Nicolas Prophte – A Talk On Denim Sustainability

Nicolas is a well known global denim leader and as former VP of PVH denim center in Amsterdam, he has been a trailblazer when it comes to sustainability. Nicolas helped bring to life initiatives like PVH’s first circular denim collection, which follows the Ellen MacArthur Foundation Jeans Redesign guidelines, and introduced new innovations to help accelerate the creation of lower impact denim. He’s also led the signing of the Dutch Denim Deal for PVH Europe, a first-of-its-kind industry collaboration to foster the use of high-grade recycled cotton in denim. We recently had a word with him to understand how he sees the progress on various sustainability

Nicolas, you have been tirelessly working on the Denim Deal . Are you happy with the progress?

Yes definitely, we launched this unique collaborative platform 3 years ago between brands, the denim industry and the Dutch government to accelerate the use of recycled cotton fiber made of post consumer waste textile.

The journey and the transformation progress that we have been through as a group is such a rich experience, and on top of that, we delivered encouraging results towards our goals respectively quantitative but more important qualitative.

We created a movement towards circularity based on “Design from waste” and we are arriving at the end of our first chapter in December 2023 but we are ready to expand our geographical footprint with key markets in Europe as Germany and France in priority, but also looking at other continents where we could bring the same collaborative ecosystem using our guidelines and methodology from our first experience.

Where do you think the denim industry will be in terms of environment friendliness in next 3 years.

Under the policy maker framework and brands more proactive towards responsible practices the industry will have to engage in serious changes in their production process and the way they source their fibers. As fiber and material production represent 50% of Carbon emission in the whole textile supply chain cycle, the big focus could be decarbonation.

To engage in such a strategic move, a global energy transition plan will be necessary to move out from fossil energies and engage renewable ones at scale. It will require time, heavy investments from the industry and support from the brands to keep their business commitment while giving visibility to their partners.

At the same time, the use of natural regenerative fibers that could capture carbon and ensure soil health by restoring biodiversity is also an important step. The adoption of recycled cotton versus virgin cotton is also a path towards circularity that could minimize impact on our environment.

Finally on the laundry side we should continue the efforts towards reducing the use of water and invest at the same time in the latest recycling water technology. Same for the use of chemicals , reduce their use as much as possible while engaging new alternative responsible chemistry already available on the market.

With recent changes coming up in the regulatory environment in Europe, do you think that the supply chain has geared up to  implement the necessary changes required?

There are many regulations cooking as we speak  in EU parliament and the difficulty at this stage is mainly for the brands to have a proper understanding of what is coming up and how they have to organize their supply chain in order to be aligned with these compliances.

On top of this the other issue is a lack of alignment between different key EU countries regarding , for example , the EPR system already engaged in France and Netherlands recently in July 2023. The scope, the mechanism of such a system is different between the 2 countries and brands who are putting their goods in these markets will have to adapt to these regional specificities, adding an extra layer of complexity to manage for them.

Finally as the market is extremely tense in Europe in tem of fashion consumption, brands are also losing focus on such upcoming regulations and tend to protect their business, while focusing on pure commercial metrics in order to keep or gain market share towards competition.

In such a foggy environment the fashion industry and suppliers based outside Europe have even less visibility on what will be the consequences on their organizations as their own customers, brands still navigating in stormy weather.

Even if we still have some extra  time for pure implementation, brands need to wake up pretty fast on these strategic topics while policymakers need to bring clarity and alignment to avoid cacophony.

How do you compare the brick and mortar vs e-commerce biz of the brands. Do you think that at some point of time the share of these would settle down in a range or do you see E-commerce getting more and more important .

The last few years with Covid particularly we have seen e-com channel growing extremely fast and now reducing a bit while brick&mortar was announced almost dead. I believe that you can see different success stories or failures from brands in this environment.

The brand experience from a consumer perspective is the most valuable asset and whatever the distribution channel, the product offer, the story telling and quality of exposure and engagement should be the same. Most of the time you can see discrepancies between a brand retail experience in a physical shop compared to the same brand e-com website environment.

The most powerful brands ensure the same quality level of experience and generate higher buying conversion. So I believe a good balance between different distribution channels is healthy while investing in an inspiring retail environment and ecom ecosystem are strategic and complementary to retain customers loyalty.

The international environment for business has been affected by various geopolitical issues. Do you see that the denim consumer  will somehow get used to them and regain a natural consumption pattern.

Indeed the geopolitical tensions had created multiple ripple effects on the European economy with many impacts on the consumers and degraded their purchasing power.

The macroeconomics was affected with high inflation consequently in the EU last year and started to decrease a little bit now but the consumers had to deal with various increases with energy prices, food, gasoline,housing and manufacturing goods in general.

Unfortunately during the same period wages and salaries did not follow the same trend and therefore consumers are under strong financial pressure and we can see a shift of their behaviors.

Therefore Fashion, sports manufacturing goods or even gardening business are becoming secondary expenses far from the vital basics in general. Consumer arbitration is a key factor in this environment and since Covid we can also see a shift towards spending money rather on experiences, social life , traveling rather than possessing goods.

Even the French government released last week a very controversial TV commercial encouraging not spending money on unnecessary goods and creating awareness on the environmental impact of consumption.

The short term visibility is not showing some positive economic metrics so we may have another challenging 2024 year in Europe and at the same time maybe we are assisting to a deeper transformation of the way we consume fashion goods in the long term.

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