Conscious Fashion Gains Traction Despite Long Road Ahead

French beauty giant Guerlain is spearheading an ambitious initiative, alongside UNESCO, to significantly boost the pollination and sustainability of the bee population. The move is part of a concentrated effort in France’s fashion and beauty industry to reduce environmental impact

A five-year partnership between Guerlain and UNESCO aims to train new beekeepers within designated biosphere reserves around the world, resulting in the construction and implementation of 50 sustainable hives.

The initiative will employ technical and administrative support in order to ensure the business model is sustainable. With plans to launch in 2020 as a pilot project, eight people – two from each of UNESCO’s designated biosphere reserves in Ethiopia, Rwanda, Cambodia and China – will be trained in the first year. From there, twenty beekeepers from ten additional biosphere reserves, in ten different countries, will be trained each subsequent year. Over the course of the partnership, the initiative’s ultimate goal is to train a total of 88 beekeepers from 44 different biosphere reserves.

Guerlain plans to quantify the benefits of pollination in order to help implement the recommendations of the recent IPBES report. These findings point to the considerable damage done to biodiversity through human activity and suggest the steps that need to be taken in order to help mitigate the damage.

Bees in Beauty

Bees have been part of Guerlain’s branding since its establishment in 1828, and their by-products are an integral part of their Abeille Royale skincare range. Laurent Boillot, President and CEO of Guerlain, announced the partnership in Paris, saying “our commitment to sustainability, in the name of beauty, now inspires our entire business purpose, the rationale being that in order to protect our exceptional heritage, develop it and share it with future generations, we must integrate sustainable development right into the heart of our business strategy”.

Boillot added that the move would contribute up to 2 billion bees to their population over the course of the next decade.

Guerlain’s partnership with UNESCO is being pursued under the framework of a larger scale programme between the UN body and fashion giant LVMH. This partnership was signed last May with the aim of establishing biodiversity as a pillar of the LVMH Group’s activities, through support of UNESCO’s Man and Biosphere (MAB) Programme.

Speaking at the launch, LVMH Communications Officer Antoine Arnault implored listeners by saying that “a Group such as ours, whose activities are intimately linked to the resources offered by nature, simply cannot ignore biodiversity issues”.

It is anticipated that Guerlain’s initiative will contribute 1 billion bees over the next 10 years. The insect has been a part of Guerlain’s branding since 1828, and their by-products are a vital part of their skincare range. Copyright: JHVEPhoto /

The Fashion Pact

Conscious fashion is rapidly gaining traction; unfortunately, it is often equated with the higher end of the market, where many cannot afford to shop. In 2010, French luxury brand Hermes launched their Petit h line, which specialises in creating limited edition pieces made from unused material. This move confounded sceptics by gaining a strong following and selling well. Prada has also made a name for themselves in this space with their ReNylon collection; clothes are made from regenerable nylon that is constructed from the massive amounts of waste plastic polluting the world’s oceans.

With climate change and humanity’s impact on the environment at the forefront of the global agenda today, the fashion industry has been criticised for its delay in implementing initiatives to mitigate against its massive footprint. After the fossil fuel industry, it is regularly named as the planet’s largest polluter.

At the G7 in Biarritz this year, French President Emmanuel Macron introduced the Fashion Pact, which aims to implement a set of environmental, social and ethical standards for the fashion industry. Macron laid out common objectives designed to help reduce emissions within the industry, restore lost biodiversity, and ensure preservation of the Earth’s oceans. Macron has appointed Francois-Henri Pinault, CEO of fashion house Kering – parent company of Gucci – to spearhead these drives.

To date, 150 major brands have publicly backed the initiative including Chanel, Burberry, Gucci, Ermenegildo Zegna, and Nike. But fast fashion, ‘high street’ brands such as H&M have also signed up to do their part for the environment, as have major online retailers such as and

Though progress has been made, when considering the massive footprint of the industry, it is evident there is still more that must be done. Devonne Niam of the Singapore-based environmentally and ethically conscious clothing brand Matter, explained that consumers need to be far more aware of what the word sustainable actually means, charging that true sustainable fashion means “wanting less, buying less, disposing less”.

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Ruairi Kavanagh

Ruairi is an Irish writer, editor and author with 25 years of experience across national and specialist media. He specialises in reporting on matters relating to education, development,emergency services, international affairs, defence and security with particular interest in European affairs, the Balkan region, the Middle East and Africa.

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