Last week, Greenpeace released another damning report on the luxury industry’s sustainability record. In its Detox campaign’s latest instalment, titled ‘The King Is Naked’, the environmental group has taken on some of high fashion’s most coveted brands: Versace, Louis Vuitton, Dolce & Gabbana, Dior and the list goes on.
The launch of the report was cleverly timed to coincide with the Milan Fashion Week, and Greenpeace activists pulled out all the stops to make sure the world’s media took notice, such as by dressing up as royalty in front of flagship stores around the world and unfurling a giant banner from the cupola of Milan’s glitzy Galleria Vittorio Emanuele.
Such tactics are of course a trademark of Greenpeace, which has built its global brand on no-holds-barred campaigning and direct action. But are these name-and-shame campaigns really effective in bringing a lasting change in the fashion and luxury industry? This is the question I put to Greenpeace’s Fashion Detox campaign manager Chiara Campione.
Green Stilettos: Chiara, since the launch of the Detox campaign three years ago, have you seen any major changes in corporate behaviour?
Chiara Campione: We have seen some companies – notably Valentino and Burberry – respond to pressure, and around 20 fashion brands, such as H&M and Inditex Group, have signed up to the Fashion Manifesto. Although we have not have yet heard from the luxury brands targeted through “The King Is Naked” campaign, we are not losing hope.
Green Stilettos: And does the luxury consumer care about the Detox campaign?
Chiara Campione: Luxury consumers are starting to be more concerned, and quality is a significant leverage. What we’ve discovered through our testing is that even luxury clothes with a “Made in Italy” label contain hazardous chemicals such as NPEs that are banned in the EU, and this raises questions about the overall quality and provenance of these items. Fashion consumers are willing to pay extra money for clothes from luxury brands because to them this means better quality, so this kind of news is extremely disappointing.
Green Stilettos: And what happens after the companies join the Detox challenge? Does Greenpeace help them clean up their act?
Chiara Campione: Detox commitment is first and foremost a commitment to transparency. Companies that join the campaign pledge to eliminate immediately or within a very tight timeframe hazardous chemicals from their supply chain. Disclosing information about the kind of chemicals they find is helpful to companies themselves and also gives ‘the right to know’ to local communities who live close to the sources of pollution. Of course, we cooperate with the 20 global brands that have signed up to Detox, but their commitment is to their consumers and the public, not just to Greenpeace.
Green Stilettos: Through your campaign you mainly target the private sector. Shouldn’t Greenpeace also put pressure on governments to pass stricter laws to detox fashion?
Chiara Campione: Of course, and we do. For instance, Greenpeace China is lobbying the government to have better regulations in the country. However what we’ve seen over the past three years is that when big companies start changing their production policies, this brings about a faster change in the industry compared to political and legislative processes which can be rather slow. This also has side benefits for other brands which may not have committed to detox as many of these companies use the same suppliers.
Green Stilettos: The damage from toxic clothes is mainly environmental, yet in your report you emphasize dangers posed by these clothes to children’s health. Do you find that the health argument is more effective than the environmental one?
Chiara Campione: Yes, maybe. At the same time, children are much more vulnerable because they lick and suck their clothes and because they have lower levels of exposure. Also, some of these chemicals – for example, phthalates – are persistent; in other words, they accumulate in our bodies and the environment. Recent studies of the Italian population show that 8% of dermatological disease can be attributed to hazardous chemicals in clothing. That’s why we say that brands must do their utmost to protect kids.
Green Stilettos: Thank you, Chiara!
As Greenpeace states, when it comes to toxic chemicals, luxury clothes are no more exclusive than budget fashion. Clearly, the emperor needs new clothes. And let’s hope that the current kings of fashion would rather choose to change than face the guillotine of public disapproval.