Listen to the Levi Strauss & Co journey on sustainability
Recently I had the pleasure of browsing some exquisite fashion at #Pure London! It was exciting to see new brands and designers leapfrogging into the fashion world with their SS17 collections. Along with their fabulous designs, fabrics and colours there was also an ethos of fairness, integrity and sustainability.
The first designer I came across used traditional handloom weaving technique from Nagaland (India) to create their fabrics. Using low energy traditional techniques and employing indigenous artisans to produce a timeless luxury brand, they admirably embraced the ethical fashion space.
My next stop was with two young designers, freshly out of University, creating a range of bespoke evening wear. The workmanship required to produce these garments were so skilled and intricate, they can only be made as bespoke. Needing to source skilled labour from India, the designing duo make a point of visiting these factories to monitor the working conditions.
Another brand owner I met had been running his family business for decades. This Indian based company had established good relationships with local vendors over a number of years. He believes the only way to maintain some kind of integrity within a fashion business is to keep it small and personal. It was certainly an interesting discussion about whether large companies producing for the masses could realistically be ethical or sustainable. Are not huge supply chains the inherent problem?
I could repeat numerous interesting conversations, but to cut a long story short, the general consensus amongst these suppliers is that ethics, sustainability and integrity in the fashion industry is definitely something that needs to be addressed, and many are now making the effort to do just that.
A growing demand for sustainability in Fashion
Market research conducted by the Ethicologist, interviewing 2000 people in the UK, shows that 49% of the UK population strongly agree that “It is the responsibility of any business to ensure that there are no human rights abuses committed in their supply chain”. Perhaps one of the most important elements of sustainability. My experience of Pure London was indeed great news! Suppliers on the whole are listening to the conscience consumer demand. However, for sustainability to truly take effect, suppliers also need to benefit from these efforts. There needs to be a competitive advantage to becoming a sustainable brand. Often the argument contradicting ethical fashion is the issue of cost. We often hear “It is all very well to quote figures about how consumers want ethical products but we know when they shop, what they want is affordability and often ethical is not affordable”.
Levi Strauss and sustainability
Listening to Michael Kobori, VP of sustainability at Levi Strauss and Co on Supply Chain Radio helped to reinforce my ethical stance that sustainability is the only way forward for the fashion industry. Levi Strauss and Co have experienced that focusing on sustainability and acknowledging the limitations this brings has only pushed them to be even more innovative. The end result has been to cut costs and become a more efficient business. Profits through principles, says Michael, is now in their DNA. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if you need some convincing! We have seen so many leading fashion brands caught up in supply chain disasters in the recent past, and although some of these brands have been the usual suspects, a few have taken us by surprise. Hence the conclusion drawn, that the global supply chain is now so huge and complex that it is just beyond control.
However, brands like Levi Strauss prove otherwise, that investing in supply chain management is the key to sustainability. Sustainability is not only “good business” but “good business” can drive sustainability in the apparel industry. To arrive at this stage Michael Kobori says businesses need to go beyond just compliance and infrastructure, there needs to be real application, bringing about reductions in waste and the abuse of resources. He adds that this in turn demands innovation that leads to production costs and creates a much leaner business model. As the consumer of the future is the “millennial consumer” sustainability in business is unavoidable and therefore the future of business.
Tuning into Supply Chain Radio
You can listen to the full talk on Supply Chain Radio. http://www.gtnexus.com/resources/podcasts/compliance-sustainability-levis-journey
We @ethicologist would be very interested to hear your views!! Can the business innovations lead by Levi Strauss and the IFC (International Finance Cooperation) be of some benefit to your business in the sustainability journey?