As part of ongoing efforts by Global Fashion Agenda, a nonprofit that organizes the annual Copenhagen Fashion Summit, leaders of Kering, Target, H&M, Li & Fung and Bestseller have agreed to collectively focus on seven key areas of sustainability — the first time such a collaborative effort has been coordinated in fashion, according to Eva Kruse, ceo of Global Fashion Agenda.
“It takes a coordinated effort to move the needle on sustainability, which is why this agenda for a common industry focus holds the potential to be a major breakthrough,” she said.
The agenda calls for these companies, as well as others in the industry, to immediately prioritize supply chain traceability (essentially knowing what’s going on at every stage of production), efficient use of water, energy and chemicals, and implement “respectful and secure” working conditions.
A number of corporations have been attempting to increase sustainability efforts like these in recent years, including the companies taking part in Global Fashion’s agenda, as it stands to decrease costs in the long term and help avoid potential liability issues around operations while limiting the impact on the environment.
François-Henri Pinault, Kering’s chairman and ceo, has been championing sustainability efforts for some time, positioning a more environmentally friendly approach as simply good business. Last year, the company said it would reduce its overall environmental footprint, or its demand on nature and natural resources, by 40 percent from 2015 levels.
Global Fashion and Boston Consulting Group last year found in an industry report that a company’s earnings margins stood to decrease by 3 percent a year without environmental and labor modernization efforts. “There’s not alternative but for sustainability to become an integral part of any company’s business strategy,” Kruse said.
“Fashion is one of the largest industries in the world, but also one of the most resource and labor intensive,” the ceo added. “The environmental, social and ethical challenges the industry faces today are not only a threat to the planet, but also a threat to the industry itself.”
Newer brands such as Everlane and Reformation have taken it upon themselves to operate with extreme transparency. While Reformation pushes its use of vintage, deadstock, recycled and closed loop fabrics and self-publishes reports on sustainability and carbon emissions, Everlane shows shoppers where garments are produced, the environmental ratings of those factories and even breaks down the costs related to each item.
At one time, fashion operated on roughly two production cycles per year, the advent of fast-fashion and gluttonous consumerism has seen that number increase to about 50 cycles per year, according to research from the World Resources Institute, a nonprofit promoting sustainability. The cotton used for a single cotton shirt takes 2,700 liters of water, the amount the average person drinks in two and a half years, to grow, while the industry’s fabric dyeing uses five trillion liters a year, according to WRI.
Global Fashion’s agenda also calls for companies to have more “transformational priorities” in the coming years, including manufacturing with a sustainable mix of materials and a “closed loop” production system making use of recycled materials, along with the promotion of “better wage systems” and incorporation of the “fourth industrial revolution.”
The latter is our evolving current era of digitization and technological change, marked by developments like artificial intelligence, 3-D printing and robotics.
“The big challenges facing the world can tackled by working together,” said Karl-Johan Persson, ceo of H&M. “This is a prerequisite for making the fashion industry part of the solution rather that part of the problem. “No matter if the challenges are about recycling innovation, new sustainable materials or working conditions for the people making out clothes, our collaboration with others is key to making lasting change.”
H&M has been a big proponent of more environmentally conscious operations, even committing to be “climate positive” by 2040. H&M and other companies have been especially dedicated to sustainability efforts in the years since the Rana Plaza collapse in Bangladesh, which killed more than 1,100 garment workers and severely injured thousands more. The warehouse was a contract supplier for brands such as Benetton, Bonmarché, Mango and Walmart.
Amanda Nusz, Target’s vice president and general merchandise manager, said the company “wholeheartedly” supports Global Fashion’s efforts and noted the company’s “longstanding commitment” to transparency along its supply chain.
“At Target we know that the decisions we make have the potential to impact millions of people around the world, including the people who create our products and the communities where they live,” Nusz said.
Dorthe Scherling Nielsen, head of corporate affairs for Bestseller, which manufactures contemporary brands Vero Moda, Selected Homme and many others, added that the agenda is “an important initiative and driver for addressing challenges and opportunities collectively as an industry, as well as to inspire individual companies to take action.”
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