When Brands + Entrepreneurs Collaborate, The Industry Wins

Levi Strauss & Co.
May 31, 2017

It’s not a normal practice for brands in the apparel industry to share ideas and innovations with others. As John Moore, co-founder and creative director at Outerknown, put it at the Sustainable Brands conference last week, “The fashion industry likes to keep secrets.”

John was participating in a panel discussion with Levi Strauss & Co.’s Paul Dillinger, vice president and head of global product innovation, to discuss the LS&Co. Collaboratory program and what lessons both companies learned about working together to drive the entire industry forward.

“Responsible innovation is something we should share. We need to create a new baseline for how we operate in the industry,” he added.

And that’s exactly what LS&Co. is trying to do. We’ve taken an open-source approach to sustainability to create a more meaningful, lasting impact. In 2015, we brought many of our competitor brands together to learn about our Water<Less® finishing techniques. Last year, we shared Water<Less® publicly, along with our Worker Well-being program. We believe that if other companies adopt these same innovative programs in their own supply chains, we can change the way the entire industry works.

The Collaboratory is a part of that same strategy, but with an eye toward the future. We engage with the next generation of apparel industry leaders to help them implement more sustainable practices at the start of their companies’ journeys, which will help make sustainability the norm, not the exception, in the future.

A shared journey

LS&Co. isn’t the only company pursuing this idea. Moore and Dillinger were joined on their panel by Emily McGarvey from Target and Whitney Mayer from the Hershey Company, who are both driving programs in their own organizations that focus on working with entrepreneurs.

Through Hershey Company’s Nourishing Minds commitment, the company is aiming to use its expertise as a global food company for the greater good, but also in a way that informs its business. Hershey is working with entrepreneurs who are providing and developing safe and affordable nutritious foods for local consumption in resource constrained environments, including West Africa.

While engaging with entrepreneurs at a few different levels, Target focused on its Target Takeoff program, an accelerator that launched earlier this month with a goal to create a pipeline of startups to meet the growing customer demand for more sustainably made products.

One of the themes everyone touched on was how to make these collaborations successful.

“You need to ensure that you are working with entrepreneurs and business that have the same values and motives as you,” said Paul. “When everyone is together in the same place and realizing all that they have in common, they can focus on the business opportunity.”

“You need to do a lot of listening,” added Emily. By listening, Target could ensure entrepreneurs got connected to the right people in the company to help them accelerate towards growth.

Whitney’s advice? “Get outside of your ‘large company’ mindset.” Brands should go back to the basics and focus on finding what is the fundamental issue these entrepreneurs are facing without over-complicating the solution.

According to John, it all comes down to being open and sharing. “Share your resources and help us do it better. We’ve knocked on other doors and haven’t been let in. Companies like LS&Co., Target and Hershey can truly make a difference on these up and coming businesses.”