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Making the fashion marketing machine sustainable | BoF Professional, News and Insights

For years, American designer Heron Preston has sought to function as a sustainable brand, producing a low-waste workwear-inspired collaboration with the New York City Department of Sanitation, hand-printing his t- graphic shirts or introducing materials such as recycled nylon and pineapple “leather” into its collections.

This philosophy also applies to Preston events and marketing. The brand has given up traditional catwalks in recent seasons to experiment with different formats. And for the past two years, its in-house production team has used a tool called inFocus to measure and reduce its overall carbon footprint.

Heron Preston is one of a handful of companies, including Alexander McQueen, North Six and Rosco Production, that tested inFocus ahead of its official launch this month, working closely with the app’s founders, the Emelie sisters. Akerbrant and Melinda Akerbrant Gray, to help develop its functionality and user experience.

The tool is intended to help identify and reduce environmental issues for production teams who are responsible for glossy magazine covers, articles, advertising campaigns and fashion shows. It provides quick and granular emissions estimates based on specific project plans, suggests alternatives to reduce the impact of an event, and post-production provides a final assessment that can be used to plan offsets and guide offsets. future efforts to further reduce the impact. The goal was to create a tool that could be used by teams working on multiple complex projects and under tight deadlines.

“We started to realize that what people were focusing on when they thought of making more sustainable productions had such a minimal impact. [on] the whole shoot, ”said Emelie Akerbrant, a fashion communications veteran who before founding her namesake company Akerbrant Ltd. with his sister, managed sustainable development projects at Kering. “At the end of the day, it’s good that you don’t have plastic bottles, but the environmental impact of reducing or eliminating plastic bottles is tiny when it comes to production. “

High impact opportunity

While the industry’s worst pollution takes place during manufacturing, production and other events can be a particularly publicized symbol of excess and waste.

I think in our work the awareness we create is as important as the carbon we save.

A standard campaign shoot can produce up to 200 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent, according to an inFocus estimate based on data from national government agencies, such as the UK Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. (Defra) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in the United States. (In contrast, the global fashion industry produced 2.1 billion tonnes of CO2 equivalent in 2019, according to a 2020 report from McKinsey and Global Fashion Agenda.)

At the same time, the highlights of fashion marketing provide an opportunity to promote a better way of doing business. InFocus is the latest tool to serve a growing appetite to tackle the problem.

“In the fashion world, which is so visible, we probably have a big influence [over other] industries that have much larger carbon spending events, ”said Alexandre de Betak, founder of production agency Bureau Betak, known for hosting some of the biggest shows in the fashion industry. “I think in our work the awareness we create is as important as the carbon we save. “

Bureau Betak operates within a strict framework to guarantee more sustainable productions and is in the process of obtaining B-Corp status. Elsewhere, Copenhagen Fashion Week halved carbon emissions from its operations between August 2019 and August 2020, and set environmental requirements for all brands on schedule by January 2023. Meanwhile , the French Federation of Haute Couture and Fashion (FHCM), the organizing body of Paris Fashion Week, announced in June the launch of a tool called Ecodesign with the consulting firm PwC, which allows brands to measure the social and environmental impact of their collections and fashion shows.

But challenges remain. Productions still often use elaborate decors meant to be used once and thrown away. And the industry’s penchant for faraway, flashy places and global talent to stage its marketing moments mean that many flights and road trips are required to bring in models, photographers, stylists and gear. at the same place. Once there, everyone must be fed and housed. It’s a similar story for international guests at fashion shows. Time constraints, complicated logistics and the coordinated management of multiple teams and freelancers make the impact of an event even more complicated.

Find solutions

The creative industry has often turned to carbon offsets to manage the impact of events, paying fees to plant trees or similar initiatives meant to suck up an equivalent amount of carbon that an event creates. It’s a widespread approach that has drawn criticism for distracting attention from reducing emissions in the first place.

Offsets are often seen as a way “to ensure that the creation [aspect] don’t suffer, ”said Daniel Worthington, owner and director of Rosco Production, which counts Zara, Bottega Veneta and Netflix among his clients. But compensation can also be costly, prompting production companies to better manage their impact and find ways to reduce it. Rosco Production tested inFocus to get a clearer picture of its carbon footprint, a breakdown of areas where it can improve and how much it should offset for the remaining emissions associated with its shoots.

While Rosco Production typically absorbs the costs associated with better operations, such as biodegradable materials instead of single-use plastics, other more fundamental changes like reduced travel could make long-term business sense. The process of collecting carbon footprint data “really educates you and then forces you to ask yourself questions: is there a better way? ” he said.

It really educates you and then forces you to ask yourself questions: is there a better way?

But industry-specific tools like inFocus and FHCM’s ecodesign require precise data – a challenge that hinders much of fashion’s green efforts. Delivering precision at scale, to reflect the global nature of fashion imaging, requires detailed and contextual data from a range of sources to gain a deep understanding of, for example, the mix of renewable sources and fossil fuels in a country’s energy grid.

“If you do the exact same shoot [in] New York … like in London, your impact will be different, ”said Emelie Akerbrant. She said infocus has faced calls from clients to expand its carbon footprint methodology to include markets beyond the UK and fashion shows and events, not just photos and videos. It’s a process that required coming back to the drawing board for several months to apply the same methodologies to new regions and new types of equipment. The company is now citing data on energy sources from Italy, the UK, France and the US.

A new model

The growing appetite to produce events with lower environmental impact has prompted some creative agencies to rethink their entire business model and global footprint, particularly following the disruption to international travel caused by Covid-19.

“It actually encouraged us to think of local offices rather than [sending] people where to produce, ”said Oliver Hicks, founder and president of global production company North Six, which used inFocus to collect data in the field and educate customers like Puma, Gap Inc. and the Coty cosmetics from their environmental footprint. from creative projects.

For Betak, the industry must be more radical and take more risks. This can mean loosening the reins of creative control in favor of clean settings. For example, last September he hosted Tory Burch’s New York Fashion Week runway show as a block party, turning Mercer Street into an outdoor parade requiring minimal staging or set design.

“The only 100% sustainable way to make an event is not to do it,” said de Betak. In fashion, “lightness is never easy … and involves a lot of risk …[but] most of the others [industries] would laugh at us if they understood what we call risk.

Disclosure: Bureau Betak produced several events for Fashion trade, including its BoF 500 and VOICES gatherings.

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Cory E. Barnes

The author Cory E. Barnes

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