Ralph Lauren Corp. is throwing its considerable muscle behind the sustainability movement, and is using its signature polo shirt to drive the message home.
The company will today introduce the Earth Polo, its classic polo shirt silhouette that has been created with thread derived entirely from recycled plastic bottles and dyed in a process that uses no water.
“Ralph Lauren will commit to removing at least 170 million bottles from landfills and oceans by 2025,” said David Lauren, chief innovation officer of the company. “Plastic waste is a major issue threatening the environment — we want to be part of the solution and utilize an innovative approach to create something valuable.”
The Earth Polo, which is made from an average of 12 plastic bottles, was produced in partnership with First Mile, an organization that focuses on sustainability and positive social impact. The nonprofit works with entrepreneurs in low-income communities to collect recyclable plastic bottles, which are then processed and turned into high-quality yarn and later, fabric.
Lauren likened the product to an Impossible Burger, a popular nonmeat patty that has the texture of actual hamburger, adding that the shirt “feels like a regular polo shirt” and adheres to the company’s high-quality and craftsmanship requirements.
“When Ralph founded our company more than 50 years ago, he did so with the idea that whatever we create is meant to be worn, loved, and passed on for generations. It’s with this spirit of timelessness that we approach sustainability,” said Halide Alagöz, Ralph Lauren’s executive vice president, chief supply chain and sustainability officer.
Ralph Lauren has used its classic polo shirt to champion a number of different cause-related initiatives over the years and raise millions of dollars for philanthropic and social missions, Lauren said. That includes the Pink Pony Fund, which funded breast cancer research and care, as well as other initiatives for global disaster relief and the support of the LGBTQ community.
“We’re using the icon of the Ralph Lauren Polo shirt to make a major move to collect waste,” Lauren said. “This symbolizes our commitment.”
The addition of Alagöz a little over two years ago to help the company focus on sustainability issues is a big part of that commitment. “We will hopefully become leaders in the industry,” Lauren said. Although the polo shirt initiative is “small and focused,” it’s part of Ralph Lauren’s move to “be a better corporate citizen. The consumer today demands this. And our employees demand this,” he said.
As a creator of products, the company has a responsibility to continue to change and move forward with issues that are deemed important. “We’re learning,” Lauren admitted, “but this is our new mandate. It’s a journey that will be long and never-ending, but this is a start and our goal is to continue to evolve and learn.”
Alagöz, who spent 18 years with H&M before joining Ralph Lauren in 2016, said a company “can’t offer timeless product without embedding it into our business processes.” That means everything from materials and production to sourcing, supply chain operations and logistics.
Over the past six months, she has spearheaded an exploration of where the company will stand in terms of sustainability. “I’ve been asking a lot of ‘what if’ questions,” she said, “about dyeing, packaging, logistics.”
The answers to those questions will then be used to develop a framework for design and production that will be integrated into the business. A full Global Citizenship and Sustainability report will be released this summer outlining the corporation’s long-term strategy for sustainability.
Lauren said the only way sustainability can work is if it becomes an “authentic part of corporate culture. It’s no longer just something nice to do. Two years ago, we started looking into whether the consumer really cares about what’s good for the environment, but those questions have gone away. It’s so clear now that you need to be sensitive and do things that are good for the Earth.”
Consumers today want to know everything they can about what they eat and wear and expect transparency from the companies they choose to spend their money with, he added.
“People are well-informed and know authenticity,” Alagöz said.
Lauren added: “These ideas grow organically. A collective wave happens and each piece informs the next piece. It’s just like how digital made us rethink our business. It modernizes our company.”
He said the company has already eliminated the use of plastic bottles internally, which is a simple change but one that has impact.
“We still have a lot to do, but we’re very methodical and building a roadmap and hopefully within three to five years, we will have really executed it,” he said.
The Earth Polo will retail for $89.50 and be available for both men and women at retail stores globally as well as on the Ralph Lauren e-commerce site. It will be available in four colorways: green, white, navy, and light blue.
As part of the launch and in celebration of Earth Day, Ralph Lauren employees around the world will also participate in waterfront cleanups coordinated by Waterkeeper Alliance, a long-standing charitable partner of the brand, and work to drive donations to the group in its retail stores.