HOW CAN WE ACT
Voices in media and academia needed make visible to wider audiences the true magnitude of our collective behaviour.
"I find myself casting around for an easy equation to adopt when weighing up a purchase. Should I save up for a much-lusted after Givenchy leather blazer, at £3,174, knowing I will wear it for life – or the faux leather Low Classic alternative, at £355, which I may well go off in several months’ time? Should I indulge my animal-lover instincts in favour of a synthetic alternative that may well have a far harsher impact on the environment? What about microfibres? What about fossil fuels? What about shipping, and packaging, and dry cleaning?
There are some big issues in the production of leather [but] I do think that “vegan leather” is a marketing disaster,” she says. “Brands and suppliers are jumping on this term to associate with an ethical movement, which instantly makes the consumer feel good. But if you are buying faux leather, you need to consider you are buying plastic.”
Reuse recycle or resale:
There is a lack of understanding that clothes, despite their condition, can often be re-used, and that organisations can gain revenue from selling ‘bulk’ textiles for re-use/recycling.
The key opportunity lies in making it clear to consumers that various organisations have a use for clothing textiles. This needs to be supported by providing convenient collection methods, which keep clothing in good condition wherever possible. By overcoming this perception barrier, charities, local authorities and other organisations can increase the volume of clothing available to them for recycling – and so gain more revenue from textiles in addition to any income from clothing that is resold.
WRAP have produced a number of re-use how to guides which focus on promoting partnership working between local authorities, waste management companies and third sector organisations. The guide How to write a communications plan to boost re-use provides a step by step guide which will support any campaigns to raise awareness about clothing re-use and recycling.
Brands won’t listen out of their own volition to workers in their supply chain, but brands do listen to what the consumer want, and they also do listen to what governments want. So consumers who stand up and tell brands ‘hey brands. I really like the clothes that you’re making, you’re really my favorite brand I love the clothes you are making, I wear them every day. But what can you tell me about who is making my clothes.
What can you tell me about the conditions there and what can you tell me about what you have been doing in order to improve the conditions of that person and is that delivering results?’ The more people that ask these sort of difficult questions. The more brands will take them into account.
#Who Made My Clothes? A Fashion Revolution campaign. “We often call ourselves “pro-fashion protesters” because we love fashion, but we want to see the fashion industry stop exploiting people and harming the environment.”
Buy less, buy better, wear longer, never throw away
1. Look out for plastic on the label
Single-use plastic is one of the biggest issues we are currently facing as a planet, but you may not be aware that plastic has also infiltrated our clothes in the form of fibres. Indeed, it’s hard to avoid them – polyester, nylon, and rayon are simply elevated terms for plastic. Particular offenders include activewear, as these items are almost entirely made from these fabrics. Luckily, there are a host of new lines offering natural fibre activewear alternatives. We stock an incredible line called Vyayama that makes yoga pieces from things like bamboo, tencel and cupros, all-natural materials that biodegrade, making them better for the planet, not to mention your skin. And if you can't afford to invest in new pieces just yet, buy yourself a Guppyfriend washing sack, which acts as a filter for microfibres and prevents them escaping into the water supply.
2. Seek out vintage
There are so many amazing sources of vintage fashion that offer guilt-free fashion purchases. I have found silk slips from the Twenties to sleep in, flowy dresses from the Seventies from my mother’s closet (she finds it hysterical how much I love them) and a particularly amazing Belstaff biker jacket in pristine condition I found in a small vintage shop in Venice. All these pieces I treasure and take care of because I know they are one-of-a-kind. La Double J has some great options, and Vestiaire Collective is another wonderful resource for finding pre-loved luxury goods.
3. Shop less, shop better
Invest more in fewer pieces and try to avoid flash-in-the-pan trends. Estimates suggest more than half of all clothing purchases are discarded in less than a year. Landfills burn the equivalent of one garbage truck full of garments each and every second. Whittling down your purchases to only those items you truly love will make you feel more confident, too.
4. Rethink your beauty choices
Choose organic and plastic-free products, and especially try to stamp out silicone from your routine. Silicone is essentially a plastic that is put in conventional beauty products to make it go further and produce more dramatic results – think huge black eyelashes, for instance. At our recent REV Talk at Soho House on the subject of organic beauty we also learned that the petroleum in your lip salve is derived from the same petroleum you would put in your car. The best thing you can do is look for products that have the simplest ingredients in the bottle and are certified organic. If you’re looking at labels, the word “natural” doesn’t really mean much – it’s most likely just marketing! My personal favourite brands are Kjaer Weis and Manasi 7 for make-up and Aurelia for skincare. Neighbourhood Botanicals Daily Glow is my new go to for face oil, it smells incredible.
Only wash your clothes when you need to. Given that up to 700,000 microfibres can detach in a single wash , ask yourself if that item really needs to be washed or can it be worn once or twice more before you do?
You can also use a Cora Ball and Guppyfriend bag, which are devices created to capture microfibres when washing our clothes. Although these can’t solve the problem, we still want to divert as many microfibres as we can from entering our waterways.
It continues to surprise people that even washing our clothes can add to the problem. But if we all start making changes, this is a problem we can fix.
In the luxury industry, we work differently from the fashion and the garment industry because we’re so focused on the high end production. So really when it comes to sourcing materials, we don’t just buy commodities– we invest in communities. We go and meet the people that produce our raw materials, because we need to make sure that they are well compensated for what they do. And we support local livelihoods, and we help them apply sustainable, responsible production methods.
And we need to ensure the activity itself is healthy and resilient Their ways of working date back from generations, and this is very precious, but this is disappearing. So really the conservation of the traditional ways of working is an imperative for us.
Manufacturers cannot justify investments that usually offer no immediate return on investment or guarantee that brands will stick with them.
Stand.earth and other renewable energy advocates say fashion brands should pressure governments to make climate-friendly energy and development decisions as a condition of doing business in their countries.
Last week, H&M, Adidas, Puma, Gap, Nike and Specialized wrote to the Cambodian government protesting the country’s proposed increase in coal power, saying it could hurt the country’s prospects of attracting future investment in its manufacturing industry.
“If [brands] are demanding and say, ‘We want access to renewables or we’ll go somewhere else,’ it can be a compelling value proposition.”
Cook is confident that fashion brands can be as effective in negotiating environmental requirements into their agreements with suppliers as they are with price and product specifications.
End child labour
In order for brands to ensure that there aren’t children working in the production of their goods, it is important for brands to map their suppliers all the way down to the raw material. It isn’t enough for a brand to know the factory where their shirts were made. Fashion brands need to trace the product from farm to fibre to textile to finished garment. Child labour tends to occur most frequently at earlier stages of production on farms and in textile mills.
Interventions can be really effective. For example, we think that the Montreal Protocol made a massive difference to ozone-depleting gases.
A demand-driven, flexible supply chain is more important than ever
Re-mapping the sourcing mix, to better balance risk, cost, and flexibility.
This includes diversifying sourcing country strategies, implementing nearshoring and dual sourcing, and moving towards an integrated value chain.
2. Forging stronger supplier partnerships, to drive innovation, secure supply, and support suppliers. This includes moving away from transactional relationships to partnering with suppliers for end-to-end process improvement and finding new investment models.
3. Digitizing the value chain, and keeping many of the recent innovations as common practice after the crisis, including holistic digital and analytics strategies and providing roadmaps for the full value chain.
4. Adapting operating models—and mindsets, including adapting company cultures, implementing new collaborative models, and taking an agile approach to transformation. Re-mapping the sourcing mix Fashion players need to re-map their sourcing mix to better balance risk, cost, and flexibility of supply.
Fashion stakeholders and sourcing executives indicate that sourcing volume will likely shift from China to other Asian countries over the next year. At the same time, the need for agility and risk reduction is boosting nearshoring and regional supply chain development. 60 percent of the broader group of fashion stakeholders and Sourcing Journal readers indicated that they expect at-scale and highly capable apparel manufacturing clusters will emerge more quickly in nearshore markets, for example in Eastern Europe and Central America. Slightly more believe that more integrated regional supply chains will be developed, reducing dependency on international fabric imports. The impact of COVID-19 has already led to short-term sourcing mix disruptions.
To leverage the speed and flexibility opportunities inherent in nearshoring, companies will need to set up an integrated value chain to avoid delays and disruptions in raw material supply, balance higher labor cost, and take advantage of potential sustainability gains. For this to happen, fabric and garment supply chains will have to be co-located nearshore, but there may be inertia in making this move and scaling up production. Full speed and flexibility will likely be reached once fabric production follows CMT. Specifically, this model offers far more speed and full flexibility in design by eliminating long lead-times in design processes due to shipping and allows for greater freedom.
But this model has challenges too, one being the varying local supply of fibers. There is a fair supply of cotton fiber available nearshore, particularly for North American players, but the vast majority of polyester is produced in Asia and will prove a bigger challenge in the short term.
Generating investment will be a major challenge as yarn-spinners and fabric mills are high volume and capital intensive. Additionally, a move to an integrated value chain will require streamlining and innovation, especially in design and production, to fully leverage any potential benefits.
The Supply Chain Tiers
Tier 4: Raw Material Suppliers (sub-suppliers)
Raw material suppliers are those who produce the materials, substances or commodities used in the primary production step of a product. This is the very first step in the development of a product at the beginning of the supply chain. For example gold miners, or leather, cashmere, cotton and silk farmers.
-> Raw material suppliers have strict timings that are often fixed due to agricultural or animal needs (e.g. shearing season for wool, cotton harvesting) or have special “to order” production (e.g. recycled synthetics) which may take longer unless they have volume orders to create stock. Therefore, sustainable raw materials are not always available on demand and the integration of new raw material sourcing into an existing supply chain takes time, advance planning and commitment. Moreover, to identify and develop a more sustainable way to produce a raw material also takes a significant amount of time and investment and may require suppliers to change their conventional business models or their agricultural practices. For example, even though organic cotton can lead to better financial and health prospects, the transition period to organic cotton farming requires three years, education, monetary investment for certification and usually leads to lower cotton yields before the benefits of lower input costs and better financial situations can be felt.
Long-term commitments from multiple players in the supply chain are necessary, not just by the raw material suppliers themselves but also by upstream suppliers and the brand. Such raw material suppliers ultimately cannot change the system by themselves, since their production is intrinsically linked to the demands coming from upstream suppliers and brands in the market.
Tiers 3 & 2: Raw Material Processing & Sub-Component Suppliers (sub-suppliers)
Both are sub-suppliers of a brand, providing processed raw materials (e.g. processed fibres, yarns, tanned leather) and other components (e.g. embroidery, metal finishings) to a brand’s direct suppliers.
Traditionally, the processing of raw materials and the production of sub-components require large amounts of water, energy, chemicals and so forth, which means large environmental impacts. For example, processing raw cotton into yarn consumes energy and water, which creates air pollution, GHG emissions and water impacts; whilst processing precious metals has a significant impact on water pollution because of the chemicals used in extraction and in the refining process.
Similar to Tier 4, improving processing and manufacturing methods requires a collaborative approach. Tier 2 and 3 suppliers need to work with their suppliers (Tier 4), with their clients (Tier 1) and with the brand (Tier 0) to develop more sustainable practices, while still respecting the quality, timing and other demands of the brand. Actions can range from short-term low-cost changes such as switching to LED lighting, to longer-term projects such as the development of a metal-free tanning process or the phase-out of hazardous chemicals from dyeing processes.
In addition, the suppliers producing processed fibres, yarns, finished fabrics or components are often the ones purchasing the raw materials for their production, and are a crucial link in the supply chain to ensure traceability, transparency and more sustainable sourcing of raw materials. These players in the supply chain need to be willing to ask for and invest in sourcing more sustainable alternatives in order to have a suitable range of materials ready for a finished product supplier or brand to integrate into their final offerings. At the same time, these players are confronted with pressure from a competitive market to offer low prices, high quality, multiple choices and fast turnaround – creating a challenging environment for sustainable sourcing, which requires time and investment as well as commitment and planning for future demands.
In a typical business model, material suppliers keep stock available in order to be able to offer brands a large variety of different materials and fulfil last-minute demands for changes to colour, quality, types of yarns or fabrics. However, without a significant demand from the entire market, the integration of sustainable, often more expensive, raw materials into this available stock is still a risky business proposition for many material suppliers. Therefore, in transitioning to the utilisation of more sustainable materials, brands may find it easier to target materials (fabrics or yarns) that are carried over through multiple seasons in order to have better predictability regarding material choice and volumes.
Tier 1: Manufacturing Suppliers (direct suppliers)
Tier 1 suppliers are those who produce the final product for a brand, otherwise known as manufacturing suppliers, final assembly suppliers or more commonly direct suppliers.
-> Manufacturing suppliers depend significantly on what the downstream suppliers (Tiers 2, 3 and 4) can provide them to meet the demands of their client (the brand). Since most brands and manufacturing suppliers choose their production materials from Tier 3, unless the Tier 1 supplier is vertically integrated, the main sustainability challenges at Tier 1 are the management of waste, recycling and energy or social issues as well as guarding the integrity of the supply chain at the manufacturing stage.
Tier 0: The Brand (creative, operations, logistics, retail)
The brand is the key decision maker of the supply chain, and ideally, brands would be able to ensure that all stakeholders who work directly or indirectly for the brand are acting in the interest of the brand – whether it be in terms of price, quality, ethical or sustainability requirements.
-> However, supply chains are complex systems, made up of multiple stakeholders with different and competing interests, and often brands may only have visibility of its direct Tier 1 suppliers and might have limited or no contact with the indirect suppliers (Tier 2, 3 and 4 suppliers). In fashion brands, supply chains are even more complex since the business may change from season to season, year to year, designer to designer. Material choices are traditionally based on creativity, aesthetics, quality and price, and sustainability is often not a primary consideration.
In order to truly integrate sustainability, a brand needs to maximise transparency and collaboration within its supply chain, from the cotton field to the creative studio and to the boutique. A first step for a brand is to investigate its supply chain, including its direct and indirect operations, to understand where the biggest impacts occur and to identify where change is needed. By measuring and monitoring the entire supply chain on a continuous basis, as Kering does via its Environmental Profit & Loss, a brand can take steps to ensure its operations and products are as sustainable as possible. A brand can also pressure the supply chain, by asking questions to their direct suppliers to obtain greater visibility and by demanding more sustainable alternatives.
Renewable energy for the processes
Companies that set a 100% renewable energy goal for the supply chain send a powerful signal to the market that greater weight will be given to those suppliers and locations that can rely more heavily on renewable sources of electricity. But unless brands are willing to retake ownership of key segments of production to give greater control over energy inputs and performance, a new partnership between brands and supplier is what is most needed to drive the renewable energy transition, requiring a departure from the price-based paradigm the global brands have built their global supply chains around, and embrace the sharing of capital costs with their suppliers.
Companies making progress in sustainability are investing in programs to help their suppliers achieve rapid efficiency measures, evidenced by Levi’s, PUMA, and VF Corp’s work with the IFC and Clean by Design in multiple countries and PaCT in Bangladesh to create energy efficiency pilot programs. VF Corp reports 10-20% in energy savings at the 18 suppliers participating.20 These programs will need to be rapidly scaled up to achieve similar reductions across all suppliers.
Renewables are currently the cheapest source of new power generation in most of the world, with the average global purchase for new utility-scale solar PV and onshore wind turbines able to beat or compete with the marginal operating cost of existing coal plants. Corporate demand for renewable electricity is now one the largest drivers of new renewable electricity generation in many markets, yet most of the fashion industry has thus far lagged behind in taking meaningful steps to transition away from their dependence on coal and other fossil fuels. This means not only stopping newly proposed coal plants, but decommissioning existing plants as well, and replacing them with cleaner and increasingly cheaper sources of renewable energy than existing coal and gas-fired power plants. Corporate demand has shown to be a powerful driver not only for renewable energy investments, but also increasingly for helping move utilities to divest from fossil fuel-based generation and transmission assets, particularly when combined with government policy advocacy (see Renewable Energy Advocacy section below). Roughly half of the fashion sector’s supply chain carbon emissions are attributed to electricity consumption in Tiers II, III, and IV. Depending on the size of the load and options for renewable energy procurement in the country or region, a mix of strategies may be needed to meet electricity and thermal demand with renewable sources.
The rapid growth in the number of committed fashion companies combined with high quality renewables procurement will ensure companies play a significant role in delivering 100% renewable energy that will displace coal and other sources of dirty energy in key supply chain countries, dramatically reducing their supply chain carbon footprint.
The letter recently sent by Adidas, Gap, H&M, Nike, and Puma to the Cambodian government expressing strong concerns over the planned tripling of coal fired power generation and the potential impact on future investment is an excellent example of the proactive advocacy needed from the fashion industry to move their supply chains off of coal.4
Circularity is an increasingly popular concept in the fashion industry as a tool to radically drawdown the multiple negative impacts of clothing including GHG emissions. Increasing recycled material content and the longevity of apparel and shoes are central to circularity and requires investments in research and development of new materials.
Recycled materials can decrease emissions associated with material production and many companies are setting big recycled material targets in their sustainability plans. At present most recycled material commitments, particularly for polyester, are being met with material from other waste streams, such as plastic water bottles, rather than closed loop recycling from polyester fabrics. Materials targets focused on sustainability, renewability, and regenerative agriculture highlight the need for a better understanding exactly what those terms mean, how they can be quantified, and establishing appropriate limits to what impact brands can claim.
A shift away from plastic based fabrics to longer lasting and more durable materials will greatly reduce the demands the fashion industry is placing on the planet, but must also include putting a priority on apparel design that both enables repairability during use and recyclability at the end of product life, to reduce the huge amount of clothing waste currently generated. More durable materials, more easily recycled fabric blends, and repair services have been launched by Levi’s and a few fashion brands, which show the potential to significantly extend the investment of the earth’s resources into our fashion, both of which would ultimately reduce the rapidly growing waste stream and support more circular production models. *
RECYCLING STATE OF MIND
Ever wonder what happens to your smartphone when it goes caput? Well, in a few years you might be wearing some version of your phone on your wrist, or perhaps in the shape of a pendant dangling from your neck, especially if you purchase your jewellery from Pandora.
Earlier this year, the world’s largest jewellery company pledged to stop using newly mined silver and gold in all of its jewellery by 2025. Why mine precious metals when you can source them from old silverware, recycled electronics, such as mobile phones or defunct computers, or other industrial waste? This is the mindset behind Pandora’s latest initiative and ongoing efforts to become a low-carbon business.
Currently, 71% of the silver and gold in Pandora’s jewellery comes from recycled sources. By making the transition to exclusively using recycled silver and gold will allow the company to significantly reduce CO2 emissions, water usage, as well as curb thenegative impacts on human rights and the environment that accompany mining.
To say the least, mining new metals is a resource-intensive endeavour. For a practice whose historical roots extend back to the time of the Egyptians and Sumerians, mining remains a cumbersome process, and one whose carbon footprint can no longer be ignored against mounting concern over climate change. For instance, the carbon emissions from sourcing of recycled silver are one third compared to mined silver, while recycling of gold emits approximately 600 times less carbon than mining new gold, according to life cycle assessments.
“Silver and gold are beautiful jewellery materials that can be recycled forever without losing their quality. Metals mined centuries ago are just as good as new,” said CEO Alexander Lacik. “They will never tarnish or decay. We wish to help develop a more responsible way of crafting affordable luxury like our jewellery and prevent these fine metals end up in landfills. We want to do our part to build a more circular economy.”
PERK NOT PERIL
For years, experts have argued that metals enclosed in electronic products could be used instead of mining. Fortunately, the quality of recycled material is the same as new silver or gold, which means that the finished product of say, a charm bracelet or a necklace, will be no different and its owner none the wiser. However, it will take time for the company’s suppliers to successfully make the shift, particularly since Pandora uses roughly 750,000 pounds of silver per year— more than any other company in the industry. In 2019, the company sold 96 million pieces of jewellery.
For Lacik and his team, the company’s shift to using 100% recycled silver and gold marks an exciting chapter in the jewellery powerhouse’s thirty-eight-year history. Further efforts to reduce carbon emissions are currently afoot and they include two additional targets: the company aims to source 100% renewable electricity at its two crafting facilities in Thailand by 2020; and as well as become carbon neutral in its operations—all by the year, 2025.
Recognising that climate change is one of the greatest challenges confronting the world today, Pandora feels compelled to act and by doing so, become a leading example to the industry. Having reaped numerous successes since its inception in 1982, the Pandora team believe that the same ingenuity that brought them global success can help lead their sustainability transformation. “
Shipping emissions also have a significant impact on air quality at a regional level connected to port and coastal communities, contributing to hundreds of thousands premature deaths and millions of cases of childhood asthma each year.60
One of the most immediate and effective strategies for fashion brands to reduce shipping related emissions is simply a matter of speed. Air cargo shipments, which are often used in a fast-fashion business model to speed delivery, carry an emissions footprint typically 40-50 times higher than a similar shipment by cargo ship.67 Simply switching to ocean cargo or rail freight can dramatically cut emissions. Ocean cargo shipping emissions could be cut an additional 30% or more if fashion brands shifted to carriers that have adopted “slow steaming” practices in the operation of their shipping fleets, as a 20% reduction in speed can deliver dramatic reductions in GHG emissions (34%), black carbon (20%) and other air pollution by one-third.6
Zero-emission technology pathways using ammonia and renewably produced hydrogen have already begun to emerge, but to trigger the investment needed for a rapid shift away from fossil fuels like HFO to low and zero-carbon cargo vessels in the coming 5-10 years, strong demand from major shipping customers is recognized as critical.71 By committing to relying exclusively on ZEV cargo shipping no later than 2030, fashion brands can play a major role in catalyzing the necessary investment in vessels and port infrastructure that will enable a deep decarbonization of shipping.
Leather: the pros and cons
The fashion and textile industry needs to reduce its damaging environmental and social impacts across the supply chain. One way to do this is to replace high-impact fibres and processes with alternatives that are organic or use low or zero chemicals.
Earlier we heard from Dr. Helen Crowley who informed us that leather has been used by humans for thousands of years. She pointed out that there is not just one type of leather but many depending on the animal, the breed, its age and the conditions in which the animal has lived.
Buying consciously from the Amazon means supporting brands that are Amazon-first, putting the ecology and people of the biome above profit and volume. Here are our top brands investing in the Amazon rather than exploiting it.
The Brazilian Amazon is the only place on Earth where rubber trees grow in a wild state. Environmentalist Bia Saldanha moved her family to the Chico Mendes reserve in Acre (named after the activist murdered in 1998 for his work) many years ago and works with 20 seringueiros families rubber tapping wild trees sustainably. Two or three times a week, the seringueiros collect 12kg of wild rubber primarily destined for the soles of Veja trainers, made in Portugal in a fair-trade factory. In 2018, this collaboration preserved 90 hectares of forest, says Saldanha.
Transition away from fossil fuel fabrics to low carbon textiles
PHASING OUT FRACKING As an immediate step, global fashion brands should commit to phase out the use of polyester, nylon and other fossil fuel based synthetic fabrics derived from hydraulic fracking in their clothing, motivating polyester suppliers to secure fossil fuel feedstock from sources that are not polluting local communities or driving the expansion of drilling. Fracking is not only driving higher CO2 emissions, but also methane emissions, a global warming super-pollutant. Recent studies have linked one-third of the dramatic spike in global methane emissions over the past decade to the dramatic increase in fracking of shale oil and gas reserves in the United States and Canada.55
TRANSITION TO LOW CARBON PLANT-BASED FIBERS A shift to plant-based textiles such as hemp or organic cotton can significantly reduce emissions and dependence on fossil fuels, but need to be carefully selected to avoid unsustainable levels of water consumption or human rights impacts. Transitions to virgin viscose, a plant based fabric derived from wood or bamboo pulp, should be limited, given the significant carbon and biodiversity impacts associated with its production.56 Many fashion brands have already begun experimenting with other sources of plant based fiber, including agricultural waste, but will require significant retooling of existing pulp production capacity to scale.57
TOOLs FOR SOURCING ALTERNATIVE PACKAGING ALTERNATIVE ….
The Leather Working Group is a multi-stakeholder initiative involving brands, suppliers, manufacturers, NGOs and end users. It uses an audit protocol that assesses the environmental compliance and performance capabilities of tanners, and promotes sustainable environmental business practices within the leather industry.
Textile Exchange are working on a Responsible Leather Assessment tool.
The luxury end of the market has seen a revival of the ancient technique of tanning with plant extracts. Bark, wood, berries, roots and leaves are used to colour and preserve the hides, producing far less harmful waste, and biodegradable leather. It does however, take much longer than chemical processing.
The Tanners Extract Producers Federation (TEPF) is dedicated to spreading best practice among tanners to promote vegetable leather use for designers and consumers. I
Novo Campo promotes sustainable practices on cattle ranches in the Amazon region contributing to reducing deforestation.
Synthetic alternatives to leather have existed for several years – such as polyurethane (PU). While this scores better than leather on the Higg Index with lower scores for global warming and pollution, disposal of PU poses its own environmental problems. More sustainable solutions are in development from international chemicals groups – high-grade artificial leathers and suedes derived from recycled polyester and using non-toxic dyes, destined for use in apparel, footwear and accessories.
Natural alternatives being trialled for use in footwear and accessories include cork fabric from Mediterranean Cork Oak trees, bark fibre reinforced with polymers, and leather substitutes derived from pineapple, grapes, mushrooms and seaweed.
Yet the alternative faux leathers come at a significant environmental cost. Both polyurethane and polyvinyl chloride must undergo chemical processes to make them flexible enough to mimic leather: the former involves painting liquified polyeurethane onto a fabric backing, which requires a toxic solvent to render it fluid; the latter requires placticizers such as phthalates, which are also toxic. Both derive from fossil fuels which, when burnt, release materials such as ash, nitrogen and carbon into the atmosphere, which contribute to acid rain (as well as lots of other horrible things).
Meanwhile, the term “vegan fashion” has been responsible for over 9.3 million social impressions.
Aesthetics, beauty, style, quality materials, fit and desirability are core features of luxury fashion design, and it is important to acknowledge how difficult it has been to change the public perspective of and demand for products made sustainably. Eco design has had an unfavourable name for years, and it has been a challenge for designers not to sacrifice the ‘cool’ label for ‘ethical and responsible’. Fortunately, over the last couple of years, some of these attitudes have begun to change, and many designers now desire to affect change towards sustainability.
Deforestation and sustainable viscose
Viscose is a semi-synthetic fibre made from the cellulose in trees, and often comes from endangered forests around the world that are under threat from deforestation. Forests make up 31% of the land on earth and produce vital oxygen and habitat for plants and animals. Forests also help mitigate climate change because they soak up carbon dioxide that adds to continuous changes in climate patterns. Stella collaborated with NGO partner Canopy Planet to promote a case for forest conservation, and now only uses viscose from sustainably certified forests in Sweden.
© Stella McCartney
To create the Environmental Profit and Loss, we had to measure over 600 processes. We looked at over 200 different raw materials that stretched over 120 different countries around the world. We had to understand the amount of water, waste, how much greenhouse gas we generated. That’s CO2, methane. And as well, we had to understand how much air pollution and land use.
So with the EP&L, we can help designers make different choices in materials. We can help sourcing people make different choices of where we source our materials from, and even production people to look for innovative, new ways to produce things in a more environmentally sound manner. So EP&L not only helps us reduce our footprint, but it also helps fuel innovation. So with that understanding, we gained a picture of our footprint from an environmental standpoint. But then we went a step further. We put it in terms of money. Why? Because businesses make decisions based on money. And if you want to influence business, you need to speak in their language.
There’s a concept known as the social cost of carbon, which also does a very similar thing. By saying that there’s a cost to climate change, to society, we are asking to put a price on nature itself. By taking the same concept, we’ve done that across all the elements of environmental impact so we can better understand not only at a global level, but also at a local level what it means for a particular area or community. For instance, a litre of water in England may not be as dear as a litre of water in Morocco. So having that understanding at a local level is key to how we value impacts in the Environmental Profit and Loss.
The real value of the EP&L for Kering was the insight we gained into the business. For instance, we discovered that 50% of our environmental impacts were from the raw material production itself. Another 25% from the transformation of those raw materials into the things we use in terms of fabrics, leather, jewellery, and watches, et cetera. In fact, 93% of our impacts are from our supply chain and only 7% from our own operations. We also discovered where to focus in terms of where we can make the most difference. We created tools that help our brands look at decisions we’re making on a day-to-day basis in terms of sourcing, in terms of design, in terms of production, to help reduce our impact.
We’ve also taken that knowledge we’ve gained, not only about our own supply chains, but about other supply chains like mining, like transportation, and we’ve shared the methodology we’ve used by open sourcing it to other companies.
Also, we’re looking at circular economy and other approaches that can take waste from other industry and make it into materials that we use today and, in a sense, avoid environmental impacts from taking new raw materials out of the planet. So a profit is something that we strive for. And we look for new, innovative ways to reach it.
1. Better Insight: A deeper understanding of the most significant impacts and what is driving them
Understanding the value of impacts and their drivers, enables one to consider trade-offs across locations, materials, processes, products and technologies and implement targeted projects to better address one’s impacts.
2. Better Policies: A greater understanding of risks and opportunities
Understanding risks and opportunities means that a business is fully prepared to respond to challenges. Kering have produced guidelines, policies and measurable targets to help make progress across a wide range of raw materials.
3. Better Relationships: Valuable engagement with suppliers
Kering surveyed over 1,000 of their key suppliers, across five continents, from product assembly right back to raw material producers. Working together with them to manage environmental challenges has made their relationships even stronger.
4. Better Transparency: Building trust with stakeholders
At Kering, the EP&L opened a dialogue with stakeholders, allowing them to share learning and develop a shared understanding on priorities. It also helps suppliers identify opportunities for improvement and innovation.
5. Better Performance: Responding to change and assessing progress
Presenting the impacts in a simple and transparent way has driven a broader understanding within the Group. It has shown how impacts made in one area of the business have far reaching consequences for another. This has helped Kering respond to the drivers of change in the supply chain, including fluctuations in raw material quality and availability. The EP&L also provides a clear basis to assess the performance of their environmental projects and investments.
How can we tackle gender inequality in the fashion industry?
Learn more about CARE International’s Made by Women strategy to empower 8 million women garment workers in Asia by 2021.
How can we end sexual harassment in the workplace?
· We need global legislation
· We need private sector practices that work
The articles in the treaty recognise the right of everyone to the enjoyment of just and favourable conditions of work which ensure, in particular:
(a) Remuneration which provides all workers, as a minimum, with:
(i) Fair wages and equal remuneration for work of equal value without distinction of any kind, in particular women being guaranteed conditions of work not inferior to those enjoyed by men, with equal pay for equal work;
(ii) A decent living for themselves and their families in accordance with the provisions of the present Covenant;
(b) Safe and healthy working conditions;
(c) Equal opportunity for everyone to be promoted in his/her employment to an appropriate higher level, subject to no considerations other than those of seniority and competence;
(d) Rest, leisure and reasonable limitation of working hours and periodic holidays with pay, as well as remuneration for public holidays.
The treaty also covers the right to form and join a trade union, the right to social security, parental rights and the right to health, safety and education.
*Modern Slavery represents forced labour, child labour, human trafficking, and bonded labour. We recognise that this term is problematic and only use it to align with the legislation in which we are referring
Intergovernmental imperative: United Nations, Sustainable Development Goals
In January 2018, the first global discussion on climate action within the fashion sector took place at the UN Climate Change secretariat. The two day workshop brought together 38 representatives from the fashion industry (including Professor Dilys Williams and Kering, as well as brands such as Hugo Boss, H&M and FIlippa K) to explore fashion’s role in helping drive change towards a carbon-neutral world economy by 2050. This collaborative global scale initiative aims to set a future climate action program that enables systemic change through shared goals and actions.
‘The UN set 17 sustainability goals. It needs fashion’s help meeting them’, Vogue Business, 2020
Our governments and elected officials have an important role to play in ensuring that the clothing we buy and wear has been made by people all around the world paid fairly, working in safe and dignified conditions and without destroying the planet.
It is the government’s job to protect and provide peace and security for its citizens. Policymakers write the rules upon which the economy works. They create regulations that shape our lives and communities and determine the ways in which companies are allowed to conduct business across the globe.
Most governments around the world are obligated to ensure that the fashion industry respects and protects human rights and the environment through a variety of legal and formal commitments they have officially signed up to. This includes SDGs 1, 5, 8, 12, 13, 14 and 15; the eight fundamental ILO Conventions on rights at work; the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights; The Aarhus Convention on access to justice for environmental matters; and The Paris Agreement on climate change mitigation. Many national governments, probably yours, promise the protection of people’s fundamental human rights through many of these formal agreements.
However, the fashion industry is largely failing to respect human rights and safeguard our environment. At the same time, governments are not doing enough to uphold, implement and enforce the promises it has made to protect people and the planet through these important international agreements and often even through their own national laws.
Governments have been turning a blind eye to the fashion industry’s dirtiest practices and are not providing enough assurances to their citizens that the clothes we buy are not made as a result of exploitation.
Source: Fashion Revolution
Need for transparent and credible product labelling
Governments around the world aren’t making it easy for citizens to be responsible consumers. Often, the only labelling required on clothing is the country of origin. The official EU Ecolabel is one of the only government labelling initiatives that provide some sort of verified guarantee that the product you’re buying is good quality and environmentally friendly . Governments could and should require much more information about the products we buy to be included at the point of purchase. In the food industry, we have ingredient labels but we don’t have the same sort of access to information for our clothing yet.
Governments should make it easy to reuse, repair and recycle clothes
Most governments don’t make it easy for us to reuse, repair and recycle unwanted clothing and textiles. Unfortunately, this is one area where there are very few laws, regulations or governmental initiatives that tackle fashion’s escalating textile waste issue. Curbside textile and clothing recycling exists only in a few cities. In other words, you can’t easily recycle your textiles at home. Although in some places charities will come and collect unwanted items from your home. Few governments provide incentives or make it easy to repair clothing and textiles. One example is Sweden, whose government proposed a 50% tax break for repairs on shoes, clothes and bicycles.
Governments should make companies responsible for the waste they create
Waste is a growing global crisis. Countries such as Kenya, Rwanda, Uganda and Tanzania are phasing out and moving towards a complete ban of importing second-hand clothing, which mainly comes from consumer societies in the West. We are seeing countries such as China stop taking plastic recycling from other countries, and the Philippines is sending huge shipping containers of trash back to the countries it was exported from in the first place.
The Ellen MacArthur Foundation estimates that 25% of garments are collected for reuse or recycling globally, whilst 73% ends up in landfill or incinerated . Most major fashion brands will incinerate defective or unsold stock. In many countries, this is still completely legal. Perfectly good materials are going to waste and being burned in huge volumes. It makes no common sense. Policymakers should ban the incineration of clothing and textiles that could be reused or recycled.
Source: The Ellen MacArthur Foundation
At the moment, most companies are not responsible for much of the waste they help create through the lifecycle of the products they sell. This is what ‘Extended Producer Responsibility’ legislation would help do.
Improving and developing commercial washing machine filters that can capture microfibres will also allow for an additional level of filtration to prevent them from escaping into our oceans. However, current washing machine filters, such as that developed by Wexco, are currently expensive and reportedly difficult to install. We need to see microfibre filters being developed in all washing machines as a standard, which is likely to require government legislation. As of February 2020, France is the first country in the world to take legislative steps in the fight against plastic microfibre pollution. As of January 2025, all new washing machines in France will have to include a filter to stop synthetic clothes from polluting our waterways. The measure is included in the anti-waste law for a circular economy.
France is one of the countries around the world that requires companies to take responsibility for the textile, clothing and footwear products they make or sell, and any associated packaging, when they become waste. Companies pay an upfront fee proportional to how much product they place on the market, and this levy helps fund the collection of waste and recycling infrastructure needed to deal with any waste created.
The French ‘Duty of Vigilance’ law requires all French companies that have more than 5,000 employees domestically, or employ 10,000 employees or more worldwide, to implement an effective ‘vigilance’ plan to address environmental, health and safety and human rights both in their own operations and at their suppliers and sub-contractors.
Swiss companies will be legally obligated to comply and will be liable for damages unless they can prove they have undertaken adequate human rights and environmental due diligence to comply with the law. But most other countries, do not have this sort of legislation in place and companies are allowed to evade responsibility on a systemic level.
No longer can they turn a blind eye to poor working conditions and environmental degradation. It means companies wouldn’t be marking their homework on their own anymore.
Governments should rewrite the rules of doing business
If our governments are serious about improving human rights, social impacts and environmental sustainability in the fashion industry then it must rewrite the rules of the economy so that shareholder profit is no longer prioritised above the protection of our ecosystems and the health and wellbeing of our communities.
Policymakers will need to pursue far-reaching systemic change much faster in order to tackle poverty, economic inequality, gender inequality, climate breakdown and environmental degradation and achieve the SDGs by 2030.
We would like to see a fashion industry in the future that measures value equally amongst making financial profits, ensuring the well-being of people and communities and safeguarding and restoring the environment.