PARIS — Stressing the importance of tackling environmental issues on an industry level — while drawing on ideas from other sectors — Kering outlined its circularity strategy in a document published Thursday, with executives from the group taking to the stage of the ChangeNow summit to discuss the topic.
“Beyond the [fashion] collections, we see it’s a real movement of transformation, we’re not just talking about anecdotal examples, but there’s a real transformation of the system and the way of thinking things — it’s working pretty well,” said Marie-Claire Daveu, chief sustainability and institutional affairs officer.
Daveu spoke to WWD in a conference room affording a view of the beds of lavender and roses at Kering’s headquarters in Paris. The executive described the company’s approach as a bid to move away from the “take-make-waste” model toward a system that works with its biodiversity and climate strategies.
“It’s about where we want to go, how we will get there and what we have done,” she said.
In its document, Kering cited a number of measures taken by various businesses, ranging from its eyeglasses activity, which it said maintains visibility on all materials and components used by the supply chain to its MCQ fashion collections with integrated blockchain technology to allow garments to be sold or traded on a platform, as well as a system for using the same packaging from production to sale. Repairs were also addressed by the group, which has repair hubs in Shanghai, Hong Kong and at the U.S. headquarters in New Jersey, manned by craftspeople trained in making shoes and handbags at the brand’s workshops in Italy. Jewelry label Pomellato employs the Japanese tradition of Kintsugi — developed to repair broken ceramics — while Brioni offers repair for damage to suits from daily use. Gucci was also singled out for its work with farmers, helping them convert to regenerative agriculture through its Natural Climate Solutions portfolio.
“High standards are really key,” noted the luxury executive, flagging the importance of producing products that last, as well as a regenerative approach to production. “If you want to have a second life for your product, it really has to be made with high standards of quality,” she said.
The executive described the role of her department as that of a sparring partner with the labels of the group.
“We propose solutions, we try to identify primary materials, processes and suppliers that have an innovative approach and that tick the sustainable development/environmental box,” she explained.
“When we say sparring partner, it’s not just offering everything we turn up — we try to target solutions in function of their expectations,” added the executive, noting the role of the group’s Materials Innovation Lab, or MIL, in the process.
“There’s also the know-how. You’ve often heard me talk about cross fertilization between the MIL, the designers and the design teams. We also anticipate their needs and what they will want us to go further with,” she said.
“Little by little as we discover solutions, we offer them up to the brands, and then you have perhaps one or two and sometimes even no brands that are interested in testing them out,” noted Daveu. Testing is conducted through pilot projects, or in the case of more mature solutions, the group can move forward at a larger scale.
Gucci was the first luxury brand to use a recycled nylon fabric called Econyl, for example, in 2016, which is now being used outside of the group.
“There is no miracle recipe,” noted Daveu. “We can’t do anything without the brands, it’s really the brands that are the ones that execute sustainable development strategy, which is why it’s important to have [chief executive officers] and designers engaged in the adventure.”
When it comes to circularity, Kering takes a 360-degree approach, noted Daveu, pointing to the definition set out by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, with a focus on design without pollution and waste — going beyond upcycling and recycling to consider how to regenerate natural ecosystems, like soil. “It goes very far,” she said.
While much the environmental impact of activities happen at the level of primary materials, the group has begun measuring the impact of products once they have left the store, she noted.
“We have to take interest also in how the product is used and also its end-of-life,” she said, noting the importance of Kering’s investment and partnership with secondhand luxury trading platform Vestiaire Collective on this front.
Daveu and Christian Tubito, head of Kering’s Materials Innovation Lab, took part in the ChangeNow conference online Thursday. Antoine Arnault, Berluti CEO and director of image at LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton, and Gabriela Hearst, creative director of Chloé, were among other industry figures who spoke at the summit.
Kering has partnered with ChangeNow from the beginning, and this is the third year of the event.
“We have always been convinced that to reach our targets linked to our strategy, the change has to be deep — deep change also means going beyond best practices and being able to innovate,” she said.
“And, as we keep saying, fairly disruptive innovations,” added the executive.
“We are particularly interested in the space where innovation is linked to sustainable development,” she added.
The group was interested when the founders of ChangeNow approached them, and liked the idea of combining tech with sustainable development, two themes it was already working on through Fashion for Good and Plug and Play it created in Amsterdam, with the goal of throwing the spotlight on solutions from start-ups, medium-sized companies and also big groups, with a focus on innovation linked to sustainable development, explained the executive.
“We’ve always believed that good ideas can come from other industries, and then applied to our industry, so the summit’s cross-industry approach suited us,” she added.
“It was a real success with professionals as well as the broader public — it’s quite rare to be successful on both fronts — so we took part in the second year,” said Daveu, who noted there are a number of summits geared toward digital and innovation subjects but few that link them to sustainable development.
Asked what innovations she’s most excited about, Daveu pointed to the production of primary materials in laboratories.
“When you are in a closed environment, all the external factors, like energy and water consumption, the use of chemical products, being in a closed environment, you can manage all of this,” she said.
The executive noted that the prospect of resolving the looming issue of microfibers on a larger scale, and across industries, would be a big breakthrough.
Tubito pointed to recycling technologies and dyeing with colors obtained from life forms as important developments.
“Textile to textile recycling technologies, with closed-loop chemical recovery using green chemistry, I think it’s really promising, I think also that they are necessary,” said Tubito, speaking through Microsoft Teams. The executive highlighted a bio black pigment from wood fibers, an alternative to fossil-based pigments, that can be used for screen prints on fabrics as a particularly positive development.
The executive, who has a background in industrial design, gained years of experience in new materials before joining Kering. He said that around a decade ago he began to understand the importance of focusing on materials to express the aesthetic of a product, the language of a company, and the DNA of a company.
“It was quite a new approach to do materials innovation, I fell in love with this topic,” he said. Offering an example, he helped a cosmetics company come up with a composite material for packaging meant to express its focus on responsible innovation of the product. Made from a mix of plastics and wood fiber, the material had been used by the construction industry, for deck flooring, but not in cosmetics.
“To put this kind of material well-known in one field in another different field was able to express the intention the company would represent with these new cosmetics that it had a unique view. Simple materials well-known in one industry can represent innovation in another industry and can represent the concept that is behind a product or a specific solution,” he noted.
Reflecting on Kering’s approach to circularity, Daveu noted it takes a broad range of efforts.
“All this, as I like to say, when it comes to sustainable development, there’s not one solution, there’s not one magic answer, you have to push all the buttons,” said Daveu. The company recently recruited an executive dedicated to issues of circularity.
Summing up the weight of the group’s circularity report, the executive stressed that it marks certain progress.
“What we have written here, I don’t think that 10 years ago we would have been able to write this — it goes from primary materials, regenerative agriculture though to second hand,” she noted.