LONDON — With its share price swelling and a promising first quarter in the books, Burberry could not have picked a better day for its annual general meeting, which focused on sustainability, diversity and social responsibility.
On Wednesday, Burberry shares continued their forward march, closing up 3 percent at 23.45 pounds, following a 14 percent uptick on the previous day.
Earlier this week the company revealed that retail revenue in the first three months of fiscal 2019-20 rose 4 percent to 498 million pounds, buoyed partly by Riccardo Tisci’s new designs, which began filtering onto the shop floor in February and now account for about 50 percent of the merchandise mix.
“The momentum is building, and we are full of confidence for the future,” said chief executive officer Marco Gobbetti to a group of about 75 shareholders who’d gathered at the Conrad London hotel, near St. James’s Park.
During the concise meeting, which lasted all of 40 minutes, Gobbetti touted Burberry’s strides in the fields of diversity and sustainability, and said the company is naming a director of diversity and inclusion, a new role, and will be offering staff members training in diversity, inclusivity and unconscious bias.
The company also plans to form an employee council, and an external advisory board, focused on raising diversity awareness globally and fostering a culture of belonging.
Burberry also plans to expand its creative arts scholarship internationally to support students from diverse backgrounds and to provide full-time employment for 50 graduates over the next five years. It will continue to back LGBTQ-focused charities and mental health organizations such as Samaritans U.K.
The company said that at its London headquarters, some 60 nationalities are represented, and over the last 12 months, it has continued to focus on “evolving strategies for recruiting and developing key talent within the business in a way which promotes our cultural values.”
Burberry, similar to its luxury counterparts Prada and Gucci, has been working to become a more socially and culturally aware organization following some missteps earlier this year.
Just after its fall 2019 show in February, Burberry was forced to apologize for sending a beige hoodie down the runway that appeared to have a noose around the neck. Both Gobbetti and Tisci, whose title is chief creative officer, immediately expressed regret and called it a genuine mistake.
Model Liz Kennedy had criticized the brand on Instagram for sending out the hoodie, which had a knotted sailor’s rope instead of a drawstring and was meant to echo the “Tempest” theme of the show. The piece was immediately removed from the collection.
Burberry was not alone in peddling controversial merchandise.
Last December, Prada faced online accusations that animal-like figurines and charms in its stores and windows evoked blackface. The group subsequently issued a statement saying it “abhors racist imagery.” In February, Prada named two of its longtime creative collaborators, Theaster Gates and Ava DuVernay, to co-chair the Prada Diversity and Inclusion Advisory Council.
Gucci, too, faced similar accusations that a balaclava-style sweater available on its online shop and physical stores evoked blackface. The company expressed its regret, pledged to make changes and set a worldwide scholarships program aimed at boosting diversity in the creative sector.
During Wednesday’s shareholders’ meeting, Burberry also touted some of its strides — and future targets — on the sustainability front, pointing to its new packaging, which is made partly from recycled coffee cups. The packaging is fully recyclable and certified by the Forest Stewardship Council.
The company is also making changes that will reduce the plastic footprint of its transit packaging, and will introduce new transit hangers made from a bio-based compostable alternative. It is in the process of switching its garment bags to a compostable PHA-blended material.
During the meeting Gobbetti underlined Burberry’s efforts to tackle waste, arguing that it was the first luxury company to announce it was stopping — with immediate effect — the practice of destroying unsalable finished products, but only after a scandal that arose when the company revealed it had burned 28.6 million pounds worth of unsold goods.
The company has since expanded its existing reuse, repair, donation and recycling routes, while developing new partnerships and revaluation solutions. Burberry said it’s managing inventories better, thanks partly to a new model of tighter and more frequent deliveries.
In the last fiscal year the company said it repaired thousands of items and donated more than 20,000 pieces of business clothing as part of its long-term partnerships with charities such as Smart Works, which supports unemployed women with interview training, clothing and styling advice ahead of important interviews.
Also at the meeting Burberry waved farewell to two longtime board members, Stephanie George and Ian Carter, who are both retiring.
George, a media veteran and currently a director of Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts and of the Fashion Institute of Technology Foundation, joined the Burberry board in March 2006.
She saw the company through four chief executives — Rose Marie Bravo, Angela Ahrendts, Christopher Bailey and Gobbetti — and worked alongside two chairmen — Sir John Peace and his successor Dr. Gerry Murphy. Carter, who is president of Hilton Global Development and chairman of Del Frisco’s Restaurant Group Inc., joined the board in 2007.
During the meeting Murphy, who was appointed Burberry chairman last year, emphasized that “diversity will be a parameter” in choosing George’s and Carter’s successors on the board.