The fashion industry is now the world’s 2nd largest polluter, right after the oil industry. Leading by example, the luxury fashion industry has made it a priority to rethink its entire business model from the ground up, bringing new challenges and benefits.

Paris, 4th of March 2019 – Oprah Winfrey’s presence to British designer-darling Stella McCartney’s fashion show has people gasp in surprise. But it is not only that. On the runway, the models are parading in coats made from sustainable viscose sourced from certified forests, upcycled fabric from the designer’s past collections form a maxi dress and vegan leather-free jackets. This collection was hailed by critics to be the most sustainable ever designed to date. From the get-go, McCartney ambitioned to be the most sustainable brand from the fashion circuit. Twenty years later, she will soon become a zero-impact brand she says.

Metrics in the red

The fashion industry is responsible for 10% of the carbon footprint, the biggest user of herbicide and pesticide in the world and its local freshwater consumption is rising eyebrows at a time when water shortage alerts are being issued more and more. Elsewhere, the industry’s greenhouse gas emissions levels are higher than those of the transportation industry.

Nathalie Lebas-Vautier, founder & CEO of Good Fabric, the consulting company specialised in eco responsible fashion, has seen these metrics worsen gradually. When Xavier Marie together with two other investment funds bought Eric Bompard, the French cashmere brand, in January 2018, he called on Lebas-Vautier’s experience to take the head of the brand’s Corporate Social Responsibility department (CSR). Together they have for ambition to become a fully sustainable brand by 2025.

At the head of Bompard, Xavier Marie cannot fathom putting a product on the market without knowing where it comes from, “we believe companies are fully responsible for the product they deliver on the market,” raises Lebas-Vautier, “this goes hand in hand with our social responsibility.” Fully committed to their 2025 goal, they have established a strategy where all their partners will be audited, even in the farms, to give them a 360° vision of the business. “Who are the people working in the fields? Are they paid properly? How do they live? How do the animals eat? How is the cashmere fibre processed? We do not care for declaratory acts. We are getting our hands dirty for sure,” she confirms.

Innovate… or die?

More than ever, as consumers’ enquiry around products’ origin grows and resources are becoming scarce, there is a compelling case for fashion players to improve on these topics – even more so because it will generate long-term financial benefits. According to the Boston Consulting group Pulse report, on the back of increase labour costs and other resources, “continuing business as usual will result in an EBIT margin decline of 3 to 4 percentage points by 2030”. By comparison, the report suggests that implementing a sustainable roadmap will generate EBIT uplift of 1 to 2 percent. Since 2017, in collaboration with the Global Fashion Agenda, the leadership forum on Fashion sustainability, the Pulse of the Fashion Industry report reveals where the industry stands on its environmental and social performance.

In the past year, the Pulse score of the Fashion industry has risen from 32 to 38. The largest companies can rely on more important financial means to invest and innovate around sustainable actions. These fashion mastodons’ Pulse score, however, is growing slower than the rest of the industry and points at an issue where scalable and commercially viable solutions have yet to be found in their case. By comparison, smaller companies are more agile to implement disruptive technologies.

After conducting interviews and reviewing best-practices, the Pulse report offers a roadmap to scale for all Fashion companies regardless of their size and geography to implement high-impact solutions now. The curve is a three-phases trajectory towards a healthy Pulse score.

We believe companies are fully responsible for the product they deliver on the market, this goes hand in hand with our social responsibility

Nathalie Lebas-Vautier, founder & CEO of Good Fabric

The first period, “Building the Foundation”, sees the organization unite beyond uncoordinated, scattered actions and commit to improve their environmental and social impact. This is when sustainable targets are then set and should also be linked to the company’s overall business strategy, values and DNA. Typically, companies start with traceability measures at the supply chain to understand the opportunities and challenges at hand. During the second phase, “Implementing the Core”, companies are taking concrete actions to modify their process: improve material mix, less chemicals… They often call on the help of their existing or new suppliers to improve the production process. During the third phase, “Expanding to Scale”, sees the company extend these new processes to the entire organisation and allocate new investments towards new innovations.

Towards global green domination

A decade after the first edition of the Copenhagen Fashion Summit, the annual event will bring together in May 2019 the biggest names of the Fashion industry, François-Henri Pinault, Kering Chairman and CEO, Eric Sprunk, Nike COO, Anna Geda, H&M Head of Sustainability or Steven Kolb, President and CEO of The Council of Fashion Designers of America, proving that sustainability is gaining momentum amongst the Fashion industry.