Fashion was one of the topics on the table at this year’s Group of Seven Summit, the three-day inter-governmental forum hosted in Cornwall, England. His Royal Highness Prince Charles of Wales built upon the Sustainable Markets Initiative (“SMI”) that he announced at the World Economic Forum’s Annual Meeting in Davos in January 2020 by announcing ten industries to prioritize when it comes to climate action. Fashion & Textiles is among the critical industries due to its scale – it is one of the world’s largest manufacturing sectors with outputs of $2.4 trillion globally – and its impact on the planet. According to SMI, the global apparel industry contributes approximately 10 percent of global GHG emissions, and consumption within the sector is only expected to rise within the next decade, with the volume of garments and accessories purchased by consumers slated to grow by 60 percent by 2030.
In a first of its kind event this weekend, CEOs from companies ranging from Stella McCartney and BNP Paribas to EY and Bank of America met with G7 leaders to “explore how the public and private sectors can work together with urgency to accelerate the transition towards a sustainable future.” At the same time, the Prince of Wales announced the priority industries for his SMI – including Energy, Natural Capital, Road Transport, Fashion & Textiles, Health Systems, Technology, Waste, Plastics & Chemicals, Aviation, and Shipping – and emphasized the need for inter-industry collaboration. At the heart of the SMI and its newly-revealed priorities, collaboration beyond the bounds of individual industries.
According to the Prince of Wales, “Partnerships between government, business and private sector finance … are absolutely vital if we are to win the battle to combat climate change and biodiversity loss.” He further asserted that “unless we can actually unlock private sector resource, innovation and finance, with the public sector setting a framework of incentives and regulation, we just do not stand a chance of solving the existential crises we have engineered over the years.”
While the fashion industry does not operate in a silo, cross-sector partnerships have largely been left out of its attempts to get a handle on its role in the larger climate movement. As Jeanine Becker and David B. Smith stated in their 2018 article, “The Need for Cross-Sector Collaboration,” too often, companies and industries have approached issues, including on the climate front, “with piecemeal and even siloed solutions, and with efforts (however passionate, intense, and even exhausting) that are not sufficient to address the problems at the scale at which they exist.”
“The grand challenges of our time present a striking opportunity for new processes of co-creating change and new outcomes,” they noted, and change is afoot in light of “increased focus on public-private partnerships, and the rise of complex collaborative structures, in pursuit of such change.” In other words, “We are seeing the rise of cross-sector collaboration – alliances of individuals and organizations from the nonprofit, government, philanthropic, and business sectors that use their diverse perspectives and resources to jointly solve a societal problem and achieve a shared goal.”
The SMI aims to promote this practice of cross-industry collaboration, with the Prince of Wales stating that “industry actors are a necessary agent of change in the transition towards a sustainable future,” and by working together – and working with various government entities – “we can move mountains.”
Drawing the leaders of the world’s seven largest so-called advanced economies (i.e., Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the United States) to convene on relevant issues, including the COVID-19 pandemic, climate change, the global tax rate, NATO, and counterterrorism, the G7 Summit comes less than a month after the Prince of Wales and Brian Moynihan, chairman and CEO of Bank of America, co-hosted a Round Table of leaders in fashion to discuss the urgent need to transform the industry. At that meeting, Prince Charles announced the impending formation of a fashion industry-specific SMI Task Force, making fashion the fourth industry to have a dedicated initiative, alongside Financial Services, Water, and Hydrogen, a nod to “how important the fashion industry is in addressing the world’s sustainability challenges.”
According to the SMI, each of the individual industry task forces will “chart their transition roadmaps and commit to tangible actions by applying their knowledge and experience to find solutions, identify game changers, and overcome barriers and risks to transition,” and ultimately, take “coordinated action to tackle climate change.”
In terms of the fashion industry task force, the SMI revealed in May that Yoox founder and YNAP chairman Federico Marchetti will serve as the Champion and will lead the agenda for the group. Beyond that, it has not yet been revealed what other individuals are slated to join the task force, as the official members – which are expected to consist of individuals from key fashion companies – will be announced publicly following the first meeting, according to the SMI.
A few brand names come to mind as likely to participate. Given the British origin of the Task Force and its enduring efforts in the ESG space, it would not be surprising if a representative for London-based brand Burberry, for example, has been invited to join the Task Force. Similarly, it would make sense for Paris-based conglomerate, Kering, which has been at the forefront of the sustainability movement in fashion, to have a role. And still yet, given her presence at the G7 alongside Prince Charles, it seems likely that Stella McCartney will be involved, among others.
Speaking out about the nature of the fashion industry this past week in connection with the G7 Summit, McCartney – whose 20-year-old brand entered into a partnership with LVMH in 2019 – said that she is “desperate to get across some of the facts and reality of how unfashionable the fashion industry is.” She noted, “I do not think anyone really knows that fashion is one of the most harmful industries. I do not think they know that 150 million trees are cut down for viscose.”
She revealed that she does not believe that people know just how “unfashionable the fashion industry” is, and said that this is a “potentially game-changing opportunity” towards sustainability at scale.