Last week, a colorful protest temporarily diverted attention from the red carpet parade at the 2015 Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) Fashion Awards at New York City’s Lincoln Center.
Dressed in sleek formal wear, activists deployed a large banner over the heads of the crowd while others handed out balloons and business cards printed with a parody logo of the demonstration’s target: Ralph Lauren.
The activists and supporters present were part of Rainforest Action Network’s (RAN) Out of Fashion campaign, which is targeting Ralph Lauren among the “Fashion 15” — a group of brands implicated in deforestation. The campaign is calling on Ralph Lauren to adopt policies that commit the leading fashion company to using only forest-friendly fabrics in its products.
“Every year, millions of trees are turned into clothing through the use of forest fabrics like rayon and viscose,” said Brihannala Morgan, RAN’s Senior Forest Campaigner. “The time has come for the fashion industry, and in particular Ralph Lauren, to take responsibility for its impacts on people and the planet and to publicly adopt binding policies that prevent deforestation, human rights abuses and climate pollution from being woven into the fabrics Americans wear every day.
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“There are some brands that are taking action on this issue, like H&M and Stella McCartney (*see below), but Ralph Lauren isn’t one of them, and there’s just no excuse. As one of the biggest fashion brands in the world, Ralph Lauren has the ability and resources to ensure that human rights abuses and forest destruction won’t be a part of their next collection,” Morgan said.
Recent global expansion of mega-plantations for the production of pulp for fabrics has been devastating to indigenous and forest-dependent communities, RAN says. Illegal land-grabbing is rampant. In the area owned by just one company, Toba Pulp Lestari, in Northern Sumatra, Indonesia, over 20 distinct cases have been documented where traditional, community-owned land has been forcibly seized without the consent of the community and clear-cut for fabric pulp production.
These communities have have maintained a decades-long campaign against Toba Pulp Lestari, which is owned by Indonesian tycoon Sukanto Tanoto, who also owns one of the most controversial families of companies in Indonesia — Royal Golden Eagle (RGE) group. Among many others, RGE owns the pulp-processing company Sateri and APRIL — perhaps Indonesia’s most notorious forest destroyer, which just last week finally pledged to end deforestation in its practices.
Speaking of pledging to end deforestation, environmental not-for-profit Canopy announced Thursday that G-Star RAW is the latest big addition to its Fashion Loved by Forest/CanopyStyle.org initiative for forest conservation. The brand is one of a number of international retailers and designers who have recently committed to protecting endangered forest areas in the sourcing of their viscose and rayon clothing.
As a supporter of the initiative, G-Star RAW has committed to working for forest conservation; avoiding material sourcing from controversial areas; showing preference for suppliers approved by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC); and pushing suppliers to aim for increased inputs of recycled clothing into their supply chain.
CanopyStyle.org was launched in October 2013, and has now committed over 25 brands, designers and retailers — including H&M, Zara/Inditex, Levi Strauss & Co, Marks & Spencer, EILEEN FISHER and Stella McCartney — to working towards more sustainable fabric sourcing. Last month, the campaign was given a major boost when the world’s largest producer of viscose, Aditya Birla, announced a new sourcing policy in collaboration with Canopy.
This latest commitment from G-Star RAW, in parallel with pledges from the other big names in the initiative, means that 40 percent of the global viscose fiber supply is now pledged to be sourced only from forests where appropriate conservation practices have been put in place. The key areas of concern for the fabric supply chain are the Canadian boreal and Indonesian tropical forests — endangered ecosystems under significant pressure from growing material demand.
G-Star RAW has arguably been one of the biggest names trying to create a global profile for sustainability initiatives recently. Last year the Dutch brand partnered with singer Pharrell Williams’ textile company, Bionic Yarn, to produce its “Raw for the Oceans” collection, made from recycled plastics recovered from the world’s oceans.
Creating this new collection required a major rethink for the brand’s supply chain — a factor which may have pushed it to reconsider the other aspects of its sourcing policy, including its viscose and rayon supply. As a new member of the Canopy initiative, G-Star RAW will face its next challenge of having no endangered forests in its supply chain by 2017.
Canopy, alongside Stella McCartney, H&M, Zara, M&S and EILEEN FISHER, is hosting a forum in Shanghai — one of the world’s largest fabric producers — later this month to discuss a future pathway for working towards its target.