Author: Raza Beig, CEO, Splash
Fashion is one of the largest and most resource-intensive industries in the world. It is a complicated business involving large and varied supply chains that cross multiple markets, including agriculture, design, manufacturing, shipping, retail, marketing and recycling services.
As an industry, fashion is among the world’s worst polluters, having a sizeable and direct impact on the quality of our air and water, as well as producing a great deal of solid waste. It also has a profound socioeconomic influence on the hundreds of millions of people engaged in the industry globally.
Ultimately, the fashion world has a vital role to play in delivering a sustainable future – simply because of all the areas and industries it touches. It contributes a huge amount to local economies, creates millions of jobs, influences the global supply chain and has considerable social effects, too. Evolving the role fashion plays becomes more pressing with each passing year, as our planet’s resources become increasingly scarce.
Fortunately, the industry’s size and influence means those within it have an excellent opportunity to positively affect the environment to the same extent they affect the economy. To make this a reality, the future of fashion needs to use the innovation and adaptability with which it has become synonymous to create a more sustainable and fairer world for all.
Making a splash
Splash is one of the biggest fashion retailers in terms of store presence and volume in the Middle East. As such, we believe it is our responsibility to bring about a positive change in the region. But we didn’t adopt a sustainable approach simply to be on trend: we did it for moral reasons.
The fashion industry is among the world’s worst polluters, having a sizeable and direct impact on the quality of our air and water, as well as producing a great deal of solid waste
Splash has taken a lead in sustainable fashion, not just within its parent company, the Landmark Group, but in the Middle East as a whole. Sustainable fashion is an ideology that was discussed in our boardroom for some time and is now part of our DNA, with everyone across our business practising it in their daily work lives. Sustainability has therefore become a core value for the brand, which is why we are determined to adopt and promote sustainable business practices across our extended value chain.
For years, the concept of sustainability in the Middle East was not as mature as it was in the West. More recently, however, there has been a significant shift in the approach towards sustainability: now, governments, businesses and consumers are all moving in the same direction.
Indeed, there is a constant push from leadership circles within the region to adopt sustainability as a key concept in the social, environmental and economic space. Sustainability is also one of the key themes for Expo 2020, which will take place in Dubai. At the event, major players from around the globe will gather to share their creativity, showcase innovation and find new ways of collaborating.
As examples like Expo 2020 highlight, the fashion retail market in the Middle East has a great deal of influence on numerous international labels. Fortunately, this is a two-way street: the widespread presence of the world’s most renowned fashion brands in the region has raised awareness among consumers and home-grown retailers alike. To make the most of this exchange, Splash has again taken a position of leadership, and is now setting examples to numerous retailers in the region.
When Splash started its ethical journey, its key challenge was to drive sustainability as a philosophy within the organisation, aligning all internal teams to a common thought process. This involved awareness sessions, which were organised for all departments using internal resources, as well as bringing in external experts to ensure each and every person in the brand understood the concept of sustainability and lived by it too. At Splash, we believe sustainability isn’t just a one-time activity or event – it’s a way of life.
As a next step, we started aligning key stakeholders – our sourcing partners – with this initiative. Fortunately, they were keen to get on board; in fact, a lot of know-how came from our partners working with other international brands and already having a grasp of sustainable business practices. The next key step involved creating a long-term strategy, which was drafted with clear, time-bound sustainability targets in mind.
We categorised our sustainability strategy into four pillars. The first is centred on design, namely ensuring that our products are durable, of the highest quality, functional and, most importantly, eco-friendly. Next, we ensured that resources were managed efficiently and effectively, while also caring for the environment. The third pillar of our sustainability strategy is the adoption and promotion of responsible practices throughout the supply chain. Finally, there is marketing and engagement, by which we mean inspiring customers and business partners to join us on our journey towards sustainability.
To further support this strategy, Splash has affiliated itself with some leading agencies and organisations that promote sustainable business practices across the industry. As such, Splash is the first brand in the Middle East to become a member of the Better Cotton Initiative and the Sustainable Apparel Coalition.
Sustainability at Splash is driven by the senior management and then cascaded down to each and every person in the hierarchy. Sales are always fuelled by demand, and creating a higher demand for sustainable products is a continuous process – unlike in the West, customers across the Middle East are yet to fully embrace and understand sustainable products and initiatives.
That said, consumer awareness of sustainable products is rapidly increasing and so is demand, as evidenced by the great response we had following the launch of our first range of sustainable products in spring 2017. The collection was thoughtfully crafted, using materials such as regenerated polyester, recycled organic cotton and sustainable fabrics like Tencel, which is regenerated from wood cellulose and coloured with eco-friendly dyes.
Naturally, anything new tends to be a little more expensive but, over a period of time, it generates a certain value and adjusts to a more realistic pricing structure. Despite this, we decided to approach sustainable fashion wholeheartedly, building at mass to ensure our products are no more expensive than they were before. Pricing the true value of sustainability into fashion products needs to become the norm, so consumers can see that sustainable goods don’t just reflect their moral values – they provide good financial value, too.