It would be a major financial hit, but Ganni won’t meet its sustainability goals without bold changes, he says, and it’s hard to see how any company with ambitious goals is serious about meeting them if it isn’t making sacrifices somewhere in its business to do so.
Veja, meanwhile, overhauled its distribution strategy after an internal audit in 2019 revealed that while 81 per cent of its products were transported by sea, the remaining 19 per cent that went by air generated 95 per cent of the brand’s distribution-related carbon emissions. Some freight decisions came under Veja’s purview; some came under that of the brand’s clients, in cases where retailers purchased FOB (freight or free on board, meaning they took ownership of the shoes before they left Brazil) and shipped the products themselves, says co-founder Sébastien Kopp.
Veja decided to be proactive, reducing its own use of air freight and encouraging retailers to do the same. By 2022, less than 0.5 per cent of its own products were shipped by plane and air freight for FOB orders is down to 10 per cent, a drop of about 75 per cent, Kopp says. “The goal for the commercial team is to convince our clients to stop using planes,” he says. Because retailers used air freight primarily to receive new styles as quickly as possible, Kopp says Veja worked with them to find workarounds — showing them new styles earlier, for example. “There is a large panel of things you can do to compensate.”
This isn’t about altruism; it’s about operating a business according to the principles that so many brands claim, externally, to be adhering to, says Bédat — and a willingness to take actions that cost money in the interest of protecting people or the environment is, for her, where the rubber hits the road for brands and their sustainability commitments.
“So much of this comes down to real, human leadership — or lack thereof,” she says. It also underscores why legislation is so necessary, in part because it would help to level the playing field for brands that are trying to do the right thing. “We need business leaders to step in and say [that] we will be at a competitive disadvantage for doing this until you make it law and we all are required to do it.”