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Big names unite for sustainable fashion impact

At the G7 summit in Biarritz last weekend 32 retailers and suppliers signed the Fashion Pact – an agreement to champion sustainable fashion. Drapers assesses their chances of success. 

It is no secret that the fashion industry is one of the planet’s biggest polluters and efforts to curb its waste must be colossal to be effective. In a bid to tackle the problem 32 of the world’s largest fashion retailers and suppliers, including Chanel and Zara owner Inditex, have formed a coalition to address their negative impact. 

The plan, dubbed the Fashion Pact, was presented to heads of state during the G7 summit of the most developed nations in Biarritz, France over the bank holiday weekend. It is committed to three key science-based targets:

  • Global warming, the objective being to achieve zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 to keep global warming below 1.5°Celsius until 2100.
  • Restoring biodiversity, with a focus on restoring natural ecosystems and protecting species. 
  • Preserving the oceans, namely by reducing the use of single-use plastics.

“These three areas are deemed the most critical for the fashion industry,” Simon Forster, managing director at Selfridges, one of the signatories of the pact, tells Drapers. “They are measurable through quantitative science-based targets: this is extremely important to be able to make real progress. They are broad enough to be relevant and meaningful across a diverse range of fashion organisations.”

Sea change

The pact has been in the works since April, when French president Emmanuel Macron challenged the CEO and chairman of Kering Group, François-Henri Pinault (above, left, with Macron), to bring together a global group of fashion industry partners to sign the agreement.

The full list comprises Adidas, Bestseller, Burberry, Capri Holdings, Carrefour, Chanel, Everybody & Everyone, Fashion3, Ferragamo, Fung Group, Galeries Lafayette, Gap, Giorgio Armani, H&M, Hermes, Inditex, Karl Lagerfeld, La Redoute, Matchesfashion, Moncler, Nike, Nordstrom, Prada Group, Puma, PVH, Ralph Lauren, Ruyi, Selfridges Group, Stella McCartney, Tapestry and Zegna.

The Fashion Pact not only sets ambitious targets, but the market share and size of the signatories is significant

Eva Kruse, CEO and president of sustainability forum Global Fashion Agenda

It follows a wave of recent sustainability activities: Primark announced this month that it will train 160,000 cotton farmers, Inditex said last month that it would eliminate all single-use plastics from customer sales by 2023 and Prada vowed to use only recycled nylon in June.

“This is a really big and important step for the fashion industry,” says Eva Kruse, CEO and president of sustainability forum Global Fashion Agenda. “The Fashion Pact not only sets ambitious targets, but the market share and size of the signatories is significant. I expect it will make a serious impact as it is spearheaded by both the industry and CEOs.” 

All together

Signatories have stressed the need for collaboration over competition and are urging retailers, fashion companies, governments and non-government organisations to get on board.

Kering’s chief sustainability officer Marie-Claire Daveu, who has been leading the initiative alongside Pinault, says: “This unprecedented movement can be much stronger than several national regulations. It’s key that this movement continues to increase momentum, and we welcome any fashion brand that is ready to be committed with this level of ambition.”

Burberry CEO Marco Gobbetti agrees that it is vital to work together to tackle the problem: “[At Burberry] we know that one company cannot solve the environmental challenges facing our planet alone and we believe in the power of collaboration to drive real change.”

Inditex executive chairman, Pablo Isla, says the driving force behind the project is the “conviction shared by all signatories about the shared responsibility” to protect the environment.

An H&M spokeswoman tells Drapers: “When it comes to industry-wide challenges, such as climate, biodiversity or protect the oceans, we can accomplish more when all the players share the same high ambitions and join forces to achieve them.”

Disappointment in the government’s failure to engage was palpable throughout the industry 

Elisa Shepherd, fashion sustainability consultant

Frankie Phillips, founder of sustainable and ethical clothing brand To Be Frank and founding trustee of the To Be Frank Foundation, a charity committed to supporting sustainability in the fashion supply chain, explains that “collaboration is key” for a sustainable future: “Retailers cannot say, ‘This is our idea’ and keep it to themselves. They need to share ideas so the good work can be mirrored. The pact is a great opportunity to do this.

However, she suspects some may be jumping on the sustainability bandwagon to gain positive press: “Sadly, though, some are driven by margins and the money they can bring in. I would like to think they are doing this because they want to save the world, but for some this will be a consumer-led motive.”

Fashion pact signatories

Representatives of the signatories to the Fashion Pact

State aid

Other industry stakeholders are also sceptical about the pact and whether it can be achieved without government aid.

“I think the idea is very honourable, I do welcome it, but pledges are easy to say and far harder to implement,” says Jenny Holloway, CEO of north London-based manufacturing firm Fashion Enter, which supplies Asos.

“For the pact to be successful the industry also needs the government’s help. But it ignored the sustainability recommendations set out by the environmental audit committee before, so why will it help now – particularly as it is so busy with Brexit priorities?”

The environmental audit committee report, Fixing Fashion, published in February, called for an end to throwaway fashion through wide-ranging recommendations covering environmental and labour market practices. 

Business can’t sit back and wait for government to legislate. We have to drive the change we want to see

Managing director of a high street retailer

All of the recommendations were rejected: the government said it would not impose a landfill ban for unsold stock; it will focus on tax on single-use plastic in packaging, not clothing; and would only consider the report’s 1p per garment recommendation – a consultation for this scheme could run as late as 2025.

“Disappointment in the government’s failure to engage was palpable throughout the industry,” Elisa Shepherd, fashion sustainability consultant and former Topshop designer, tells Drapers. “The suggestions put forward by the committee were researched and actionable, and would have sent a clear message about the future of fashion and the expected code of conduct.”

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To Be Frank’s Phillips agrees government support is needed to drive change forward: “There are too many hoops that retailers have to go through to be sustainably certified, which isn’t good enough. The cost and the effort put people off trying to do good. The government can help massively by removing or easing these barriers.”

However, the managing director of one high street retailer argues businesses must push forward and not rely on the government’s backing: “Business can’t sit back and wait for government to legislate. We have to drive the change we want to see.”

Cost code

Another challenge facing the industry as it seeks to improve its sustainability credentials is cost. Drapers fashion sustainability survey, published in June, found that the most common barrier to becoming more sustainable – cited by 60.3% of respondents – was that it drives up costs.

Some are concerned that the pact, which is being led by luxury brands, may be out of reach to high street retailers battling squeezed margins.

There now need to be strict enforcements put in place for businesses to follow – and then naming and shaming who isn’t doing it correctly

Jenny Holloway, Fashion Enter

“What worries me is how these initiatives are going to be implemented,” says Holloway.

“How expensive is it going to be? Is it affordable to the generic woman on the high street? Is it another cost for the retailers to absorb? Let’s hope these costs don’t wash down to the garment manufacturers. 

“Moving forward, I’d like to see a critical path of activities [from the government and pact leaders] to grasp and hold on to for the future. There now need to be strict enforcements put in place for businesses to follow – and then naming and shaming who isn’t doing it correctly.” 

The Drapers Verdict 

While the government focuses its effort on the UK’s departure from the European Union, the fashion industry has taken it upon itself to tackle the issues surrounding the sustainability conundrum. In order to make a change for the better, it is important that fashion businesses continue to come together and collaborate rather than compete.

The Fashion Pact is a historic move, given the scale and importance of the coalition that has been created, and a positive stepping stone in the industry’s drive to safeguard the planet. However, the costs involved are a huge barrier, and this evidently cannot be achieved without the help of the government. 

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