Experts from Oliver Spencer, Coats, Ganni, Eileen Fisher and Ninety Percent described their responsible business models and manifestos, and how they are measuring up against their targets at Drapers Sustainable Fashion 2019.
Bleue Wickham Burnham, head of sustainability, Oliver Spencer: “Small changes with big implications”
Oliver Spencer is a British menswear brand founded by the eponymous designer in 2002. Known for its use of quality fabrics across menswear staples, the brand now has five stores across London. Bleue Wickham Burnham joined the business in 2015, but moved into his sustainability-focused role two years ago, aiming to bring more sustainable knowledge, structure and strategy to the business. He explains the brand’s sustainability model.
My role started two years ago, to bring more sustainable knowledge to the table, as well structure and strategy. Since then, we have managed to increase our use of ecological fabrics, such as organic cottons, to 30%. We have transitioned all our locations, stores and headquarters, to 100% renewable energy. We have partnered with the Woodland Trust and planted more than 300 trees last year. And we have engaged even more in repair and remaking to keep our clothes in use.
I believe in small changes that make big implications.
Fashion and business can be quite competitive, but when it comes to sustainability, it’s not about being competitive, or the best – it’s about doing what is right for your business to reduce your environmental impact and make your unique impact.
Most of our clothing is made from cotton. The largest impact of that garment occurs through the growing of cotton. So that was my initial focus. The first plan of action was to bring organic cotton in our ranges.
The next step was the unique application of that for our business, how to make organic cotton a bigger part of our production. We looked to our bestselling products first, because that way you will have the biggest impact, as that’s what you sell the most of. We transitioned our bestselling T-shirts, shirts, chinos to organic cotton – so by focusing on them first, we have already made a bigger jump.
The second area is packaging. The key is to use less and make sure that it is fully recyclable. The unique application part comes from your own exit points of packaging, where is it discarded: commercial business disposal, or via the customer at home. I looked at Oliver Spencer, and the plastic packing we use. We wanted to make sure that it exited at a commercial point, via our stockists or in stores, removing as much packaging that we can then. We also now use fully recyclable plastic.
There’s a very simplistic approach to plastic. Plastic itself is a really good material, strong, lightweight. It is the way we’re using it that is wrong. When you’re looking at getting rid of something, it’s important to know what the alternative is. We need to protect our garments. The alternatives are cardboard, which is hard to make and recycle, and not the best at protecting clothing. Corn-based packing uses a lot of energy and can’t be recycled. Plastics can be a tricky situation. You need to make unique decisions for your business.
Finally, it might not be for every business, but it was so simple to switch to renewable energy. The impact is huge, and it doesn’t cost you any more money.
Andrew Morgan, head of sustainability at Coats: “100% recycled polyester – we haven’t the foggiest how we’ll get there but we’re confident we will”
Founded in the 1750s, when organic cotton and natural yarns were the norm, Andrew Morgan, head of sustainability at multinational thread maker Coats, explained that sustainability is integral to the business’s DNA.
Previously, the company shied away from speaking about its work in the area of sustainability, but as the industry changes, Morgan said this was no longer possible: “We’ve been doing an awful lot in our supply chain, but over the last year we have been joining in the conversation. We’ve undergone a process of internal change. It was uncomfortable for senior management to talk about what they have done, and also say what we’re going to do next year.”
In January, Coats launched a manifesto on sustainability, and set targets in five key areas: water, energy, effluent, social and living sustainably.
By 2022, Coats is targeting a 40% reduction in water use, a 7% reduction in energy use and a shift to renewable sources, 25% reduction in waste, more stringent compliance targets for effluent and further community engagement.
By 2024, Morgan said Coats aims to have 100% of polyester in its products from recycled materials: “We haven’t the foggiest idea how we’re going to get there yet – but we’re confident it will happen.”
Morgan was frank about the need to change the way the business operates: “We produce 70,000 tonnes of thread per year and almost all of that is from unsustainable sources and it is single use. The issue for us is resolving that.”
“There are storms out there and soon it will become uncomfortable for us as an industry – we can’t go on with what we’re doing,” he adds. “We want to be part of the solution and we can only do that by working together.”
Lauren Bartley, head of sustainability and CSR, Ganni: “Climate compensating and being honest, if not perfect”
Ganni is a Danish womenswear brand that was founded in 2000 but is now run by husband and wife duo Nicholaj and Ditte Reffstrup. As CEO and creative director respectivily, the pair have transformed the label into the star of Copenhagen Fashion Week, with a cult-like following for its sell out vintage-inspired dresses and colourfully contemporary take on dressing.
Lauren Bartley joined the company in September 2018 and heads its two-person sustainability team, having worked at the Soil Association and high street retailer Oasis. She explains Ganni’s sustainability model.
”At Ganni, we have been climate compensating since 2016. Since then we have been tracking our carbon footprint, via the fibres and materials we use, our production processes and transportation, among other things. We use a third-party business called CEMAsys, which takes all that data and create our carbon footprint. For 2018 it was 6,725 tonnes of carbon.
Now we know, we have to understand where its coming from, and we found that pretty much 80% comes from the materials and fibres we are using within our clothes. Leather and wool have the highest impact.
So next, we had to compensate for this. We decided to impose a carbon tax on ourselves, which we calculated at £52,000. We decided to put all that money back into UN approved social projects.
And the most important thing is how do we reduce and get our footprint down. We became a signatory of the Charter for Climate and committed to a 30% reduction in carbon per kilogram of clothing by 2030.
Also, at Christmas, instead of gifting clothes our jewellery to our staff, everyone was carbon compensation as a gift to raise awareness within the company.
Honest but not perfect is our catchphrase. We know we might not be perfect, but we have to be honest.”
Amy Hall, vice-president social consciousness, Eileen Fisher: “Measuring the ‘quadruple bottom line’”
A motto for New York womenswear brand Eileen Fisher is: “We grow clothes. We grow people. We grow business for good.”
Amy Hall, vice-president of social consciousness at Eileen Fisher, explains that one way this is measured is by having a “quadruple bottom line”. Alongside the traditional revenue and profit measurements, the business also measures environmental costs, and the social impact on employees internally and in external suppliers.
The business will report on its first set of targets at the end of the year, which set eight social and environmental goals to achieve by 2020.
“Many goals will continue on, but we have achieved a lot,” says Hall.
One way the brand is continuing to increase its sustainable credentials is through design. “We have a whole process that designers use that tells designers the environmental value of all the fabrics they work with,” explains Hall. “We are working on something similar on the social side too, to help designers determine the best factories for their products to be made in.”
Circular fashion is also a focus for the business, and take-back schemes were introduced into stores back in 2009. “To date we have collected over one million individual Eileen Fisher garments,” she says. “Each customer is given $5 for each garment, which is not a huge incentive but enough to feel like they are getting something. We now collect around 5,000 units a week.”
Hall explains that only 50% of clothing we take back is perfect condition and can be resold. The other 50% becomes the raw materials for something else as part of the Waste No More project.
“We have a factory in Irvington New York, where people piece together tiny pieces of old clothing – and put them through a mechanical felting machine,” explains Hall. “What we get are bolts of beautiful upholstery weight fabrics.” These have been used to create furniture, art installations. Prototypes of clothing using these fabrics have also been developed, and the brand has collaborated with designers including streetwear brand Public School, to reuse the fabrics in new and creative ways.
“We have a lot of possibility here,” says Hall. “As our founder and CEO Eileen Fisher says: in the midst of the problem is the next possibility.”
Shafiq Hassan, co-founder of Ninety Percent: “A business model based on sharing, empathy, compassion and values”
“We’re trying to create a movement,” said Shafiq Hassan, co-founder of Ninety Percent. “I thought there had to be a model for business based on sharing, empathy, compassion and values.”
The resulting womenswear brand which was founded in 2017 works on a model whereby 90% of distributed profits going to worth causes. A total of 80% goes to causes the business believes in, which are decided on by the customer when they order, 5% goes to people who run company and 5% to those who make clothes. The remaining 10% goes to company shareholders.
“Sustainability means different things to different people. Everyone has a different way of looking at it,” explained Hassan. “We look at the end result, balance and equilibrium. With Ninety Percent we are trying to create a model that empowers everything we touch. The idea is that we actually can make a difference.”
He continued: “We have to connect the dots and act now to achieve sustainability. We have to take responsibility.
“We have to do this in the developed world: it has to be a cultural revolution to move away from wasteful and consumption driven lives.”
In addition to social projects, Ninety Percent works with 95% sustainable fabrics, including Tencel, linen, organic cotton, organic merino wool and peace silk. Eventually Hassan aims to have a QR code on each item that will allow the customers to see the full traceability of their chosen product.
“Our financial model thinks about a new way of doing business,” says Hassan. “It might not be easy, and we’re one year old, so we might not be successful. We are selling about a quarter of what we need to per week to become profitable. But everything takes time.”
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