How ethical is your wardrobe

How ethical is your wardrobe?

During the week that celebrated World Environment Day and World Ocean Day, Gucci made a commitment to sustainability.

But will this pledge and other brands’ environmental efforts be enough to reduce the fashion industry’s impact on

the planet?

gucci environment planet sustainable fashion

By announcing the launch of Gucci Equilibrium – an online platform “designed to bring people, planet, and purpose

together” – during the week celebrating World Environment Day (June 5) and World Ocean Day (June 8), the house

chose the perfect time to start a new conversation about the apparel industry’s impact on the planet. According

to Nielsen’s Global Corporate Sustainability 2022 report, 73% of Millenials would be willing to pay more for sustainable

products. So there’s a clear business case for taking care of our planet – which means Gucci’s plan may be more

than an empty announcement.

According to the Pulse of the Fashion Industry 2022 report, other brands are moving in the same direction: 75%

of fashion companies improved their environmental and social performance last year. But with the demand for greener

goods also comes a demand for greater transparency. As with the term “healthy” in relation to food, there are

few business standards that define what “sustainable” or “conscious fashion” really means. Until they have a clear

definition, greenwashing – the marketing practice of making false or misleading claims about the environmental

benefits of a product, service, technology, or business practice – is likely to spread within the industry and

beyond. To better understand what’s being done to address the issue, Vogue asked some questions to key players

in the fight to reduce the fashion industry’s environmental impact.

gucci equilibrium planet environment sustainable fashion

What are the world’s biggest luxury brands doing to reduce their environmental footprint?

Marie-Claire Daveu, sustainability director at Kering (which owns Gucci, Saint Laurent, Alexander McQueen, and

Balenciaga, among others): “The traditional system of assessing a company’s sustainability is simply not relevant

if it is limited to the group’s operations. That’s why we [Kering] developed an innovative tool in 2022, called

Environmental Profit & Loss (EP&L), which allows us to better understand our environmental impact with the aim

of reducing it. Through this tool, we discovered that only 7% of our footprint came directly from inside the company

(the stores and offices), but 93% came directly from our supply chain, such as cotton and cattle farming. This

means that if we really want to improve our business model, we have to work in depth, and trace our supply chain

back to the raw materials. For example, many of our brands – from Bottega Veneta to Gucci to Saint Laurent – work

extensively with leather. So we have developed a metal-free tanning process that is much more environmentally friendly

because it reduces pollution as well as water and energy consumption. If our goal is to protect the planet and

we’re only looking at our own operations, we’re not doing the right thing – the entire supply chain needs to be


Photo credit: Courtesy of Patagonia

gucci equilibrium environment awareness sustainable fashion planet

How can we take action as consumers?

Amy Powney, artistic director of Mother of Pearl: “I wish I could tell you where to shop and what to

avoid in order to be sustainable, but it’s not that simple. Sustainability is a very broad term, and

it’s not easy for consumers to understand when there are no standards around it. For example, just because

a t-shirt is made of organic cotton doesn’t mean it wasn’t made in an exploitative factory. Similarly,

making sneakers from recycled plastic may be a good idea, but what happens when those shoes end up in

the landfill? As designers, we need to take a holistic approach to sustainability, and always think about

what will happen to a garment once we create it. As far as consumers are concerned, I think the main

message I could give to have a more sustainable attitude is to buy more expensive and better quality.

Go back to the old way of thinking, which sees buying as an investment. Buy things that you will keep

for a very long time, take care of them, and wear them again and again. The second thing to do is decide

what sustainability means to you: is fair trade more or less important than fighting climate change?

Because you’re unlikely to find a brand that addresses all of these issues at once.”

How can we best define the term “sustainability”?

Jason Kibbey, CEO of the Sustainable Apparel Coalition: “In 2022, outdoor clothing company Patagonia

and mass retailer Walmart joined forces because they believed that measurement and greater transparency

within the fashion industry would be key to improving it. At the time, companies had no way of understanding

the impact of its products, let alone consumers. So together they wrote a letter inviting CEOs of major

international companies to come together to develop an index – now known as the Higg Index – that would

measure the environmental impact of their products. Today, we [the Sustainable Apparel Coalition] have

over 200 international members (Adidas, Levi’s, LVMH) and combined annual revenues of over $500 billion

generated by apparel and footwear. Our goal is to collect all this information and standardize it – the

same way we do in the food industry. We can then share it so that consumers really understand whether

a garment is sustainable or not. Obviously, it’s a lot of work, but we’re assembling rich, comparable,

credible information that you can use in the years to come to compare the sustainability of a product,

whether it comes from Zara or Chanel. These kinds of standardized indicators are going to become absolutely

essential in the fight against greenwashing.”

Photo credit: Courtesy of Patagonia gucci equilibrium planet sustainable fashion environment awareness

One last tip to make our wardrobe more sustainable in the meantime?

Ryan Gellert:, General Manager EMEA at Patagonia: “Yvon Chouinard [founder of Patagonia] once said something like ‘leading

a thoughtful life can be a real drag’. I think what he meant was that if you want to live a thoughtful

life, then you have to say to yourself, ‘I’m going to do this now, today,’ because things won’t get easier

later. As consumers, the best thing we can do is to keep what we buy for as long as possible,, to buy quality things, to repair instead of throwing away. When it comes to shopping, my best advice to people is

this: do your research, ask good questions, always demand more from brands. And be wary of companies that announce

their ambitions for 10 or 15 years from now – to me, that sounds like the very definition of greenwashing. It’s like

saying, ‘I want to have the benefits today of what I aspire to do in the future.’ We are very often held up as an example

of a sustainable company. We are not a sustainable company – we take more from the planet than it can produce. But

we are a responsible company, because we try to improve every day to reduce our ecological footprint, and to use our

business to inspire others and develop solutions to the environmental crisis. (Since the mid-1980s, Patagonia has donated

1% of its revenues to small but effective environmental organizations). As an industry, we need to find ways to self-regulate,

not because consumers are demanding more of us, nor out of fear that governments will impose their regulations on us,

but because it’s the right thing to do.”

Blue Heart is a feature-length documentary made by Patagonia about the fight to save Europe’s last wild rivers.

Photo credit: Courtesy of Maiyet