Nora Gherbi is the founder of WHo CAREs!?Chronicles, an initiative promoting Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and focusing on the best practices of socially conscious businesses. After working with several organizations worldwide, Nora noticed a gap within the CSR strategies, and that intrigued her to create this initiative and fill this gap by introducing a new leadership role within the corporate world, that is the Chief Care Officer.
How do you think fashion compares to other industries in terms of adopting conscious practices?
The past 5 years have been a turning point – rethinking the entire clothing industry seems challenging but not impossible. It starts with a different consumer’s mindset and a younger generation of consumers that are demanding entirely different items. Sustainable, ethical clothing is finally being on the forefront. I firmly believe that the best practices will rise from collaborative work – small ethical brands leading the large corporations. It is a David and Goliath paradigm, one where the smallest brands and even startups are providing solutions that are innovative and incredibly impactful. It’s the rise of the Feel Good Fashion, only this time the emotion is linked to the impact of the product.
One of my favourite practices or more likely initiative is The Fashion for Good-Plug and Play Accelerator. Fifteen selected startups will follow a robust curriculum including mentorship from Accelerator’s partner Adidas, C&A, Galeries Lafayette, Kering, Target and Zalando with the aim to transform the fashion industry for good.
What do you see as the biggest obstacles to developing these practices further?
The biggest obstacle comes down to the mindset, most companies we meet want to implement a caring strategy but often think they are too small or that it would be costly… It actually is proven that a company that does have a caring strategy is more profitable than the ones (within the same industry and scale) that do not. Corporate social responsibility and a caring, ethical business culture is actually good for businesses and for employee cohesion and spirit, it enhances the vision of the company, it federates and gives meaning to the products and services.
Our main objective is to change the mindset and to make caring an integral part of the DNA of a brand, and fashion is a great industry for that. I am very optimistic about fashion, a lot of great practices are now under way. It has faced a huge wake-up call after the Rana Plaza tragedy because it has brought to light the dark side of the industry, and after getting a glimpse of the conditions, things can never be done in the same way. They must change, they will and they are.
Creating a more responsible dynamic in fashion will require some fine-tuning. In your opinion, will changes be coming from businesses or from the consumer?
I think we tend to forget that people behind brands are also consumers, so the first thing is to ask designers a few simple questions: Are you aligned with your product? It is, after all, a reflection of the designer and her/his values (Stella Mc Cartney is a prime example of this notion). Would you feel comfortable being a consumer of your products? To answer this question more precisely, I think that the biggest changes will come from consumers and one of the driving forces will be health. The conditions of workers and the environment are the main focus, but consumers will also look at products from a health point of view. Chemicals that can harm the environment and cause skin irritation are cut out by many sustainable brands today.
What is the one piece of advice you would share with those looking to contribute to a better and more circular fashion system?
I think that there is a huge room for redefining the emotional relationship we have with clothing. My mother used to have all her clothes custom made as a young woman and she speaks very fondly of clothing: each piece, each fabric, each design. You had to wait for the piece to be done, you had a relationship with the seamstress. The person making her garments knew her bone structure, her height, her taste. These pieces were designed in a very conscious, emotional and intimate way. This kind of experience is not available to the mass because we want products now, we want them fast and the taste changes also very quickly.
I think the circular approach is also linked to a slow approach: taking the time to enjoy fashion differently, investing in lasting pieces and, if you so desire, passing it on with a sense of respect and appreciation for the product. A sense of reverence for the person who made it, and a sense of appreciation for the person who is passing it on.