Regenerative and circular net-zero transition: Inside Mulberry's new sustainability strategy
In an exclusive interview with edie, Mulberry's chief executive Thierry Andretta explains how its new ambitions to reach net-zero by 2035 and champion transparency, regeneration and circularity will be delivered.
Unveiled today (20 April), Mulberry’s new ‘Made to Last’ commitments look impressive on paper. The British luxury fashion firm has set a 2035 net-zero emissions target, covering all Scopes, and has committed to pioneering “hyper-local, hyper-transparent” supply chains as well as developing “the world’s lowest-carbon leather” to help achieve this aim.
There is also a pledge to extend the real living wage pledge already made to direct staff to Mulberry’s entire global supplier network and, on the consumer-facing side, shoppers can expect to see more repair, restoration and resale services in the coming months and years.
But the global fashion industry as a whole has, historically, been a major contributor to the world’s climate and waste problems. It is estimated to account for 10% of global annual emissions and at least a bin lorry full of waste every second.
With this in mind, edie dialled chief executive Thierry Andretta to gain insight as to how the business must transform to meet the lofty new ambitions.
Andretta stated that, while the new aims are ambitious, they “perfectly fit the company philosophy”, marking “a normal evolution and integration” – albeit at an accelerated pace.
Carbon and cattle
On the net-zero piece, Andretta explained, Mulberry is currently in the process of gathering detailed carbon footprint information to create an accurate baseline. From there, it can identify emissions hotspots and develop specific targets and seek approval from the Science-Based Targets Initiative (SBTi). “We consider this absolutely existentially important to get this right first time,” he said.
In the meantime, he expects upstream Scope 3 (indirect) sources of emissions to account for a significant proportion of the firm’s overall annual footprint. Abatement will need to happen across farms, transport and tanneries.
“Working with a trusted group of very close partners to assess emissions beyond the tanneries, back to the farms, is going to be a key part of how we achieve net-zero,” Andretta explained.
Mulberry already sources from European tanneries only and is aiming to help all partner tanneries achieve certification through the Leather Working Group this year. The next step will be working with selected tanneries in Scotland to pilot a “kilometre zero” approach, whereby transport miles are reduced and sustainability data collection is enhanced at every stage, including farm level.
At the farm level, there will be opportunities to implement regenerative agriculture techniques to help farms sequester more carbon than they emit. In this way, Mulberry can inset emissions on the road to net-zero. Fashion brands already working with suppliers on regenerative agriculture include Patagonia, VF Corporation and Kering.
Aside from climate action and social sustainability, it is clear that resource management and circularity are a key focus piece of Mulberry’s updated strategy. The framework includes a headline commitment to buy back, resell or repurpose any Mulberry bag.
Mulberry, Andretta highlighted, has been offering a lifetime repair guarantee with all bags since its inception. It keeps an archive of leathers, fabrics and metal components dating back 35+ years at all times.
“For us, this is not a new business model,” he said. “It is pretty unusual in this sector to repair something over a few years old, but we have already significantly scaled this service element of the business.”
However, the new commitment will see Mulberry scaling up this offering, turning to digital technologies to do so. Covid-19 proved challenging for offering repair, Andretta said, as most users go in-store, and stores have been closed in line with lockdown in the UK and beyond. This has given the brand time to develop an in-house online platform that launches this week. Before now, an online offer has only been available through Vestiare Collective.
When asked how to make a financial success of business models that result in fewer products and more service users, Andretta explained that Mulberry’s executives and sustainability professionals have worked with its finance professionals to assess and forecast accounting, He also said he believes service-based business models will be “extremely important for the future” of luxury fashion, as the impacts of climate change and resource exploitation become more obvious and ambitions are raised in the collective effort to protect the planet.
At the same time, he said, culture is taking note and public opinion is changing. He told of how some retail services see an uptick in purchases every time Bella Hadid is spotted wearing vintage, in a way similar to the way that Meghan Markle and Kate Middleton’s fashion choices have helped small, sustainable brands sell out particular lines overnight.
More broadly, the global fashion resale market is set to grow to $64bn by 2024, expanding 1.5 times quicker than the fast fashion sector. We are now at a tipping point where this more environmentally sustainable business model is also likely to be more financially sustainable.
When asked whether Mulberry’s targets could be adopted by other fashion brands, Andretta, who took up his post in 2015, said that “every company, for sure, will move more and more on sustainability” although it will be at “different speeds” in luxury fashion as in other sectors.
“But our advantage here is our medium size,” he said. ”We have enough business and enough respect from the important partners to collaborate to develop the company in this way.
“Plus, we started work on this three or four years ago. We are at the end of a cycle but the beginning of an operational phase.”
This latter point on timing could be adopted by other firms. Similarly, Andretta said other brands could benefit from adopting an agile “test-and-learn” approach to transformation. Mulberry, as a brand that has 90% of its business from direct-to-consumer channels, may have found this a smoother process, but it is, Andretta maintained, replicable.
Andretta also maintained that bold sustainability targets and a drive to embed them across the business is an unmatched way to engage employees. He said: “Normally when you push out a new initiative, there is some difference of opinion or resistance. But there was full cohesion here. This was not a surprise to me.”