Ralph Lauren is on a mission.
The company set a new bar for itself Wednesday, articulating goals for the first time to boost gender equality in its ranks and reduce its environmental impact in its 2019 Global Citizenship and Sustainability report.
Despite the growing prominence of sustainability in fashion, committing to such introspection and publicly laying out goals is still relatively rare in the industry.
“When Ralph founded our company more than 50 years ago, he did so with the conviction that whatever we create is meant to be worn, loved and passed on for generations,” said Patrice Louvet, president and chief executive officer. “This philosophy is deeply embedded in our culture, our brands and our purpose — to inspire the dream of a better life through authenticity and timeless style. It also inspires Design the Change, a strategy that will accelerate our efforts to create a positive impact in society and a more sustainable future.”
By 2023, Ralph Lauren aims to reach equal gender representation in its leadership from the vice president level on up. To do this, the company will take several steps, committing for instance to interview at least one qualified female candidate for each job opening at that level. From fiscal-year 2020, the company will do the same to include candidates from diverse backgrounds for such positions.
The firm also said it wants to raise the representation of women in management positions at factories that supply to Ralph Lauren — the goal is to increase the number by 25 percent by 2025.
And to reduce its environmental impact, Ralph Lauren has set goals to sustainably source all of its “key materials” by 2025, including cotton. By 2025, the company aims to use no virgin polyester, switching fully by then to recycled polyester.
In the 35-page report, the company addressed its sourcing of materials from animals, pointing out that it has already banned the use of mohair, angora and fur, and added that by 2025, all its materials from animals will be traceable or certified in order to ensure the standard of their treatment.
Over the next year and a half, Ralph Lauren will also establish targets it will use to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions and fully switch to renewable energy for its operations.
The apparel sector contributes about 10 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, according to the report, which said Ralph Lauren’s operational energy consumption in fiscal-year 2019 was 162,853 MWh, a decrease of 4 percent from the previous year. Much of the energy was used in Ralph Lauren’s more than 320 stores.
“This report is not only past-looking or historical,” said Halide Alagöz, who became Ralph Lauren’s first chief sustainability officer last year. “It outlines the strategy and shows the road map for what we will accomplish over the next five to 10 years.”
The company set its targets after conducting a “materiality analysis,” which involved hearing from its employees, customers and suppliers. Ralph Lauren’s board will ramp up its focus on these areas through one of its committees, which will now oversee the progress on its goals.
As part of the broader social responsibility measures revealed Wednesday, the company will ensure that its product development and merchant teams are regularly trained on “inclusive and culturally aware” designs.
“Being a global company and an iconic U.S. designer, Ralph Lauren has always been careful and caring about being respectful to all the cultures around the world,” Alagöz said. “We want to make sure our products are always designed through the filter of that respect.”
These steps build on the company’s recent efforts to boost its social and environmental consciousness.
In April, the company unveiled a new collection of shirts made with recycled plastic bottles. Each of its Earth Polo shirts was made of about a dozen plastic bottles, and dyed without water — features that drew attention to the fabric production and dyeing processes, two stages of apparel manufacturing with significant environmental impact.
The goal there is to remove at least 170 million bottles from landfills and oceans by 2025, according to the company.
In reviewing the environmental impact of its manufacturing process, the company paid close attention to the consumption and contamination of water, particularly during the dyeing and the denim-washing process, Alagöz said.
Chemicals used in its manufacturing process are also coming under the microscope. The firm aims to be transparent about the chemicals used in its products by 2020 and plans to fully remove hazardous chemicals from its production by 2025.
Ralph Lauren has also generally sought to pay closer attention to sourcing. The company doesn’t own production facilities, and it sources both finished products and raw materials. Its products are made by more than 500 manufacturers around the world, according to its annual report. In fiscal-year 2019, more than 97 percent of its products, in terms of value, were produced outside of the U.S. — roughly a third were sourced from China.
In recent years, the company has created teams to look into its raw material supply chain and identify ways to improve its production process, according to its fiscal 2016 citizenship report. The release of the Earth Polo shirts this year was one of the outcomes of such measures.
“We really decided to lean on the timelessness of our brand,” Alagöz said. “Living in a world that is beautiful and cared for is the ultimate luxury.”