PARIS — As consumers increasingly wake up to environmental and ethical issues, Galeries Lafayette is staking out its place in the conversation.
On Wednesday, the French department store unveiled its “Go for Good” campaign with Stella McCartney, highlighting the sustainable bent of products scattered around the store, while flagging broader aims.
“We have set a strong ambition for the group, which is to become the worldwide reference for French-style commerce that is ethical and responsible,” said Nicolas Houzé, chief executive officer of Galeries Lafayette and BHV Marais.
The executive of the family-owned group spoke from a 3,000-square-foot “Go for Good” space on the second floor of the Boulevard Haussmann flagship in Paris. Among products on display were a Patagonia trucker hat made with organic cotton, a baby bottle made in France and stacks of red, clear and blue bistro-style water glasses.
Over 500 labels took part in the project, offering products with an ethical or sustainable quality, with Louis Vuitton featuring Noé bags made with a vegetable tanning technique, for example. Executives cited Bottega Veneta, Saint Laurent, Petit Bateau and Levi’s as communicating about a responsible offer for the first time.
As traditional retailers fight for relevance amidst shifting consumption habits, including the swift rise of online commerce, Galeries Lafayette is positioning itself as a fashion-forward destination, holding events geared to younger crowds, redesigning stores and offering services like renting designer dresses through Panoply.
“We have to give clients a reason to come to our stores, through activities, but also with products and services. Renting and second-hand products add a new and different attractiveness to department stores like ours,” said Houzé. The executive noted that the business environment is currently challenging despite a recent loosening of rules in the country that allow the store to remain open on Sundays.
“It is important for us to serve as this window to responsible fashion, to encourage this type of fashion and ensure that we become a bit less shopkeepers and sellers of goods but also to create links, and highlight an entire ecosystem that promotes good,” he added.
“We decided to go public with the issue…we first spent five years working behind the scenes, on our own brand, our waste, our energy consumption and now we’ve moved to the other side,” added Damien Pellé, sustainability vice president for the group.
“We’re not going to stop here,” noted Frédérique Chemaly, human resources and sustainability vice president.
Mindful of the limits of the initiative, the group has a website dedicated to the limits of the initiative, noting the store does not guarantee the exemplary nature of the brands, but rather the products.
“We are not changing the entire world, or bringing about a revolution in the fashion…but we realize a lot is possible,” noted Chemaly.
Along with her environmental credentials and a pop-up shop built from recycled foam, McCartney also brought to the store a film by Austin Lynch featuring his father, David Lynch, exploring links between meditation and creativity, and a place for meditating, complete with moss and rocks, built by London furniture designer Faye Toogood.
“Now some people will feel that shopping for a handbag is a luxurious experience where they’re gifting to themselves and it gives them pleasure. I personally feel that there’s more to the experience than just coming out with a bag,” noted McCartney.
“We want you to come out with a memory, with a feeling where you’ve found something more.…We’re questioning a better way to do business, a better way to be interacting with our fellow community,” she added.
Teaming up with Galeries Lafayette was not a project her label took lightly, she said, noting it took years to put into place.
“I think it’s a great starting point, they’re baby steps but it really shows the rest of the industry that there’s a way to do it and it can be done, and that actually it’s what people of the next generation require — it’s sort of mandatory, I think,” she said.
The designer described a shift taking place between the generations, with younger, teenaged customers thanking her for her focus on ethical and sustainable fashion, while the older generations tend to tell her about their favorite pieces of clothing that she had designed.
“I’m happy to have a crowded room, I just want it to last more than a season,” she said of the growing number of brands moving into territory she has worked hard to carve out over the years, facing ridicule for being vegetarian and making non-leather goods for a Paris fashion house.
“If everyone gave up fur tomorrow I wouldn’t say wait a minute. I was the first person to talk ant-fur, I’d be like ‘Thank you god, let’s move on from that conversation, let’s get on with design let’s get on with being better business people, let’s get on with paying people proper wages for doing embroidery,'” she added.
On a tour of the store with Galeries Lafayette’s executive chairman Philippe Houzé, his sons Nicolas and Guillaume, and Brune Poirson, a French official from the ecology ministry, McCartney cheerfully stopped for selfies with shoppers, playfully calling a shopper wearing one of her handbags one of the “coolest girls.”
After admiring the shoes from her Loop collection — glue-free, with clip-on soles for easy recycling — as well as shirts made from trees in sustainable forests, the crowd moved upstairs to the rooftop for Champagne, veggie burgers and cheese toasties.
“Stella is one of the first to be conscious that we need to make big changes to our way of living. She influenced all of us, and other designers as well. We realized that the way we consumed fashion could be too much for our ecosystem,” noted Blanca Li, as the sky turned pink from the setting sun and hip-hop tunes drifted from DJ Fabienne’s turntable.
“First things first. It’s OK, we can’t do everything overnight. Evolution takes time — something is better than nothing,” noted McCartney.