “At Kering, we believe that it is important to be transparent with our peers and stakeholders as it is only through collaboration that we will be able to scale sustainability solutions and make a difference beyond our own business and supply chains, for society and nature more broadly.” 1 An Environmental Profit and Loss account (E P&L) analyses the total environmental impacts in a company’s own operations, and across its entire supply chain and then estimates the cost to society of the changes in the environment resulting from these activities. 2 The Natural Capital Protocal aims to transform the way business operates through understanding and incorporating their impacts and dependencies on natural capital. The NCP will be published in 2016 and will provide clear guidance on how companies can measure and value different types of impacts and dependencies for different business applications. 3 Natural Capital is the stock of natural ecosystems on Earth including air, land, soil, biodiversity and geological resources. This stock underpins our economy and society by producing value for people, both directly and indirectly. 4 PwC analysis. **This post first appeared here.
About Kering A world leader in apparel and accessories, Kering develops an ensemble of powerful Luxury and Sport & Lifestyle brands: Gucci, Bottega Veneta, Saint Laurent, Alexander McQueen, Balenciaga, Brioni, Christopher Kane, McQ, Stella McCartney, Tomas Maier, Sergio Rossi, Boucheron, Dodo, Girard-Perregaux, JeanRichard, Pomellato, Qeelin, Ulysse Nardin, Puma, Volcom, Cobra, Electric and Tretorn. By ‘empowering imagination’ in the fullest sense, Kering encourages its brands to reach their potential, in the most sustainable manner. Present in more than 120 countries, the Group generated revenues of €10 billion in 2014 and had more than 37,000 employees at year end. The Kering (previously PPR) share is listed on Euronext Paris (FR 0000121485, KER.PA, KER.FP).
By Lewis Perkins | Re-posted from Lewis’s personal blog. This morning, I opened up my email and saw I was tagged by a friend on a post about the article “Slow Fashion Shows Consumers What It’s Made Of” from NPR. The article was good and gave a high level view of the issues that exists due to the lack of transparency in the global supply chain and the low price we are paying for our clothes. I work in this field and was familiar with the subject, so the article is not what caught my attention; it was the responses from the dozens of people commenting below the article. The comments ranged from disdain for the pretense in the fashion industry; “I am already being forced to worry about what I am eating and now you are making me focus on what I am wearing” to the disconnected; “this does not apply to me because I don’t buy $5.99 t-shirts at Walgreen’s.” The rest seemed to think the article was telling them to stop buying affordable clothing and focus on luxury goods because they are better made and have a more transparent supply chain.” Why fashion? Several months ago a good friend of mine chided me for taking my talents into the Fashion Industry instead of a more “worthwhile” or “substantial” industry. She viewed fashion as frivolous and unimportant in the scheme of global issues. The reality is folks, unless you and your children are walking around naked, don’t sleep in beds or sit on upholstered sofas, or work in buildings with carpet, have curtains in your home; you are part of the global textile supply chain, and regardless if you shop at Walmart, J-Crew or Prada, you are part of this equation for supply and demand of all levels and uses of textiles on the planet. Textiles are one of the oldest industries, carry the most cultural significance and have one of the largest footprints on human and ecological systems. The disdain for the Fashion Industry is actually short-sighted, because we are all using materials to reflect our personal statement whether it is intentional or not. Yes, perhaps apparel “fashion” still feels like it’s direction resides in the hands of brands, designers, stylists, celebrities and other tastemakers. But it’s not just about our clothing, it’s in the phones we use and the bikes or cars we drive. It does not always mean high style. We all use clothing and other products to tell a story about ourselves, whether we realize it or not. So let’s place judgement aside, because this is really not about fashion. This is about the future of all species on this planet. So we better stop judging and get interested. What I am talking about is the billions of human lives who touch this industry every day whether they work in it or not. And also remember that hundreds of millions (if not billions) of humans, animals and acres of land that make up the supply chain that creates our textiles. It keeps world economies going and people fed and warm at night. The solution is not less bad. The solution is more good. Can I afford sustainable apparel? When we talk about increasing the price of apparel, we are not talking about the difference between $5.99 and $599 (or even $59 for that matter) . It’s price increases relative to the product (perhaps the difference between $5.99 and $6.99) in order to ensure better practices along the way to the consumer’s hands. Incremental increases in labor, sustainable materials, better (e.g. healthy and safe for people and ecological systems) chemistry for synthetic fibers and for the dyes and processing chemicals (which may include a price increase due to the cost of innovation). Traceable packaging, tags and labels also means we apply the same standards to the auxiliary materials as we do to the main materials in the products (fibers, yarns, trims, threads, zippers, buttons, etc..). I’ll just buy second-hand clothing. Another point the comment feed folks were making is around the need to increase our use of vintage, consignment and second hand apparel. There is no doubt that keeping a garment as a garment (or any product in it’s original design) for as long as we can will have the least possible impact spread across that product’s years of useful life. And yes, owning things better made and being able to enjoy them longer or pass them along to a second owner is a worthy pursuit. However, eventually everything comes to the end of life #1. It could be 6 months, 6 years or 60 years, but one day that dress is no longer a dress. This is why we must advocate for the creation of a circular economy of materials. So, one day when that garment can no longer be a garment, or even used as a rag, we will know what to do with the fibers and other materials? Have they been designed with toxic dyes and other chemicals that prevent their safe return to the biological system (think composting) or even a useful stream for upcycling? Many dyes and other chemicals can actually serve to prevent that material from being capable of recycling ad upcycling (either chemically or mechanically). So the first step is to employ the use of clean chemistry in a way that looks at what that material can become after it’s been used in apparel. That could mean we upcycle yarns or fibers back into yarns for the apparel industry or it could mean we take them back to the fiber or polymer level (depending if natural or synthetic fibers) and sell them to another industry. This requires take-back systems and the innovation for upcycling of fibers. Today, we are just embarking on the technology and the systems which will allow this to happen. But just like everything in the world of economics, we need supply and demand. That means, someone (some industry) must want those materials and someone else (along the chain from consumer to retailer to brand) must be engaged in a process for textile recovery. With the demand comes the investment and the innovation. Did you know it takes some brands more than 5 years to collect enough supply of their “Take-back” fleece pullovers, to be able to send that feed to a fiber recycler and put it back into a new product. That’s way too slow. We need more volume to create speed of moving materials. If more brands advocated for material reuse in their products (and at the same time advocate for collection and distribution of material for sale to other industries) we could begin to see the amount of volume needed to make the system work. Companies like I:CO (http://www.ico-spirit.com/en/homepage/) have been established to collect and process textiles. They already work with retailers like American Eagle, H&M, Levi’s and Puma, but they need more supply and demand than this. They are ready to grow exponentially. And we can help. Why less is not better! Finally another point I hear often (and read in the comment feed) is about buying less and using less. There is no doubt that consumption is an issue in the USA (if not the entire world). But why? Is consumption really the issue or is it the way in which we consume or use products and packaging that have not been optimized for material reuse, so therefore everything eventually ends up in a landfill. Making the choice to have less in your life is a personal call, but I don’t believe we should live in a world where we are forced to take shorter showers and eat less of certain types of food and feel guilty about our love for certain things. Wanting and having your creature comforts is a personal choice, and many could argue a great gift of the experience of being human and living in the material world. What we need is to design the materials and processes for products with new methods which ensure the use of safe materials; chosen for an intended use and end of use; powered by renewable energy with clean water stewardship and a high level of mindful uses of human, animal and land capital. If production on the planet was a positive force, we could all feel good about our individual footprint on the planet and our choices to have things. Keep in mind that even if we all cut our product use in half, or by more, we are living on a planet with diminishing resources and a growing world population. So we really have to go upstream and solve the problems at the origin of design and into the supply chain and not expect the solution to reside downstream with ourselves. Yes, we are a big part of the equation. Our greatest impact is with our purchasing power. We can drive this change by helping to create the demand for higher quality materials and production and making sure we get them back to a system that wants and needs them. Even with that t-shirt from Walgreens.