Immersion: Luxury fashion industry sees the seeds of sustainability grow

Today, the fashion industry has become the second most polluting in the world, only behind the oil industry. Leading by example, the luxury fashion industry has made rethinking its entire business model from scratch a priority, bringing new challenges and benefits.

Oprah Winfrey’s presence at British designer Stella McCartney’s fashion show surprises the public. But that’s not all. On the catwalk, models are parading in coats made of sustainable viscose from certified forests, recycled fabrics from the designer’s previous collections are the material of a maxi dress and vegan jackets made without skin. This collection was critically acclaimed as the most sustainable ever designed to date. The designer confesses that, from the beginning, McCartney aspired to be the most sustainable brand in the fashion circuit. Twenty years later, she adds, it will soon become a zero-impact brand.

Measurements in red

The fashion industry is responsible for 10% of the world’s carbon footprint, the world’s largest user of herbicides and pesticides, and its local consumption of fresh water is increasing at a time when more and more alarm bells are ringing due to water shortages. Elsewhere, the greenhouse gas emissions levels of this industry exceed those of the transport industry.

Nathalie Lebas-Vautier, founder and CEO of Good Fabric, the ecologically responsible fashion consultant, has seen these metrics gradually worsen. When Xavier Marie, along with two other investment funds, acquired Eric Bompard, the French cashmere brand, in January 2018, he drew on Lebas-Vautier’s expertise to serve as head of the brand’s Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) department. Together they aspire to become a fully sustainable brand by 2025.

At Bompard’s helm, Xavier Marie can’t even imagine putting a product on the market without knowing where it comes from: “We believe that companies are fully responsible for the product they put on the market,” says Lebas-Vautier, “this goes hand in hand with our social responsibility. Totally committed to their goal by 2025, they have established a strategy in which all their partners will be audited, even on farms, to have a 360° view of the business. “Who are the people working in the fields? Do they receive an adequate salary? How do they live? How are the animals fed? How is cashmere fibre processed? We don’t care about declaratory acts. We are definitely living the day-to-day production,” he confirms.

More than ever, as consumer inquiries into the origin of products increase and resources become scarcer, there are compelling arguments for fashion industry players to improve on these issues – and all the more so because it will generate long-term financial benefits. According to the Pulse report of the Boston Consulting Group, on the basis of rising costs of labour and other resources, “continuing as before will lead to a reduction in the EBIT margin of 3 to 4 percentage points by 2030”. Instead, the report suggests that implementing a sustainable roadmap will generate an increase in EBIT of 1 to 2 percent. Since 2017, in collaboration with Global Fashion Agenda, the leading forum on sustainability in Fashion, the Pulse of the Fashion Industry report reveals what the industry’s position is on its environmental and social performance.

Over the past year, Pulse’s score on the fashion industry increased from 32 to 38. Larger companies can rely on stronger financial structures to invest and innovate around sustainable actions. However, the Pulse score for fashion mastodons is moving at a slower pace than the rest of the industry, and highlights an area where no scalable and commercially viable solutions have yet been found for them. In contrast, smaller companies are more agile in implementing disruptive technologies.

After conducting interviews and reviewing best practices, the Pulse report proposes a roadmap for application in all companies in the fashion industry, regardless of size and geographical location, in order to implement high-impact solutions now. The curve reflects a three-phase path to a healthy Pulse score.

We believe that companies are fully responsible for the product they place on the market, this goes hand in hand with our social responsibility.
Nathalie Lebas-Vautier, founder and Executive Director of Good Fabric

The first period, “Building the Grassroots,” sees the organization as a unit that goes beyond uncoordinated and dispersed actions and a commitment to improving its environmental and social impact. It is at this point that sustainable objectives are established and also linked to the strategy, values and DNA of the business in general. Typically, companies start by applying traceability measures in the supply chain to understand existing opportunities and challenges. During the second phase, “Implementation of key instruments”, companies take concrete steps to modify their processes: improve material mix, reduce chemicals, etc. They often use the help of existing or new suppliers to improve the production process. In the third phase, “Expansion to scale”, they envisage the extension by the company of these new processes throughout the organisation and the allocation of new investments to new innovations.

Towards global ecological hegemony

A decade after the first edition of the Copenhagen Fashion Summit, the annual event in May 2019 brought together the top names in the fashion industry, François-Henri Pinault, President and CEO of Kering, Eric Sprunk, COO of Nike, Anna Geda, CEO of H&M Sustainability or Steven Kolb, President and CEO of the Council of American Fashion Designers, demonstrating that sustainability is gaining momentum.

Autor: Global Blue