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VF Corp going strong on sustainability agenda

"VF Corp, which owns 27 brands, including The North Face, Timberland, Vans, Wrangler, Lee and Napapijri, went through a complete transformation in 2016 to become a performance-driven, purpose-led business, which is based on sustainability and consumer-centric retail. Martino Scabbia Guerrini, EMEA President, VF Corp, recently stated there is an intensity and fluidity like never before in retail, and brands must change to embrace the new ‘global agenda’. For VF, the idea is to address the issue of scarcity of resources, and to extend the lifespan of its products to make sure that they make the most of them."

 

VF Corp going strong on sustainability agenda 001VF Corp, which owns 27 brands, including The North Face, Timberland, Vans, Wrangler, Lee and Napapijri, went through a complete transformation in 2016 to become a performance-driven, purpose-led business, which is based on sustainability and consumer-centric retail. Martino Scabbia Guerrini, EMEA President, VF Corp, recently stated there is an intensity and fluidity like never before in retail, and brands must change to embrace the new ‘global agenda’. For VF, the idea is to address the issue of scarcity of resources, and to extend the lifespan of its products to make sure that they make the most of them. To sustain its growth momentum, Guerrini is focusing on sustainable strategies to create a truly circular economy, whereby products are reused and recycled rather than disposed off. These include schemes for clothing recycling, repair and rental, and the increased digitalisation of the supply chain, alongside the prioritisation of direct-to-consumer channels, and the boosting of the strongest and most energetic wholesale partnerships.

To sustain its growth momentum, Guerrini is focusing on sustainable strategies to create a truly circular economy, whereby products are reused and recycled rather than disposed off. These include schemes for clothing recycling, repair and rental, and the increased digitalisation of the supply chain, alongside the prioritisation of direct-to-consumer channels, and the boosting of the strongest and most energetic wholesale partnerships.

Sustainability at its core

The president envisions technology to become a capability on a VF scale. By 2020, VF EMEA will have retrained all its designers in circular economyVF Corp going strong on sustainability agenda 002 strategies, so they can create products that can be recycled and have a longer lifecycle. Recently in the US, The North Face launched ‘Renewed’, a trial where damaged or defective products received at distribution centres are reconditioned, before being resold at a discount online. If the pilot proves successful, the concept would be brought to Europe too. Alongside, 50 European stores across The North Face, Timberland and Vans are participating in VF ‘Take Back’ scheme, in which shoppers donate clothing – made by VF brands or third parties – in return for discount vouchers. They are either resold in the secondary market or downcycled to create materials for other industries. In Europe last year, 4,500 kg of clothing was collected, and VF has committed to increase this by 10 per cent by 2020.

Anna Maria Rugarli, EMEA’s senior director for sustainability and responsibility, VF, says new generations are less interested in ownership, but they want to have access and to experience. This business model brings it to them – it’s a new way to provide services to stay relevant to them. Some of the other initiatives in this regard include ensuring 50 per cent of the PET and nylon used is from recycled sources, and all cotton will be sustainable by 2025. Brands are also encouraged to work closely with relevant local communities.

Partners in progress

Lee Bagnall, MD, Blacks Outdoor Retail, a key The North Face stockist, observes VF is progressive and has a clear strategy in terms of the different channels it wants to participate in. Sustainability will become more important over the next few years. They are very good at reinventing themselves and being at the forefront of everything they do, making sure they are relevant. VF is also collaborating to raise brands’ profiles, focused on designers that share its sustainable ethos. Going ahead, it plans to acquire new brands too and that the latest purchase of New Zealand outdoor and sportswear brand Ice Breaker is the blueprint for future deals and was the first purpose-led acquisition for the business.

The optimistic president advices other retailers not to be afraid of change, be afraid of not doing it. Keep it simple. You need to create something that is focused and make it part of the narrative. The language is the biggest missed opportunity in many businesses. Companies not only have to transform, they have to become better at telling how they are doing it. In every industry, it’s clear that whoever wasn’t open to change and embracing new generations is gone. It’s about keeping this new generation of consumer conversation open to determine what your internal culture change should be, before it’s too late – before someone wakes you up with a bomb.

 
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