La Rhea Pepper, the company’s founder, is retiring, and Claire Bergkamp, who established Stella McCartney’s sustainability division, will take her place. Her top priority is to pose challenging inquiries.
La Rhea Pepper, who founded Textile Exchange, will step down as CEO effective January 2023. Claire Bergkamp, who has served as COO since 2020 and previously oversaw sustainability at Stella McCartney, will take her place.
The organization is putting into practice the succession plan, which was created internally as part of Bergkamp’s transition to Textile Exchange, as it works to expand its influence in the market. The non-profit, established in 2002, has been at the forefront of fashion’s focus on raw materials as part of its expanding environmental efforts.
Textile Exchange has convened working groups to improve cotton sourcing, for instance; advocated for supporting farmers in the transition to regenerative agriculture; and has long talked about the need to shift from a “price-based” to a “values-based” paradigm.
While the industry has acknowledged the need for action and supported small-scale initiatives, Pepper argues that scaling up solutions is what is urgently needed right now, both from a climate and environmental perspective as well as in terms of business strategy, as brands realize they have lofty goals but are unsure of all the steps to take in order to meet them.
“With the 2030 strategy and the objectives of Climate+ [Textile Exchange’s initiative to help the industry reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the production of raw materials while also addressing other impact areas like biodiversity], we face some pressing deadlines. There’s a whole myriad of tools and resources that we’re gearing up to do that; Claire’s the tip of the iceberg of the new people we’ve hired and the strength and depth we’ve brought on board,” Pepper told Vogue Business on a call before She is announcing her resignation at the annual conference of the Textile Exchange, which is taking place this week in Colorado.
Her new role, catalyst, and co-founder, will enable her to work in a more hands-on way with brands and others in the industry — and “be back in the trenches”, she says. “Even though many brands continue to run admirable initiatives, few of them have yearly targets that will force them to fulfill the 2030 goals, whether they be Science Based Targets, the Fashion Charter, or the Fashion Pact on biodiversity. We’re discovering that the sector as a whole requires more assistance and [help] on integrated, step-by-step strategies to achieve their objectives.”
Bergkamp claims she contacted Pepper about a job there rather than the other way around because of Textile Exchange’s comprehensive and proactive approach, which is what initially drew her to the organization. When she joined Stella McCartney in 2012, she was the only employee responsible for sustainability for the London-based company.
She gradually established a department, managing teams in both London and Italy, and placed a strong emphasis on the need for in-depth knowledge of supply chains, a willingness to restructure how they were run, and the capacity to collaborate with outside parties, such as conservation non-profits or policymakers, in order to advance sustainability initiatives.
She also contributed to the development of some sustainability policies at Kering, the former parent company of Stella McCartney. “Having worked at Stella for nine years, been at the cutting edge of what brands do — looking around, what excited me was looking at this in a more systems change the way,” she says. “We are constructing and putting our organization in a really strong delivery position. But even if we deliver until we are blue in the face, it won’t matter if the market isn’t interested in it.”
Bergkamp and Pepper both hope that the defining characteristics of the organization have become and will continue to be the capability to both study problems and help scale solutions, as well as to navigate delicate but significant issues.
The Textile Exchange is working with the Fashion Pact and Conservation International on a biodiversity landscape analysis. Although the project is still in its early stages, it is intended to be similar to what Textile Exchange did earlier this year with its regenerative landscape analysis, which identified the needs, advantages, and opportunities for scaling regenerative agriculture in the fashion supply chain and provided a framework for brands to get started.
For the industry’s benefit, including for use in the Higg Index, it is currently conducting lifecycle analyses (LCAs) for mohair, wool, and cashmere, with plans to expand to leather, polyester, and cotton next year.
They’re calling it an LCA+ because they want to make sure it covers the entire picture and doesn’t just concentrate on carbon emissions. It also prioritizes geographic specificity around the world and adequate representation, as well as impacts on areas like biodiversity, water quality, and soil health.
The organization has also addressed the issue of degrowth, or the need to at least limit the consumption of natural resources, which is a subject the industry frequently avoids discussing. In its most recent market reports for cotton and preferred fibers, for instance, it was noted that while there had been some progress in the supply chain, it had not been nearly enough, and a key recommendation was to reduce overall production.
All of these topics are also on the conference’s agenda this week, which has as its theme paving the way for a positive impact on the environment. Bergkamp predicts that Textile Exchange will maintain or even increase its role as an agitator and problem-solver going forward.
“The rate at which new raw materials enter the market each year has been discussed. That translates to less material being produced, or less growth in the production of the material. That’s a tough one. We didn’t create that reality, we’re just acknowledging it,” she says.
“The exciting aspect of this organization, in my opinion, is that while we can stand by the science and the truth, we work to present it in a way that will be regarded favorably. We aren’t here to yell at you. We want to collaborate with you. I’m hoping that we’ll keep focusing on that under my direction. We’re here to help and to change.”