What’s behind Gucci, Balenciaga, Kering brands’ sustainable materials – WWD

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MILAN — What is the supply chain process that brought Gucci’s Off the Grid collection to life, made from sustainable materials including Econyl? And how did Brioni transition its carryover selvedge denim collection to sustainable cotton?

A visit to Kering’s Materials Innovation Lab, or MIL, provides most of the answers.

Housed within the luxury powerhouse’s Milan headquarters since 2019 but established six years prior, the unit is part of an ecosystem known as the Kering Sustainable Department, serving as the operational arm and ensuring that the material innovation of the group is integrated and reflected in the supply chain.

Other units forming the ecosystem include SIL, or Sustainable Innovation Lab, based in Switzerland and dedicated to responsible practices in the jewelry sector, and Prato, in Italy, TIL, or Test and Innovation Lab, responsible for supporting the innovation with a scientific approach and evidence. .

A veritable gateway, Kering’s MIL maintains an ongoing dialogue with the group’s brands, stakeholders, the Sustainable Development Department and in particular suppliers.

“Collaboration with suppliers is essential because they are the ones who support the investments necessary for the industrial implementation of innovation in the supply chain,” Christian Tubito, director of MIL, told WWD during a visit to the laboratory.

Rather than stimulating pre-industrial and experimental research and development, MIL targets its activities on textiles already available on the market, including trims, fabrics, yarns, nonwovens and fillings, as well as alternatives to leather. It also has a say in soft accessories and visual merchandising when textiles are used.

“At the beginning of our journey, the supply of sustainable materials was scarce, so we looked particularly outward,” to find new solutions or incentivize suppliers to adopt them, Tubito said.

The Materials Library sits at the heart of MIL, a highly curated, digital and physical compendium of market-leading sustainable options. It includes approximately 4,000 materials from 500 suppliers and includes yarns such as recycled polyester lurex; precious fabrics such as cashmere developed as part of Kering’s South Gobi Cashmere Project, and upholstery including one made from leftover silk treated with GOTS-approved dyeing and bleaching processes.

At the heart of Kering’s Materials Innovation Lab.
Pietro D’Aprano/Courtesy of Kering

While the above may sound like standard green options that the industry as a whole has already heard of, there are more forward-thinking solutions that MIL monitors, curates, and archives.

They include, among others, certified plant-based indigo dyes, currently in a Kering pilot, by Stony Creek Colors; biosourced and biodegradable sequins, which the MIL is testing for the production of Lurex yarns by Bio Glitz; a cashmere-like fiber created through fermentation and extrusion processes using microbes and sugar developed by Spiber; the latest spray dyeing technique, which reduces water consumption by Imogo; chemical-based recycled polyester from Itochu; a circular material made from fruit and seaweed waste using advanced materials engineering from Peelsphere, winner of the second edition of the Kering Generation Award in 2021, and micro-based dyeing and fixing processes -Colourfix organisms, whose application to cotton fabrics by Kering supplier Albini Group is currently undergoing industrial scale trials.

Gucci’s use of the Econyl brand for its sustainable Off the Grid collection was born out of a MIL-mediated collaboration with an Italian supplier for the use of regenerated nylon – developed by Aquafil and made from nylon scraps and pre- and post-consumer waste (such as abandoned fishing nets and mats) — for high fashion.

Tubito highlighted that materials innovation revolves around six focus areas, including circularity and recycling; dyeing and printing; finishing and coating (Kering has been PFC-free since 2021); manufacturing and processing; material and substance, and global solutions including traceability.

The supply chain and manufacturing cycle of cotton for denim provides a good example of sustainable supply chain management, one of MIL’s three focus areas, which also includes sustainable raw materials management and reusable innovations.

In line with Kering’s eco-responsible ambitions, the cotton comes from regenerative agriculture farms, as part of mergers with, among other entities, Materra and Organic Cotton Accelerator.

Materra is a planet-centric tech start-up working for climate-resilient cotton farming and employing greenhouse hydroponics in India that guarantees an 80-90% reduction in water consumption and enables harvests quadruple throughout the year compared to regular harvests. agriculture. The OCA is a multi-stakeholder, non-governmental organization that advances farmer prosperity while aiming to create a transparent, resilient and responsible organic cotton supply chain to kick-start regenerative agriculture, also in India.

Fabric samples stored in the textile library of Kering's Materials Innovation Lab.

Fabric samples stored in the textile library of Kering’s Materials Innovation Lab.
Courtesy of Kering

“Our goal is to provide support wherever there is room for improvement,” Tubito explained. He also added that MIL is committed to providing solutions to reduce the use of cotton, acknowledging its exploitation of resources including water.

“Recycled cotton is still not very widespread, except in denim and packaging, because it still does not have the expected quality, but we have several very promising projects in progress on this subject,” he said, indicating that cotton and linen blends were good solutions.

However, using environmentally friendly raw materials is not enough, observed Tubito. It should start with the design.

Kering has teamed up with its supplier Candiani, a denim specialist known for its cutting-edge green technologies, to launch an eco-design pilot. The MIL director said the assessment showed a 50% reduction in chemicals and 80% reduction in water consumption compared to sustainable denim not designed according to ecological principles.

“It exemplifies the bivalence of MIL, simultaneously working internally in tandem with brands, but also looking outward by remaining engaged with suppliers, as one of our goals is to channel their efforts and establish the trust with them,” Tubito said.

At the same time, MIL “generally anticipates brand requests,” in Tubito’s words, as was the case with a bio-based coated polyester GRS for one of the group’s Italian brands.

This is critical, the executive said, because the biggest burden in sustainable transition is often the time it takes.

Fabric samples stored in the textile library of Kering's Materials Innovation Lab.

Fabric samples stored in the textile library of Kering’s Materials Innovation Lab.
Courtesy of Kering

“The real problem we face when tackling sustainable manufacturing is the lead time and availability of sustainable raw materials, in transitioning from a creativity-driven process to a commodity-driven process,” he said. -he declares. “We are on track to meet deadlines by supporting our suppliers.”

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