Why Kering believes technology and sustainability go hand in hand

French luxury goods group Kering – owner of iconic brands such as Yves Saint Lauren and Gucci – has a long-standing commitment to reducing its environmental footprint. The company developed an environmental profit & loss method in 2012 to track its progress and has a target to reduce its global environmental impact 40% by 2025, a strategy aligned with the UN Sustainability Goals.

According to Michael Beutler, director of sustainability operations at Kering, the company is now “well on the way” to achieving that goal. However, he told delegates at the virtual Decoded Future Digital event run by trends forecaster Stylus, that the pandemic has “been an accelerator of change” across the industry.

“Covid-19 has an interesting effect, because people are separated geographically [when] a lot of the design process is by feel.” Previously, several versions of physical prototypes would be produced when putting together items for a collection. But now the experimentation of 3D design has been been sped up, with entire collections having been produced using 3D design. “You can see it works… that creates a new era of change,” he said.

“We’ve seen a revolution in retail as well, and that is more and more digital.” That will only increase, he said, and with it more sustainable technologies. He predicts an increase in things like body scanning, where the consumer uploads their size metrics.

“If you are buying it digitally, you don’t know if it fits or not. So you are going to buy a lot – and return half of them. But that is not so great for the footprint because you have all the shipping not only to your house but going back.” Those types of tools can take a lot of wasted energy out of the process.

Another big issue in the fashion industry is over production, with retailers producing three garments for every one they sell. “Part of it is anticipating consumer demand, which also brings in technology like AI for demand prediction.. you can get a much more accurate picture of what to order from your supply chain, by following in real-time what consumers are buying and not buying.

“That can make a huge difference to over-production. So we are seeing a convergence of a lot of things happening right now and I think it is a very exciting time in the fashion industry… there is so much going on and such an opportunity for change.”

Overall, Beutler is optimistic about the potential for sustainability, technology and creativity.

“I think we will see more and more… how that human element with the digital element can interplay. And I think that is one thing that makes luxury a little different from fashion: there is that tradition of craftsmanship. And creativity that can be enhanced not reduced by this new digital age of fashion.

“So with that I think it is important to keep in mind: yes we are facing a key pivotal time in our history, in terms of climate change and global issues. Covid-19 has been a reminder to us of how connected we are. And fashion can play a big role in trying to shape that future in a positive way."