Why Victoria Cares
At the beginning of 2017 Victoria’s Secret published a policy statement on its website in response to the Rainforest Action Network’s (RAN) “Out of Fashion” campaign, that called for the reduction of man- made cellulostic fibers that are procured via methods that lead to significant deforestation [1,2]. Such forest- based fibers include rayon, viscose and modal, which are materials commonly used by many popular fashion retailers. RAN’s campaign specifically called on several large fashion retailers to critically assess their supply chains and work to stop contracting with suppliers that exercise unsustainable forestry practices to produce cellulostic fibers . RAN’s call to action merited the attention of Victoria’s Secret for several reasons:
- Ethical Responsibility: Deforestation contributes to climate change and, when presented with the option, Victoria’s Secret has an ethical responsibility to make choices that will reduce its carbon footprint .
- Growing Awareness and Preference: Due to increased messaging from watchdog agencies, consumers are becoming more aware of companies participating in unsustainable business practices. Further, several studies examining the buying preferences of millennial customers have shown that they display a preference toward sustainable brands and are even willing to pay a premium for sustainably sourced products .
- Future forest and land scarcity will lead to rising prices: With increasing government regulations and increasing demand for land, deforestation sourcing practices will become more costly to suppliers. As a result of the increasing scarcity of land, suppliers are likely to increase the price of raw materials that stem from deforestation.
A Swift Response
Victoria’s Secret, led by parent company L Brands, was swift to respond to RAN’s call to action. RAN publicly acknowledged these efforts on their website and called on more companies to follow suit. In a statement Victoria’s Secret issued, they committed to the responsible sourcing of man- made cellulosic fibers. They are working with suppliers to ensure they do not knowingly source fabrics that contribute to deforestation. They hope to achieve this goal by the end of 2017. Their L Brands Forest Products Procurement Policy states that the Company will show preference to suppliers that use a variety of more sustainable supply chain practices .
In the medium term the Policy states that with regard to incumbent suppliers, failure to provide information or engage in identified improvements will result in non-renewal of contracts and may result in contract termination. L Brands closes the Policy document by stating that they are committed to the continuous improvement to further long term environmental, social and economic practices [2,6].
RAN’s “Out of Fashion” Campaign Could be in Vogue:
Firstly, Victoria’s Secret and L Brands should be applauded for their commitments to sustainability in response to RAN. As an early responder amongst retail giants, the company’s actions set a positive example for others. Victoria’s Secret has an opportunity to rise even more prominently, however, in response to RAN’s challenge.
Victoria’s Secret could use the RAN campaign as an impetus to tweak their product lines to meet changing consumer demands. After L Brands’ most recent earnings report showed a decline in same store sales, analysts noted that a survey of customers with waning affection for the Victoria’s Secret brand cited that the brand felt “forced” or “fake” .
In the short term, Victoria’s Secret should launch a consumer facing campaign and announce firm targets around their efforts to convert to forest- friendly materials. The Victoria’s Secret Angels serve as powerful influencers amongst millennials and the company should leverage this platform and visibility to educate consumers about the positive environmental impact that they are striving toward by switching to sustainably sourced materials. To supplement the campaign, the Company could introduce a line made entirely of forest- friendly materials in tandem with untouched photos responding consumer desires for a more natural look. In addition to revising the look of the apparel to be more aligned with consumer preferences, the campaign would provide an opportunity for millennials to shop in a more eco- conscious manner—something surveys have revealed they are willing to pay for .
In the medium term, Victoria’s Secret should continuously gather consumer insights regarding forest friendly materials and develop additional product lines using sustainable materials. Not only should Victoria’s Secret show preference toward more sustainable cellulostic fiber suppliers but they should actively work to move toward more sustainable raw materials and recycled materials. As a longstanding giant in the industry, they have the ability to leverage their scale to lead the industry toward a more sustainable supply chain.
If a Tree Doesn’t Fall in a Forest and No One Sees it…
Given that Victoria’s Secret is known for its intimate apparel, which is not visible to the public eye, does the sustainability value proposition still hold for millennials who might be looking to display their eco-conscious values more publicly?
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- Ellen Wulfhorst, “Exclusive: Lingerie maker Victoria’s Secret looks to uncover supply chain issues” Reuters, January 19, 2017. http://www.reuters.com/article/us-fashion-landrights-victoriassecret-ex/exclusive-lingerie-maker-victorias-secret-looks-to-uncover-supply-chain-issues-idUSKBN153372 Accessed November 12th, 2017
- L Brands, “Forest Products” https://www.lb.com/responsibility/environment/paper-and-forest-products) Accessed November 11th, 2017
- Christy Tennery-Spalding, “Introducing: Out of Fasion”, The Understory, September 4th, 2014. https://www.ran.org/introducing_out_of_fashion_a_campaign_for_forest_friendly_fabrics
- Lauren Bennett, “Deforestation and Climate Change”, Climate Institute, April 18 2017. http://climate.org/deforestation-and-climate-change/ Accessed November 12th 2017
- Neilson Global Research, “Green Generation: Millennials Say Sustainability is a Shopping Priority” November 5, 2015. (http://www.nielsen.com/us/en/insights/news/2015/green-generation-millennials-say-sustainability-is-a-shopping-priority.html) Accessed November 14th 2017
- L Brands, “Forest Products Policy” https://www.lb.com/binaries/content/assets/pdfs/responsibility/environment/lb-forest-products-policy-dec2015_gc_trm_rancmts_v4_no-header_web.pdf Accessed November 11th 2017
- Tonya Garcia, “Victoria’s Secret losing customers on price and bralettes won’t bring them back” Market Watch. September 14th, 2017. https://www.marketwatch.com/story/victorias-secret-losing-customers-on-price-and-bralettes-wont-bring-them-back-study-says-2017-09-13 Accessed November 14th 2017