Country Road has a clear vision to embed sustainability throughout its business. Sustainability is not just a gimmick or a way to curry favour with earth-conscious consumers. Instead, the Australian retail group is taking a holistic view of things, leaning into the idea that real change requires real change. It’s a sentiment we see in their packaging, reports on progress and standard guides (all available online) and one held by their leadership as well. In a recent interview with The Australian, the apparel giant’s chief sustainability officer, Eloise Bishop declared the earth-friendly mission:
My ultimate goal is to do myself out of a job. As much as my team and I work to identify new [sustainability] issues that need to be understood and adapted to, we very much work to integrate those throughout the business so that they become business as usual. It’s really about trying to transform the business to become more sustainable overall.
The international retail chain has recognised that the quest for meaningful sustainable practice is a complex one. Under the banner of their “Our World” vision, the group has identified Land, City, Sea and Materials as the broad mission categories for a range of people and planet focused sustainability initiatives. “Our World” reflects the following position taken by the brand. It Country Road strives “to ensure that every resource we use comes from partners that prioritise sustainable practices. We support ethical trade and transparency across all aspects of our production and supply chains. This helps us reduce waste, increase efficiency and protect natural resources so that the welfare of people, animals and the environment is a top priority”.
No doubt, this is an ambitious approach, and the programmes running are exhaustive. Speaking to Twyg, Country Road’s Brand, Community and Impact manager, Fabia Pryor, shared that the impact of the Australian bushfires in early 2020 expanded the way in which the company approached its commitment to land, people and resources. Building on years of work in this area, the Landcare programme aims to have direct impact in this area.
“Key initiatives include our work with Landcare Australia supporting the regeneration of cotton farmlands. 2020 saw us launch this partnership with a $600,000 commitment over three years. Biodiversity loss and climate are arguably the two key environmental issues facing our world today. This partnership is a game-changer in its approach to action on biodiversity and helps pave the way for other organisations looking to take action,” she explains.
But it’s not just about looking outside the organisation – change, like charity begins at home. In the fashion world, the priority has shifted strongly towards local, verified, cotton and other fabrics, as well as targets around using only 100% deforestation-free cellulose by 2030. Tracing verified textile sources can be difficult, and Country Road has partnered with Oritain, which uses a scientific verification process to trace natural materials back to their farm of origin in Australia and verifies that retailers like Country Road are doing the work to source responsibly.
Sourcing is one part of the journey towards a more sustainable, circular approach to making, using, recycling or disposing of clothes. Encouraging more trans-seasonal designs, longer wear garments and re-usable and recyclable fabrics means that Country Road is also able to offer their consumer garments which they can use responsibly.
“Circularity is an important focus for us, recognising the resource constraints of living on a planet with finite resources. We create high quality garments designed for longevity and through our focus on premium craftsmanship and high quality, we seek to extend the garment lifecycle for as long as possible. Since 2011 Country Road has partnered with Red Cross in Australia and New Zealand to give garments a second life, diverting waste from landfill and raising money for Red Cross programs. Over 250,000 garments have been donated through brand and customer donations over the past ten years, equalling approximately 37500kg of textiles diverted from landfill and over $750,000 raised for Red Cross programs,” says Fabia.
As a strong, established player in Australian retail and business, Country Road is uniquely positioned to have an impact, in its local market and those where it operates. Through partnerships with organisations like the Better Cotton Initiative, Leather Working Group and Green Building Council, there are opportunities to take individual concerns to spaces where real decision making happens. The Group, interestingly, has also placed strong focus on their support for a living wage, and (available online) an ethical standards and practices guide. Considering the complex historical and ongoing relationship between people and land in Australia, much like South Africa, this is an important statement for where the retailer believes work still needs to be done. So, what is the vision for 2030 and beyond?
“Our vision for 2030 is to continue our journey to be a world leading, responsible Australian lifestyle brand. As an iconic Australian retailer we feel it’s our role to push boundaries and drive positive change, from our products to our partnerships and stores. Our sustainability strategy covers Climate, Water, Waste, Biodiversity, Transparency, Responsible Sourcing, Circularity, Fair and Responsible Pay, Wellbeing, Worker Engagement and Diversity and Inclusion. We will achieve these outcomes by expanding the programs we already have in place, embracing new ones and continuing to work collaboratively with others in the community and across the global fashion industry to address pressing environmental and social issues.”
- Country Road is the headline sponsor for the Twyg Sustainable Fashion Awards 2021, and will sponsor the Changemaker Winner with a R100 000 cash prize
- Images: Country Road organic linen, organic French linen and verified Australian cotton pieces. Shop the latest collection here
- Country Road SS21 influencer collaborations focused on sustainable linen and cotton pieces: