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Sustainability in the Fashion Industry

Julie Gilhart
9:00 am, Mar 25th (EST)
Expert Guest

Julie Gilhart

Founder, Fashion Consultant at Julie Gilhart Consulting, Inc.
Julie Gilhart, is a creative business consultant for a concentrated, influential set of clients, from the leading online e-commerce platform, Amazon, to the luxury goods group, Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessey. She has also worked extensively with labels such as Goyard, Jil Sander and Prada, and today is a pioneer of sustainability and the circular economy. She helped launch the inaugural LVMH Prize for Emerging Talent, engaging young, promising talent from all over the world. Previously, she was senior vice president, fashion director at Barneys New York for 18 years, where she oversaw creative, design, and business direction. Gilhart sits on the boards of Mulberry, Kelly Slater’s Kering-backed label Outerknown, Parsons The New School for Design and Tomorrow LTD. She is also an advisor to the CFDA, most recently working with them to establish the CFDA + Lexus Fashion Initiative for Sustainability.
Expert Guest


In our first masterclass conversation with expert Julie Gilhart and Simon Collins, Julie will discuss her experience with global companies and the different ways which companies are making sustainability work -- all while creating profit. 

Julie has watched some of the world’s leading fashion (and non-fashion) companies and organizations evolve and embrace sustainability and will share her advice on how new entrants to space can incorporate some of these best practices - and avoid their mistakes.

Julie will speak to the societal and generational trends in sustainable practices including how social media is driving conscious consumerism and why the future of fashion belongs to sustainable brands.

Sustainability in Fashion

Sustainability in fashion encompasses several different strategies, all meant to a close a loop in the production of fashion resulting in waste. In the initial stage starting with materials, designers have the option of using materials that are less resource intensive than ordinary fibers, such as cotton and polyester, which generate much water waste. The production of one cotton t-shirt requires 2,700 liters of water. Sustainable raw matter includes renewable fibers, biodegradable fibers, low chemical/low energy fibers, low water use fibers, and vintage and upcycled fibers. As this material is carried into manufacturing, there are a series of industrial operations necessary in refining raw materials into assembled components to be subsequently constructed into consumer products. Methods of sustainability in this cycle include low impact spinning/weaving/knitting and low chemical bleaching and dyeing, such as natural dyes. Designers often focus on using natural dyes to minimize waste, as well as labor justice and employing local artisans. Moving on to distribution, the movement of a product between locations along the supply chain, emerging companies have targeted carbon offsetting, transparent supply chains, and efficient transportation systems and packing. Finally, when fashion products are delivered, consumers now have many options in use to promote sustainability: low energy washes/low laundering and low iron are among a few options. To optimize the lifespan of an item, mending, repairing, rental, and swapping systems have all been proven to be effective. When a product has reached the end of its life, it can be recycled or repurposed for other concerns. Most recently, innovations in the field of fashion sustainability are reassessing traditional practices to find new solutions. For example, new designers are fabricating wearable tech, incorporating biomimicry, and using slow fashion to reduce overall waste.

High Fashion Sustainability

According to the Business of Fashion 2019 State of Fashion Report, speed in production is becoming critical to every fashion label and retailer — not just the purveyors of fast fashion. For this reason, rental models within luxury fashion are becoming increasingly popular. As Julie Gilhart mentions in her talk, luxury reseller The RealReal is changing the way people shop by enabling customers to buy and consign their designer items, promoting the sharing, rental and resale economy. Just under a decade old, The RealReal is a woman and tech based company valued at about $1 billion. Their metrics include a sustainability calculator that measures the impact of buying resale vs buying new and translates results into a quantity of resources saved, such as “You saved 100 trees from your purchase.”


Other leaders in high fashion sustainability are changing the way fashion is traditionally marketed. Similar to The RealReal, Rent the Runway uses a rental model for luxury clothes so that customers can pay per use with access to a wide range of options for customizing their looks on any day. Other brands, such as Patagonia, Eileen Fisher, and Stella McCartney are using tech to drive sustainability. Allbirds, a pioneer in sustainable shoes, is advancing sustainability through simple designs for shoes. Everlane uses factory transparency and price transparency for their business model and is aiming to take out all virgin plastic by 2021. All these businesses driving sustainability are B Corp certified and/or focused on ESG principles: environmental, social and governance. Present now more than ever is a shift in marketing to storytelling that is consumer-driven.

Masterclass Intro

“I think we are at a [point of] change… if you want to have a long-term business you have to have a platform that is encouraging a better future.” 

Key Takeaways

Sustainability is Good Business

“Reading the desires of the consumer is what is driving a lot of people embrace sustainability - it’s what the customer wants”

-- Simon Collins

You Don’t Have to Start Big. Starting Small is Also Very Valuable in the Efforts Towards Sustainability

“Just take a small project and then start from there. ...Work from that [point] and build it out. You are never going to have the 'perfect' business equation for sustainability. It is going to take years. So it’s better to just start with a small little corner.”

-- Julie Gilhart

Transparency is Key

“Transparency is essential. And the best transparent statement that we can make is “We’re far from perfect, but we’re starting”

-- Julie Gilhart

Information and Help is Already Out There

“A lot of people are doing this already and want to help. And they will share their knowledge.”

-- Simon Collins

Be Authentic and Do Something That Resonates With Your Company

“[Companies] just need to act and do something they feel resonates with them and start there."

-- Julie Gilhart

Ask yourself

Ask Yourself

  • Why is sustainability important to you and your company, organization or designs?

  • What resources do you need to help you become more sustainable?

  • What companies inspire you to be more sustainable?

  • How can your company, organization or designs be more sustainable?

Key takeaways

Continue Your Learning

  • For further information on H&M’s progress on sustainability check out their latest report: The H&M Group Sustainability Reports

  • Check out Burberry’s efforts towards corporate responsibility by visiting: Burberry Responsibility Disclosures

  • Arguably the leading corporate actor in the fashion and sustainability landscape, Kering’s open source content can help any company interested in learning what it takes to integrate sustainability into their operations. Please visit for more information: Kering Sustainability Resources

  • For information on Adidas’s sustainability history and future goals, check out their holistic approach at: Adidas Sustainability General Approach

  • The CFDA has produced an exhaustive and long overdue guide to help fashion designers- and perhaps designers of all kinds too- integrate sustainability into their work: CFDA Sustainability Report

  • Consisting of a number of key members, SAC has created metrics and standards which companies can use to measure their sustainability impact, notably the HIGG Index. Learn more at their website: Sustainable Apparel Coalition (SAC)

  • A leading authority and implementer of circular economy principles, please visits EMF’s website to learn more about their work and partners: Ellen MacArthur Foundation

  • One of the leading environmental NGOs, the NRDC created their Clean by Design program to reduce supply chain pollution in the fashion industry. For more information please visit:  Clean by Design, Natural Resources Defense Council

Further Learning
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