Tara Norton and Elisa Niemtzow

Photography by Tung Walsh. Conversation by Claire Thomson-Johnville. Shared with the permission of Self Service Magazine.

On the necessity of sustainability for luxury brands, on seeing sustainable fashion as a new design opportunity and not a constraint, on the emotional motivations that inform our choices, and on the impact of our consumer habits on the environment.

A conversation at the BSR headquarters, Paris, January 2018.


Claire: Can you tell us more about the six key raw materials that are essential to luxury and whose quality is critical and how companies are making themselves vulnerable through using those materials?

Elisa: In the report we did in partnership with Kering, “Climate Change: Implications and Strategies for the Luxury Fashion Sector,” we looked at some of the key raw materials used by the luxury industry—cotton, vicuña, cashmere, beef leather, sheep and lamb leather, and silk—and what you can see is that climate change is already affecting the quality and the availability of the materials and that’s going to get worse. And, if you look across other industries as well, it’s the same. In the beauty industry, where there is a big reliance on plant-based raw materials, it’s a similar story. So it’s really important for companies to understand how they are dependent on key materials and then what they can do to begin to fix the problems or turn things around, and that’s where collaboration is really important. It’s very hard for one company to fix a system. So, if you take cashmere, for example: right now we’re over-sourcing cashmere. There’s a lot of stress on the grasslands where the animals are feeding and there are livelihood issues with the people raising the goats, etc. And it’s not just one company that’s going to go in and fix that situation: it needs to be a collaboration of companies and local governments.

Tara: We work a lot with companies to help them work out what their most important social and environmental issues are and where they can have the biggest impacts, in a way that aligns with what they’re trying to do as a business. It’s not only climate change—climate change is one key aspect of sustainability. The best definition of sustainability is “meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” So yes, sustainability includes climate change and the environment, but it’s also about the human side: human rights, women’s empowerment and how to create an economy that is inclusive for all people. One major challenge is that companies are under pressure from many different stakeholders across a vast array of issues.

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