Rallying an industry to change isn’t easy, but for Dutch model Doutzen Kroes, it’s about playing the long game.
In September 2016, Kroes helped launch Knot On My Planet, a campaign to support elephant conservation and combat ivory poaching, which says it has raised $7.5 million to date. She has also teamed with Tiffany & Co., which put out its Save the Wild collection in 2017 to collect proceeds for the Elephant Crisis Fund, an effort that Knot On My Planet supports.
But Kroes still remembers what it was like at the beginning, when, for example, fashion editors would ask her to wear fur during shoots. It went against her personal stance on animal welfare, she said, and there were times she voiced her discomfort. But rather than outright refuse and risk being sidelined, Kroes said she chose then to build a career in an industry that would one day give her a platform to champion the animal welfare and environmental causes she believes in.
“It’s not that in this industry you cannot say no, I’m sure I could have said no,” Kroes told WWD at the Future of Fashion summit this week at The Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City.
“But to me, at the same time, getting that career for the greater good was more important to me,” she said. “Because the voice I have now is so much bigger than I had then.”
The Future of Fashion summit, hosted by Maison-de-Mode, a retailer of what it brands as “ethical luxury,” and Fashion Trust Arabia, a nonprofit that supports designers from the Middle East, marked a moment to also confront the industry’s environmental toll.
The apparel and footwear industries contributed to roughly five to 10 percent of global pollution effects in 2016, and their impact on climate change is projected to escalate over the next decade, according to a 2018 report by the environmental sustainability consulting firm Quantis. The manufacturing stages with the strongest environmental impact include the dyeing as well as the yarn and fiber production stages, according to the report.
Maison-de-Mode, which began in 2012, works with designers whose production and business practices match at least one of its several sustainability criteria. Those criteria include being made with recycled or organic materials, or being made vegan or without animal testing, or being made in the USA. The retailer works with an evolving group of about 60 brands, said cofounder Hassan Pierre.
“My biggest [hope] is that eventually we drop the word ‘sustainable’ and that it becomes the norm for our industry to really be accountable and be conscious about how we produce,” said Pierre.
The brand’s model is in some ways also a repudiation of large fast-fashion retailers that put out multiple large shipments each week.
“I think the issues really come about when you’re producing garments, especially on a huge scale, because you just can’t monitor how workers in Bangladesh are being treated every day, and how the products are transported,” said Maison-de-Mode cofounder Amanda Hearst. “There are just so many elements, and for companies that are so huge, it’s really hard for them.”
The Humane Society’s PJ Smith, who has worked with Gucci and other luxury brands over the past decade or so, is also familiar with the slow work of maneuvering toward change.
Today, some of the largest names in luxury fashion are ditching fur or exotic skins, including Chanel, Victoria Beckham and Versace. But when the group began working with fashion brands, fur products didn’t even always have to be labeled as such, at least not until the Truth In Fur Labeling Act of 2010.
“Consumers don’t want the product that they buy to be associated with animal cruelty,” said Smith, The Humane Society’s campaign director for fashion policy. “This idea of what luxury is, is changed, to what is socially responsible, what is most ethical, what is the most environmentally sound.”