Monday, June 17, 2024

Prada Makes Sustainability the Default, From Re-Nylon to Recycled Gold

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Prada is pushing into sustainability the way it does everything else: unapologetically. From its Re-Nylon material to Eternal Gold, its first jewelry collection made entirely from recycled gold, the luxury label is out to prove quality and sustainability are one and the same.

Earlier this month, Prada Group partnered with UNESCO China in Qingdao to host an “Ocean & Climate Village” exhibition, a part of its Sea Beyond initiative. The Qingdao event was divided into five zones covering climate change and marine ecosystems, and included a children’s workshop with interactive games and virtual reality experiences. The luxury label will donate one percent of its Re-Nylon sales to the Sea Beyond project.

The recent event aligns with Prada’s broader sustainability efforts, including its switch to Econyl regenerated nylon, crafted from recycled plastics like ocean waste. It’s a commitment that traces back to the iconic label’s roots.

Miuccia Prada’s grandfather, Mario, started the eponymous Italian luxury brand more than a century ago, selling travel accessories, like bags and trunks with exceptional detail to quality. The brand was named the “Official Supplier of the Italian Royal Household.”

More than a hundred years later, the label has widened its focus as it leans into another title, if only in concept: the official label making sustainability the ultimate luxury.

Since 1978, the label hs been helmed by Miuccia, now 75. And in recent years, like the UNESCO China event shows, Prada is increasingly becoming more focused on sustainability efforts. In 2021, it raised more than €90 million to help reach sustainability targets that include eliminating greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, eliminating all micro-fiber plastic pollution, reducing single-use plastic by 2030, and increasing its signature upcycled Re-Nylon, which has become a flagship fabric for the label.

The label isn’t just looking at its impact on Earth, either. Earlier this month it announced a groundbreaking partnership with NASA to develop lunar spacesuits for the forthcoming Artemis III mission.

“The constantly forward-thinking ethos of Prada for humanity has broadened to his desire of adventure and to brave new horizons: space,” Lorenzo Bertelli, Prada Group Marketing Director, said in a statement. “We are honored to be a part of this historic mission with Axiom Space. Our decades of experimentation, cutting-edge technology and design know-how — which started back in the ‘90s with Luna Rossa challenging for the America’s cup — will now be applied to the design of a spacesuit for the Artemis era. It is a true celebration of the power of human creativity and innovation to advance civilization.”

Sustainability targets

“Sustainability, as a value, is now universally recognized and shared, also by the financial industry,” Prada’s chief financial officer Alessandra Cozzani said in a statement last year. “For us and for all companies, this results in an important stimulus to achieve increasingly ambitious goals toward a sustainable economy. We are proud to be among the first players in the luxury sector to have embarked on this path and to be considered a reference counterpart in the field today.”

In 2019, Prada became one of 32 fashion brands to sign onto the G7’s Fashion Pact. It’s centered on three sustainability targets: eliminate greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, innovate a way to eliminate all micro-fiber plastic pollution, and reduce single-use plastic by 2030.

Courtesy Prada

Shortly after the G7 summit, Prada signed the industry’s first sustainability loan for €50 million. Its recent €90 million raise is its third sustainability-linked loan.

The funding is already fueling efforts to reduce much of the waste in its production flows; the loan will help route waste materials to third parties. Some of that may turn into clothes, but it may also end up as fertilizer or energy sources, the company says.

The Italian luxury label will also work to increase its self-producing energy. It has invested in solar power at both its warehouses and corporate offices. Its production and logistics sites in Levanella, Tuscany, are expected to become nearly 100 percent energy-independent over the next few years.

Fur-free

Prada’s sustainable fashion commitments also led to its elimination of fur in 2019. Its SS20 collection was its first fur-free collection. Ditching fur isn’t just an ethical issue for the brand; it’s a big contributor to greenhouse gas emissions and pollution, too. To hit its sustainability targets, removing fur is a key move.

According to the Animal Protection Institute, it takes about three tonnes of animal feed to produce a single mink coat; and one tonne of feed to produce one fox fur coat.

Courtesy Prada

“The carbon footprint of a mink skin is almost equal to the daily footprint of an average Finnish consumer, and the footprint of a fox skin is approximately three days’ worth. The footprints of fur alternatives are much smaller,” according to a life cycle assessment produced by MTT Agrifood Research Finland.

“The Prada Group is committed to innovation and social responsibility, and our fur-free policy is an extension of that engagement,” Prada told the Guardian in 2019.

“Focusing on innovative materials will allow the company to explore new boundaries of creative design, while meeting the demand for ethical products,” she said.

Sustainable denim

Prada is also greening its streetwear, with the launch of organic denim. 

The launch, which debuted in 2021, marked two firsts for Prada: its first certified organic denim, and denim dyed with the “Aquasave” system — it reduces water usage by ten liters per linear meter of fabrics.

Courtesy Prada

“To maintain a high level of sustainability, the denim is dyed using the ‘Acquasave’ system, a type of dyeing where the water consumption is well below the standard, thus, allowing a saving of 10 liters of water for each linear meter of fabric,” Prada said in a statement.

The collection uses 100 percent Global Organic Textile Standard cotton from organic farms. The line includes denim shorts, dresses, jackets, jeans, and a denim bralette.

Eternal Gold

Last October, Prada launched Eternal Gold, its first fine jewelry collection. The luxury pieces are all made from recycled gold.

“Our aim is to create an emotional journey — particularly through the made-to-order pieces—one that can continue throughout the lives [of our clients] and be passed on to their children,” Timothy Iwata, Prada’s new jewelry director, told Harper’s Bazaar.

The launch was notable not only because it’s Prada, but because it’s the first global brand to launch a jewelry collection made from 100 percent recycled gold. It was an undertaking of more than three years. The label celebrated the launch in a campaign with poet Amanda Gorman, singer and actress Maya Hawke, and the musician Somi Jeon.

Maya Hawke for Prada Eternal Gold
Maya Hawke for Prada Eternal Gold | Courtesy

“It’s not because it’s fashionable,” Iwata says. “The idea of sustainability is embedded into Prada’s DNA.” Indeed, the brand has been publishing sustainability reports for the past 10 years. The concept behind the Eternal Gold collection was inspired by Prada’s innovative Re-Nylon fabric (a regenerated nylon textile created from the purification of plastic waste, which can be endlessly recycled without loss of quality), ensuring the best possible sustainability practices across every stage of the production and supply chain. “It’s 100 percent certified recycled gold,” he said.

Like a growing number of jewelry labels, Prada is using materials from a range of sources including electronic parts. “Our lifestyles generate a lot of electronic waste,” Iwata said. “And [those electronic products include] 24-karat gold, the purest kind.”

The label says it’s also the first global brand to provide full transparency on its diamonds, too. “It’s difficult, but we knew it had to be done so we took our time. This part of the process takes much longer than the design and development,” Iwata said.

Transparency is the foundation of sustainability. By being transparent, by giving out information, we can all do better,” he said. Prada offers a fully traceable journey for the user by tapping an electronic card that comes with each purchase with a smartphone.

Re-Nylon

But it’s the brand’s Re-Nylon that just might be its most important contribution to cleaning up fashion. It came to the brand quite by stubbornness, according to Prada.

“Back then, I didn’t really like anything I saw. It all just looked so old and bourgeois and boring. I just wanted to search for the absolute opposite of what was already out there,” she said. “Suddenly, nylon started to look more intriguing to me than couture fabrics. I decided to introduce it to the catwalk, and it challenged, even changed, the traditional and conservative idea of luxury. I am still obsessed with it,” she told Vogue.

Re-Nylon has shown up in a number of the brand’s offerings from raincoats to puffer jackets to shoes, bags, and dresses. The luxury label also recently partnered with adidas and rapper A$AP Rocky on a range of sneakers using Re-Nylon. Timothée Chalamet is also a fan of the upcycled collection.

Courtesy Prada

The material is made from Econyl regenerated nylon yarn that comes mostly from plastics taken out of landfills or oceans. Using plastic waste wasn’t just something to wear, though. For the brand, it was also something Prada wanted to talk about — and do something about. It partnered with UNESCO in 2019 on the Prada x UNESCO for the Sea Beyond sustainability campaign.

One of the programs invited high school students from across the globe to tackle ocean conservation by raising awareness. Participating schools received Sea Beyond toolkits to help students build campaigns around creating awareness. 

The luxury label says it wanted to highlight the importance of environmental responsibility as well as mindful production practices — a growing trend in the luxury market.  

“For us, everything has started from bringing in Re-Nylon — the regenerated nylon that we use to make our products and to convert the material of an iconic product that we have into a sustainable material,’’ Prada Group Head of Corporate Social Responsibility Lorenzo Bertelli said at the Prada Sea Beyond Award Ceremony last year.

‘We know that we have to invest’

The company says its sustainability commitments are more than just marketing. It’s looking too at redefining the brand at its core and reflecting sustainability in its corporate culture, too.

In 2019, Prada created a Diversity and Inclusion Advisory Council. The council is co-chaired by Black filmmaker Ava Duvernay and artist and activist Theaster Gates.

“Prada is committed to cultivating, recruiting and retaining diverse talent to contribute to all departments of the company. In addition to amplifying voices of color within the industry we will help ensure that the fashion world is reflective of the world in which we live,” Miuccia Prada said in a statement. “We look forward to working with the Diversity and Inclusion Advisory Council to help us grow not only as a company but also as individuals.”

All of these efforts come back to its goal of becoming a better brand.

“We are very focused on sustainability,” Carlo Mazzi, Prada’s chairman and executive director, told Vogue in 2019. “We know that we have to invest; it’s clear that we have to make efforts. We are continuing to [look at] saving energy, saving raw materials. But these initiatives are not enough. These [are the] kinds of initiatives we started five, six, seven years ago.”

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