Achieving Sustainability Requires a Paradigm Shift, Says Kering’s Marie-Claire Daveu

As the driver of Kering’s global sustainability strategy, Marie-Claire Daveu is the company’s spokesperson on what amounts to a mammoth mandate to effect global change management across supply chains and drive education of students and designers to mindfully choose sustainable materials when making creative decisions.  Following the Copenhagen Fashion Summit, I spoke to her about how Kering is identifying, adopting and funding sustainable fashion solutions to mitigate environmental and ethical disasters within the industry.

The subject of sustainability in fashion is complex in that to understand its meaning and implications, designers must understand the technicalities of raw materials and the processes that grow and cultivate them – for example the links between climate change and cattle farming – in order to fully understand the role and importance of sustainable materials.  In luxury fashion, designers make the ultimate decisions about materials usage, so communicating the mechanics of sustainability to them is key.  During an enlightening and in-depth conversation with Marie-Claire Daveu, the complexity of the task became clear, as did the multi-pronged approach that Kering is taking to diagnose, develop and fund sustainable materials solutions.  It also became clear that in order to communicate this topic, Daveu’s engineering credentials (declaring herself an unlikely fashion person) are essential in making the connections between the mechanics and technicalities of the supply chain and the aesthetic and sensibilities of the design teams.

There were several key takeaways from the discussion with Daveu, during which she and I bonded over mutual previous careers in engineering and science respectively, before undertaking careers in the fashion industry.  Perhaps most potent was her assertion that a “with incremental progress you will not change a paradigm” and that disruption through innovation is needed in order to achieve transformation of supply chains to circular systems.  Specifically, she declared that incremental improvements (like using recycled textiles in capsule collections or isolated products, for example) were not sufficient.  Kering is firmly focused on finding disruptive technologies, and to do that they need to identify startups creating game-changing solutions.  Enter their Fashion For Good initiative in partnership with Plug and Play and the C&A Foundation, based in Amsterdam, Netherlands.

Plug and Play incubates ideation and growth-stage startups in various industries – previous success stories include Dropbox and Paypal – to research, develop and test potential sustainable solutions for the fashion industry.  In partnering with C&A, Kering is demonstrating its belief that in terms of raw materials, a collaborative effort is required to create an industry-wide shift to more sustainable textiles.  Fashion brands spanning the high street and luxury sectors use cotton, for example, so a collaborative approach between brands increases buying power and provides the scale and volume to support the cost and change management required to transform materials supply chains into circular ones.

The key aim for Kering is to introduce sustainable materials and processes within the supply chain.  Marie-Claire Daveu is clear in her assertion that designers cannot add sustainability at the design stage – it has to be inherent in the raw materials and textiles.  She mentions current Fashion For Good incubee startups Pili-Bio, which uses micro-organisms to embed dye into materials in place of toxic and water-intensive dyeing processes, and Amadou mushroom leather, already product-tested by Irene-Marie Seelig and covered here in depth on the blog last year, when she was a recipient of the Kering Award for Sustainability.

Marie-Claire Daveu at the Kering Award for Sustainability, London College of Fashion – Image: Dave Bennett

Amadou is a potentially viable alternative to animal leathers and Daveu mentioned its promising development a number of times throughout our conversation, along with external innovators Bolt Threads, who have created a synthetic spider silk that she confirms is already a material being explored within the Kering group brands.  Given that Stella McCartney does not use animal skins, developments like Amadou mushroom leather have a clear opportunity to fulfil the brand ethos while maintaining the required levels of luxury and quality.

Irene-Marie Seelig’s Amadou mushroom leather shoe – Image:  Irene-Marie Seelig

Underlining Kering’s Sustainability drive are three pillars:  Care (reduce environmental impact by 40% and greenhouse gas by 50%); Collaborate (working with companies within the supply chain and other brands) and Create (launch disruptive innovations and link sustainability to a circular economy).  Innovation is the point pushed most heavily during our discussion, and it’s clear that the game-changing sustainable solutions will come from outside the brands themselves – most likely from startups (which Kering are investing in) and manufacturers within the supply chain.  Daveu explained that Kering are working very hard with NGOs in Mongolia, for example, to establish sustainable cashmere farming which respects biodiversity and supports animal welfare.  The foundation of this is transparency and traceability, as it is with all sustainable materials development.  Kering have also established programmes with suppliers in Italy and China to have a clear diagnosis of the usage of energy, water and other natural resources in order to analyse their consumption and begin to develop sustainable alternatives.  It’s when considering the complexity of changing entire factory manufacturing and processing systems in order to reduce natural resource consumption that the magnitude of this task to achieve sustainability becomes clear – we are not simply talking about choosing organic cotton in favour regular cotton – this is a deep, expensive and technical change needed to drastically reduce the demands the fashion industry is placing on the planet, across the entire industry. 

Sustainability in Motion – Kering.com

In addition to looking outside of their company for innovation, Kering has developed an in-house materials innovation lab based in Milan, headed up by Cecilia Takayama, who spoke at the Copenhagen Fashion Summit as part of the panel discussion on circular design.  Kering’s lab has been particularly successful in creating sustainable materials for its Gucci and Bottega Veneta brands, and Daveu reveals that they now want to apply this same focus to creating materials for their watch and jewellery brands.

Kering’s Cecilia Takayama on circular design – Image: Copenhagen Fashion Summit

Kering’s commitment to sustainability comes from the top – led by François Henri Pinault, who is active in the implementation of the sustainability strategy for each brand in the Kering stable.  He meets with executives and design teams across all brands to demonstrate the prioritisation of sustainability and the level of seriousness with which it is taken at Kering.  Marie-Claire Daveu also explained that formal KPI’s are in effect to ensure that sustainability remains a focus and targets are met.  

François-Henri Pinault receives the GCC Global Leaders of Change Awards 2015 at UN Climate Change Conference (COP21) – Image: Kering.com

Via Daveu, Kering’s message is that it wants to set the global standard in sustainable luxury by 2025, by delivering on targets within its three pillars.  Underlining their commitment, she said “the new generation will make the future”, and that Kering has a “360 degree approach” including sustainability education via university initiatives at London College of Fashion, Parsons, Central Saint Martins and Tsinghua, along with investments in startups and game-changing innovations.  This, combined with its EP&L and supply-chain efforts aimed at identifying and overhauling environmentally harmful processes, mean Kering are attacking sustainability challenges from all angles.  Keep an eye on Plug and Play Amsterdam and Kering’s Sustainability news to see how it all unfolds. 

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Copenhagen Fashion Summit’s Voices of Politics, Diversity and Change

Former Dean of Parsons School of Design, Simon Collins, served up the most pointed of all questions to New York based designer Prabal Gurung when he asked “would you dress the first lady?”  Prabal, after some consideration, gave an applause-inducing answer, explaining that his brand stands for inclusion, celebrates diversity and does not discriminate.  He stands firmly behind his brand values, saying that on that basis, he would dress the first lady.  It is no surprise that his comments echo those of another immigrant designer, Ashish Gupta, who celebrated his status and called for racial inclusion and diversity at his London Fashion Week show in September 2016. 

Reflecting on the global political and economic climate, Simon Collins commented on the political dissent in Thatcher’s 70’s and 80’s Britain that gave rise to the punk rock movement and other beautifully creative genres that still resonate in Britain today.  So out of this current political upheaval, could there be a beautiful and positive outcome?  Can current dissent mobilise creativity – even drive it?  Maxwell Osborne, of another New York based fashion brand, Public School, commented that in this time of great change in the fashion industry, new show formats are arising, the rules are changing and traditional mindsets are being altered.  Public School’s latest show was an intentional pressure cooker, with editors and buyers sat closer than convention would dictate in the aim of  ‘making them a little uncomfortable’.  Their brand of Americana sells unity, not division, and their sellout hats bearing the words ‘Make America New York’ were a hit because they took the measure of what people on the street were saying and feeling in Trump’s America.  I imagine this to be somewhat like what Londoners were saying in the wake of the Brexit vote.  Public School speak to their consumer – directly, in the same language.  That conversation is not nearly as personal or direct for big fashion and lifestyle brands, and the challenges for them in defining and delivering meaningful messages on society and politics is clear, given the recent blunder by Pepsi, and the ill-judged and since dubbed ‘Feminism Collection’ by Karl Lagerfeld’ for Chanel.

In order to reflect the repeated focus of the summit on innovation and collaboration it would be remiss of me not to mention the key input from some suppliers on the textile and fibre side, where significant technological and scientific advances have lead to circular nylon fibre production in the case of Aquafil, and cellulosic (plant based) circular production, in the case of Lenzing.  Whilst perhaps not the sexiest subject matter (unless you have a penchant for chemistry and heavy machinery) these advances are game changing – that is, providing brands purchase such circular materials in favour of linearly produced ones.  Significant limitations of circular production are complexities arising from mixed fibres – for example cotton and elastane – where separating the cotton and elastane fibres in order to reuse them in new textiles is not yet fully possible across all textile structures.  The single most important advance in making textile manufacturing circular, according to a number of industry experts I spoke to at the summit, was finding effective and efficient ways of separating out all types of fibres according to their chemical properties in order to reuse them.  Microplastics – tiny particles of plastic – are finding their way from fibres shed in the textile washing and wearing process, into water ways and causing devastating pollution.  We need to pioneer new technologies to deal with this problem at the manufacturing stage. 

Overview of the Lenzing textile process of turning wood into a textile

Materials solutions are key to solving problems arising from our demand on natural resources, and an alternative to current cotton growing methods would be a complete game changer too, saving immense amounts of water (it can take more than 20,000 litres of water to grown just 1kg of cotton).  Creating new methods of making/growing materials is an area of intense research, and something being done by the likes of Bolt Threads and other smaller, more experimental materials labs such as the one at Aalto in Helsinki.  In 2013, Kering launched their in-house Materials Innovation Lab in Italy and entrepreneur Mira Duma has just announced a 50 million dollar fund to invest in materials and technology solutions aimed at solving fashion’s biggest problems in the road to sustainability and ethical transparency.  More on Kering and Mira Duma’s initiatives to come in future posts.  

Aalto recycled cellulosic fibre research and yarn

On the subject of transparency and supply chain traceability, blockchain is providing a useful platform for consumers to follow the journey of their products from origin to the shop floor.  London-based designer Martine Jarlgaard teamed up with Provenance, A Transparent Company and Two Rivers Mill to demonstrate how her alpaca garments are made and sold in a fully transparent manner.   She presented the results at the summit’s Solutions Lab, alongside Lenzing, Aalto and a number of other brands, labs and institutions. 

Technology can also enable the capture of large data sets in order to assess large scale manufacturing processes and detect areas for improvement.  Sensors placed in factories working in partnership with Li & Fung are ushering in a phase of assessment of resource use and areas for potential improvement.  Target is working with its suppliers to pilot the use of beacons to feed data to apps to track what is happening in their factories in real time.  In this area, technology can provide hard data to support change, in place of anecdotal or subjective views on current practices.  

Stand by for my in depth interview with Chief Sustainability Officer and Head of International Institutional Affairs at Kering, Marie-Claire Daveu

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London College of Fashion and Kering – Fashion Sustainability and Education in Focus

Professor Frances Corner, Head of London College of Fashion opened the 3rd annual Kering Talk with the comment that when LCF moves to the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in 2020, all the faculties and facilities will be under one roof, giving the students and teaching staff “literally the space to think”.  There was a lot of thinking going on last night at this LCFxKering event and Professor Dilys Williams, Director of the Centre for Sustainable Fashion at LCF, bookended Frances Corner’s comment when she later closed the event by saying she likes to think of fashion by flipping a Zadie Smith’s quote to arrive at “what is the point of making beautiful clothes if they don’t make you think?” 

LONDON, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 14: Frances Corner (L), Head of London College of Fashion, and Dilys Williams, Director of Centre for Sustainable Fashion at London College of Fashion, attend the 2016 Kering Talk at the London College of Fashion on November 14, 2016 in London, England. Pic Credit: Dave Benett
Frances Corner (L) and Dilys Williams – Photo: Dave Benett

To that end, this Kering talk was a platform to showcase the sustainable principles and practice of Stella McCartney, the designer and the brand.  Not the only designer and brand focussing on sustainability, but certainly the most well known, Stella attended the talk to perform a Q&A with a fashion journalist.  It was enlightening in so much as Stella candidly described the fashion industry as a whole as “old fashioned”, “getting away with murder” and in dire need of a new approach to materials and production methods.


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I was hoping to ask Stella about her desire or success to date in introducing sustainable practices and materials into her Adidas collaboration, but alas, question time was short.  She did mention that Adidas made her the first ever pair of vegetarian leather Stan Smiths and she then pleaded with them to make all of their Stan Smiths with this material and see if anyone notices the difference.  Consumers might not, but given that the vegetarian version costs up to 70% more to produce than animal leathers, and Stan Smiths are sold at an accessible price point rather than the luxury price points of Stella’s brand, the financial team at Adidas definitely would.  That’s not to say this shouldn’t happen, it’s just clear that for mainstream sports and leisure wear brands there is less pricing leeway than for luxury brands.  

On to the presentation of the 2016 Kering Awards for Sustainable Fashion, which followed Stella’s Q&A.  Awards were issued on behalf of Stella McCartney and Brioni, both members of the Kering stable, to a number of LCF students who had designed and created products, materials and digital platforms in line with the brands’ sustainability initiatives.  

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LONDON, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 14: (L to R) Dilys Williams, Director of Centre for Sustainable Fashion at London College of Fashion, award winners Elise Comrie and Agraj Jain, and Beatrice Lazat, Human Resources Director at Kering,attend the 2016 Kering Talk at the London College of Fashion on November 14, 2016 in London, England. Pic Credit: Dave Benett
Dilys Williams, Elise Comrie, Agraj Jain, and Beatrice Lazat – Photo: Dave Benett
LONDON, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 14: Stella McCartney (2R) poses with award winners Iciar Bravo, Anna Pasalic, and Irene-Marie Seeling at the 2016 Kering Talk at the London College of Fashion on November 14, 2016 in London, England. Pic Credit: Dave Benett
Iciar Bravo, Anna Pasalic, Stella McCartney and Irene-Marie Seeling – Photo: Dave Benett

It was difficult on the night to get to grips with the projects and research the students undertook as they were only explained in 30-second summaries during the talk.  I’ve dug a little deeper to get the inside track on the work of Innovation award winner Irene-Marie Seelig, who developed Amadou mushroom skin and proved its properties were workable in accessories, offering an alternative to animal suede and leather.

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Irene’s journey began with a focus elsewhere, on health and the medicinal benefits of mushrooms in treating disease, which led her to research the usability of a particular Transylvanian mushroom material as a leather alternative, supported by Jess Lertvilai.  Her focus was to improve the textile’s aesthetic, durability, circular supply chain and business model.  

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The vegetarian mushroom leather textile is a 100 percent renewable, biodegradable and compostable material.  Products that are made with this material decompose at the end of their lifecycle and enrich soil, supporting plant growth and feeding back into the ecosystem.  

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Irene called upon the expertise of SATRA to test the material with a multitude of finishes and experimented with varying treatments and worked the leather into various thicknesses, eventually using the optimal material to create a prototype shoe in collaboration with LCF Footwear and materials PhD student, Liz Ciokajlo.  She is now looking to develop the Amadou mushroom skin further and work with NGO’s to create a reliable and sustainable supply chain for this material. 

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The CSF website explains that the awards take place after the students receive three months of intensive mentoring from sustainability experts from Stella McCartney, CSF and LCF.  “Two prizes will be awarded for each brand: a monetary prize of ten thousand Euros to the project that displayed the most innovation and a three month internship with one of the brands to the student who demonstrated collaboration and rigorous research”. 

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Professor Dilys Williams engaged the audience with her closing speech, urging the crowd to consider the role education has in creating a more sustainable, responsible fashion industry.  “Changing education is the biggest change we can make…practices will then change and so will our culture and society”.  

The finalists of the 2016 Kering Award for Sustainable Fashion were: Irene-Marie Seelig, Iciar Bravo Tomboly, and Ana Pasalic for Stella McCartney; and students Agraj Jain and Elise Comrie for Brioni.

For an overview of the finalists’ work see the CSF blog : http://sustainable-fashion.com/tag/kering-award-for-sustainable-fashion/

For more information about the work of Professor Dilys Williams and the CSF click here: http://sustainable-fashion.com/

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London College of Fashion Sustainability Initiatives “Fired Up” by Professor Sandy Black

Fashion’s future is about looking forward, however looking back with Sandy Black, Professor of Fashion and Textile Design and Technology at London College of Fashion, serves up a timely lesson for right now on running a fashion business and sustainability.

Professor Black provides the privilege of reflection – of pausing and drawing on decades of analysis of craft and technology and designer fashion businesses through her academic research and practice and asking the question ‘why has so little changed for fashion designers in terms of barriers to growing a successful business’?  Many of the difficulties Professor Black, a maths graduate from UCL (more on that later), faced when running her knitwear business in the 70’s and 80’s still exist today, especially in terms of financing production whilst investing in new collections and finding manufacturers willing to work with emerging brands in a dynamic and affordable way.  The conversation and landscape is changing, though.

Professor Black completed a maths degree at UCL whilst exploring, informally, her interest in craft and knitting.  Upon graduation she became involved in an artistic knitting movement that saw an explosion of her knitwear across the globe.  Sandy Black Fashion knitwear was stocked in boutiques in the US, Japan, Australia and Europe.  Her hand and domestic machine knitted pieces were intricate and painterly, reflecting a new creative and artistic approach to knitwear that thrust itself into the fashion realm, beyond its reputation as a domestic craft.

img_2117Coat by Sandy Black  Photo: David McIntyre

“Digital knitting began in the 70’s” states Professor Black.  The current knitting technology is an extension of, rather than a re-invention of, that knitting technology.  She forged links with Stoll, a world-leading industrial knitting machine manufacturer to have a machine installed at London College of Fashion, enabling students to immerse themselves in industry techniques and adopt new technology in their practice.

The excitement in knitting arguably lies in its fusion of craft and technology and Professor Black’s publications, including Interrogating Fashion, Eco-Chic: The Fashion Paradox and The Sustainable Fashion Handbook explore the impact of this fusion on fashion, in terms of manufacturing, sustainability and aesthetics.  Her recent work, in collaboration with a number of London College of Fashion-based academics, is an online platform allowing the exchange of information between fashion academics and the designer fashion industry to promote insightful, sustainable and collaborative practice for better business and environmental outcomes.

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The platform, FIREup, has fuelled debate around changing business models for sustainability.  It intends to unlock the potential of industry and academic collaboration, and is designed to help designer-fashion businesses in London access knowledge based in the university’s research centres and academic staff across three prestigious colleges: Central Saint Martins, London College of Fashion and Chelsea College of Arts.  The FIREup initiative is now expanding across the UK. 

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Professor Sandy Black in discussion with Michelle Lowe-Holder, Martine Jarlgaard, Kiwy Huang and Ben Alun-Jones at the Creativeworks Festival, King’s College London – Photo: CSF

As part of the FIREup initiative, four projects were undertaken to allow designers to conduct research to inform their business decisions.  This research involved a sort of ‘forced reflection’ and contemplation.  Recent exits of high-profile designers from global fashion businesses (Raf Simons from Dior and Alber Elbaz from Lanvin) were allegedly, at least partly, the result of frustration at a lack of time and space to pause and reflect because of the relentless cycle of punishing product deadlines with no time for contemplation and development.  Although running a smaller business with fewer product categories is arguably less time-pressured, it is absolutely true that the pressures Professor Black faced whilst running her business and that often lead to added strain on small businesses have not yet been resolved.  It is the mandate of FIREup to allow designers space, time, academic support and funding to conduct reflective research and steer their business forward in a more successful and thoughtful way.  Christopher Raeburn is one such designer involved in the FireUp Catalyst Project.

Raeburn’s ‘REMADE’ products are crafted from re-appropriated military fabrics.  The jacket below was remade by deconstructing and shredding original German snow ponchos, the Schneetarn (German for ‘snow camouflage’) Parka.  A limited edition garment, it is one of a maximum of 50, proudly remade in Raeburn’s London studio.

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The women’s Ceremonial Biker Jacket is reworked from original British military ceremonial garments, traditional British military wear that have held the same design for the last century.  The jacket, typical of British cavalry, artillery and infantry, is also a limited edition piece (a maximum of 50) also remade in the Christopher Raeburn Studio.  Shop Christopher Raeburn here.

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Currently promoted on the FIREup platform, and being hosted by Professor Rebecca Earley and Dr. Kate Goldsworthy is the Mistra Fashion Future Conference on textile design and the circular economy which is part of their research aimed at creating the vision of designing for a circular future where materials are designed, produced, used and disposed of in radical new ways. “Circular Transitions will be the first global event to bring together academic and industry research concerned with designing fashion textiles for the circular economy.  The themes will explore the design of new materials for fashion with approaches ranging from emerging technology and social innovation to systems design and tools.”  For more information about the conference in London this November visit FIREup or Mistra Future Fashion.

It’s clear that Professor Black’s research and industry involvement, along with the work of her fellow academics at London College of Fashion, is helping shape the discourse around designer businesses and sustainability.  The broader discussion, encompassing the impact of our lifestyle choices (including fashion) on the environment has been explored by Professor Helen Storey in her recent Dress For Our Time project.  Developed in partnership with Holition, the dress digitally displayed data – extracted from a major study of the global risks of future shifts in ecosystems due to climate, which showed the impact of climate change on our physical world. It showed the planet as it will be, if we don’t do enough.  The film below demonstrates the shocking and compelling figures related to the refugee crises and displacement across across the globe projected onto the Dress For Our Time:

Professor Black and Professor Storey are both also instrumental team members at the Centre for Sustainable Fashion (CSF) at the London College of Fashion – a Research Centre of the University of the Arts London based at London College of Fashion. Our work explores vital elements of Better Lives London College of Fashion’s commitment to using fashion to drive change, build a sustainable future and improve the way we live.  In 2014 the CSF announced a five-year partnership to work closely with Kering to support sustainable practices in education for the fashion industry. The partnership is a three-way approach to ensure new ways of thinking about sustainability in fashion: The Kering Talks, The Kering Award for Sustainable Fashion and The Empowering Imagination module for MA students at LCF.  This year’s Kering Award for Sustainable Fashion will be announced on November 14th and I will be attending and writing about the finalists, so stay tuned!

To learn more about CSF initiatives, click here

To find out more about FIREup and see current opportunities here

Header Image:  Christopher Raeburn, who uses re-appropriated military materials in his collections

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