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How Tom Ford Is Redefining Sustainable Luxury, One Suit at a Time

Designer, style legend, director, and writer are all labels one could readily apply to Tom Ford—but what about environmentalist? In today’s day and age, when climate change is becoming an ever grimmer reality, every designer should have sustainable practices in place. What most fans of Ford’s highest-of-the-highbrow luxuries might not realize is that he’s been working to make his business greener for the better part of a decade.

Way back in 2007, he spoke at a luxury conference in Moscow, telling the crowd, “For many people today, true luxury comes from being able to enjoy beautiful things that haven’t had a destructive impact on the planet or on other people. For example, I know many men and women who would pay more, possibly much more, for a luxury item that they knew had not harmed the planet in its production. And if, for example, this item had a tiny detail that communicated to the world that its wearer was not only chic and stylish but also had a conscience and was a good citizen, then would that not be the ultimate status symbol?”

Today, Ford’s factories adhere to humanitarian standards, with artisans enjoying standard working hours, medical insurance, and no dangerous working conditions. But what’s more is that he and his team have scoured the world to find craftsmen and mills, some of which have been in business for around 200 years, whose techniques are not only the utmost in luxury but also have little negative impact on the earth. In September, he was recognized for his commitment to Italian craftsmanship with the Green Carpet Fashion Award for Best International Designer Supporting “Made in Italy.” At the Milan ceremony, the award was presented by Vogue Editor in Chief Anna Wintour to Andrew Garfield, who accepted on the designer’s behalf.

Ford told Vogue what being recognized for his sustainable efforts means to him—and how he plans to keep the momentum going.

In the broadest sense, what does being sustainable mean to you and your business? There are many paths one can go down to being sustainable. For me, sustainability and the ethical production of fashion and accessories go hand in hand. When something is beautifully and consciously made and is of the highest quality, it is not meant to be thrown away and will not be destined to end up in a landfill. It is destined to be used by its current owner and then become vintage fashion that is reused for as long as possible. In this way, creating well-made things contributes to the concept of sustainability. Also, when producing ethically, the impact of production on the environment is a consideration, and the mills and factories that I work with are very concerned with minimal impact on the environment and provide their workers with the best working environments and benefits possible.

When you launched the Tom Ford brand, what was the process of finding the factories and mills like? The factories that we work with are truly artisanal. In fact, the word artisan is key here, as true artisans and the factories that employ them are by their very nature conscious of sustainability. These are people who are proud of what they do and care about creating items that will endure and be used for many years.

On the marketing and retail side: How do you want to message your sustainable efforts? Have you found that your customers are concerned with the sourcing of materials and ethical business practices? Our customers are very conscious of the importance of sustainability, and unlike many people, they can afford to choose products that, while perhaps initially more expensive, will last for years. Increasingly, all consumers are aware of the impact on the environment of the production of fashion and are concerned. The younger the customer, the more this is a consideration for them.

Has knowing and working with Livia Firth [founder of the Green Carpet Challenge] changed your perspective on sustainability at all? Absolutely. Livia is a true inspiration. Simple choices can make a difference in the sustainability of a product, and Livia of course is aware of what these choices are.

Are there other sustainable practices you’re interested in pursuing, whether in your brand or in your personal life? Yes. And my concern grows almost daily. As we begin to experience the effects of global warming, and as we become increasingly aware of the mistreatment of so many workers in the fashion industry and the effects on the environment of improper production practices, one cannot but help make choices based on the impact to the environment.

In your personal life, how do you practice sustainability? I try to consume only local produce; do most of our shopping at the farmers’ market; recycle, obviously; and, most important, try not to throw things away when there is still life left in them. I consume products often based on what I know about their production and their environmental impact. For example—and this sounds like a small thing and it is, but it is something that everyone can do—we use only metal reusable drinking straws in our house, as plastic straws are one of the worst things for the environment. There are many other things like this that, while small, are easy to implement once you are aware of what they are.

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