Global Trend: Sustainability
Ask famed French fashion designer Jean Paul Gaultier why he shuttered his popular ready-to-wear fashion line recently and he’ll tell you it was out of concern for the planet. “I woke up one day and noticed that there was more and more clothing being produced each season. And it was disposable clothing that was thrown away a few months later. It didn’t feel right to me. So I decided to shut down the ready-to-wear business and focus on very special haute couture pieces. It is about using the best quality materials and craftsmanship so the item will last.” Gaultier travels the world and is a keen observer. Through his travels in Europe and North America, he noticed a shift in attitude from a new generation of consumers. “They care for the planet. And they want brands that respect this.”
One of the biggest trends in beauty & fashion bubbling under in 2017 is the idea of sustainability and responsibility. Market research reports indicate a swing in consumer attitudes over the past two years regarding how they want brands to operate. It began as eco-friendly programs that worked to reduce waste and encourage recycling. But it has evolved to involve fair business practices that strive to respect workers, the environment & raw materials. One of the biggest cheerleaders for this movement is Christian Courtin-Clarins. The prestige French beauty brand has worked tirelessly over the past five years to reduce its ecological footprint and encourage responsible sustainability worldwide.
Christian Courtin Clarins and myself
“One of the most fascinating things we’ve discovered recently is how important biodiversity is to the quality of ingredients,” he tells me. “For example, certain fruits have a better taste when grown close to other plants. The plants and environment around a farm has a big effect on how flowers and fruits smell and taste.” For this reason, Christian and his team have built long-term relationships with farmers around the world to secure exceptional quality ingredients. They cultivate in a clean way that supports not only the environment but the workers too.
“The big problem with the whole eco movement in the last decade is that it didn’t address the farmers and workers. It wasn’t good enough to just say, we’re not going to harvest a certain plant or grow a certain crop. That suddenly puts a lot of people out of work and with no livelihood. Sustainable biodiversity takes into account nature and people. There needs to be a way to respect the environment, grow in a clean manner and offer families a good livelihood. That is why we aim to build a school near every supplier we partner with. And we work to provide clean water to villages. My father gave me the wisest advice: always respect people when you visit a new country.” His brother, Dr. Olivier Courtin-Clarins agrees. “Nature is an endless source of inspiration, but it is fragile and it must be treated with respect.” Clarins followers a very strict ingredients policy. It does not use plants which might be endangered, and follows strict international guidelines for environmental protection, including the Rio Convention and the CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora.)
Clarins’ fragrance division was one of the first to offer refillable fragrance bottles under the Angel and Alien brands. It’s called The Source and you can visit a select department store to refill your bottle (at a discounted price to buying a regular bottle). This has kept tons of perfume bottles from landing in landfill sites.
Guerlain’s master perfumer Thierry Wasser has experienced the trend to sustainability firsthand through his travels around the world securing raw ingredients for the brand’s fragrances. “It is about establishing long-term relationships with farmers,” he says. “If I can promise to buy the farm’s produce each season for the next 10 years, it gives security and allows the farmers to work the land in the most respectful way.” He says as development encroaches closer and closer to farmland, it is imperative to offer good prices for ingredients so farmers don’t sell to developers.
Another leader in the sustainability movement is the L’Oreal Group based in Paris. I’ve had the opportunity to tour its labs and corporate offices in Paris twice and there is genuine passion for this cause. Chairman Jean-Paul Agon says it perfectly when he says, “More than ever before, who can ignore the immense challenges facing our world. Only by bringing together all the biggest companies and governments can we make a better world. By 2020, every one of our products will demonstrate a positive environmental or social benefit. That means the environmental impact will be equally important to the efficacy of the products.” That is a massive claim considering that this is a multi-billion dollar company operating in almost every country in the world.
And while I focus most of my days on beauty companies and their programs, I take regular breaks at my local Starbucks around the corner. My good friend Tara works there and she tells me that there are similar programs in place. (In 2015, the coffee industry made a $225 impact on the economy.) A woman by the name of Kelly Goodejohn heads up the ethical sourcing and sustainability efforts at Starbucks. She confronts climate change, fewer farmers and a host of other threats when working to secure the finest coffee beans grown and harvested in the most respectful possible. She’s focused on the ‘Coffee Belt’, the region between the tropics of Cancer and Capricorn where the majority of the world’s coffee beans are grown. The trees grow best between 3,000 and 6,000 feet where cool nights and hot days encourage robust coffee cherry harvests.
“Just like the farmers are dependent on coffee for their livelihoods, people seem to depend on coffee to get up and go every day,” says Bambi Semroc, Strategic Coffee Advisor in conversation with journalist Michelle Flandreau. “If you want to be able to have a cup of coffee in the future and to be able to understand that it is sustainably grown and not having a detrimental impact on the environment or on people.”
coffee tree saplings waiting to be planted
Much like Clarins and L’Oreal are committed to buying ethically sourced raw materials, Starbucks has made a commitment to buy 100 percent ethically sourced coffee in partnership with Conservation International. The company is donating millions of disease-resistant trees, sharing its research and resources through Farmer Support Centers and taking steps to reduce its carbon footprint. They are even working to make coffee the world’s first sustainable agricultural product.
It is likely as this trend strengthens that claims about sustainability and responsible production will be just as important as the actual formulas and scents in the coming years. Respecting farmers, workers and Mother Earth is true beauty.