FROM ITS IMMENSE CARBON FOOTPRINT TO WASTE PRODUCTION, IT’S UNDENIABLE THAT FASHION HAS A SUSTAINABILITY PROBLEM. AMONG THE INDUSTRY GIANTS TRYING TO DO THEIR PART TO CHANGE THIS: NET-A-PORTER WITH ITS NET SUSTAIN INITIATIVE THAT CHAMPIONS BRANDS AND PRODUCTS THAT ARE HUMAN/ANIMAL/ENVIRONMENTAL WELFARECONSCIOUS. NEARLY A YEAR INTO ITS LAUNCH, THE E-RETAILER’S GLOBAL BUYING DIRECTOR ELIZABETH VON DER GOLTZ TELLS MAYA MENON HOW THIS DIGITAL SHOPPING REVOLUTION IS LEADING TO A SOCIO-ECOLOGICAL ONE.
Elizabeth von der Goltz, Net-a-porter’s global buying director, helps curate the merchandise for Net Sustain, a special and permanent edit of products from the e-retailer’s roster of brands that check its sustainability standards including responsibly sourced materials and contributions to the local community. Besides getting its own dedicated section on the site, the programme also includes exclusive capsule collections such as a three-piece range by the waste-conscious E.L.V. Denim that’s meant to be worn interchangeably or at once for the Canadian Tuxedo look.
"Since its introduction last June, Net Sustain has grown to cover a total of 100 brands with the latest additions including recycled specialist Deadwood; the Hong Kong-based The R Collective that uses upcycled materials to create modern, seasonless staples; as well as 27 beauty brands – a category introduced to the programme just this January."
NET SUSTAIN WAS INTRODUCED LAST JUNE. HOW HAS CUSTOMER RESPONSE BEEN?
“We’ve received very positive responses – some are pleased that we’re taking sustainability very seriously while some are curious and want to learn more about the initiative… We saw sales lift 170 per cent on launch day with Stella McCartney, Veja and Mara Hoffmann among the most popular labels. This shows that our customers are interested in sustainable fashion and that the want and need for sustainability within the luxury sphere is becoming more apparent… If more brands and retailers are working harder to give customers the option to buy and think more sustainably, ethically or charitably, it will only impact positively globally.”
NET SUSTAIN STARTED WITH 26 FASHION BRANDS. NOW THAT NUMBER HAS GROWN AND EVEN INCLUDES BEAUTY. TELL US MORE ABOUT YOUR CURATION PROCESS.
“From January 2020, 27 beauty brands were added to the platform – the first time that this category has been included… These have been complemented by 45 additional fashion brands, taking the total number of names under Net Sustain to 100. For each brand, we conducted an in-depth interview to gather information about their approach to sustainability and confirm that the products they’re proposing meet the criteria of at least one of the Net Sustain attributes (made with responsibly sourced/made materials; help reduce waste; involve processes that minimise environmental impact; are locally made; and honour artisanal craft and fair trade practices). We also risk-assess each brand to ensure that they and their suppliers are compliant with our code of conduct. Brands must meet a minimum baseline score and when a brand fails to do so, we provide guidance on what can be done to work towards meeting the requirements at a later date. There is also a product-based assessment that must be carried out on every item submitted… As Net Sustain is a product-based edit, we have brands that are eligible for inclusion but will not necessarily have all of their products included. We are specifically looking to showcase products that demonstrate their best practice in terms of sustainability.”
WHAT ARE SOME OF THE NEW LABELS? HOW DO THEY MEET THE NET SUSTAIN MARK?
“The Hong Kong-based The R Collective is set on reducing industry textile waste. It gives new life to high-quality upcycled fabrics by transforming them into modern, season-less staples. Similarly, Deadwood’s leather pieces are made from rescued deadstock (offcuts from the garment industry or rejected skins from tanneries), repurposed vintage clothing and upcycled post-production waste. Inspiring customers to buy and wear consciously, its collection reboots iconic styles and updates them with a modern touch. More intimate pieces such as swimwear and lingerie can also make a difference. Australian brands Le Buns and Bondi Born both strive to create flattering, functional and high-quality products that can withstand the test of time. Every step from sourcing materials to production is considered carefully.”
ACCOMPANYING THE ADDITION OF NEW BRANDS TO NET SUSTAIN THIS YEAR ARE17 EXCLUSIVE CAPSULE COLLECTIONS. WHAT’S SO SPECIAL ABOUT THEM?
“To mark this next phase of Net Sustain, we launched these capsules with the notion of sustainable wardrobe classics – or fashion heroes as we like to say – in mind. Think cherished wardrobe pieces that work harder for you. For example, I love newcomer Aaizel’s concept of creating sustainable wardrobe classics that can be worn forever in multiple ways. All its pieces are functional and made with reused deadstock. Meanwhile, E.L.V. Denim has designed three pieces all made to be worn together or interchangeably for the perfect Canadian Tuxedo. Sustainability is at the core of the brand, which was born out of a commitment to being zero-waste. Each piece is handmade at an atelier in East London using traditional tailoring techniques. A pair of jeans takes just seven litres of water to create as compared to the usual 7,000 litres.”
IS THE CURATION PROCESS FOR NET SUSTAIN’S BEAUTY BRANDS ANY DIFFERENT FROM THAT FOR ITS FASHION LABELS?
“Within the beauty industry there are various ways to be considered environmentally responsible – a brand could be vegan, natural, organic, clean, considered or sustainable. There are so many layers of sustainability within beauty. As such, each Net Sustain beauty brand has a different strength – from environmentally responsible packaging to responsibly sourced chemicals and ingredients to much more. I think finding the best way to do all of these things is nearly impossible. Brands that are providing sustainable options are trying very hard to meet these standards or go above them in order to provide the best products they can. This is something that will continue to be ever-changing and evolving.”
NET SUSTAIN ALSO COVERS WATCHES AND JEWELLERY, WHICH IS OFTEN UNDERRATED IN CONVERSATIONS ABOUT SUSTAINABILITY. HOW CAN THIS SECTOR DO ITS PART?
“Chopard for example fits within our Craft and Community attribute: The brand has always held responsibility and ethics as an important part of its family philosophy. Craftsmanship lies at the heart of luxury and this attribute celebrates products that showcase exceptional, artisanal skills or techniques and brands that adhere to fair trade principles and invest in communities.”
WHAT’S THE BIGGEST MISCONCEPTION ABOUT SHOPPING SUSTAINABLY ONLINE?
“That sustainable products are difficult to find or that customers need to choose between style and sustainability. As a leader in luxury fashion, we want to provide our customer with the best products and enable them to make informed choices when shopping with us. We’ve always stocked a number of brands that champion sustainability. With the launch of Net Sustain, we are providing our customer with a destination to easily find contemporary products and exciting brands that fall into this category. Our customer no longer needs to choose between style and sustainability.”
IS IT POSSIBLE FOR EVERY BRAND ON NET-A-PORTER TO BE SUSTAINABLE?
“We truly hope that sustainability and conscious shopping will be a continued focus for the industry moving forward. We recognise that many of the brands we partner are taking steps to address sustainability and we hope to be able to celebrate more and more of this important work in the future.”
This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.
PHOTOGRAPHY TAN WEI TE ART DIRECTION HISYAM RAHMAN