Episode 85: The power of collaboration in Sustainable Fashion




  • Business-to-business (B2B) dealings in the fashion industry
  • Supplier’s responsibility for sustainability
  • Analogy of tree versus rhizome and it’s relation to the fashion industry
  • Massimo Corona from Brunello Cuccinelli interview
  • Brunello Cuccinelli’s humanistic approach during challenging times
  • The future of fashion industries and the role of brands.
  • Encouraging brands to think collaboratively and sustainably for long-term success.


Hello and welcome to episode 85 of the Fashion Unearthed podcast. I hope everyone is doing okay out there. There is a lot going on in the world, both in Australia and overseas internationally, and I just hope everyone's okay. 

Today on the podcast, I wanted to talk about something I've been thinking about for a while, and much like last fortnight's episode, it's kind of related to systems and also the way businesses are structured, but I've just been thinking about the bigger shifts that are happening in the industry and how businesses are trying to adapt and what needs to change. And so what I'm going to talk about today might get you thinking about how to adapt your business to the future. But before I get stuck into that, I wanted to mention that we are fast approaching the end of the year with eight weeks until Christmas, if you celebrate Christmas, and I'll be taking some time off for that going into early January. If you're wanting to get clear on what sustainability is and how to incorporate more of it into your business, so you aren't left behind, send me an email at info@belindahumphrey.com.

Today's topic is something I've been thinking about for a while. What would a truly collaborative supply chain or business really look like? I recently caught the Australian screening of the movie Fashion Reimagined with Amy Powney’s, journey at Mother of Pearl, to create a more sustainable product by connecting with the makers at raw material stage. And I love the story and commitment, and I think there needs to be so much more of this, but it also got me thinking as to what's next. What would it look like to go beyond that and how would businesses actually realize that? For context, unless you are often one of the smaller brands, it's now very commonplace to just deal with suppliers or people making your product B to B. You want a product, they make it transaction over. When it comes to innovation and long-term investment, which is where the industry is now, it's often put on the supplier, for example, it's pretty common knowledge that most of the carbon emissions come from the manufacturing stage, depending on what country they're in and their reliance on their energy system, or how the energy system is created if they rely on fossil fuel.

When brands are mapping their supply chains carbon footprint, they often get to this point and then start having conversations about how the supplier will reduce their emissions so that the brands can hit their goals. And the disconnect I see in that is really putting, I guess, the ownership and the cost and the responsibility of that on the supplier. Solar panels, for example, are a huge investment, and to be able to invest in that, businesses need to be confident and sure of the business that they're bringing in. And sometimes brands will say, we're not the only brand that you make for. They kind of think that the other brand should also be contributing to the investment of the factory. But there's an example later on in the episode that I'll get to where brands have come together. But before I get to that, I wanted to talk about an analogy of the tree versus the rhizome.

Obviously, we're all very familiar with the tree. For those of you listening that aren't as familiar with the rhizome, they're things that will grow under the ground. Pretty sure ginger is a rhizome. The Zanzibar gem is also a rhizome, it's a plant. Killed a few of those over the years. But essentially this sort of analogy is being talked about in terms of leadership as well as business or organizational structure. And so when we think about the tree, it's very traditional. It's a traditional way of organizing things. It's linear, it's sequential, it's centric. You know, it's a very common business model or way of thinking for the West in particular. Whereas the rhizome really develops horizontally underground, it's acentric and it's non-hierarchical. And like I said, it's been discussed a lot in terms of business leadership, but also company structure and even people talking about cultural shifts and how the development is not as linear anymore. It's more of that evolving horizontal space where nodes kind of pop out of everywhere. And so it really comes back to what, what people are really trying to articulate when they're talking about the tree versus the rhizome. I mean, it's not really versus, but it's more about instead of just having the depth of thought that maybe that tree analogy brings, it must be accompanied by the breadth of thought. 

I guess bringing it back to fashion, I see that it's important because we are currently in this linear model, not only in the way that we produce fashion, but in the way businesses operate. It's very top-down approach. It's very siloed approach, particularly when it comes to sourcing, as in it's the supplier's problem to solve not theirs. And I think it's evolved over time. It's a consequence of things evolving over time that businesses might not have identified when this started happening 30 years ago with the offshoring of labor. But it's certainly come to the fore when now we've discovered that's not really helping a lot of people in the supply chain and even businesses to a certain extent.

I've been thinking about this for a while and putting the pieces together. And serendipity would have it that I opened up my emails this morning and there was an article interviewing the North American CEO, Massimo Corona from Brunello Cuccinelli. And he's been with the business since 1997. And so that in itself, having an employee for what, 25 years, I mean, that in itself is an achievement, really. But first, if you don't know about Brunello Cuccinelli, it's an Italian luxury brand. It's often given the tag of the quiet luxury brand due to the product and baseball hats worn in the show's succession, but it's a listed company. However, 57% of the stock apparently is owned in the Cuccinelli's Family Trust.

They say it's currently a business transitioning from a founder-led business, more of a tree-like approach, I would say to a multi-generational family run enterprise. So really, I guess spreading out a bit more horizontally. And they talked about within this interview, Massimo Corona, he talked about taking a humanistic approach to business and gave the example during Covid that they didn't ask landlords for discounts on rent. They told all their employees not to worry about their jobs, take their time off, go look after their families. They've got enough money for three to five years. And the third was they took surplus from their stores and created a new label called Brunello Cuccinelli for Humanity, where they donated surplus product to people in need. And so he goes on to say that this humanistic approach is what also attracts 90% of their associates, especially in the younger generations.

And again, it extends to their clients where they're focused on maintaining relationships, even going to the extent of adding bars and libraries to some of their stores. But the reason this article or interview was so important to what I'm talking about today is because they, along with Chanel, have taken a minority stake in one of it’s cashmere yarn producers, Karachi, 24.5% each to protect the raw material and the production for the next 50 to a hundred years. Now, that is a long-term, future proof view, but in a collaborative way. Apparently Brunello Cuccinelli often says, I'm not worried about who's going to buy the product, but I'm worried about who's going to produce the product. You know, they're obsessed with protecting artisans and the people who make their product, and obviously the raw material sources. And Massimo Corona added that. One of the biggest concerns in Italy today is securing production.

I just love that example because it's of a business that is thinking in both directions. It's collaborating with other businesses that seemingly are competition, and they're really taking into consideration all the people involved. Which brings us to the end of today's episode. I do wanna finish on a question though. What do we want the factories and businesses of the future to look like? Is there space for more brands like Brunello Cuccinelli in the world? I certainly hope so, and it's why I am in this business, is to help people realize better businesses and change their systems, and just really be proud of what they're creating and who they're creating that with to build better businesses of the future. 

As always, you'll find the show notes and any links for today's episode on the website, belindahumphrey.com in the podcast section. Thanks so much for listening. See you next time. 


Disclaimer: Whilst every effort is made to ensure that information is accurate at the time of recording, much like the fashion industry itself, this information may change. 


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