France to lead fashion clean-up
25 May 2019 at 12:00 pm
The French government is tasking a luxury fashion boss with creating a coalition of industry leaders to set sustainability targets, as part of a broader move to clean up the industry.
Francois-Henri Pinault, the CEO of luxury fashion group Kering SA, revealed at the 2019 Copenhagen Fashion Summit that he had been appointed by French President Emmanuel Macron to reduce the industry’s carbon footprint.
With fashion being the second dirtiest industry after oil, it marks a wider shift by companies across the industry to be more sustainable for the planet and the people making the products.
Pinault, whose company owns brands such as Yves Saint Laurent, Gucci, Alexander McQueen, and Bottega Veneta, said at the summit that while all the major actors were working on issues of sustainability, they needed to combine their efforts.
“The problem is that doing everything separately we don’t have the impact that we should,” Pinault said.
“It’s about a few leaders who will put themselves in an uncomfortable situation to force themselves to move.”
It follows a move by Macron in 2018 to ban fashion companies from throwing away or destroying unsold luxury clothing. Deputy ecology minister Brune Poirson confirmed at the summit the practice would be banned.
While mass-market fashion companies dock the price of clothing until it’s all sold, luxury brands often burn clothing or bury it in landfill, to stop the pieces ending up in sale bins and avoid brand damage.
In 2018, Burberry became the first company to publicly announce it would put an end to burning clothing, following consumer outrage that the fashion house destroyed nearly £27 million worth of stock in a year.
As consumer and government awareness grows around unethical fashion practices, major international brands such as Burberry, Prada, Versace, Gucci, and Armani have banned real fur, and LVMH – the parent company of Louis Vuitton and Dior – this week announced a partnership with UNESCO to protect key ecosystems that support the industry.
An increasing number of international and Australian fashion events have also shone a spotlight on ethical industry practices, including Berlin Fashion Week, Re:Mode, and The Melbourne Fashion Festival – which for the first time ran events looking into the various aspects of sustainability, ethics and responsibility.
Camille Reed, the founder of the annual Australian Circular Fashion Conference, applauded the leadership shown by the French government and said that a similar approach should be adopted by governments globally.
“It would be a huge advantage to fast-track progress within large organisations to implement change and maintain an even playing field. Mandating and regulating offers very little wiggle room for slacking off,” Reed told Pro Bono News.
But she said to consider such actions on a federal level would mean ensuring Australian government leaders were up to speed on the matter, as the French and UK governments were.
“They have become incredibly involved with the clothing, textile and footwear industries, with parliamentary inquisitions and strategic research conducted across the fashion retail sector,” she said.
“If we follow the steps and actions these countries have taken then we can confidently say yes a similar approach should be adopted in Australia.”
She said the conversation around Australian fashion ethics had gained serious traction in the past 12 months, and while sustainability was still considered a relatively new disruptor to the industry, many brands were starting to make an effort to clean up their act.
“We’ve run The Australian Circular Fashion Conference for the past two years, a new event and one that focuses on attendees who are business leaders and decision makers from the largest retailers and brands across New Zealand and Australia,” she said.
“Through conversations with attendees, personal one-on-ones with CEOs and general managers it’s clear more is happening internally than we see from the outside.”
She said it was great to see a global awareness of the issue happening, and while the problem definitely wasn’t fixed, the industry was “close to a tipping point”.