Fueled by the zeal of young cohorts to leave the planet in a better state than what they received, consumers of all ages are rapidly becoming well versed in the fibers, certifications and other hallmarks of a sustainably made garment.
The pandemic has also magnified the adverse effects some purchases have on the planet. Two-thirds of consumers survey by McKinsey last year stated that it has become even more important to limit impacts on climate change and 57 percent have made significant changes to their lifestyles to lessen their environmental impact. Of the consumers surveyed, 67 percent said they consider the use of sustainable materials to be an important purchasing factor. This mainstreaming of sustainable fashion stands in a sharp contrast to only a few years ago when brands lamented the difficulty in educating consumers about the value of sustainable fashion.
Companies, however, had their own lessons to learn.
During a virtual event Tuesday to honor of Earth Day 2021, Jaclyn Allen, Guess director of corporate sustainability, shared how initial hesitation born from a lack of knowledge about sustainability has evolved into new bursts of enthusiasm and ideas within the corporate structure.
When Allen joined Guess six years ago, the company was in the process of learning what sustainability means to its business. Her first years were centered on educating each department about establishing sustainability goals and helping colleagues understand what they need to achieve those targets.
“Everyone knows that we have a lot of environmental problems, but how do you connect that with fashion isn’t something that a lot of people aren’t aware of,” she said.
Guess’s first sustainability plan in 2017 set out goals such as reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 15 percent and having 20 percent of its global materials portfolio in Europe, Asia, the U.S. and Canada be considered environmentally sustainable or environmentally preferred. Guess also set a goal to have 25 percent of its denim meet Guess Eco guidelines, which has gone on to become the framework for the Guess Eco Smart collection.
Allen said the company is on track to meet those targets and will be disclosing its progress in the next sustainability report in June.
The brand’s sustainable journey, however, is just beginning.
Allen said the company will be setting “even more ambitious goals,” aligned with the Science Based Targets Initiative, a global group of businesses that use science-based targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in an effort to combat climate change.
Among the next set of goals is to reduce Guess’ greenhouse gas emissions by half in the next decade and to expand its Eco Smart line to make up 75 percent of Guess’ denim business in the next few years. The brand is also working to eliminate virgin synthetic materials and significantly increase the amount of recycled materials in its lines by the end of the decade, Allen said.
The Guess Eco Smart collection, the first tangible answer to what sustainable fashion means to the heritage company, is evolving as well. While the first phase of the collection centered on garments made with organic, recycled or responsibly sourced fibers, Allen said the next edition will look at sustainable dyes and design. Guess will also release its first line of jeans designed following Ellen MacArthur’s Jeans Redesign guidelines for circular denim. The collection will launch in Europe during the summer and in the U.S. this fall.
The next sustainability plan, Allen added, signifies a transition from understanding what sustainability means for Guess, to making sustainability a part of the company’s everyday activities that ultimately make a significant impact.
It’s a genuine shift in both corporate values and in the mindset of the Guess team.
“The first couple years I was always sort of chasing everyone down, trying to get them to listen to me and understand what [sustainability] means,” Allen said. “And now I can’t keep people away. Everyone is coming to me now and because it’s been this authentic change and shift in the company where departments are [thinking about] sustainability without me. It’s just a part of their job and it’s really exciting to see that change.”