Sustainability and fashion – two words full of meaning that seem to collide, but where the social power of this mesmerizing industry strikes again, creating synergies between an apparent dichotomy. Environmental impact has been a hot issue in the recent years, and the fashion industry has often been placed on the other side of the spectrum, and classified as one of the most polluting industries in the planet. Last week, Kering published an ambitious sustainability report marking an important step towards a more sustainable luxury. Let’s see what its implications are.
Kering has been the first luxury giant to share publicly the environmental impact of its operations. Last weesk’s report has been just a closing remark after a 4-year plan of commitments to meet precise sustainable targets, encompassing CO2 emissions, water, waste and management of the key raw materials. According to Mr Pinault (Kering’s CEO and Chairman), COP21 in Paris has awakened increased responsibility, and “while we are inherently masters of creativity, establishing sustainable innovation in materials and processes is a new frontier for us and also for the entire fashion industry”.
50% of the group environmental impact occurs around production on raw materials, with an additional 25% for the processing. The greatest part of a luxury brand’s impact is to be found therefore upstream, and that’s why increased coordination with key suppliers becomes vital for ensuring sustainability and catalyze industry-wide change. Moreover, since outsourcing often occurs in less-regulated emerging countries, change also implies increased welfare and better environmental standards in less developed economies.
What has been practically done? Here’s a short list:
Production of leather contributes to gas emission and the massive land exploitation that characterize the beef meat industry. Leather is the material with the greatest environmental implications: Kering’s major brands rely on the “made in Italy” through its Italian tanneries with Gucci and Bottega Veneta as their key customers.
PVC and Chemicals
PVC has been almost fully eliminated by all collections. PVC is a substitute for leather and rubber whose chlorine content produces serious environmental and health risks. Likewise, chemicals in textiles and dyes pose serious environmental challenges. Kering has invested in R&D in order to develop alternative plastics and greener chemicals: an example is Stella McCartney’s bio-degradable bioplastic shoes. The problem? Luxury necessitates high quality and durable material options. Brands must ensure the same quality, the same color, the same touch, but neither such a big group as Kering has the sufficient power to encourage alternative research and productions by suppliers.
Precious skins and Furs, Gold, Diamonds
Those raw materials, coming mostly from emerging countries, required coordinated action with NGOs to ensure full traceability in operations. Diamonds and gold have been the unfortunate economic motives behind bloody wars, and a transparent supply chain in precious metals is more imperative than everywhere else. Nevertheless, only 15% of Kering’s targets in this field has been fulfilled. Precious skins and furs have been at the center of collaborations with local communities and vertical integration projects, such as the one concerning crocodile farming in Madagascar and Cambodia, monitoring trade and improvement of crocodile population. Women and men sandals collection of Bottega Veneta was produced thanks to those joint efforts.
Kering has also committed to use a minimum of 50% of recycled content in its paper and packaging, has diminished substantially CO2 emissions, water and chemical waste, and headed towards greener energy policies in stores. This required over 6000 suppliers audits, for an unknown cost which has likely had a significant impact on the group’s bottom line.
Regardless of the costs of such an environmentalist policy, Kering has initiated an important process with the ambitious aim of re-building a flawed business model, by ensuring transparency and full traceability of supply chains. This will require coordinated action across the luxury industry. In order to gain sufficient market power, all luxury brands – with all their customers and suppliers- will have to collaborate to create valuable change. Are we on the verge of a revolution? Consumers will play a big role in this game. Conscious awareness will be the driver of a healthy, sustainable demand.