VF Corporation, the parent company of apparel and lifestyle brands including the North Face, Timberland, Vans, and Dickies, has unveiled its annual Environmental & Social Responsibility report, this year titled ‘Purpose. Driven’.
The comprehensive publication highlights the company’s advancements in meeting its targets across various environmental and social initiatives. Among the highlights of the report are updates on VF’s primary areas of focus, encompassing sustainably sourced materials, responsible manufacturing practices, and positive social impact.
Notable initiatives and achievements from FY23 include the Vans brand’s support for the LGBTQ+ community through the Off The Wall Pride Gallery Collection and donations to LGBTQ+ advocacy organisations. Circularity is also a growing focus for the company – its North Face brand has taken strides in circular design with the launch of its first Circular Design products, while Timberland and Vans are introducing products featuring regeneratively-grown natural rubber.
Retail in Asia speaks with Jeannie Renne-Malone, VF Corporation’s VP for global sustainability, on the company’s strategy toward purpose and how it is addressing the climate crisis as a retailer and manufacturer.
RiA: Please share with us a little bit about your mandate as VP for global sustainability at VF Corporation. What are some of your priorities for 2024, and beyond?
Jeannie Renne-Malone: I lead the global sustainability function at VF, driving the company’s environmental sustainability strategy, goals and actions across the enterprise’s global footprint. This includes managing the environmental impacts of our direct corporate actions, supply chain and use of materials and products, as well as working closely with our brands. As part of this work I have the opportunity to help develop and drive initiatives such as piloting regenerative materials, working in collaboration with cross-functional teams to issue two VF Green Bonds over the past three years, and initiating a tax equity deal to drive renewable energy in the US. All of this work ladders up to drive progress on our broader climate goals.
An integral part of my role involves engaging with internal teams, external partners, and industry peers to foster a culture of sustainability and ensure alignment with industry standards and best practices. I truly believe this collaborative approach promotes the exchange of ideas and innovation, driving VF’s progress toward sustainability and ESG targets.
In terms of priorities for 2024, we will be focused on continuing to build on our holistic approach to circularity, with an emphasis on brand innovations such as the Smartwool brand’s first fully circular sock, the Second Cut Hike sock, made with repurposed yarn, and The North Face brand, which launched a new collection of Circular Design products. Additionally, we will continue piloting regenerative agriculture projects, and using regeneratively-sourced materials in our products including natural rubber, wool, cotton and leather.
RiA: Why do you think circular design practices are crucial for advancing sustainability in the fashion industry? Can you share some examples of how VF is putting these principles in practice around the world?
Renne-Malone: Circular design practices are essential for advancing sustainability in the fashion industry. They prioritise resource conservation by emphasising durability, repairability, and recyclability, extending the lifespan of clothing and reducing waste.
For VF, embedding circularity in our product design and consumer engagement efforts is becoming increasingly important to how we approach our business. We strive to create products that use resources conscientiously and can be used for an extended period and then reintroduced in some form to the supply chain at the end of their originally intended life.
In essence, circular design practices in the fashion industry offer a viable and multifaceted approach to sustainability, addressing environmental concerns, promoting economic viability, engaging consumers, and catalysing industry-wide transformation toward a more responsible and eco-friendly future.
RiA: How else do you think the fashion industry can advance together to address issues of the climate crisis?
Renne-Malone: The fashion industry can collectively address climate issues by adopting sustainable practices and collaborating on various fronts. Key strategies include sourcing sustainable materials, embracing circular fashion principles, promoting renewable energy and energy efficiency, and educating consumers about eco-friendly choices. Collaboration within the industry through initiatives like the Redress Design Awards is crucial.
Supply chain transparency and ethical labor practices should be prioritized, along with innovation and technology adoption to reduce waste and energy use. To achieve our environmental sustainability goals and our vision of responsible production, we must know where our materials originate and how they are treated at every step of our complex supply chain – and our traceability program helps us gain these important insights. VF understands that as a large purchaser of materials, we have the opportunity to influence our upstream supply chain to help reduce our environmental impact and strengthen the communities where they operate.
The industry should also advocate for policies that support sustainability and engage in climate-related discussions on a global scale. VF is working closely with industry associations and peers, supply chain partners and other stakeholders to reduce the climate impact of the global apparel and footwear industry. We work toward developing more sustainable solutions for the industry through our participation as a founding member of the Sustainable Apparel Coalition. VF also collaborates with various organisations as part of our commitment to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).
By taking a holistic approach, working together and implementing these strategies, the fashion industry can significantly reduce its carbon footprint, minimise waste, and advance together in addressing the climate crisis.
RiA: Among other initiatives, VF Corporation is a partner of the organisation Redress in Hong Kong. Can you tell us more about this year’s award?
Renne-Malone: This year’s first-prize winner, Nils Hauser from Germany, who emerged triumphant due to his unconventional use of upcycled materials, will get the chance to work out of VF’s Tokyo Design Collective (TDC), a design hub located in the heart of Japan’s Harajuku district. Serving as a global incubator for talent and inspiration, Nils’ time at TDC will see him collaborate with the Timberland design team on a circular fashion venture for the brand’s spring 2025 apparel collection, offering him the unique opportunity to connect, network, and co-create with designers and artists from VF’s range of global brands.
RiA: What are some key milestones and achievements toward sustainability for VF Corporation in recent times?
Renne-Malone: Our enterprise-wide environmental sustainability strategy prioritises our sustainable materials vision, advancing circularity and sustainable packaging with the aim to drive scalable change in reducing our carbon footprint. Through VF’s advocacy and call for industry collaborations, we are committed to driving long-term progress at a critical point in our planet’s history.
A key milestone that we are all proud of at VF is that several of our brands – Vans, Timberland and The North Face – released new product collections this year that take advantage of regeneratively-sourced natural rubber, made possible through VF’s pilot program in Thailand with Terra Genesis.
By creating relationships with farmers, ranchers, and growers that are on the road to incorporating more regenerative practices and verified outcomes, VF is working to build sustainable supply chains that aim to benefit the apparel and footwear industry and beyond. This effort is consistent with the company’s mission to promote sustainable lifestyles for the betterment of people and the planet.