Designer Eileen Fisher made an eight-year commitment to sustainable fashion four years ago, after having “an epiphany about the earth” and her responsibility as the owner of her own company. In the years since, the brand has been vocal about these efforts.
“We made a commitment that, by the year 2020, we would eliminate our top volume fabric, viscose,” said Amy Hall, director of sustainable consciousness at Eileen Fisher. “The only thing was, we didn’t know how to do that then.”
During the WGSN Futures conference on November 10, Hall said that pushing Eileen Fisher’s brand to become more sustainable meant figuring things out along the way. Eileen Fisher has always been upfront about this journey, choosing to call itself “sustainably conscious,” not sustainable, because it’s still putting out waste into the world. The company lists the factories it works with and the fabrics it uses, plus it lists plans for future innovations. This month, it will launch Remade, a recycled line of clothing made from past designs that customers donated back to the brand rather than discarding. A dress in the collection, for instance, could be comprised of three pairs of used pants.
Right now, transparency in fashion is trendy. As they figure out the future of sustainability in retail, startup retail disruptors like Everlane and American Giant lay bare their pricing models and supply chain partners in an attempt to rope in conscious customers and keep them along for the ride. Mass companies like H&M, Zara and Gap Inc. have adopted similar habits in order to do the same; for fast fashion brands, speaking out about transparency and sustainability helps keep protesters at bay.
Among luxury brands, though, there’s some hesitancy to display company practices when it comes to sustainability and transparency. Hall spoke to an experience a member of her team had with her counterpart at a British brand, which Hall wouldn’t name specifically.
“We asked the counterpart if the cotton they used was organic, and she said no,” said Hall. “She said even if it was, we wouldn’t say, because organic doesn’t sell in the luxury market. To us, that’s a call to action.”
Hall said that this mindset emphasizes the idea that sustainably made clothing has to be, above all, good product. But she pressed that brands have a responsibility to educate and engage customers on sustainable measures so that they can take further action as individuals.
Marco Lucietti, the global marketing director of Isko Textile, said that sustainable brands can’t “force-feed people with what they’ve done.” Instead, they should just make commitments and stand by them. Sustainability in fashion can still carry the mindset of burlap, rather than luxury.
“People have a conception about what sustainable means in fashion,” said Marco Lucietti, global marketing director of Isko Textile. “But it’s not granola, hippy shit.”
Lucietti said that, as customers grow accustomed to brands being more transparent about their supply chains and efforts to improve workers’ rights and the environmental impact of production, this mindset will shift, both of the consumer and of the legacy brands.
On the factory level, the shift has already begun to take place. Jag Gill, founder of Sundar, a digital materials sourcing platform, said that most brands, even high-end ones, are beginning to open up their factory lists in order to find ones with cleaner supply chains.
*This story first appeared on Glossy
The oceans are choked with discarded fishing nets, or ghost nets, that are estimated to kill 300,000 whales, dolphins and seals each year. It’s a grotesque and avoidable toll on nature, and one that Giulio Bonazzi, CEO of Aquafil, hopes to reduce using an unlikely ally – fashion.
The Italian firm is pioneering the use of “ghost” or discarded fishing nets to make a synthetic fabric marketed under the name Econyl that’s currently being used by several apparel brands, including Speedo and California surfer Kelly Slater’s Outerknown.
Last year, Aquafil regenerated more than 5,000 tons of discarded nets at its factory in Slovenia. With the exception of some fish farming nets, which are coated with copper oxide to prevent algae and cannot be used, the company receives the majority of its nets directly from fishermen, or through partnerships with two firms, Healthy Seas and Net-Works.
By breaking down the nets to a molecular level, the plastics are then recreated as yarn in a process the sustainability industry calls recommercialization. “If they know us, they contact us and we pay for the waste. They have to have a motivation to contact us. So they call us from all over. From California, from Australia. We take them from all over the world,” says Bonazzi, a former scuba diver.
The environmental problem of discarded fishing nets, or ghost nets, is well-documented. Some are accidentally lost during storms, or dumped deliberately. By some estimates, ghost netting and other discarded fishing gear makes up 10% of all marine litter. The cost to marine life is devastating.
The National Marine Fisheries Service reports an average of 11 entangled large whales per year from 2000 to 2012 along the US west coast. Between 2002 and 2010, 870 nets recovered from Washington state alone contained more than 32,000 marine animals.
Other initiatives include Fishing for Energy, a partnership between the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (Noaa) Marine Debris Program, Covanta and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and Schnitzer Steel to collect old fishing gear and reuse it either in recycling or to produce energy.
Aquafil’s proposition is to turn ocean waste into higher-value products. “If you can reach people with higher income then they’re always ready to pay something more for a product that responds to their needs and to their desires. And everybody wants some kind of exclusive product, and they feel that wasting is no longer connected to luxury.”
But fashion is fickle. Currently the fashion for nostalgia, and for an era before the advent of mass luxury is more apparent than ever. Warnings of a slump have been issued recently by luxury goods companies including Hermès and Richemont and there are fears that the industry could be forced into a fundamental shift in values.
The big question for the luxury market, say analysts, is whether the values of fashion and luxury can begin to acquire values that align with sustainability in a meaningful way.
Of course, the cost of the material is also a factor. And it depends which cost is most important to you. Recommercialized nylon is up to 6% more expensive to produce than new nylon. But creating fibre from recycled nets and carpet waste produces 50% less CO2 than typical, petroleum-based fibre production.
As the luxury industry reports a gloomy outlook, many companies are looking to reconfigure their notions of luxury to meet new consumer ideals around the ideas of recycling, repurposing and reclaiming.
“The more the fashion industry hears about us, the more they call when they need nylon as raw material,” says Bonazzi. Slowly, he says, “we are becoming more conscious and more aware. Of course, we all want to be rich but we also want to live.”
Some of the spirit of “ethical fashion” was on view at the periphery of New York’s fashion week last month where men’s clothing designer Heron Preston staged an event in a department of sanitation salt shed to draw attention to ways New Yorkers can reduce landfill waste, in this instance, by “upcycling” department uniforms into designer clothes.
Orsola de Castro, founder of Fashion Revolution and a leading campaigner for sustainable fashion, says any effort to reduce the environmental cost of clothes production and steer toward closed-loop technology in which 100% of fibres are recycled must be embraced.
“We have created an environmental crisis in the oceans of spectacular degree so any solution that helps us begin to redress the imbalance is a good solution,” she says.
But, she continues: “We’re coming off 25 years of product, product, product. And this is what people understand. It all needs to be seen as a part of a concerted effort to clean up to embrace technology to allow us to enjoy clothes again without necessarily feeling that it’s at the cost of the Earth.”
*This story first appeared on The Guardian
Learn more about the impact of fashion on our oceans here
With first access to Kering’s 2016 sustainability report, BoF speaks to chief sustainability officer Marie-Claire Daveu to unpick the data and what it reveals about luxury supply chains.
BY KATE ABNETTMAY 3, 2016 05:55
LONDON, United Kingdom — Today, French conglomerate Kering will publicly report its performance vis-à-vis sustainability targets voluntarily set in 2012 to reduce the group’s negative environmental and social impact, covering areas including CO2 emissions, hazardous chemicals and the way the company sources gold, leather and precious skins.
The report reveals a mixed picture of progress and pain points. The company has only reached 15 percent of its target to source 100 percent of its gold from verified responsible sources, for example, yet has achieved 99 percent of its target to make its collections PVC-free by 2016. Across its supply chains, the company has also managed to reduce carbon emissions by 11 percent, decrease its waste output by 16 percent and cut its water usage by 19 percent since 2012, falling short of its stated targets to slash all three by 25 percent.
“We have really made big changes,” Marie-Claire Daveu, chief sustainability officer and head of international institutional affairs at Kering, told BoF. Daveu, a trained engineer and former senior civil servant in the French ministry for ecology, joined Kering in 2012. “If we want to change the paradigm, it’s really key to exchange not only our successes, but to share why and where we have an issue to tackle,” she continued.
Kering, which owns a number of luxury fashion brands, including Gucci, Yves Saint Laurent, Bottega Veneta and Stella McCartney, has received recognition from third parties for its sustainability efforts, including the 2015 Dow Jones Sustainability Index and RobecoSAM, a global investments company with a specific focus on sustainability.
The report marks the first time a luxury group of this size has released a public report on the environmental and social impact of its supply chain. (Kering’s Environment Profit and Loss account, Kering’s analysis of its environmental impact, has also been made publicly available.) As such, it provides rare insight into the social and environmental impact a luxury conglomerate’s supply chain can have on the world, and why reducing that impact is tougher in some areas than others.
The production of raw materials accounts for 50 percent of Kering’s overall environmental impact, while processing those materials counts for an additional 25 percent.
Kering’s report demonstrates the varying scale of challenges within raw materials. In some areas, progress has been fast: the group reached 99 percent of its target to have PVC-free products by 2016, while 81 percent of Kering’s paper and packaging is now from certified sustainably managed forests, with a minimum of 50 percent recycled content. “The certification is already quite advanced. It’s straightforward for a company to purchase paper and packaging from certified sources,” explains Daveu.
Other areas present bigger challenges: against an aim to source 100 percent of its gold from verified sources that don’t harm ecosystems, wildlife or communities by 2016, the group achieved only 15 percent of its target.
“I am very proud of what we were able to do with gold,” said Daveu. In 2015, Kering brands bought 220 kgs of Responsible Jewelry Council Chain of Custody-certified gold, a figure Kering predicts will double this year. “At the beginning, it was about what we can define as ethical, and this kind of sourcing, and what does it mean operationally? You have to have a clear understanding of not only what’s happening in your company, but what’s happening all over the world: sourcing, legislation, best practices,” she continued.
Kering reached only 64 percent of its target to source 100 percent of its leather from responsible and verified sources that don’t result in converting sensitive ecosystems into agricultural land (within this, luxury bovine leather, which is sourced mostly in Europe, and therefore subject to EU regulations, reached 91 percent). Kering also aimed to source 100 percent of its crocodile, fur and precious skins from verified captive breeding or sustainably managed wild populations by 2016: it has reached 91 percent of its target for crocodile skin; 78 percent for shearling fur and 41 percent for precious skins. While the crocodile trade has had welfare and ecological standards in place for the last three decades, there are still “very few sources that are transparent enough and up to our standards” for precious skins, according to the report.
Indeed, some sustainability targets — say, switching to recycled packaging — can be tackled “inside the brands, inside the companies,” explained Daveu, while gold or precious skins sourcing, which occur in emerging markets with less industry regulation than Europe, require collaboration. “You need to meet with NGOs, experts, with other industries,” she continued. On skins, Kering has formed the Python Conservation Partnership, with the International Trade Centre and International Union for Conservation of Nature; on gold sourcing, it is being advised by NGOs including Solidaridad.
Another way to tackle these issues is vertical integration — by owning its facilities, a company can exercise more control over the welfare and environmental standards implemented there. As a conglomerate, Kering has some advantages in this area — as well as having its own distribution and logistics firm, Kering owns the Blutonic leather tannery in Tuscany — where it has implemented an IT tool to trace the tannery’s leather back to the farm or country of origin, and also developed metal-free tanning for Gucci products — as well as France Croco, a French tannery specialising in crocodile, and the Italian Caravel tannery, which specialises in precious skins.
Back in 2012, Kering committed to reduce the carbon emissions, waste and water use throughout its supply chains by 25 percent by 2016. To date, it has reduced emissions by 11 percent, waste by 16 percent and water by 19 percent, missing all three targets.
Progress on waste includes a “no box” policy, which swapped its primary shipment packaging for bags and suitcases from cartons to recyclable bags; a new process that turns its luxury brands’ leather offcuts into organic fertiliser: since 2013, the Bottega Veneta sites involved in the programme have generated almost 120 tonnes of offcuts, recycling two-thirds of this. Kering also operates a programme at Gucci to use crocodile offcuts to make shoes: in 2013 alone, 1,825 pairs were made this way.
On energy savings, the group has rolled out LED lights in its stores, installed energy monitoring systems at nearly 500 of its sites, and since 2012, more-than quadrupled the amount of renewable energy it bought, meaning 24.5 percent of Kering’s energy was renewable in 2015.
However, according to Daveu, for a company of Kering’s size, zero emissions would be “physically impossible.” While Kering has zoned in on where its supply chain has the biggest impact — 69 percent of its emissions in its supply chain come from raw material production — the company “offsets” its remaining scope 1 and 2 emissions (which cover Kering’s own emissions, but not those of outsourced activities, such as emissions from factories the group does not own), meaning it contributes funds to environmental projects proportional to the level of its own environmental impact, an alternative to actually reducing emissions. “You have to adapt to the best practices, and at the end of the day, if you are not able to emit zero emissions, we think it is our responsibility to offset that,” said Daveu.
For hazardous chemicals, Kering set a target for 2020, rather than 2016 and hasn’t reported how close it is to achieving this target. “When it was decided in 2012, we were very conscious that it will need work, research,” said Daveu, of why this target required more time. Better “green” chemical products still need to be developed, she added, in order to remove hazardous chemicals completely and ensure that swapping out existing chemicals will still achieve a luxury-level quality of product. “We need to have more research to be sure that when you substitute, you have the same quality, the same colour, the same sensation, touch.”
The final part of Kering’s report looks at its social impact. Kering’s set target was to evaluate all key suppliers at least once every two years, and the company has since performed 6,000 supplier audits, which according to the company, covers most of its direct and indirect suppliers. The results of these audits are made publicly available in the company’s annual Reference Document.
“It’s an ongoing process. You have to be sure first that all the compliance standards are applied, all over the world,” said Daveu, of why the data is presented differently here to in other areas of the report. “When you are speaking about audits, you are checking your requests are really applied in the factories. It’s another kind of KPI.”
“When it’s linked with the social side, zero risk doesn’t exist,” she added. “The most important work you can do with your supplier is to explain why it’s key and why in the future, for them, it’s not only to be pleasant to the requests of Kering, but it’s also key for them for their own development.”
Kering declined to reveal the financial cost of its sustainability programmes and whether these initiatives were good for the bottom line. However, small points of data in the report — for example, in 2015, Gucci earmarked €2.4 million to replace lights in stores with energy-efficient LEDs — suggest the total sum spent on these activities is significant.
“I don’t have a number to say thanks to sustainability, our business is growing by ABC percent. I can’t say that. But again, we don’t do it for that. We do sustainability because we believe in it and we think that if we want to continue our business, it’s not an option, it’s a necessity,” said Daveu. In a report released in 2015 with non-profit consultancy Business for Social Responsibility, Kering laid out how climate change posed a significant threat to the sourcing of raw materials like cashmere and cotton, which the group relies on to make its products.
“You have to accept a different kind of payback, different kind of ROI. That’s why the most important thing is the commitment of the top management,” concluded Daveu.
*This story first appeared on The Business of Fashion