In this three-part interview series, we deep dive into the current state of fashion retail. We invite international specialists to reflect on the need for change, new technologies, and an increased focus on sustainability. This is part two, read part one with Andrea Dini, CEO of Paul&Shark, here.
Your Responsibility Report is brutally honest about your garment production. Why did you make it?
— Ever since we got involved with the responsibility agenda, as we call it, we thought we should hold ourselves accountable for our production. It’s always been on my wishlist for politicians to create more transparency, create more accountability and require companies to share reports on responsibility efforts. We decided that we wanted to be transparent about our efforts, and that obviously starts with you mapping out the current state of the baseline and then putting forward some targets, hence the report. Long story short, that’s how it came about.
The report also highlights 44 responsibility goals, that’s quite a few!
— We decided to prioritise some SDGs, or sustainable development goals, that the UN put forward because they became a widespread standard. Early on, we realised that if you were to be serious about this, it has to be fairly profound. It cannot just be you replacing your denim category with organic cotton. You have to measure and report on all aspects of your company.
— Internally, our biggest priority is probably still carbon emissions because we see climate change as the biggest threat to our habitat. It will have irreversible, profound consequences if we don’t fix that. On a day-to-day basis, it’s hard to talk about targets or objectives that are prioritised harder than others because diversity and inclusivity is also a huge topic for us, as well as ensuring a living wage for workers. It’s all sensitive topics, so prioritising between them is tough.
You have these bold headlines on your website saying ”we’re not sustainable”. Why is it important to make that statement?
— We acknowledged that inherently anything that pertains to fashion can never be sustainable. Fashion is about newness. Fashion is about raw consumption. Rather than talk about behaving responsibly, we simply do better every day. The ultimate dream is still for us to create a carbon-negative fashion collection. Once you get to that point when your entire collection is carbon-negative or climate positive, then you can maybe start to talk about being sustainable. It will probably come sooner than I first thought, we’re working on launching a product with a partner later this year that’s actually carbon-negative or climate-positive.
A huge part of fashion’s challenges right now is traceability. How have you achieved 100 per cent traceability from stage one to tier four suppliers?
— You can’t talk about reducing your carbon footprint along your supply chain, or ensuring worker rights if you don’t know how your supply chain works. So it’s an obvious first step. It’s been a comprehensive task. We had a full-time person working on it for a year to map out our supply chain, down to our tier-four suppliers. Now we know what our supply chain looks like. Now we can start to work with those suppliers, either in installing solar panels with them, ensuring living wages, or other projects.
— We also do projects that are low impact but high on awareness. For instance, when we grow oyster mushrooms on our coffee grounds from our espresso machine in the canteen. They have very little impact, but it raises awareness. It teaches our team about circularity, and it looks pretty, so people can share it on Instagram or TikTok.
Albeit mostly a fast fashion problem, the industry is struggling hugely with overproduction. How do you tackle overproduction?
— Early on, back when we mapped out our carbon footprint in 2016, it became evident to us that the afterlife of a product is as important as how you produce it. We’ve worked with Renewcell, we’ll be launching collections where we use their recycled cotton products. Ultimately, stage two of that collaboration is to be able to take organic garments and do one-to-one recycling of the organic garments into a new collection. That’s where you see the circularity making sense.
— We’ve also been training our team to design from a circularity perspective. It puts huge constraints on them because they’re aiming for mono-material garments. It’s a huge project that is quite often totally underestimated, we have lots of bestsellers to let go of because we have fantastic materials that we cannot use from that circularity perspective.
How do you make sure that store clerks and consumers know about your values?
— We try not to be preaching. I had one case where the fashion director of a very famous department store told me that they were reluctant to talk about sustainability because it would reflect badly on products from the other brands on the floor. I can understand that from a cynical perspective, but it’s a little frustrating.
— In general, I don’t expect too much from the end consumers but I still think it’s a moral obligation that we business owners have to make responsible options. So that it becomes a no-brainer for them to make the right choice, whatever stores decide to push.
As a brand, if you want to be responsible or more sustainable, what are your recommendations?
— We call our circular business models ’recommerce’. We’ve been doing rentals since 2019, and it’s not easy to expect people to change patterns of consumption, but it’s gaining traction. We are also facilitating peer-to-peer commerce. We work with resale platform Reflaunt to enable a Ganni customer to sell a worn Ganni product to another customer. That’s cool. We have take-back schemes in some of our stores where you can return your garments and either get store credits or sell them to other customers. We also take back garments that are completely outworn and then we ensure that they are either recycled or at least treated in a meaningful manner.
You mentioned Renewcell. Are there other technologies that you’re looking at?
— We have a ’fabrics of the future’ team, an in-house team that monitors any new innovative materials out there. At the moment, we’re monitoring probably around 30 different materials and providers. A great example is Rubi Laboratories from San Francisco. They’ve developed a cellulose-based material from sequestered carbon. They literally make cotton material out of air. I’ve always found that insanely fascinating. At the moment, they’re running a pilot plant and they’re ready to scale up. It’s not science fiction. It’s actually totally doable.
You’ve reached many of the goals you set out a few years ago. Will you keep moving the goalposts, so to speak?
— We figured out that actually we hit most of those targets a lot earlier than we had planned, so you could argue that they’ve been low-hanging fruits. Now the hard work begins. How do we bring down the carbon footprint of our whole supply chain? We’ve built solar panels for our Portuguese suppliers. We’ve helped them finance, configure, and produce it to help them convert to renewable energy — even though those suppliers also work for all of our competitors. If we want our carbon footprint to decline by 50 per cent by 2027, then we have to find profound solutions to what we do. Somebody’s going to cover that cost and it’s not going to be the end consumer. For now, it’s us. The next phase will be more profound and that’s where the proof of the pudding is, or however they phrase it in English.