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Responsibility: How Can Luxury Balance Profit and With Purpose?

Can a business based on changing our clothes change its ways?
Responsibility. How Can Luxury Balance Profit And With Purpose?

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Watch the Final Episode of the First Season — Episode 6 — of The BoF Show with Imran Amed.

Profits are up, runway shows are back — proof that even a pandemic can’t keep fashion down.

Yet what Imran hears is the ticking clock. It’s time to address the tough question at the heart of a huge yet agile business based on dazzling reinvention. How can fashion reduce its planetary impact?

Vivienne Westwood, Stella McCartney, and the stylish upcycler, Marine Serre are all ardent advocates for change. Yet scaling up sustainability, while scaling down profligate practices right across a $2.5 trillion business, is a vast challenge. Could answers for how to do it lie with the $10 billion behemoth enjoying double-digit growth?

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Imran heads back to the historic building in Paris which is the HQ of Kering. It’s time to ask the billionaire chief executive who inherited a company then set about changing everything — including its name — if balancing profit and purpose is possible. He finds François-Henri Pinault determined that we should never return to “business as usual,” that even the old cornerstones of luxury — fierce competition and secrecy — no longer hold weight. “Working together… and sharing everything we do in that field of sustainability is absolutely key to succeed and avoid catastrophe. It’s a planet issue. It’s not a local issue. It’s not a corporate issue. It’s a global issue. We do it together or no one will succeed.”

Pinault says the luxury sector must step up. “Luxury brands… have this responsibility to find solutions for the rest of the industry because this is the only segment of this industry where the development model is not only based on volume, but on volume and value.”

In the HQ’s garden buzzing with honey bees, Marie-Claire Daveu does not sugar-coat the scale of the crisis either. She is a scientist and Kering’s chief sustainability officer. “We know that on climate change and biodiversity, we have less than 10 years to bend the curve. I’m very conscious about where we are and where we have to go… The first step is to understand where your environmental impacts are. It’s what we did through our EP&L — Environmental Profit and Loss account. In 2015, we put in place different programmes... We now have nearly 4000 sustainable fabrics and cross-fertilisation with the design teams.”

She tells Imran of breakthrough discoveries from pilot projects in cashmere, silk, gold, yet is far from complacent about the central challenge — making sustainability work at scale. Her colleague, Grégory Boutté, Kering’s chief digital and client officer, must leverage technology and data in the effort to make this happen.

Yet as he tells Imran; “I don’t think there’s one single magic recipe that is going to solve the entire problem. But the way I think about that is we are trying to do everything we can, at every stage of our value chain… One big area we’re investing in is materials — we have partnerships with biotech start-ups that are thinking about new types of leather, new types of silk that have less impact on the environment…. We have… data scientists looking at our business and trying to use machine learning to develop powerful algorithms to better predict slow movers and fast movers and produce accordingly.”

Imran’s journey ends with belief in a new beginning where everyone in the fashion business, from those who make our clothes to all of us wearing them, get onboard with making, selling and buying less, “because there’s not much time left, against that ticking clock”.

“The BoF Show with Imran Amed”, an immersive video series streaming on Bloomberg Quicktake, concludes on Thursday 9th December at 9pm New York time. The complete series is available for on-demand viewing.

Explore the first six episodes here and stay tuned for the biweekly episode launches.

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Related Articles:

The Definitive Guide: How to Build a Sustainable Fashion Brand

The Pitfalls of Marketing Your Fashion Brand as ‘Sustainable’

How to Avoid the Greenwashing Trap

Fashion’s Greenwashing Problem Begins with Bad Data

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