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Q&A With Kathleen Talbot, Chief Sustainability Officer at Reformation

Oct 4, 2022 4:23:27 PM

We had the distinct pleasure of hosting a Q&A with Kathleen Talbot, Chief Sustainability Officer and VP of Operations at Reformation to pick her brain about one of our favorite topics: sustainability in the apparel industry.

Q: Why is sustainability important to Reformation as an organization?
Kathleen: Sustainability is the core of everything we do at Ref and it’s been that way since our founding in 2009. The fashion industry is one of the most polluting industries in the world and we’re taking meaningful steps to show the industry and our customers that sustainability and fashion can coexist. Chief among these efforts is our commitment to be climate positive by 2025. Many industry groups and brands have made important climate
commitments, but none with enough urgency or immediate action. The planet simply cannot wait until 2040 or 2050. We’re Climate Neutral certified and our products have been since 2015, but with our climate positivity commitment, we’re going further to actively reduce our greenhouse gas emissions and invest in solutions that have a net positive impact.

Q: Do you have a sustainability expert in-house?
Kathleen: Yes, we have several across the business and a dedicated Sustainability team with people who have various specialties including impact data analysis and reporting, supply chain management, social responsibility, innovation, and comms.

Q: Does Reformation have key sustainability pillars/goals?
Kathleen: Yes. We have four main areas where we believe we can make the biggest impact with our sustainability work: Product, People, Planet, and Progress. Laddering up to these focus areas, we map out our goals and supporting programs. For example, our Climate Positive goal that I mentioned is tied to our Planet pillar and climate action programming.

Q: How do you measure them internally?
Kathleen: We have core impact metrics for each program area, and hold ourselves accountable by sharing our progress quarterly in our Sustainability Reports that are published on our website.

Q: How important is your vendor selection when it comes to meeting your goals?
Kathleen: Who we partner with matters a lot. We partner with suppliers who share a common vision of sustainability, accountability, and transparency. Our suppliers participate in independent, third-party social assessments to ensure fair, safe, and healthy working conditions and progress over time.

Q: How do you screen vendors for sustainability criteria?
Kathleen:  We require that suppliers meet our standards for social responsibility, safe, non-toxic operations, and can meet our better materials standards and certifications. We outline all of this in a Sustainable Partner Guide and work closely with potential vendors in a vetting and onboarding process. We then do regular audits and assurance work to make sure our stuff continues to meet our high standards.

Q: What are your ambitions over the next few years?
Kathleen:  We have quite a few goals we plan to achieve in the next few years, which all ladder up to our commitment to being Climate Positive by 2025:
● Eliminating silk and conventional cashmere
● Reaching 100% recyclability for everything we make
● Using as close to zero virgin materials as we can
● Source 100% of our fabrics from recycled, regenerative, or renewable
● Shifting the majority of our transportation to lower carbon modes (e.g.
cargo ship or ground)
● Continuing to hold ourselves accountable and sharing exactly how we’ll
achieve our goals and our progress along the way

Q: How does sustainability show up in your marketing?
Kathleen: Since so much of our brand positioning is based on our sustainability practices it informs our entire marketing strategy. It shows up in most touch points -- from our website, newsletters, messaging, and PR approach. We’re also committed to customer education and open communication. Sharing behind-the-scenes about our sustainability practices,
sourcing, and manufacturing is an important practice for us. We also prefer to
communicate our sustainability efforts in an accessible and fun way. Often this means cutting the jargon, simplifying language, and thinking about how you would talk about sustainability with a friend.

Q:  If you were starting from scratch with your sustainability initiatives, is there anything you’d do differently?
Kathleen:  One of the challenges of doing this work is balancing bold action with the right level of data analysis and reporting. I’m so grateful that at Ref we’ve been given permission to take actions that we know are directionally right even if we don’t have perfect data or are ahead of the curve. I think this approach is so critical to being a true leader and driving for the most impact so I would just double-down on that, and not get too bogged down by
what can be the more administrative and bureaucratic trappings of CSR.

Charming is proud to partner with dedicated companies like Reformation.  We believe – as they believe – that sustainability is a pillar of our business – and not just a product.