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Kering: ‘We Want to Reframe Fashion’s Relationship to Nature’

“I really think that in fashion and luxury, we have an important relationship to biodiversity,” Marie-Claire Daveu, chief sustainability officer and head of international institutional affairs at Kering, told a virtual audience on Thursday.

Daveau was unveiling the luxury conglomerate’s Regenerative Fund for Nature, a grant-administering vehicle, developed in partnership with environmental nonprofit Conservation International, that aims to transition 1 million hectares of current crop and rangeland to regenerative farming practices over the next five years.

The fund, Daveau noted, seeks to finance the transformation of agriculture from one of the biggest drivers of biodiversity loss into a “force for good” that restores nature and mitigates climate change. Altruism aside, the move also makes business sense for Kering, since protecting the availability of raw materials ensures the company’s future viability, she added.

Eligible projects will take place in one or more of 17 countries that have been identified as key hotspots of opportunity by Conservation International. The fund will initially focus on leather, cotton, wool and cashmere, four raw materials that are not only important to Kering brands such as Alexander McQueen, Balenciaga and Saint Laurent, but also have the highest environmental impact. Projects will be monitored throughout to ensure they deliver measurable outcomes for nature, climate and livelihoods.

“We want to reframe fashion’s relationship to nature,” Daveau said. “It’s important to have the vision, the strategy and the action plan, but it’s also important to have the operational tools to support the transition.”

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Kering worked with Conservation International to define and articulate what “regenerative agriculture” means to them. Katrina ole-MoiYoi, sustainable sourcing specialist at Kering, said there was a “real risk right now that the term could get hijacked.”

One “key principle” of regenerative culture, as they define it, is increasing the capacity of soils to sequester carbon and hold water, “so there’s a huge focus on soil health,” she said. Others include protecting and restoring plant and animal species, eliminating synthetic pesticides, promoting farmer livelihoods and enhancing the welfare of farmed livestock.

“There’s a critical point here, which is that through the fund, we want to ensure that we are providing grants to people who are not converting new landscapes into agriculture,” ole-MoiYoi said. “So we’re looking at lands that are already under cultivation or grazing.”

Understanding the principles of regenerative agriculture is important, said LaRhea Pepper, CEO of sustainability nonprofit Textile Exchange. “We have a lot of climates, microclimates and soil solutions and so there’s not going to be a one-size-fits-all solution for what regenerative agriculture looks like in Tanzania, for example, or in Turkey or India or even West Texas,” she said. “But it’s all about investing in the soils and finding that common ground, literally, of how we share best practices.”

“Investing in change,” she added, has been one of the issue’s missing pieces. “Regeneration and regenerative practices do hold transformational power, but transformation requires investment,” Pepper said. “And so we are going to have to truly look at our business models and create something different to create a new solution.”

The Regenerative Fund for Nature sits alongside Kering’s previously established goal to protect an additional 1 million hectares of critical, “irreplaceable” habitat outside of its direct supply chain, which means the company will be covering a total of 2 million hectares. The fund’s debut also follows Kering subsidiary Gucci’s recent declaration that it will be taking a “nature-positive” approach to slowing climate change, including by investing in regenerative agriculture within its supply chain.

Fulsome and immediate action is imperative, said Bambi Semroc, acting head of the Center for Sustainable Lands and Water at Conservation International. Agriculture expansion accounts for 73 percent of global deforestation. Every year, the planet loses 10 million hectares of forests, or about the area of Belgium.

And fashion, too, has an essential role to play. “The way that a fashion company produces and sources raw materials such as wool cotton, cashmere and leather really affects how these agricultural systems work and how they support the regenerative processes that nature needs to support all of us,” Semroc said. “Nature has the innate and natural ability to regenerate itself, and oftentimes we just have to look for the opportunities to enable nature to do its part.”