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The global fashion business journal

22 May 201901:28

Jeffrey Hogue (C&A): “Sustainability is easier when you’re big”

Hogue, responsible of the sustainability strategy of the company and board member in the C&A Foundation ensures that there’s no other industry paying such an attention to what happens in supplier factories as fashion.

28 Jun 2018 — 10:00
S. Riera / L. Molina
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Jeffrey Hogue (C&A): “Sustainability is easier when you’re a big”

 

 

Jeffrey Hogue, who’s in charge of C&A’s sustainability strategy, considers that being sustainable is a matter of size, because it requires resources and equipment. Hogue, involved as well in lobbies such as Fashion for Good, Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute and Textile Exchange, also assures that there’s no other industry paying so much attention to factory conditions among suppliers. C&A has been making progress in sustainability in recent years. The group, one of the largest consumers of sustainable cotton, has also taken steps towards a close-the-loop approach.

 

 

MDS: What is sustainability?

Jeffrey Hogue: It has to do with three aspects. First, the products and materials that are used; secondly, sustainability applied to operations and processes; and, third and last, to look for lines of action that can help our consumers to be more sustainable.

 

MDS: Is it a matter of reputation?

J. H.: Sustainability has a deeper meaning than just reputation. C&A, for example, is a family-owned business with several centuries of history which still maintains the family values. The company has been concerned about sustainability for some time, but the group has put more efforts to introduce it in all decision-making for the last four years.

 

MDS: The current fashion business is supported by a sourcing model based in countries with low production costs. Does sustainability mean ending this way of operating?

J. H.: I’m not really sure that sustainability implies the end of long-distance sourcing. I don’t think we will change the strategy in the countries where we have been supplying for years and in which we are very settled, as it would be difficult for us to move to other territories.

 

 

 

 

MDS: This year marks the fifth anniversary of the Rana Plaza tragedy. How did that accident change the way things are done in the fashion industry?

J. H.: Rana Plaza completely changed the way of sourcing. It modified it forever and for all brands. The whole industry is involved in this transformation. Five years ago, at C&A we had professionals to work in supply chain, to control factories and increase attention on social conditions. But now, the link is much greater. There’s no other industry paying so much attention to conditions in factories from which it sources products.

 

MDS: Has the way of interacting with suppliers also changed?

J. H.: I couldn’t tell if relations between the brand and the factories we work with are stronger now. They’re exactly as we have always worked. We had already forged strong relationships. I don’t know if closing ties even more would bring greater value. In any case, we continue working the same way.

 

MDS: Is it possible to be cheap and sustainable at the same time?

J. H.: What do we mean by cheap? To be cheap is to give value at an affordable price? China, for example, has the cheapest organic cotton in the world. We have room to give price and value. The reason we can give affordable prices is because we are big and we can scale.

 

 

 

 

MDS: Can sustainability be scalable?

J. H.: By 2020, two thirds of our collection will be more sustainable, endorsed with organic certifications, liability codes, recycled materials, Better Cotton Initiative (BCI). Now it’s 25%, two out of ten garments in a store. All brands are working in the same direction and are doing it with their suppliers, who are investing a lot in turn. All this will be enlarged.

 

MDS: Is it easier to be sustainable if you are a small or medium-sized company?

J. H.: Sustainability is easier when you are big. I manage a team of 135 people to work on this topic. Resources and full-time people dedicated to this are needed. Small and medium brands can have very good intentions, but it’s very important to have equipment and, above all, resources. When you are small, for example, you don’t have the power to buy and make decisions with suppliers, and this makes prices more expensive. Sustainability doesn’t have to be only for the few who can afford it, but everyone should have access to it.

 

 

MDS: Is it easier to be sustainable if you are a small or medium-sized company?

J. H.: Sustainability is easier when you are big. I manage a team of 135 people to work on this topic. Resources and full-time people dedicated to this are needed. Small and medium brands can have very good intentions, but it’s very important to have equipment and, above all, resources. When you are small, for example, you don’t have the power to buy and make decisions with suppliers, and this makes prices more expensive. Sustainability doesn’t have to be only for the few who can afford it, but everyone should have access to it.

 

MDS: Also the media, social and political focus is on the big players...

J. H.: Sustainability shouldn’t be just a concern of the big brands, but also of small and medium ones. In the end, the ten largest fashion groups worldwide only represent 10% of the industry revenues. But if we work together in the same direction, the technology required for a change will eventually reach the rest.

 

 

 

 

MDS: Should the consumer also be involved in this shift?

J. H.: The consumer cares about sustainability, but it doesn’t look like that when making a purchase. However, consumers do want to know who, how and where the products have been produced. In this sector, it’s really difficult to explain all aspects of the value chain. We can spend a lot of time showing the impact that being sustainable generates in each of the processes and in that they understand the value chain, and of course they would eventually get it. Here, the marketing department has a great job moving forward. But I think that, first of all, it is more important that we do things well.

 

MDS: Will the fashion industry be able to replace cotton and polyester with other materials with less environmental impact?

J. H.: We will replace them with others that are more sustainable. The impact of polyester, cotton or viscose production is now very high. But we’re moving away, for example, from normal cotton to others with less impact, and we use other materials, such as hemp or viscose, always certified in order to avoid them coming from protected forests. In the case of polyester, it’s increasingly common to work with recycled polyester.

 

MDS: C&A is also moving forward in circular economy. When do you think that fashion, as a whole, can be a circular business?

J. H.: For now, the scope is still small and it’s difficult to be one hundred percent biodegradable or recyclable. We work to reduce energy consumption, resources and water in the different processes. But on a small scale it’s hard that the impact gets noticed, it’s important that more companies work in the same direction.

 

 

 

 

MDS: Would circularity perpetuate the throw-away system?

J. H.: C&A has sufficient quality so that our garments aren’t meant to throw-away. The standards with which we work together with the designers to choose the raw materials are high enough so that the consumer doesn’t have to throw away the clothes.

 

MDS: But we are in a system based on rapid product rotation...

J. H.: We are in a consumer system that proposes to change often, buy and grow, but it’s not the same as using and throwing. I don’t know anyone who behaves this way, who buys a garment, takes it once or twice and then throws it away. On the other hand, in Europe, which is the market that I know best, there are already recycling options for consumers, starting with the stores themselves, which have collection points to boost recycling.

 

MDS: How do you imagine the fashion system in ten years?

J. H.: The current supply system will change in the next decade and will be more based on local production. It doesn’t mean to stop working with long-distance partners, but to reinforce the production in proximity. There will also be new raw materials, new materials, it will be more usual to use polyester from recycled plastic bottles, or materials from circular systems. Digitization will also be advanced, with the automation of some processes, and the use of the blockchain will be extended, which now begins, to guarantee sustainability.

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