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Retail Reborn Episode 5: The Earthshot: A New Sustainability Mindset for Fashion Retail

In the final episode of BoF’s new podcast series Retail Reborn, Doug Stephens explores how fashion retail must evolve so it can operate within planetary boundaries featuring guests including sustainable design authority William McDonough, founder and CEO of Jordan Alliance Group Inc, Ilka Jordan, and Sanjeev Bahl, founder of sustainable denim manufacturer Saitex.
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LONDON, United Kingdom — In the final episode of Retail Reborn, BoF's new podcast series presented by Brookfield Properties, Doug Stephens speaks to industry experts to map how the retail ecosystem of the future could become sustainable.

“The situation is complex and fast-moving” says Doug Stephens, founder of Retail Prophet, on the risks presented by climate change. “To be compatible with global climate goals, the [fashion] industry as a whole needs to drastically reduce its emissions and cut back the waste it generates. Could Covid-19 prove to be just the sort of catalyst the retail industry needs to break from traditional linear models for production and distribution?”

Sustainable design expert William McDonough says that the idea of simply doing less harm needs to be rethought diametrically. "Firstly, eliminate the concept of waste because, in nature, there's no such thing," says McDonough. "In Cradle to Cradle, we look at things as food for their next use."

“We don't want to be just less bad — we want to be more good," adds McDonough. "So, the question becomes, how can we take these materials and use them over and over again in ways that are propitious and benefit many generations? It's a celebration of abundance rather than a bemoaning of limits.”

For Ilka Jordan, founder and CEO at Jordan Alliance Group Inc. — a management consulting firm focused on the sustainability of fashion’s supply chain — moving from linear to more circular models presents an opportunity for the industry to serve the planet and maintain an organisational commitment.

“Post-Covid, [we’re seeing] more slow fashion, helping [retailers] achieve their sustainability goals as, not only are they putting the time in to develop durable fabrics or source safer materials — they have that time to do so. Predictive analytics are being used a lot now, and this will increase the sales and margins by developing and selecting the right products at the right price based on the voice of the customers and applied analytics,” says Jordan.

But how does one convince companies to continue to take that time? It’s a paradigm shift, McDonough says, that begins with leadership’s beliefs around what constitutes success.

“I think it's time to not think about a moonshot [but rather] to think about an earthshot. Let's get back to earth here. We are a part of the biosphere, part of the soil, and we need the humility to be grounded. So, let us have the same ambition that we had to go to the moon, but let's use that to come home,” he concludes.

To discover how retail's rebirth will impact your business and learn critical, actionable insights into the challenges and opportunities retail's new ecosystem will bring, subscribe to the series here.

Expert Commentators

William McDonough is the co-author of Cradle to Cradle, a treatise on sustainability in design. McDonough has architected pioneering models of sustainable design, including the Ford Rouge truck plant in Dearborn, Michigan; the Adam Joseph Lewis Center for Environmental Studies at Oberlin College; and NASA's "space station on Earth" Sustainability Base.

Ilka Jordan is the founder and CEO of Jordan Alliance Group Inc (JAG), a minority-owned and women-led management consulting firm at the forefront of fashion's supply chain circularity. Jordan has over twenty years' experience in the digitisation of supply chain operations at large and mid-sized retailers, and has degrees from both the American InterContinental University (AIU) and the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT).

Sanjeev Bahl is the founder and chief executive of Vietnam-based Saitex, the only certified B Corp large-scale denim manufacturer, which counts Everlane, Madewell, Target and G-Star Raw among its clients. Its popularity with major US brands can be pinpointed to the sustainable practices underpinning the manufacturing process. As of 2019, the Saitex plant is a zero-discharge facility, recycling 98 percent of its water and evaporating the other two percent.

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