How Ralph Lauren Just Vowed to Tackle Two of Fashion’s Biggest Issues

Two of the most critical issues facing fashion firms right now are arguably sustainability and diversity — and Ralph Lauren Corp. is pledging to throw significant efforts behind tackling both.

The New York-based fashion brand today released its 2019 Global Citizenship & Sustainability Report, which detailed several ambitious goals the company has created for boosting inclusion in its upper ranks and amplifying sustainability across its supply chain.

Regarding the latter, Ralph Lauren said it hopes to use 100% sustainably-sourced key materials — including cotton — by 2025 and pledges to train design, product development and merchant teams on sustainable, circular, inclusive and culturally-aware design annually by 2020. It also promised to set “science-based” greenhouse gas reduction targets by next year and 100% renewable energy targets by the end of this year.

“When Ralph founded our company more than 50 years ago, he did so with the conviction that whatever we create is meant to be worn, loved and passed on for generations,” says president and CEO Patrice Louvet. “This philosophy is deeply embedded in our culture, our brands and our purpose — to inspire the dream of a better life through authenticity and timeless style. It also inspires Design the Change, a strategy that will accelerate our efforts to create a positive impact in society and a more sustainable future.”

Although the company has already outpaced much of its peers when it comes to gender diversity — this year it reached a global workforce gender balance of 64% female, with women holding 53% of positions at and above the senior director level — it is adding new objectives for both recruitment and advancement of women.

By 2023, the company pledges to achieve gender parity with equal representation in leadership positions at the VP level and above — and increase female representation in factory management by 25% by 2025.

“In line with our pledge, all interviews for open VP and above positions will include female candidates,” the company noted in the report, adding that next fiscal year it will extend this commitment to include interviewing diverse candidates for every open VP and above position.

To aid the company’s efforts, beginning in fiscal year 2020, Louvet and leaders from regional diversity and inclusion teams at Ralph Lauren — comprising a Diversity & Inclusion Board — will regularly convene to discuss new D&I strategies. To diversify its pipeline, the company said its University Relations program has expanded recruiting at colleges with diverse student bodies and it has increased its presence at career fairs for millennial, veteran, and LGBTQIA+ talent in order t reach a broader pool of candidates.

As of fiscal year 2019, Ralph Lauren’s employee pool is comprised of 39% white, 23% black or African-American, 23% Latino or Hispanic and 8% Asian. (Less than 1% of its employees fall under the Native American, Pacific Islander and Alaskan Native classifications.)

Ralph Lauren joins a growing list of brands and retailers in fashion moving toward greater transparency in their diversity numbers as well as espousing new goals around sustainability and environmental consciousness.

Last month, in its annual report, dubbed Nike Impact, The Swoosh offered an update on its newly accelerated goal of attracting and developing “an increasingly diverse, engaged, and healthy workforce.” (It followed the brand’s decision in 2018 to publish more detailed data about its employee gender and ethnic make-up across levels at the company.)

Over the past year, Nike said it increased VP-level representation of women by 4% to 36% globally and VP-level representation of U.S. underrepresented groups by 3% to 19%. The brand also succeeded in reaching global pay equity ratio for men to women, and white to underrepresented groups in the U.S. (In the United States, women still earn about 80 cents to a man’s dollar, according to data from the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.)

Competitor Adidas, meanwhile, has been a significant player in the sustainability push in the athletic space — the brand was among the top ranking on 2019 Fashion Transparency Index. Earlier this year, Adidas unveiled Futurecraft Loop — a 100% recyclable performance running shoe that can be returned to Adidas, broken down and reused to create new performance running shoes. The release is a part of the company’s largest-ever global beta program, ahead of the wider commercial release targeted for spring ’21. In partnership with Parley for the Oceans, Adidas made its big splash in the eco-friendly space in 2015, introducing the first performance footwear concept with an upper made entirely of yarns and filaments reclaimed and recycled from marine plastic waste and illegal deep-sea gill nets. This year, the brand pledged to produce 11 million pairs of shoes with Ocean Plastic by Parley through intercepting plastic waste on beaches, remote islands and in coastal communities.

Watch the video below to go inside eco-friendly shoe brand AllBirds’ San Francisco headquarters.

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