Fashion Commits to Sustainability

Vogue Italia 2010 “Water and Oil” by Steven Meisel

In a never-ending parade of disappointment from America’s recent political leadership, nothing to me is more baffling or infuriating than the United States pulling out of the Paris Climate Accord. Although not to be put in effect anyway until 2020, what kind of a message does this send to the world community to be one of only 3 countries to not sign the accord (along with Syria and Nicaragua)? Where is the business sense in pulling out investment for tomorrow’s jobs? What is the message for the younger generation who will live through the consequences of climate change?

Even leaders of the fashion industry, the world’s most polluting industry only after oil, have already expressed outrage including François- Henri Pinault CEO of Kering (French luxury holding group including a portfolio of brands including Gucci, Saint Laurent and Stella McCartney):

Despite one country’s Washington D.C’s gesture, we see a positive backlash with the world community even more committed to fighting climate change and investing in sustainable practices whether it be governments, businesses, schools.

“Make our planet great again”

 

Climate change is already impacting fashion businesses with changing seasonality and rising cost of raw materials and logistics. The warmer winter temperatures have cost apparel stores an average of $572 million between November 1 and December 31, 2015, compared to the same period the year before.

Therefore it makes business sense to improve practices. Marie-Claire Daveu, chief sustainability officer and head of international institutional affairs at Kering stated to Business of Fashion:

“We plan to align the next phase of our targets and actions to ensure that we can contribute to a 1.5 degrees world”. She added that as renewable technologies are “dramatically” dropping in price it makes “good business sense anyway.”

The value for the world economy of reducing energy emissions in the fashion industry is equivalent to €67 billion annually, and will create more jobs and opportunities for tomorrow.

Many other fashion companies are committed to sustainable practices including Levi Strauss & Co. Nike, Gap and Tiffany and Co. who even took out an ad to stay in the Paris agreement. Tiffany’s interim chief executive Michael Kowalski stated at the 2017 Copenhagen Fashion Summit, “This isn’t politics, this is science.”

Tiffany and Co. Advert sparking controversy

In response to the US’s withdrawal, Levi Strauss & Co chief executive Chip Bergh wrote on LinkedIn: “Leaving the Paris Climate Accord puts us – and our US peers – at a huge disadvantage…We’re acutely aware that climate change, if left unchecked, will have dire effects on our business, the communities in which we operate, and the world at large. The Administration’s decision to back out of the Paris Accord will not change Levi Strauss & Co.’s commitment to reducing our impact on the environment; and we will continue to pursue technologies that can reduce the apparel industry’s environmental impact.”

Moreover, businesses cannot afford to not commit. We live in a very transparent “word of mouth” world thanks to social media. If you are seen or called out as polluting and implementing unethical practices, you risk tarnishing your brand beyond repair. Shortcuts and short term savings can lead to irreversible long term damage.

Chanel Eco- Haute Couture SS16 | Image retrieved from Dazed.com, taken by Chloé Le Drezen

Much of these positive business practices start with research and education. For example, I am proud that the London College of Fashion integrates sustainability into all of its courses. It hosts the Centre for Sustainable Fashion (CSF) research centre emphasising LCF’s commitment to use fashion to drive change, build a sustainable future and improve the way we live. It has grown into a diverse community of world leading researchers, designers, educators and communicators with an extensive network that crosses disciplines, generations, cultures and locations, leading to:

Create internationally acclaimed research
Set agendas in government, business, and public arenas
Pioneer world relevant curriculum

One specific example of CSF’s projects is its notable partnership with Kering. LCF students from across all the schools at MA level can apply to be part of the Kering collaborative unit: Empowering Imagination. Through the co-creational curriculum the project aims to create a new breed of fashion graduate who can support sustainable practices and innovation within the industry and implement change. The 15-week module draws on research based on sustainability principles such as holism, empathy and resilience using a range of ecological and social design methods, underpinned by the experience of practical and visionary interventions that Kering has been developing through its brands.

Work by LCF MA Fashion Futures student Fiona Fung retrieved from sustainable-fashion.com

Lisbeth Løvbak Berg LCF MA student of Fashion Futures participated in the Kering project stating it was a very positive experience due to its entrepreneurial element, collaborating with students from other courses, and learning new perspectives.

She stated that the project emphasised the business impact of sustainability, specifically looking at the environment profit and loss account and switching from short term mindset to look at the long term. One of the only ways to make real sustainable impact is through business sense and thanks to teaching from Kering and LCF lecturers, that was proven.

For the project Løvbak Berg and her LCF team created an app idea in order to calculate the impact of our clothing. The purpose is to trace our clothing’s impact and allows the user also to compare their “footprint” with others by scanning a label or manually entering information.

The project reinforced the idea that businesses lecturers and students are proactively taking action: thinking of new ideas and considering more than just selling more and more without effect.

With a detrimental tipping point of an average global temperature threatening to rise 4*C by 2060, causing extreme droughts, sea level rises and the collapse of important ecosystems, it is our duty to take action, invest in the future and commit to reversing rising CO2 levels. The time for debating politics is over, it is time to take action for the future of this planet, the future of the next generations, and yes… even for those long term profits.

Cartoon from The New Yorker by Tom Toro