MIL: A laboratory for more sustainable material

Turning the idea of sustainable fashion into reality involves a range of different factors, including the right kind of materials. But where do you find them? Kering created the Material Innovation Lab to answer that very question. MIL’s Director, Cecilia Takayama explains the practicalities of sustainable luxury fashion.

Kering Clean by Design 2017 Novara

Objective: Shine a light on sustainable materials

Created in 2013, the Material Innovation Lab is both a library of sustainable fabrics, enabling the design teams of Kering brands to better understand sustainable materials, and a driver of change within a very complex supply chain. Much of the Lab’s work is working with suppliers to encourage traceability and the sourcing of more sustainable and innovative materials with lower environmental impacts. Part of MIL’s role is to verify the level of sustainability of a given fabric or innovative material – a complex task given the scale of the supply chain. “We can use the Kering EP&L tool to evaluate the impact of a particular material or fiber, and we can also use certifications to verify the sustainability claimsAs most of the environmental impact comes from raw material production – at sheep farms or cotton farms, for example – it is essential to change the raw material sourcing of our suppliers.” explains MIL’s Director, Cecilia Takayama. “We also use our knowledge and experience to support suppliers by running pilots with them of innovative new materials or dyes, and by targeting projects for the circular economy. We are really playing an active role in creating a more sustainable supply chain.“

Solution: Communication and collaboration with a range of stakeholders

While the lab receives a regular stream of visitors – both internal and external – its work has evolved and become more project-based: responding to specific requests for materials and/or advice from design teams within Kering brands, and visiting the Houses. MIL also devotes a major effort to promoting sustainability among suppliers, explaining its growing importance to Kering in meetings and formal training sessions, and highlighting the value of certifications. The lab also helps to drive change in the industry by working with cross industry organizations and collaborations in sustainability, such as Textile Exchange, the Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute’s Fashion Positive PLUS collaborative and the Ellen MacArthur Foundation Make Fashion Circular initiative.

Outcome: A laboratory that is changing attitudes to sustainable materials

Today, MIL not only has an archive of more than 3,000 sustainable materials, providing a wide selection of materials, but has also contributed to how the supply chain is changing its stance. “I see a stark difference,” says Cecilia Takayama. “Perseverance in providing feasible, high quality alternatives has given us credibility with brands internally, while suppliers who previously were not interested in sustainability are now calling us. And there has been a huge uptake in suppliers obtaining certifications for their facilities and fabrics.” There is still a tipping point to be reached in terms of consumer demand – which would reduce production costs as volumes rose, and would persuade suppliers to hold stocks rather than source to order, thereby shortening lead times. “Price can be a challenge,” recognizes Cecilia Takayama. “But the pressure for sustainability is coming from consumers and the public, and I believe this is the inevitable way forward for the industry.”