Emmanuelle Mace-Driskill is the Executive Director of Product and Strategic Planning at Charles and Keith, a Singaporean accessory and footwear giant with more than 700 stores across Asia. The brand launched its first sustainable collection ‘4WARD’ in 2019 reflecting the cutting-edge footwear technology that they have as well as a push for progress to make fashion better.
Why do you work in sustainable fashion?
Well, I do not think the industry has a choice . You just need to read reports written by experts, scientists about climate change, and the impact of our industrialisation of the planet to see that we are reaching our limit in terms of natural resources. With the crisis of Covid-19, we see fashion is not an “essential industry” and is going to be deeply impacted by this unprecedented time we are going through. The fashion industry represents hundreds of millions of jobs, generates $2.5 trillion in revenue and at the same time is one of the most polluting industries in the world. Some brands have been working for years on sustainability but the challenge is that it does have an impact on the supply chain and bottom line as this requires investment. If I am not mistaken, about 40 -50 % of fashion companies have embarked on sustainability. Why Nike embarked on Sustainability was linked to NGO reports and consumer reaction. Now it is embedded in their strategy, but again they have challenges as some of the changes required will impact profitability.
People like me working on sustainability face this challenge and I believe that the only way is that the industry works closer together to leverage each other’s knowledge regarding circular business models, recycling, reducing carbon emissions and creating standard labels for sustainability reports. The big challenge today is time. We are not moving fast enough as an industry. Working together and leveraging technology can only help to move faster. I sincerely hope, that this crisis brings a stronger sense of urgency and unity.
Tell us about one item of clothing from your closet that embodies sustainable fashion.
Timeless pieces. At the end of the day, you have your own style and you know that type of clothes flatters you the most. Essential staples that you can keep wearing again and again like a blazer, silk white blouse, a pair of jeans, and long dresses.
What do you think is the biggest achievement of the sustainable fashion movement?
Organisations and seminars which are focused on sustainability and bringing more awareness about the impact of fashion to other sectors and to consumers. I think summits like the Copenhagen Fashion summit is able to attract personalities including politicians who are in positions to draft legislation are pivotal. Soon after Francois Pinault joined the summit in 2019 and brought one official of the French government, France passed a law to stop destruction of unsold stock for RTW last year. This is new and this means now that brands, in France, need to more responsible with their inventory.
With regards to making progress towards building a sustainable fashion industry, who do you want to thank and why?
I think there is a long list… Brands like Patagonia sets the standard for the industry and best practises. I am really fond of Rose Marcario as she is a visionary and advocates for change by her values and changing business models. Companies are there not only to make money but, they have a mission to do good, protect the environment and its people.
Tell us a story about a sustainable fashion industry in 2030 – a day in the life of a worker, a consumer, through the lens of your business, etc.
Ahhh… this is the million dollar question. We know actually thanks to multiple reports what is there to expect if we do not change. Now, the hardest thing is to actually change and depending on how we change, this will help us to project ourselves in the future.
For workers, it really depends where you work and what type of job you do. Looking at the Covid-19 crisis , I think it is going to impact supply chains and how they are organised. We may see the re-opening of certain factories and fabric suppliers closer to Europe as some of us are too reliant of China. China itself may re-localise some of its production to secure jobs and this might be a big crisis for SEA.
The use of technology/data/AI will be in our daily routine. Covid-19 will be an acceleration factor to digitalisation & sustainability. There are already a lot surveys coming out to evaluate the impact. And the only positive news coming out in the daily news is the fact that we see again wild life coming back in places where we have not seen for years.
I do not think this is the end of consumerism and there will be, in some cases, attitudes like “revenge spending” as we see in China already. If this crisis lasts, there will be deep changes as a lot of companies will not be able to survive. Because of this, there might be a “reboot “ for some of us.
What I see is the consumption of fast-fashion and high street retailers shrinking in the west. Groups, like Inditex, are already addressing the shift in consumer demand for sustainability with one of their goals being to only use recycled material by 2025. It will take more time in Asia .
There are going to be new trends coming out like “slow life”, “what is essential” and” back to basics”. Creativity/artisan/independent designers will be even stronger with limited and timeless editions becoming the new hit.
Story telling, experience, and purpose will be even more important if brands want to survive. Then for necessity products, consumers will go to Uniclo/Everlane or sportwear brands to get what they need. And brands which will be able to label their products to inform consumers about their environmental/societal footprint will be for sure able to secure stronger market shares.
And this has already started for some of us.
Renting models are less popular today due to hygiene reasons but I guess, there will be a need to come up with stronger sanitary measures and consumers will be soon again willing to rent their clothes.
We may see the end of the intense fashion calendar requiring 6 collections a year (we only had 2, 20 years ago) and fashion shows happening in all different parts of the planet. I think that people will still travel, meet, and gather but probably less as some of this can be done digitally. Some brands may take this opportunity to take a stand and position on this .
My last point is climate change and temperature rising. If the world does not reach the target which were agreed during the Paris Climate Agreement, we will see an acceleration of natural disasters and there will be consequences for an industry like ours. Government may vote for further legislations, such as taxes, to push companies to become greener or to stop the production of synthetic materials which are too harmful to the environment. This is something that we need to keep in mind .
Honestly, it is hard to predict today but let’s hope that this crisis brings stronger awareness to the cause.