Care, Collaborate, Create: LCF x Kering Year Three

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Lionel Vermeil in conversation with Lou Stoppard

2017 has got off to a sustainable start, at least for a group of MA students at LCF.  At the end of January the third year of our Master’s curriculum, co-created with luxury fashion and sustainability giants Kering, began on the same day that Kering released their new 10 year sustainability strategy, ‘Crafting Tomorrow’s Luxury.’ The strategy outlines a series of targets, relating to the UN Sustainable Development goals, for the group to meet by 2025, including reducing GHG by 50 percent and reducing their environmental impact by at least 40 percent.

The strategy consists of three main areas of focus: care (for the planet), collaborate (with people) and create (new business models). The concept of collaboration is integral to our relationship with Kering, and something that underpins our MA curriculum- it is called the Collaborative Unit, after all.

The 41 MA students- from across all three schools at LCF, fashion design, business and communication- were welcomed onto the Collaborative Unit, ‘Empowering Imagination,’ by Professor Dilys Williams, who highlighted the uniqueness of the unit: it is unprecendented in its co-creation between industry experts and academia. But the collaboration doesn’t end there. The students will work together in cross disciplinary groups over the next four months to develop and propose innovative new solutions to the biggest sustainability problems facing the fashion industry, now and in the future.

These problems facing- and indeed caused by- the fashion industry are interconnected too. The ecological crisis, the irreversible loss of nature and change in the conditions necessary for the sustaining life, the social crisis, the widening gap of social equity and the inner spiritual crisis are all connected, and must be addressed together. The fashion industry is well placed to do just that; employing over 50 million people worldwide, it has the people power to implement industry wide change, as long as the impetus for that change is provided. Dilys applauded the privileged position awarded to the students on the curriculum, who have the ability to question and challenge the status quo. But she also warned against being naïve or idealistic. The fashion industry is a robust and established one, and change won’t happen overnight, however educating the next generation of fashion designers, communicators and strategists is one of the most exciting and promising solutions.

The following week, Kering’s Chief Sustainability Officer and Head of International Institutional Affairs, Marie-Claire Daveu, presented the new sustainability strategy to students at the London College of Fashion, providing a greater insight into the three main areas of focus. Again, she signaled the need for collaboration, this time across diferent companies, explaining that no single organisation is big enough to make the necessary changes alone. For example, she expressed the need for innovation: Kering have set a goal to reduce their footprint by 40% and they know how to achieve the first 20%, but innovative thinking and new solutions will be needed to reach their final target. This call out to students, the future of the fashion industry, was an important one, and served as a reminder of the importance of innovation and creativity when crafting solutions to the problems we face.

Later that day, Kering’s Director of Fashion and Luxury Intelligence, Lionel Vermeil was in conversation with fashion journalist and broadcaster Lou Stoppard to discuss the future of fashion, in the context of sustainability. Lionel presented a very different approach to sustainability to the figures-based business plans and strategies so common in the industry and yet so baffling to the consumer. Instead, Lionel bought the emphasis back to creativity, design and cherishing beautiful garments. He explained how sustainability is about creating garments that respects the concept of longevity. Be it protecting the future of our planet, or using a bag that had been your grandmother’s and valuing it as much, if not more, than a new one. He praised the sincerity of seasonless clothes, collections that won’t look aged or out of date in a few years. Luxury is, according to Lionel, more sustainable – as it presents consumers with garments that will last, rather than those of fast-fashion which will be thrown away after just a few months. For him, designers should focus on creating beautiful things that people will want to not only buy but wear again and again; they should create clothes that speak to people and stir up interest.

The three different but interconnected approaches to sustainability in fashion presented by Dilys, Marie Claire and Lionel chime together, providing a wealth of inspiration for the students on the Collaborative Unit and those in the wider LCF community. Despite their apparent differences, the core of all three are underpinned by the same three principles of care, collaborate and create. Care- not only for the environment through industry practices, but also cherish and care for your clothes. Collaborate- both across different businesses at all levels of the industry, but also with schools and universities to encourage sustainable thinking in fashion’s future. Create- create beautiful things deserving of care, create business models that will meet the sustainability targets and create a new appreciation for and awareness of clothes.