On Monday night, the Fashion Institute of Technology kicked off "The Hand of Fashion" in New York City. The 10-part speaker series focuses on sustainability in the fashion industry and was planned in collaboration with Simone Cipriani, founder of the UN program Ethical Fashion Initiative of the International Trade Centre, which promotes artisan-and-brand partnerships and best sustainable and ethical practices in fashion.
For the series's debut event, Cipriani welcomed Marie-Claire Daveu, chief sustainability officer and head of international institutional affairs at the Kering Group, which was recently recognized as the Textiles, Apparel and Luxury Goods industry leader in the 2015 Dow Jones Sustainability Indices for the second consecutive year. Daveu presented Kering's sustainability strategy in addition to fielding questions from the audience about the industry's hot topic. Here are the five most interesting points we learned from both Daveu and Cipriani about the current (and future) state of sustainability in fashion, particularly in the luxury realm.
1. The current fashion calendar isn't ideal for sustainability.
The fashion calendar that designers follow today not only puts a strain on creativity, but it's also a not-so-ideal timeline for maintaining sustainable practices, especially when sourcing from artisans. Cipriani claims fashion houses request samples — sometimes multiples — from artisans for no pay and with little lead time. These artisans then aren't notified about further production details until long after fashion month, when orders from buyers are finally placed. This creates an aggressive schedule that not only prevents brands from maintaining meaningful and workable partnerships with artisans but is also a costly detriment to the artisans themselves.
2. The Trans-Pacific Partnership may have a positive impact on sustainability.
Social sustainability, that is. According to Cipriani, TPP's negative effects, such as an increased carbon footprint, are inevitable but also short term. The long-term effect, however, is good, and Cipriani predicts that the TPP will help spread sustainable practices among its businesses. "Whenever you put together company cultures that are more sustainable and less sustainable, the more sustainable ones prevail always," he said. "It's a natural process. It's not wishful thinking." In addition, Cipriani noted that this type of world trade will also further expose poor labor practices among suppliers.
3. Sustainable practices are best implemented when tackled from the executive level of a company.
"Governance is key," said Daveu. "It's great to have the CEO very engaged and committed in sustainability. It doesn't happen on the ground." Daveu, an executive at Kering, has her own team to address sustainability across all of the luxury group's brands. Having a dedicated department that's on the same level as a company's finance, human resources or communications departments will allow for hiring high-level experts dedicated to such issues as climate change, energy efficiency and water usage.
4. A company looking to improve its sustainable practices should look at the supply chain.
According to Kering's environmental profit and loss report (EP&L), 93 percent of its total impact on the environment comes from its supply chain, particularly Tier 4, which is responsible for raw material production. In order for Kering to develop solutions, Daveu explained that it's an ongoing and customized assessment and process for each supplier. Daveu's team has also identified new and sustainable raw materials from the company's Materials Innovation Lab in Novara, Italy. The lab has produced a heavy-metal free leather for Gucci, thus reducing the brand's water and energy usage, as well as sourced sustainable wool for Stella McCartney from the Patagonia grasslands. Daveu also mentioned that Kering is working with Worn Again, a start-up that's developing ways to recycle polyester.
5. United Arrows and Mimco are sustainable brands that should be on your radar.
Cipriani cites Stella McCartney and Vivienne Westwood as two of the top sustainable luxury brands in the industry. He also mentioned that Westwood's New York City flagship, slated to open next year, will offer her 13th collection of handbags made in Africa with the Ethical Fashion Initiative. Other brands who are making their mark in sustainability? United Arrows, a luxury department store in Japan that operates its own ethical in-house label called TÉGÊ, and Mimco, an Australian accessories brand committed to becoming an industry leader in sustainability.