FUTURE/CRAFT: GOING GREEN

Mulberry’s CEO Thierry Andretta on putting sustainability at the core of operations and paving the way for more responsible practices in luxury fashion

29 May, 2020

For a brand whose name and logo references the trees its founder would pass each day on his way to school, perhaps it stands to reason that Mulberry would take its environmental responsibilities seriously. The Mulberry tree logo is said to represent ‘a love of nature, the importance of family and the growth of a fundamentally British brand’.

This philosophy may have been established when Mulberry was founded in 1971, but the sentiments couldn’t feel more pertinent than they do now. Fashion brands have come under intense scrutiny in recent years, with ethical practices, sustainable systems and environmental responsibilities coming under the spotlight.

Tackling these issues can, in some cases, require a complete rewiring of the entire business – something that is not quick or easy to do for established brands with supply chains that span the globe. But Mulberry is committed to re-examining its practices in consideration of these issues. The Mulberry Green Charter strives to ‘create positive change and build a sustainable legacy’ by continually reviewing its design, sourcing and manufacturing processes.


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Mulberry plans to source all of its leather from environmentally accredited tanneries by autumn/winter 2022

 

‘Responsibility has always been a key principle for us, and an ethos at the heart of the brand,’ says CEO Thierry Andretta, who has been with Mulberry since 2015. ‘The Mulberry Green Charter defines our commitments and approach; we see these as a perpetual work in progress.’

The brand has set itself some bold goals, all of which are outlined on its website, giving customers full visibility on how the brand is progressing with its targets. ‘Customers today are demanding more transparency and it’s been incredibly affirming for us to see positive responses as we deliver on our commitments,’ says Andretta.

‘There isn’t one criteria, agreed method or approach for responsible practices – or even one definition of sustainability – so it’s often about paving our own way. We believe luxury is particularly well-placed to lead in this area as transparency, quality and responsibility are something that customers, quite rightly, have come to expect.’


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The Mulberry tree emblem represents ‘a love of nature, the importance of family and the growth of a fundamentally British brand’; the Small Millie Tote from Mulberry’s M Collection, made from regenerated nylon and sustainable cotton

 

Leather goods account for 90 per cent of Mulberry’s business, so the sourcing of sustainable leathers has been a key focus point for the brand. ‘We have set ourselves multiple targets around our leather usage, including sourcing 100 per cent of our leather from environmentally accredited tanneries by autumn/winter 2022, and having 100 per cent traceability on our leather by autumn/winter 2023,’ says Andretta. The brand also wants all of its cotton to be sustainably sourced by 2025.

Andretta cites sourcing certified sustainable hardware as one of the biggest challenges, but says they are working to find a solution to this. ‘Innovation and evolution are part of our culture,’ he says. ‘We believe that all of our Mulberry Green commitments are important to driving a holistic approach to sustainability.’

The Portobello Tote ­ – Mulberry’s first 100 per cent sustainable bag ­– is an example of many initiatives the brand has been working on all coming together, says Andretta: ‘It demonstrates a lot of the challenges we have already tackled,’ he explains. ‘Leather that is a by-product of food production and sourced from a gold-rated tannery, stitched using a recycled thread fibre and packaged in sustainable packaging and dust bags. It was also produced in our carbon neutral and Zero Waste to Landfill UK operations.’


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The Portobello Tote, Mulberry’s first 100 per cent sustainable bag

 

Mulberry’s UK factories in Somerset, where the brand was born, are a source of great pride. They became carbon neutral in 2019, setting a standard that Andretta wants to achieve globally by 2025. ‘We make over half of our leather goods in our Somerset factories and we’re proud to be the largest manufacturer of luxury leather goods in Britain,’ he says.

The Somerset team has recently been producing reusable Personal Protective Equipment for NHS workers, in response to a request from a local doctor. ‘We were proud to play a part in supporting our community and protecting the lives of frontline workers,’ says Andretta.

Mulberry began an apprenticeship scheme in partnership with Skillset UK and Bridgewater college in 2006. Many of those apprentices have since progressed into roles across the business, from product developers to senior craftspeople, or into areas such as planning and market support. ‘We’re proud to nurture new talent in this way,’ says Andretta. ‘In our business new technology and traditional techniques, that are honed over many years, go hand in hand and we recognise the importance of both.’

The Somerset factories are also home to Mulberry’s development team, a specialist design atelier and a repairs centre. ‘This repairs centre is unique as we keep leather stores and components that go back more than 30 years,’ explains Andretta. ‘It’s a great example of our commitment to making products that are made to be loved and made to last.’


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The Urban Small Messenger bag from Mulberry’s M Collection; Mulberry’s artisans in Somerset offer a lifetime repairs service

 

Made to Last was the focus of Mulberry’s London Fashion Week programme, which took place earlier this year. The event served as the launch platform for a new progressive circular economy service, The Mulberry Exchange, which invites customers to have their Mulberry bags authenticated, appraised and valued. They then have the opportunity to put this value towards a new purchase.

‘The initiative was extremely well received, with many customers taking the opportunity to give a well-loved bag a second life, or trade in their bags for restoration,’ says Andretta. ‘We have had an established lifetime repairs service in place for many years, and we view this as an extension of that.’ The initiative also enables customers to purchase pre-loved pieces that have been traded in, and then carefully revived by Mulberry’s restoration artisans in Somerset. Currently available in the UK, the intention is to make The Mulberry Exchange a global offering in the future.

‘It is continually affirming for us to see the strong positive response we get from our customers to projects underpinned by our Mulberry Green approach,’ says Andretta. The aforementioned Portobello Tote sold out online in 48 hours, and the brand’s M Collection, which championed a bespoke textile called Econyl that is made from regenerated nylon and sustainable cotton, also resulted in increased customer engagement. ‘All virgin nylon has now been replaced with recycled Econyl fibres,’ says Andretta. The level of dialogue around the topic of sustainability is really a validation for us that our approach is relevant.’

From inventing innovative new materials to sourcing the best sustainable leathers and implementing greener working processes, Mulberry’s bold commitments to positive change demonstrate its desire to grow in harmony with the wider ecosystem it inhabits.

To learn more about how Mulberry is delivering on its Mulberry Green commitments, visit the brand’s responsibility hub at mulberry.com

Our Future/Craft series explores the skill and creativity that lies at the heart of modern luxury, highlighting the stories behind some of The Royal Exchange’s exceptional retailers and their approach to craftsmanship and innovation