Luxury Brands Gather in Milan to Talk Sustainability

On March 20, 2018 at the Palazzo Parigi Milan, Camera Nazionale della Moda Italiana, in partnership with Swarovski, held the 2nd International Roundtable on Sustainability. The event brought together more than 50 Corporate Social Responsibility and Sustainability managers from the luxury fashion world to exchange information and learn about sustainable business strategies.

In the morning, a nine-part plenary session began with a speech by CNMI Chairman Carlo Capasa on Italian fashion’s leadership role in sustainability. “The fact that Italy represents a large part of the European fashion business and production is not only positive but also a great responsibility that we feel,” Capasa told listeners, adding that are key to achieving eco-friendly practices. “We want to make sustainability measurable. Sustainability is a method, a tool, a procedure, a code, not a marketing campaign.”  

A series of eminent figures took the stage over the course of the morning, introduced by journalist Elizabeth L. Cline, journalist and author of Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion. Pascal Morand, Executive President of the Fédération de la Haute Couture et de la Mode, stressed the need for collaboration across boundaries. "Physical boundaries have to be overcome, as well as cultural, legal, technological and sectoral,” said Morand, calling for a balanced approach to sustainability that took consideration of fashion’s cultural and emotional imperatives. "To turn the fashion industry into something sustainable, we need to tackle the issue from different points of view," he said, pointing to a The Perfect Sustainability Square with the four vectors of Corporate Social Responsibility, Creativity, Environment and Sovoir-Faire.

A brief panel of high-level speakers from the UN, World Bank, and the Italian government knowledgeable discussed the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals and how the government works with the fashion industry to achieve change. “Collaboration is key for impact to build the political support for sustainability,” said Giulia Braga, of the World Bank Group’s Connect4Climate program. “Together we can make the transition.” Braga was joined by panelists Lilian Liu of the UN Global Compact, Giulia Dramis of the Italian Ministry of the Environment, and Birgit Altmann, of the UN Economic Commission for Europe.

Next, journalist Simran Sethi challenged listeners to think in bold new ways, noting that the term “sustainability” is broad enough to hold “everything and nothing,” which can be an opportunity for innovation, mentioning exciting examples of innovation such as Bolt Threads’ spider-free silk made from renewable resources. “Our goal is to make the intangible tangible and to make sustainability the force that sustains us,” she added.

In conversation with Cline, Dax Lovegrove, VP of Sustainability at Swarovski, explained how is company drives sustainability in the jewelry sector through the use of renewable energy, recycled water and a commitment to using Fairtrade gold. Lovegrove remarked on a growing interest by customers, especially young ones, in sustainability and encouraged the use of social media to reach them. “We need to use social networks to raise awareness, and surely the best tool to talk to them right now is in Instagram.”

A highlight of the morning was a special video message contributed by Suzy Menkes. “I’m there with you in spirit for all you’re doing and planning to give us a more sustainable world,” said Menkes from in her office at Vogue. She praised Italy’s heritage of craftsmanship and luxury, which she said is the antidote to fashion’s obsession with the new and the next, as long as the Millennial generation be convinced of this. “It’s time to stop and stop now the idea of fast fashion,” Menkes added.


Only with transparency in supply chains can brands achieve concrete sustainability goals, said founder and CEO of Sourcemap, Leonardo Bonanni. "Transparency has to be a condition of doing business," said Bonanni, showing how his impressive software platform and analytics is used to map suppliers across the globe, but also to visualize environmental performance and set targeted sustainability goals.

Eco-Age Founder and Creative Director Livia Firth rounded out the morning’s discussion. Coalition leads to power, said Firth, and "turns up the dial on sustainability. This toxicology research is a huge mountain to climb, but it's a starting point and needs to be applauded."

The morning culminated with the breaking news announcement of the CNMI’s Committee on Sustainability’s latest accomplishment, the release of new guidelines to govern the use of aromatic amines, called “Guidelines on the eco-toxilogical requirements for chemical mixtures and industrial discharges.” Capasa presented the findings along with Confindustria Moda President Claudio Marenzi, who co-authored the report. "We can affirm that there is no evidence to support the hypothesis that our sweat can make the carcinogenic aromatic amines present on textile items bioavailable," said Capasa, meaning the body does not absorb amines. "This is a good news, which needed to be proven scientifically.”

The Committee, created in 2011, has a goal to create parameters to define sustainability data across all fashion sectors by 2020. "This will help a radical transformation of the fashion chain, aimed at a gradual reduction of the sector's environmental impact," Capasa remarked.