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In future, the only luxury will be a clean conscience


Published by:

14 July 2020

Author: Kathryn Bishop

Image: Manolo Blahnik campaign


Walpole CEO Helen Brocklebank discusses its recent Sustainability Manifesto, luxury brand stewardship, shared goals and a home delivery backlash

Walpole’s Sustainability Manifesto is an urgent call to action for brands. In brief, why did Walpole create it?

The catalyst to creating the manifesto happened about a year ago when I heard [Manolo Blahnik CEO] Kristina Blahnik say: ‘Manolo Blahnik doesn't have a three-year plan, it has a 300-year plan.’ That captured Walpole’s many thoughts about the effect we’ve been having as an industry. Luxury, firstly, is about leadership. If you want to be the best you have to be hard-wired for longevity – having a greater commitment, responsibility, duty and the opportunity to make sure the planet is still fit for purpose in 300 years. For luxury, sustainability is the new craftsmanship.

There is an urgency for stewardship at a time when sustainability has become a much bigger luxury topic. Brands’ awareness has been built from the groundswell of conversation about sustainability led by Greta Thunberg and Extinction Rebellion.

What do you regard as the luxury industry’s main challenges when it comes to sustainable practices?

Most importantly, in terms of fuelling change quickly, is that a sense of responsibility, opportunity and obligation to play your part in protecting people and the planet for many years comes from the leadership. The biggest barrier, however, is definition. This manifesto has come from six months of very thorough, detailed work led by McKinsey & Co together with Walpole, resulting in four overarching pillars applicable to all types of luxury business, which will help us to move the dial quickly.

Johnstons of Elgin campaign
‘Brands’ awareness has been built from the groundswell of conversation around sustainability led by Greta Thunberg and Extinction Rebellion’
Helen Brocklebank, CEO, Walpole

What are these four pillars focused on?

The first pillar is about the transition towards a circular economy, focusing on packaging circularity, product life and waste production, with waste and plastics the two most urgent and important issues. Safeguarding the environment and natural resources is the second pillar, which is about energy usage, renewables and reducing carbon emissions.

The third pillar is about advocating equal and respectful working conditions, designed to guide suppliers to work closely with their supply chain to make sure they’re sourcing responsibly and have 100% traceability at all points along the chain. If you’re not helping them look after [these aspects] now, you’re not going to be able to function as a business in future. The fourth is about people and the planet: human rights and labour laws, gender equality and diversity across the business, and access to luxury roles for under-represented people.

Are any British luxury brands already implementing these pillars?

Mulberry has already introduced an entire product range made using less water and chemicals in the leather dyeing and tanning process. It’s also working towards using 100% recyclable nylon in its products. Importantly, there will be no impact on price – consumers shouldn’t have to pay more for brands’ good behaviour.

Another good example with luxury brands is lifetime guarantees – you can always have items repaired. It’s the same with Church’s shoes, or if you have a hole in your Johnstons of Elgin cashmere jumper you can send them back for repair. These services have been part of these brands for decades, but we need to talk about them, so people know that if they love an object, they can repair it, that it’s been made with care by extraordinary craftspeople – a luxury item is not luxury if it has built-in obsolescence.


Screenshot 2020-07-13 at 15.47.36-1


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