In today’s age of sustainability as a buzz word in many fashion organizations, more savvy, conscious consumers are beginning to ask the all important questions around what sustainability actually means to the retail giants.

No longer are customers interested in a particular product solely based on their luxury name, product styling or their ability to stamp “eco-friendly” labels on the packaging. People want to have insight into the company philosophy and goals around sustainability and how they may or many not, in many cases, use their power and wealth to benefit others. 

Late last year, Prada faced a storm of bad press related to a decidedly racist product they brought to market. The product, a “Pradamalia” key chain featuring a figurine monkey with exaggerated lips reminiscent of the “Black Sambo” figure that is deeply connected to slavery, Prada pulled from the store’s inventory.

The fashion house’s inability to recognize the severity of such racist imagery in advance of its release sparked anger in many. Others may have had a different view, specifically Miuccia Prada who said: “I increasingly think anything one does today can cause offense. There can sometimes be a lack of generosity but, on the other hand, how can we know all cultures? The Chinese protest, then the Sikh, then Mexicans, then Afro-Americans. But how can you know the details of each single culture so well when there can be 100 different cultures in every country?”

While this is not an apology, it was respectfully her truth and if reflected upon with a determination to find a solution to correcting the issue, her statement does make one begin to explore the meaning behind the words.

Companies who find themselves in these types of reactionary positions as their pr teams scramble to respond to racist situations, often resort to announcing internal “diversity training” for their associates. While this is a good first step, it is also a very small step. A 2017 study of approximately 600 business decisions made by 200 teams, across a range of companies, found that when diverse teams made a business decision, they outperformed individual decision-makers up to 87% of the time. Racially diverse teams outperform non-diverse teams by 35% and that makes a huge difference when the ramifications of the decisions being made directly affect the company’s bottom line as well as their reputation.

In Prada’s case, as is the same for many other luxury and moderate retailers, a clear message regarding social responsibility and sustainability should not only include goals for increased environmental consciousness but also taking efforts a step further in ensuring the sustainability of the corporation’s employees, customers and communities they serve. To that end, Prada has adopted a new approach to sustainability, diversity, equity and inclusion. 

Sustainability

In June, Prada launched Re-Nylon, a sustainability initiative around a new line of the iconic Prada bag using a unique, new regenerated nylon, ECONYL. To share the message and tell the story of this new project, Prada joined forces with National Geographic to produce a short video series titled “What We Carry.” The first episode of the series introduces Prada’s partnership with Aquafil, which is intended to move the brand toward total sustainability with the goal of converting all Prada virgin nylon into regenerated nylon ECONYL by the end of 2021. “This project highlights our continued efforts towards promoting a responsible business. This collection will allow us to make our contribution and create products without using new resources.”, stated Lorenzo Bertelli, Prada Group Head of Marketing and Communication. The commitment to share with consumers tangible, deadline oriented goals is a step in the right direction.

In the second and most recent installment to the series, Sudanese, Australian Model, Adut Akech Bior is featured alongside Joe Cutler, Freshwater Conservationist and National Geographic Explorer as they share the story of how Aquafil and Prada’s Re-Nylon project is spreading awareness on fishing net recycling at an international level. Through initiatives like Net Works  the partnership is turning harmful waste into new products. This is vital in areas where communities depend heavily on lake resources.

DEI (Diversity, Equity and Inclusion)

Following December’s “Pradamalia” catastrophe, the label issued a statement saying that it “abhors racist imagery”. The company also said it would form an advisory council “to guide our efforts on diversity, inclusion and culture” and “examine the processes that led to such a product reaching the market in the first place.” Prada kept its promise. In February of this year, the group announced it’s Diversity and Inclusion Advisory Council.

At the time of the announcement, the council consisted of artist and activist Theaster Gates, and award-winning writer, director and producer Ava DuVernay who was selected to co-chair the Council for the purpose of elevating voices of color within the company and the fashion industry at-large.

Almost six months since the announcement, there has been no additional reports in the progression of the Diversity and Inclusion Advisory Council at Prada. Grit Daily reached out to the Prada Group corporate press for comment but we did not receive a response. Some are skeptical, myself included, as to how real, sustainable change is or will be implemented at Prada. Though the public may remain hopeful that those in the forefront of the movement towards a more equitable corporate fashion culture are empowered to direct a new, foundational inclusion culture, results have yet to be seen.

Efforts to ensure companies remain accountable to the sustainability and DEI goals they announce in response to public blunders, requires dedication to the cause. Only together, can we illicit and maintain change for the better.