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How VF is tackling sustainability with Marianella Cervi

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VF is committing to being more than just an apparel, footwear and accessories company, the fashion company with 13 household names is striving to be purpose-led and performance-driven with a focus on sustainability and responsibility. To find out more about VF’s sustainable strategies, FashionUnited spoke to Marianella Cervi, senior manager, sustainability and CSR, EMEA.

“At VF, we live our purpose, we power movements of sustainable and active lifestyles for the betterment of people and our planet," explains Cervi. "Being purpose-led enables us to make a positive impact through all stages of our value chain. When we turn raw cotton into fabric, fabric into clothing, and clothing into a brand, we create value."

What are VF's key sustainability strategies and targets?

Cervi: Our work is guided by our Made for Change strategic framework, grounded on three fundamental pillars: Circular Business Models, Scale for Good and Movement Makers.

At VF we believe the linear system of production is not sustainable for a planet with a growing population and limited resources. The “take, make, waste” approach results in our industry losing valuable financial and environmental assets. When successful, our circular approach means materials are used again and again, and old products are kept in circulation as long as possible or are turned into new ones, generating very little waste.

How is VF approaching the concept of circularity?

Our Circular Economy strategy centres on three areas: Recommerce, Take Back Schemes, and Circular Design. In apparel, these business models are already proving to be successful and we are ambitiously targeting large-scale commercialisation of circular business models through brand-led recommerce and rental initiatives by 2030.

However, embedding circularity requires disruption of current processes and a drive to think differently. That’s why, in 2020 we trained 350+ designers, product developers and business executives across regions on circular design principles to design accordingly.

Can you share some of VF's circular initiatives?

The Napapijri® brand has a Circular Series featuring 100 percent recyclable jackets with a mono-material composition that allows for an easy recycling process. The filling and trims made from Nylon 6, while its fabric is made from ECONYL® Regenerated Nylon, a high-performance Nylon 6 yarn recycled from discarded fishing nets and other waste materials. To close the loop and make the innovation truly circular, the Circular Series jacket is Cradle2Cradle gold certified since 2020.

Last year, the Timberland® brand announced a bold vision for its products to have a net positive impact on nature by 2030.In particular, the brand committed to make 100 percent of its products designed for circularity by 2030. All products will be made using materials that would have otherwise gone to waste e.g. plastic bottles, scrap leather, scrap wool. Products will also be designed to be recyclable at “end of life”, so they can be disassembled and made into something new. As part of this, the brand recently announced a critical next step on its path to circularity with the upcoming launch of a global product take-back program. Developed in partnership with global innovation company ReCircled, the take-back program provides the robust infrastructure needed to fuel Timberland’s circular design and development cycle.

The brand also revealed its latest eco-innovation, the Timberloop™ Trekker -- a new city hiker for spring 2022 that’s specifically designed for circularity. With sneaker-like comfort and a progressive outdoor look, the Timberloop™ Trekker has a unique sole construction whereby the outsoles can easily be removed at the ReCircled facility and each part put into its own unique recycling stream.

How is VF looking to commercialise circular business models?

Recommerce presents a large and vibrant resale market for our brands, a market that could add new revenue streams to complement our existing sales models and channels. Recommerce can also encourage new consumers to experience our iconic brands and allow them to access high-quality products at lower price points. By reselling used products, we can dramatically reduce our environmental footprint while enabling consumers to reduce their own carbon footprint.

There are several ongoing initiatives at the brand level, including The North Face® brand’s Renewed program, a collection of refurbished clothing remade to explore. Renewed gear is professionally cleaned and inspected by The North Face® partners at The Renewal Workshop. Then, it is repaired, quality checked and sent back into the world. Everything that cannot be renewed is upcycled in The North Face® REMADE collection, what can't go into The North Face® REMADE is recycled. Having successfully launched The North Face® Renewed in the United States, the program has now been expanded with the launch in Germany in May 2021.

While the Eastpak® brand has launched Re-built to Resist, a ground-breaking collection transforming previously worn bags into new, unique designs. Deconstructing pre-worn bags, pieces of fabric are spliced together to create one-off designs that mismatch fabrics and colors. This collection marks the next step in the brand’s shift toward sustainable solutions and circular business models.

As part of the Timberland® global partnership with Recircled, starting in August in the U.S., consumers will be able to return any Timberland® footwear, apparel or accessories to a Timberland® store, to either be repaired/refurbished for sale on a dedicated re-commerce platform, or upcycled/recycled into future products. The brand will introduce a digital, ship-from-home option later in the summer, making it even easier for consumers to participate. Following the U.S. launch, the program is slated to expand to EMEA later this fall, and to the APAC region in spring 2022.

VF has set ambitious sustainable material targets - how is this being achieved?

Raw materials account for 42 percent of our environmental footprint and we are working to dramatically reduce the impact of our key materials so we can continue making high-performance apparel and footwear in a resource-constrained future. By 2030, 100 percent of our top nine materials will originate from regenerative, responsibly sourced renewable or recycled sources.

As part of the Timberland® brand’s bold environmental vision announced last fall, the brand also committed to source 100 percent of its natural materials from regenerative agriculture by 2030. Timberland has recently announced two new styles featuring Regenerative Leather, including the women’s Atlanta Green EK+ Oxford and the men’s TrueCloud EK+ Sneakers. Regenerative agriculture practices give land a rest so it can absorb carbon, retain water and restore biodiversity to the pastures where cattle graze.

In addition, VF’s icebreaker® brand has committed to having 100 percent of its materials plastic-free by 2023, eradicating synthetics from its entire collection within three years. Earlier this year, the icebreaker® and Smartwool® brands joined forces with The New Zealand Merino Company and other Merino brands to create the world’s first regenerative wool platform, helping reduce greenhouse gas emissions across 2.4 million acres of land in New Zealand. The ZQRX platform challenges growers to go beyond sustainability and continuously be driven by improvement to deeply understand the complex interactions between their livestock, soils, climate, ecology and community.

As part of the recently announced brand sustainability strategy called “Exploration Without Compromise”, The North Face® has set an ambitious goal to ensure all products they make are made with recycled, regenerative, organic or responsibly sourced renewable fabrics – which are fabrics derived from materials that will replenish over the course of a lifetime. The North Face® is on track to hit its goal with all its clothing in 2025, and all footwear and equipment by 2030.

Is VF also working with other industry leaders to develop more sustainable supply chain practices?

We use purpose-led as a strategic filter for our decision-making. This filter guides how we act and grow our business. Our goal is to drive profitable growth and address societal needs. Traceability gives us visibility to every aspect of our supply chain, and areas to be improved, while transparency is the vehicle that enables us to build trust with stakeholders and consumers. It is not easy - our supply chain spans approximately 36 countries and thousands of supplies. We are constantly driving and striving for traceability of raw materials and distribution.

VF announced that it would eliminate all single-use plastic packaging, including polybags, by 2025 - how are you going to do that? Our new global packaging goals is an example of how we can leverage our scale for significant impact - in just one year, we could potentially eliminate as many as 100 million polybags from our packaging waste. Given the magnitude of plastic packaging waste in today’s world, the focus on sustainable packaging is a critical component of VF’s global sustainability strategy.

We aim to eliminate all single-use plastic packaging by 2025, and all remaining packaging will be reduced, originate from sustainable sources, and be designed for reuse or recyclability.

For instance, all single-use plastics in product packaging will be 100 percent recycled, biobased content, or a combination of the two by 2023. While all paper-based packaging will be recycled content (minimum 80 percent, where performance allows), third-party certified virgin content, or a combination of the two by 2023.

VF will also commit to leadership in crucial industry coalitions and policy initiatives to build circular packaging infrastructure that will enable its 2025 pledge.

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