The disruption caused by the global COVID-19 pandemic has uniquely transformed every aspect of the apparel industry from manufacturing to consumer expectations. Yet with disruption comes the opportunity to make changes that will create a better, stronger standard of business.
Launched in May 2019, PVH’s “Forward Fashion” Corporate Responsibility strategy is a long-term initiative for its 40,000 associates, industry partners, shareholders, and consumers. The strategy sets a new level of ambition and transparency for the company and its portfolio of brands, with targets focused on reducing negative impacts to zero, increasing positive impacts to 100 percent, and improving the over one million lives across its value chain.
In a WWD Thought Leaders’ Lab, Marissa Pagnani McGowan, Senior Vice President of Corporate Responsibility at PVH, Lance LaVergne, Chief Diversity Officer and Head of Global Talent Acquisition at PVH, and Guy Vickers, President of The PVH Foundation, share insights into how they are working together from within PVH to create a better future for fashion, for all and deliver on PVH’s purpose to drive fashion forward – for good.
Marissa Pagnani McGowan: We think about sustainable business as good business. We help 40,000 associates around the world realize the impact of their decisions, and give them the tools that will allow for a more sustainable product or consumer experience – while also making sure that we’re doing work that reflects our values across our entire value chain.
Lance LaVergne: When we think about it from the inclusion and diversity perspective, and the work in which my team and I are engaged, our framework centers around three pillars – the workplace, the marketplace, and the community. And when we think about inclusion and diversity, it is often centered around creating access to opportunity for individuals or groups that historically have not had access to those opportunities.
There is an opportunity to increase the representation of different groups across multiple dimensions, whether it’s gender, racial or ethnic diversity, or LGBTQIA communities. Much of the work that we do seeks to drive greater representation across the spectrum and all levels within our organization, but also externally as well.
Guy Vickers: From a Foundation perspective, we drive fashion forward by investing in global philanthropic campaigns and initiatives, as well as disaster relief efforts. Our call to action really is where the hard work begins because it’s where we are trying to make sure our 40,000 associates, on a global basis, contribute their time, their talent, and resources through volunteering or fundraising at the global, regional and local levels.
M.P.M.: It starts with leadership. We have amazing grassroots efforts that happen throughout our organization, but we also have a strong executive and leadership presence that believe that it’s not just what we do, but also how we do it that matters. This adds significantly to the culture of PVH and allows our values to flow through the work we do, no matter which department or function you sit in. You don’t have to be in the corporate responsibility team to feel that it starts with that tone from the top.
L.L.: An important aspect of putting “Driving Fashion Forward – For Good” into practice, is having goals and objectives. You need to have an idea of what that actually means to your organization because the vista of opportunities is quite wide, and if you aren’t somewhat focused on what you would like to accomplish, you can spend a lot of time doing a lot of things with very little impact.
G.V.: Giving back is really embedded in our culture, and we know that we’re stronger when we all come together and tackle a problem. Among our leadership, in setting goals, we have a saying that we talk about: ‘think global, act local.’ We have our global initiatives or partnerships, which the whole company gets behind, but equally as important is that we also work with our associates for causes that are dear to their hearts locally. The associates really make things come alive and that’s where the action is. To me, that’s the power of PVH and that’s what makes PVH unique.
Inspiring From Within
M.P.M.: Some buzzwords that we hear all the time but are often hard to truly make happen are collaboration, partnership, breaking down the silos, and working together. But the reason this is an easy conversation [with Lance and Guy] is because we’re all connected on a very regular basis, trying to make sure that what we’re doing in one place is reflected in another and that we’re showing up in a way that’s most authentic for our stakeholders, so that we have consistent levels of commitment and action across our different areas.
That cross-functional piece is super important. And when you’re in a big organization, really helping to break down those silos, and helping everyone understand how they can contribute, but also how it fits together, is really important.
L.L.: It’s also really important to understand where we can get the greatest leverage by allowing one of our teams to take the lead and having the others to support. By being coordinated, sharing information, and identifying opportunities, we can take full advantage of that, versus working at odds or cross purposes.
In some cases, that coordination is what really allows us to drive this forward. As we’ve identified things that we want to accomplish, whether it’s around sustainability, recruiting or philanthropy, being able to activate our Business Resource Groups is a great way to engage our associates in the things that we’re doing.
Leading by Example
M.P.M.: From an external perspective, it really starts with our reporting. ‘Forward Fashion’ established a new level of ambition and transparency for us as a corporation. We’ve pushed our transparency every year and in our 12th annual report, we’ve set a level of transparency we haven’t had before.
We have global partnerships, and we try not just to steer PVH to a place where we’re driving ‘Fashion Forward – For Good’, but where the industry as a whole can move forward in the right direction. We have a voice at the table as PVH, and we want to use that voice to improve the conditions of workers in the supply chain, to improve the innovation and sustainability of our products and services, and to make a more inclusive and diverse fashion industry.
M.P.M.: We’ve consistently said to our shareholders that sustainable business is good business. We’ve talked about how benefitting multiple stakeholder communities ultimately services our shareholders. We want to have great strategic supply chain relationships, we want to have excellent associate relationships for recruiting and retention, and we also want to make sure that we’re active in our communities and recognized for that. We believe that stakeholder capitalism, or servicing all your stakeholders, is good for your shareholders.
L.L.: Fortunately, what has transpired over the last 10-15 years is that people have come to really understand and appreciate that businesses that have diversity across a variety of different dimensions do better. They outperform other businesses that don’t have that diversity, whether it’s diversity of thought, representation of people, or of product.
G.V.: It’s something that the shareholders are holding us accountable for, it’s something they’re looking for. In all of the presentations that I make before our CR committee, the chair is always wanting to know, ‘what are we doing to impact communities? Are we doing all that we can do? How are we leveraging our resources, both financial and human?’ It’s great to be in a position where you have that kind of support from the top and with our shareholders.
L.L.: Another thing that’s really interesting about our businesses is that we are a consumer oriented business. When you think about it, the consumer is our principal stakeholder, and they have become much more ethically oriented. Consumers want to do business with companies or organizations that they admire and respect and whose values align with theirs. If you think about it that way, the work that our teams do is essential and integral to establishing the brand of PVH and to attracting those consumers.
M.P.M.: A trend we’ve been noticing is that consumers are actually understanding the intersection of a lot of these issues. We talk about climate change and social justice in the same sentence. The fact that we do have these sort of inter-linkages internally will serve us even better with those consumers and therefore with our shareholders.
G.V.: I think there is a responsibility for us to share what we know, and that is happening through our partners like the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) or the Fashion Pact. There’s so much work to be done that no one business or company can handle it. We have to be smart and collaborate with other companies who have like minds to make a difference in the world. And that’s what we’ve tried to do. We’re not there yet. But that’s what we strive for, on a daily basis.
M.P.M.: I don’t think a day goes by where I don’t talk to a peer at another company about something in the corporate responsibility space. And we are all learning together. I think one of the beauties of the past five years is that we’ve turned from talking about collaboration to actually recognizing that we cannot do it alone, that we have to act collectively. You do have to work on your own internal practices in your own shop, but to drive the kind of change that we believe we have the responsibility to drive, it is going to take collective action. And part of that ecosystem of collective action is our peer companies working together with civil society and governments.
M.P.M.: One of the things that struck me today is just how much more strategic and closer to the business our work has become. While it was always important to the business, it is now really becoming integral. With this ambition of an embedded sustainable, inclusive world where we’re giving back, you get this flywheel effect of the stakeholders wanting things that are good for communities, the environment and people – and are also great for business. I think we’re going to start to see this more and more, and I’m excited for the next chapter.
L.L.: I think the future for PVH is really bright because of the leadership orientation, and commitment to excellence across a spectrum, not focused on short term profit or gain, but greater business sustainability. Business is about your people, your stakeholders, your consumers, and your communities. The way you win is by being a strong, well-managed, well run, thoughtful business and that’s what PVH is really doing.
G.V.: I have a term that I use: CQI or continuous quality improvement. We can do better each day, where we’re looking to be more strategic, and I am pleased with PVH because philanthropy is really a business initiative for our company. More importantly, it’s a business initiative that’s being held accountable with goals and metrics. The future is bright, and it’s because our associates and consumers are holding us accountable.
I know we’re doing things right because I received a call from a friend of mine who said, ‘you know, I told my daughter I was taking her shopping because she had excelled well in school. We were going to shop for clothes, and she said she wanted to buy Tommy Hilfiger because they contributed to the Martin Luther King Memorial Foundation, and she wanted to buy from companies that are investing back in causes that mean something to her.’ That’s where PVH is positioned, that’s where we’re aiming our goals, and by collaborating with Lance, Marissa and other key executives and associates, I think we’re well on our way.