PARIS — LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton wrapped up four days of climate week presentations to employees with sessions featuring designers Stella McCartney, Jonathan Anderson, Kim Jones and Felipe Oliveira Baptista.
The designers followed a roster of speakers that included Laurent Fabius, the former French prime minister who negotiated the Paris Agreement to reduce climate change in 2015; climate scientist Valérie Masson-Delmotte; Bertrand Piccard, who founded the Solar Impulse Foundation, and Alec Ross, an adviser to the administration of former President Barack Obama.
The luxury company held the event to award brand efforts and introduce its new environmental initiatives, structured around a program baptized “Life 360,” with objectives set for three-, six- and 10-year time frames.
“Companies have achieved a number of results by understanding that it was in the interest of the entire society but also their own interest to fight against global warming,” said Fabius, before urging the corporate world to do more.
“We wanted to send an extremely powerful symbol to embark on a new path forward, which is imperative given the urgency of the situation,” said Antoine Arnault, LVMH image and communications director.
The group awarded stores in Europe according to various criteria, including Bulgari’s Montenapoleone store in Milan for lighting, and Louis Vuitton’s Florence boutique for energy management.
“We will be able to move forward by co-creating solutions and encouraging their broadest possible adoption,” said environmental development director Hélène Valade, who joined the group just under a year ago.
McCartney traced her commitment to the environment to her parents, who raised her as a vegetarian on an organic farm, noting she grew up closely attuned to nature.
“I was brought up with a very clear awareness to the planet, the seasons, animal wellness, respecting nature, respecting her power and the magnitude of what she brings to us if we can live in harmony with her,” she said.
Stressing the challenges in bringing this awareness to the fashion industry, she said she learned the importance of having the conversation in ways that make people feel less threatened and that there are solutions.
“It’s a hard conversation to have with people and if you’re too overwhelming or there’s too much fear and too much gloom and doom then maybe it doesn’t really help solve the problem,” she said.
“Early on in my career, not using leather, not using feathers or fur was a very, very unique perspective, and considering that the bulk of the industry is based on leather and fur and feathers, it was a very kind of individual and specific point of difference for me,” continued the designer.
“At first, I was probably ridiculed, made fun of — not only was my father Paul McCartney but also I was this strange creature and strange female coming into an industry, really challenging the norm and challenging the way that things had been done for hundreds of years,” she recalled.
“I was just treated like anyone who comes at things differently. I think if you come at any industry with a different way of looking at it, and challenge any of the norms, then sometimes you can be a threat to people and sometimes you can just be made fun of,” she said.
The designer described her label’s approach to sustainability.
“We’re a sustainable brand and in that sense we look to sustain and work in a way that is something that can actually can take from a source and give back to the source rather than just taking and taking and taking,” she said.
The brand’s strategy of not harming animals is closely linked to a lower environmental impact, noted McCartney.
“Being a vegetarian brand means we don’t kill any cows or ducks or chickens or crocodiles or snakes or animals.
“That actually has the biggest impact for us environmentally, the animal agriculture on the planet today accounts for maybe 18 percent of all the greenhouse gases, it’s a huge amount and the fashion industry is a part of that — it’s not just the food industry,” she said.
“Being a vegetarian brand means that we really environmentally are at a head’s start just for not using any animal products,” she said, listing a host of costs associated with animal products, that can include cutting down rainforests, and using water supplies, electricity and chemicals for tanning. The brand also has vegan products that don’t use even eggs in the glue process.
Technology companies are key for pushing forward on the sustainability front.
“Every second a truckload of fast fashion is buried or burnt — things can be worn up to less than three times before they’re thrown away and that can accumulate to over $500 billion worth of waste,” she said.
The label is working with a company that takes waste in fashion and breaks it down in a nonchemical process for upcycling, she said, stressing the issue of unused clothing headed to landfills
“We use those fibers so it’s completely circular,” she said, stressing the importance working towards a circular economy.
McCartney detailed recent measures taken at the brand, including the development of a bio-based fur-like material, and working with a nongovernmental organization to plant trees to replace ones used for viscose, she said
“So we’re focusing on all of that kind of stuff and I could go on and on and on, but you don’t have time,” she said with a laugh.
Asked about her expectations from the U.K. government ahead of the next climate meeting, Cop26, set to take place in Glasgow next November, McCartney called for hard-hitting goals from policymakers.
“I think we’re really looking for clear definitions of what these goals look like. I think there’s a lot of talk; there’s a lot of, sort of, dates bashed around but there’s not real clarity and commitment,” she said.
When it comes to adhering to recommendations of, say, not using a certain chemical, or method of farming or sourcing, for example, the fashion industry could use specific government rules, she suggested.
“Maybe we need to be told like school children that we’re not allowed to do it by a certain date, because otherwise we’re going to get into trouble or penalized,” she said, calling also for responsible policies to be rewarded.
Jonathan Anderson stressed the importance of fashion reflecting society and its concerns.
“We are in an unprecedented moment where design has to be a mirror to the world, and for it to be a mirror, it has to reflect the concerns of it,” said Anderson, Loewe’s creative director, noting that great design reflects this, no matter if its fashion, furniture or architecture.
“For me, I actually put it into my work process as a kind of creative challenge to the team, so that we can bring the entire company behind it, so it actually becomes a kind of fun exercise and it doesn’t become something which is a panic and a stress,” he said.
Speaking of the brand’s Eye/Loewe/Nature line, he said that it was like a lab of ideas that could be implemented into the main collection.
“When you learn something, that can be implemented into ready-to-wear because we’ve already worked out the industrial process,” he said.
“Fashion cannot rely on p.r. and marketing tricks — saying you are carbon neutral tomorrow does not work today, it is unrealistic to say that. We have to kind of think of concrete structures that we can work towards goals that are realistic,” he said.
“It is about putting long-term solutions in, not about p.r. gambits,” added the designer.
Finding the right raw materials was one of the biggest challenges Anderson said he learned from the Eye/Loewe/Nature line. He was surprised at how few suppliers there were and noted that hardware like snaps and zippers that involve plating pose a particular challenge when it comes to the environment.
The brand worked closely with suppliers and when they manage to come up with a particular fabric, it makes sense to keep it in the long run, given the development work that goes into it. “It’s actually quite liberating when you have something you can hold on to,” he said.
At his namesake label JW Anderson, for example, a fabric for bags that is made entirely of recycled bottles took a huge amount of development, he explained. When it comes to upcycling — the label sought to make men’s checked shirts, jeans and knitwear, for example — the challenge is how to sell the pieces internationally — in China for example, a precise listing of the composition of the materials is needed.
“At the same time, when you see the end result of a product and you see the desirability within the product you want to make it work — I think for the customer it is incredibly rewarding for them and for us,” he said.
Going through the raw materials, Anderson said that 80 percent of Loewe leathers come from LWG certified tanneries.
“Leather is a very complex issue, it’s going to take many, many years to get to where we want to, because ultimately it is about a supply chain,” he said.
Describing cotton as his “biggest hang-up,” the designer said it’s even more complex, citing environmental and social issues — the latter in India, in particular.
Circling back to the issue of plating, he highlighted the difficulty of reversing the use of such big volumes of water.
Upcycling, however, is “one of the easiest, quickest wins,” he argued, noting how much clothing has already been produced.
The idea is to work with companies collecting waste.
“There is so much you can do from that — it really lends to fashion, because I think you could really come up with forward-thinking clothing, especially with denim,” he said, citing the worn-in patina of the material.
“Some of our best pieces are made from recycled denim.
“Those are the kinds of bigger wins while development in terms of manufacturing, it takes time,” he said.
When it comes to retail, the designer said the brand uses LED lighting, seeks to reuse furniture it already has, and source locally, rather than shipping marble across the world, for example.
Packaging is made from recycled paper, he added.
Asked about his view on the environment, Kenzo designer Felipe Oliveira Baptista noted there is reason for alarm.
“The situation is beyond alarming, I feel extremely frightened but I do not feel frozen or overrun by fear, I believe that each and every one of us must take action and it all starts with concrete steps in everyday life and if possible through one’s work, which I try to do as well,” he said.
Fashion needs to be consumed differently, suggested the designer.
“I think fashion over the years became a disposable industry and almost being consumed like junk food and the textile industry uses way more natural resources than are needed [and are] so often made in an awful way for the planet and the people on the other side of the globe. I personally think that it’s obscene that a pair of jeans can have the same price as a coffee in a chic terrace in Paris,” he said.
“You could say, ‘that does not concern LVMH,’ but I think it does because that fast consumption has changed the perception of the consumer of how they consume clothes, so when I talk about sustainability as well it’s about delivering a product that has a quality, a certain timelessness and at the same time is very creative and unique,” added Baptista.
Consumers are ready to pay more for fashion that respect the environment, he added.
“Today more than half of the consumers are ready to pay more for a sustainable product — in the very near future, people will not buy clothes if they’re not sustainable,” he said. “I think we have to provide answers to those demands,” added the designer.
Dior men’s designer Kim Jones appeared in a pre-recorded interview.
“I care about wildlife a lot; I don’t talk about it publicly, it’s just something I do, I don’t need to tell everyone,” said Jones.
Jones, who grew up in Africa and had planned to be a zoologist before being drawn into fashion, mentioned work with conservation groups protecting habitats of species whose populations are scant. He cited work with the douc langur primates in central Vietnam over the past seven years, which had resulted in the population doubling and being reintroduced to other parts of the country.
“I do all my work behind the scenes on sustainability. If people have questions about it I’m always happy to talk about it but I’m a fashion designer, I’m not a politician,” he said.
Jones stressed the importance of ensuring that upcoming generations be able to experience wildlife.
“I would hate all my godchildren and my friends’ children and the generations after us to not see that,” he said.
Anderson stressed the importance of individual action.
“If we want to continue on this planet we are going to have to change, and that is every single individual,” said Anderson.