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Apparel Impact Institute Taps Luxury Giants to Make Italian Fashion More Sustainable

The Italian luxury footwear and apparel industry is the focus of a new initiative launched by the Apparel Impact Institute (AII), an organization dedicated to lessening fashion’s environmental impact. This week, the group introduced a platform for Italian manufacturers to coordinate, fund and scale environmental programs with measurable impact—and it’s working with sustainable fashion mavericks Burberry, Stella McCartney and its former parent company, Kering, to spearhead the initiative.

Goals of the program include uniting brands, manufacturers, philanthropy and nonprofits to collaborate on identifying the top environmental issues and creating an action plan for mitigation, expanding awareness and funding initiatives , and sharing best practices for environmental improvement. AII’s focus areas are energy, water and chemistry.

“This partnership is important to the industry as it allows us to continue bringing AII’s proven and future methodologies to Italy’s luxury apparel and footwear producers,” said AII president Lewis Perkins. “Now is a critical moment to include environmental stewardship in the industry’s efforts to build back better through this work. We are anxious to begin implementing with our partners.”

And it may be the perfect timing for Italy’s fashion sector, as the local government begins to ease restrictions as vaccine distribution efforts progress—a move that has sparked controversy among those who consider it to be too soon. Regardless, the fashion industry is eager to move forward and focus on collaborative, scalable improvements for a better future.

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Stella McCartney

AII’s Italy Program launched at the end of 2020 with a prioritized group of Italian manufacturers. The next phase involves recruiting 10-15 more manufacturers and luxury brands to participate.

Known for being at the forefront of fashion’s most sustainable methods, Stella McCartney was the first European partner and the first luxury brand to implement Clean by Design—a sustainable supply chain initiative led by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and eventually AII—at its textile mills in 2013.

Luxury conglomerate Kering was another early adopter of the Clean by Design program, where it has since extended sustainable guidelines to more than 35 of its suppliers. According to Géraldine Vallejo, Kering’s sustainability program director, joining forces with AII will help scale sustainable practices and further its goal of a 40 percent reduction in Environmental Profit & Loss (EP&L) by 2025.

Empowering suppliers has been fundamental in Burberry’s sustainable evolution, and it’s a mindset that the British brand aims to share with the rest of the industry through AII. “From equipping our Italian suppliers in transitioning to renewable energy to helping our wool producers restore farmland in Australia, we know it takes targeted action and cross-industry collaboration to make a meaningful systemic impact,” said Pam Batty, Burberry’s vice president, corporate responsibility. “This is why we are delighted to support AII alongside fellow brand partners—it takes shared ambition to pursue our collective mission to make fashion’s supply chains more sustainable.”

Though AII formed less than four years ago, it has already made a lasting impact on the fashion industry. The organization began as a collective effort among the Sustainable Apparel Coalition (SAC), the Sustainable Trade Initiative (IDH), Gap Inc., PVH Corp., Target, HSBC Holdings plc and other parties to unify the industry in the name of sustainability, with a focus on “promising projects that are working in limited geography or are targeting a narrow environmental or social dilemma that show potential for growth.” In 2019, it set out to scale a mill improvement program that garnered participation from partners such as Arvind Ltd., Gap Inc., Target and PVH Corp., and most recently partnered with JCPenney for supply chain enhancements.