Sustainable Fashion in 2024

The Urgent Need for Change

The fashion industry is at a critical crossroads. Each year, the global fashion industry sells more than 100 billion items of clothing, and the average shopper now buys 60% more clothing than they did 15 years ago. This relentless pursuit of growth and consumption has come at a devastating cost to our planet and the people who make our clothes. The impact that fashion has on the environment is undeniable, with the industry contributing significantly to issues like pollution, resource depletion, and climate change.

Recognizing the urgent need for change, fashion brands are now being forced to reckon with their environmental and social impact. Customers, investors, and regulators are all demanding that the industry take concrete steps to become more sustainable. As a result, references to sustainability in fashion’s annual reports have more than doubled over the last five years, and investment in sustainable initiatives is soaring.

Kering: A Luxury Conglomerate Leading the Way

One company that has embraced sustainability as a core part of its business model is Kering, one of the largest luxury conglomerates in the world. Kering, which owns iconic brands like Gucci, Saint Laurent, and Balenciaga, has made a concerted effort to transform its operations and become a more responsible fashion business.

Kering’s journey began in 2005 when François-Henri Pinault, the company’s CEO and chairman, took over the reins. Pinault recognized that the luxury division was the group’s greatest growth opportunity, and he set out to refocus the company’s strategy around a portfolio of complementary luxury brands. But Pinault also saw an opportunity to make sustainability a defining component of Kering’s identity.

Embedding Sustainability at the Core

Kering has taken a holistic approach to sustainability, embedding it into every aspect of its operations. The company has created dedicated knowledge centers led by domain experts, like Chief Sustainability Officer Marie-Claire Daveu, who work closely with the creative teams to ensure that sustainability is considered at the earliest stages of product development.

Kering has also made significant investments in innovative materials and technologies that can help reduce the industry’s environmental impact. For example, the company has created an ethical gold framework to ensure that 100% of the gold used across its brands is responsibly sourced and traceable. Additionally, Kering’s materials innovation lab has developed a library of nearly 4,000 sustainable fabrics and textiles.

Scaling Sustainability Across the Industry

Kering recognizes that its efforts alone are not enough to drive meaningful change across the industry. The company has taken a collaborative approach, working to share its best practices and open-source its innovations. In 2019, Kering launched The Fashion Pact, a coalition of over 60 global fashion and textile companies committed to addressing the industry’s environmental challenges.

Kering’s Chief Client and Digital Officer, Grégory Boutté, explains the company’s rationale for embracing initiatives like the resale platform Vestiaire Collective: “I think the luxury industry is very well positioned to be really strong in secondhand, right? Because our houses build amazing products that last a long time with amazing material and so they’re prone to have like a second, a third life.”

Balancing Growth and Sustainability

Of course, Kering’s sustainability journey is not without its challenges. As a public company, Kering must balance its commitment to growth and profitability with its environmental and social responsibilities. Daveu acknowledges that this is a complex issue, saying, “The main thing here is I don’t think there’s one single magic recipe that’s gonna solve the entire problem, but the way I think about that particular fundamental question you’re talking about is like trying to do everything we can at every stage of our value chain to reduce the impact we’re having on the environment.”

Pinault believes that luxury brands have a unique responsibility to lead the industry’s sustainability efforts, as their business model is not solely based on volume growth. “The growth has to be built on volume and value,” he says. “It’s natural for luxury brands to work like that but mass brands will try to build products with more quality and accept to sell less at higher value. And when customer will understand also that’s the right way to do things. And that’s, for me, the cornerstone of sustainability in the private sector is that it’s to accept, not to change your development model between value and volume.”

A Collective Effort for a Sustainable Future

Ultimately, creating a more sustainable fashion industry will require a concerted effort across the entire industry. Companies must work together to share expertise, open-source innovations, and establish clear, standardized metrics to measure progress. Regulators and ethical investors also have a crucial role to play in holding the industry accountable and incentivizing sustainable practices.

As Daveu emphasizes, “Working together is absolutely key and sharing of what everything we do in that field of sustainability is absolutely key to succeed and to try to avoid the catastrophe.” There is no time to waste – the clock is ticking, and the fashion industry must act now to reshape its future and protect our planet.

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