Cotton On Group CFO, Michael Hardwick takes the stage at 2017 World Retail Congress

This week, Cotton On Group Chief Financial Officer Michael Hardwick attended the 2017 World Retail Congress in Dubai, taking centre stage to speak about ethical and sustainable business in the fashion industry.

The annual event attracts over a thousand of the world’s retail leaders and addresses the challenges and opportunities within the industry. This year’s Congress focused on ‘reimagining the customer experience’; a particularly relevant and important topic for the Cotton On Group.  

Michael joined Alfred Vernis, Sustainability Academic Director at Inditex and spoke about the history and heritage of the Cotton On Group, as well as the business’  ethical and sustainability initiatives; including the Group’s 14 Rules To Trade, ethical sourcing framework and sustainable cotton programs.

Michael also spoke to the production demands of the fast fashion industry and the importance of operating ethically even with growing customer demand for speed, quality and accessible price points.

“Today, the customer is more engaged than ever before and we’re seeing a greater focus from fashion retailers on the environmental impact of garment manufacturing, particularly water efficiency, renewable energy, chemical detox and waste management,” he said.

“As a fast fashion business, we know our ability to keep pace with the industry and consumer demand cannot come at the expense of operating ethically and sustainably. This is not just a reflection of the growing interest of customers to understand how and where their products are made, but more importantly because our business fundamentally believes it’s the right thing to do.”

Whilst the Group continues to make strides in improving transparency across its supply chain, Michael highlighted the business’ particular focus on creating more certainty around the raw materials stage of the production process.

“The Cotton On Group is a proud member of the Better Cotton Initiative, which allows us improved access to more sustainable cotton for the manufacture of our garments. This decision was a natural evolution of our efforts to ensure a sustainable supply chain,” Michael said.

In conjunction with the Better Cotton Initiative, the Group last year launched its own sustainable cotton initiative, Kenya Cotton. In partnership with Business for Development and Base Titanium, the Group works closely with Kenyan farmers to help them improve their livelihood through sustainable cotton farming. In addition to funding the training and setup of each farm, the Group has committed to purchasing 100 per cent of the cotton lint; simultaneously giving the business increased transparency in its supply chain.

In addition to its ethics and sustainability programs, Michael also touched on the importance of the Group’s philanthropic arm, the Cotton On Foundation.

“The work we are doing through the Cotton On Foundation is one of the most rewarding aspects of anything we have been building. Through the Foundation, our vision is to create 20,000 quality educational places globally by 2020 and we are well on our way to delivering on that vision.

“As a global fashion retailer, we firmly believe that our responsibility goes far beyond just selling clothes and we’re determined to have a positive impact on the communities in which we operate around the world.”

As part of the event, the Cotton On Group was nominated for Retailer of the Year; a category of the World Retail Awards that recognises those considered a truly world-class operator, displaying best-in-class operations across all areas of the business.

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