GUESS Makes Major Moves Towards Sustainability

by The Daily Front Row

In 2020, caring about sustainability and striving to do as little harm as possible to the planet have become essential across many industries at long last, and various fashion brands are doing their part. Here, the fashion brand’s CEO Carlos Alberini tells The Daily about what the fashion brand’s multi-pronged environmental commitment to Mother Earth entails.

Carlos Alberini (Courtesy)

What inspired you to make your eco pledge?
I have dedicated my professional life to the world of fashion and retail. All the products our industry develops, and their distribution, have an impact on the environment and I feel an enormous responsibility to change our practices to minimize the negative impact we create to protect this beautiful world for the generations that will inherit it. In my opinion, this change needs to start with our family, both at home and in the work environment. At home, my wife and I have five children and three grandchildren. We’re committed to impacting change for them. At GUESS, I consider our team my family, and we’re lucky to have many passionate people who also share the responsibility to change practices to make this world a better place.

Was there a specific turning point for you in terms of this issue?
When I first read about the concept of conscious capitalism, I realized how important it is for companies to meet the needs of all the stakeholders in the business, including our environment. I am convinced that businesses can make positive—and critically needed—environmental change. When I came back to GUESS [as CEO], I was impressed and inspired by the progress the company had made in sustainability, and in the past year, we set even more ambitious goals and are making big efforts to evolve further. Sustainability and purpose-driven efforts are now a key part of our strategic business plan. I strongly believe that this is key to truly and rapidly transforming our business for good.

What are some challenges you had about working in a more eco-conscious way?
Our products and supply chains are complex, and therefore, so is sustainability. Even when you accomplish great milestones, like we just did with an increase in the use of sustainable materials by more than 15 percent in just one year, there’s always more to do and more to learn to make a bigger impact. And the job here keeps getting to be more challenging, as the definition of sustainability is a moving target with higher standards.

What has been the most exciting part of this process for you?
The most exciting part has been seeing the passion in our employees. People at GUESS are highly motivated to make a positive difference within their spheres of influence, and this is important because sustainability must be embedded in every role to be truly authentic and effective. Sustainability has become a common goal we’re all moving toward, and it has been exciting to see our people’s commitment and their relentless dedication toward achieving this goal. It adds even more meaning, and more love for our brand, every day we’re at work.

How else are you working toward making GUESS more sustainable overall?
We’re working diligently to create more holistically sustainable product—including denim—in partnership with the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s Make Fashion Circular Initiative. We’re focusing with our vendors on key fabrics and materials that are eco-friendly and processes that minimize water consumption. Sustainability is now a key measurement of vendor effectiveness in our vendor scorecards. We’re also working on ambitious targets for greenhouse-gas-emissions reduction, for both our direct business and supply chain operations.

Any other eco-minded measures you’re taking?
I’m also quite proud of our strong sustainability reporting program. By focusing on sustainability metrics, we’re able to convey the importance of these issues to people within and outside of the business. We’re one of the only apparel companies that has their sustainability reporting externally assured, by KPMG—a “Big Four” accounting firm. It’s not enough just to make change, but you must be able to show evidence of change in a transparent, fact-driven way.

Smart GUESS eco collection (Courtesy)

Guess’ environmental commitment explained

The new Smart GUESS eco collection utilizes environmentally conscious materials, including organic cotton, and a production process that’s safer for local waterways and workers than traditional industrially cultivated cotton; polyester created from recycled plastic water bottles; and TENCEL, Lyocell, and Modal fibers produced in a clean production facility and derived from sustainably managed forests. The collection includes a range of GUESS Eco Luxe denim in a slew of styles and washes, using TENCEL, Lyocell with REFIBRA technology, an innovative process that helps to reduce industry waste by upcycling cotton scraps from manufacturing. The mindfully made designs debut on April 22, also the 50th anniversary of Earth Day.

In light of today’s significant environmental challenges, GUESS has its sights set on larger actions in the pursuit of sustainability, beyond its eco products and materials. For example, the company has made a commitment to set ambitious science-based targets for carbon-emissions reductions and has developed new programs and partnerships with groups like the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, Canopy, TreePeople, and the Sustainable Apparel Coalition in support of a circular fashion system.

On January 28, 2020, GUESS invited a group of the fashion industry’s top editors and stylists to a delicious vegetarian breakfast at The Fat Radish, on the Lower East Side, to preview the all-new Smart GUESS eco collection, which hits stores this spring. GUESS’s director of sustainability, Jaclyn Allen, was on hand to discuss the company’s evolving sustainability efforts as they work to educate their employees and reduce their carbon footprint by focusing on more eco-friendly manufacturing techniques and materials, and bringing their greenhouse gas emission goals in line with what scientists say is essential to fight the current climate crisis.

GUESS decorated the space using locally sourced, organic vegetables, which guests were encouraged to take with them after the event, along with reusable bamboo cutlery and metal straws. Guests were also asked to bring in unwanted pieces from their own closets, which GUESS, in partnership with I:CO, found new homes for. As an added bonus, attendees were treated to an herb potting station, where they were invited to plant their own clay pots with basil, parsley, oregano, cilantro, and thyme. After all, who doesn’t love fresh herbs?

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