This week, EADA was pleased to welcome representatives from top companies on campus for a conference entitled “The dilemma of sustainability in the fashion industry”. Attendees witnessed two leading managers from the industry debate the issues surrounding sustainable fashion with an eye to understanding what motivates firms to invest in sustainability, as well as identifying and addressing obstacles for an effective implementation of ethical practice in fashion. The two very different views of awareness in the fashion industry were presented by Alberto Ojinaga, the newly appointed CEO of Desigual, and Mikel Feijoo, founder of Skunkfunk. The speakers responded to questions on the role and response of their respective companies within the growing phenomenon of sustainability in fashion.
Skunkfunk: company-led sustainability
After 20 years of activity, Skunkfunk (SKFK) is now a renewed brand: it has a young team of 150 workers, operating in 30 countries, with headquarters in six of them. The company uses all types of sales channels to pursue global expansion. SKFK offers original fashion, both in terms of style and approach.
Skunkfunk Founder Mr Feijoo portrayed sustainability as the new “rule” in fashion, an inescapable step that all fashion firms –independent of their size and strategy– must commit to in the interest of social values such as environmental protection and fair trade. His position was non-negotiable and strongly value-led. In fact, Skunkfunk has built its entire image on sustainability, particularly focused on the need for greater international regulation (like fair trade certification) and an improved control over the supply chain.
Mr Feijoo’s rhetoric is judgmental and openly condemns large fashion brands who, he claims, have the power to change the industry to a more sustainable approach, but don’t do it. In fact, the need to reduce consumption – as opposed to increasing consumption – creates the opportunity for smaller and relatively more sustainable fashion brands, like Skunkfunk, to lead bigger and less sustainable competitors, such as Patagonia, to adopt socially-oriented practices.
Desigual: support for a smooth transition
On the other hand, Desigual is a leader in fashion retail with a long history in the industry. The company has stores in the United States, corporate headquarters on the beach of Barcelona, and an online distribution platform that will soon operate on an international level.
Desigual CEO Alberto Ojinaga brought a completely different perspective to the table. As the representative of a large fashion organisation that has never sought to become a reference in sustainable fashion, he focused on other aspects of the new social awareness in the industry. While in principle he agreed about the importance of sustainability, he underlined how critical large investments are in order to control a massive supply chain. Supply chains of this magnitude rely largely on suppliers of suppliers in remote areas of the globe, where controls are difficult to carry out.
Mr Ojinaga also called for the involvement of super-national actors like governments in supporting the transition of larger companies to sustainable practices. If on the one hand greater sustainability in fashion is needed, on the other hand large companies with an established strategy cannot change to a different strategy without massive costs for the company itself, its employees and the diverse involved stakeholders involved in the process. Mr Ojinaga’s discourse was generally oriented towards pragmatism and long-term objectives, focusing on the importance of actors such as governments and customers in pushing change and enabling companies like Desigual to address sustainability effectively.
Article written by Dr. Federica Massa Saluzzo, professor of the Strategy, Leadership and People Department at EADA.