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Burberry and Zegna Prove Luxury Fashion Can Drive Supply Chain Visibility

by: Rosie Dalton | 3 years ago | News

Image: Burberry campaign from February 2017. Image source.

Sometimes it can feel like the luxury sector is reluctant to accept the need for greater sustainability, transparency and responsibility in fashion. With the notable exception of progressive designers such as Stella McCartney or sustainability-focussed luxury fashion groups like Kering, it can seem as though this industry sector is rather stuck in its ways. After all, fur continues to be a prominent trend on these runways — despite greater information now than ever about the pressing need to address this harmful cycle. Perhaps a big part of the reason these houses are so resistant to change is simply the fact that they’ve been doing things this way for decades. But luxury fashion is still integral when it comes to driving trends, so we need those trends to be positive ones. Which is why we’re feeling heartened by the recent rise of supply chain visibility in the high fashion space right now.

Here’s the thing. As much as fast fashion companies have come to dominate our lives and govern our understanding of what clothing costs, they are still largely dependent on the big luxury fashion houses for idea generation. After all, the way these conglomerates make their money is mostly by ripping off runway trends and being able to replicate them both faster and cheaper. In other words then, trends begin with luxury fashion and consumers continue to look up to this space as a realm of aspiration. So if luxury fashion houses can become active in pushing for more ethical standards, then this is bound to inform consumer habits as well.

Fortunately, this is the shift that we’re finally starting to witness right now. Stella McCartney’s commitment to sustainable production has led its luxury group owner Kering to institute some of these practices company-wide. Which has also arguably had an impact on fast fashion retailers like H&M and forced them to start making more of an effort where sustainability is concerned as well. Beyond this though, there have also been some positive shifts among luxury houses that we don’t necessarily think of as eco warriors.

Business of Fashion reports that luxury houses are now increasingly acquiring farms, for example, as a way of taking more ownership over their supply chains. In a recent article, BoF points to Ermenegildo Zegna’s Australian sheep station, for instance, which is located 16,000 kilometres from their Milan headquarters. “Zegna’s well documented story of provenance and prudence centres around the firm’s need to safeguard supply of superfine Merino wool for its suits and sweaters,” writes Georgina Safe. “It is a strategy that is now being replicated across the globe as luxury operators invest in vertical integration to lock in materials vital to their brand’s success and to promote their sustainability credentials.”

Zegna was established in Italy way back in 1910, so the fact that they are now being proactive than ever when it comes to their supply chain management is a good sign for the future of fashion. Meanwhile, an even older luxury house, Burberry — which dates back to 1856 — was last year announced as an industry leader for sustainability in the Dow Jones Sustainability world index. The heritage British brand works with a number of progressive companies like Greenline in Italy, which helps the label recycle pre-consumer textile waste into new yarns and fabrics. Working with Burberry’s waste collection organisation Resmal, Greenline collects, sorts and recycles fibres from all of Burberry’s Italian vendors.

Of course, luxury brands owning the source of their raw materials isn’t exactly a new concept, but the recent push for greater transparency and sustainability means that they are now being forced to think a little more carefully about how they acquire those materials and what their overall impact looks like. When they take ownership of these processes, they also take ownership of the effects they are having on the world. Which is in stark opposition to the fast fashion model — one that relies on the ability to continually pass the buck whenever things go wrong. Like when H&M was exposed for child labour, for example, or linked with polluting viscose factories.

Much like luxury houses, fast fashion businesses also tend to be multi-national in nature. So the tendency to hide behind this sheer size and scale is a significant issue. But if the luxury players can prove that it is possible to foster more visible supply chains across the globe, then they could also be setting a very positive new trend for the future of fashion. And the cheap clothing labels will have no choice but to eventually follow suit. After all, where luxury trends venture, fast fashion must imitate.

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