Since rising to fame in the Harry Potter franchise, Emma Watson has become as well known for her work off screen as on it. The actor was appointed a UN Women goodwill ambassador in 2014, with the star urging men to stand up for gender equality in her famous HeForShe speech at the UN headquarters that year. She’s also played a leading role in the TIME’S UP movement that began in 2018, calling for an end to sexual harassment in Hollywood.
Now, Watson has added a new role to the list, joining the board of directors at Gucci owner Kering. The 30-year-old will be chair of the board’s sustainability committee—a fitting position for the actor, who has long had an interest in eco-friendly fashion.
“For me, sustainability is about the effects of today’s actions on our shared future,” Watson tells Vogue. “As the youngest member of Kering’s board, I hope to influence decisions that will impact future generations and the world that we leave them.”
Watson has regularly flown the flag for sustainable fashion on the red carpet, wearing a Calvin Klein dress made from recycled plastic bottles at the 2016 Met Gala and opting for only eco-friendly choices during her Beauty and the Beast press tour in 2017. She’s also a supporter of the Good On You app, which rates how ethical brands are, and guest-edited Vogue Australia’s sustainability issue in 2018.
It makes sense, then, that she’s now joining forces with Kering—which has become known for its sustainability efforts within the fashion industry. The company announced it would be going carbon neutral across its own operations and supply chain last year, and spearheaded the G7 Fashion Pact that’s seen 65 brands agree to commitments on mitigating climate change, improving biodiversity, and protecting our oceans.
Here, we caught up with Watson to find out more about her new role at Kering and what sustainable fashion means to her.
Why did you decide to take up this new role at Kering?
As the Covid-19 crisis has shown, sustainability is an urgent issue which closely aligns to questions of justice and equality for women, black, indigenous and people of colour, and the environment. The work Kering is doing [in advancing sustainability in fashion] feels more vital than ever and I am extremely grateful to be able to join these efforts, putting my support behind a group who are demonstrating they take this responsibility seriously.
I look forward to helping Kering further accelerate the pace [of its] work, building upon what it’s already doing. I am also extremely excited to collaborate with Kering’s women’s rights foundation. I’m always just excited to learn.
Why is sustainability in fashion so important to you?
I’ve been interested in sustainability in fashion ever since I had to properly engage with it during my time of junkets and promotional tours for Harry Potter. That started as early as 12. At school, I took a specific interest in Fair Trade fashion and renewable energy sources under the supervision of a really inspiring geography teacher. This eventually led to a trip to Bangladesh in 2010 with sustainable brand People Tree.
It became clear to me then that sustainability in fashion is a critical issue given how the industry can have damaging impacts on the environment, on workers’ rights, and on animal welfare. It is also a feminist issue. It’s estimated around 80 per cent of the world’s garment workers are women aged between 18 and 35.
At this unprecedented time in history, we have big decisions to make and actions to take in how we positively reinvent and reconfigure what we do and how we do it. It genuinely feels like an exciting time to have this opportunity when things might shift. So, for example, when I saw last year that Kering announced the group would become carbon neutral within its own operations and across its entire supply chain, with a priority of first avoiding, then reducing, then offsetting greenhouse gas emissions, I noticed!
There are lots of different ideas about what sustainability actually means. What does it mean to you?
I understand sustainability as the interrelationship between society and community, the economy and the environment. Issues of justice, fairness, and equality are key to what sustainability means—whether we’re talking about environmental justice and the fashion industry’s impact on our planet, or workers’ rights and the impact on families’ abilities to support themselves.
How does this new role at Kering connect with other work you’ve been doing?
During this pandemic, like many of us, I have had time to reflect on the work I want to be involved with and what is meaningful to me moving forward. Having been so public in making films and being so active on social platforms in my activism, I am curious to embrace a role where I work to amplify more voices, to continue to learn from those with different experiences (from garment workers to designers to company directors), and to ensure a broader range of perspectives are considered. Behind the scenes now, I hope I can be helpful in making a difference.
If people notice a new quietness from me, it does not mean I am no longer there or do not care! I will just be doing my work in a different way (fewer red carpets and more conference meetings!) This is a unique moment in time and I intend to embrace the opportunity it presents for change. As my friend [artist and scholar] Dr Fahamu Pecou says—this work is a relay marathon, not a sprint, and I know I want to be in this for the long run and in the right place when it’s time to run my relay.
Last year, I was part of the G7 Gender Equality Advisory Council convened by President Macron, and while our recommendations were directed at states, without question, businesses play a hugely important role in driving change. So I hope to find ways to ensure that fashion companies can use their power to help create a more just and equal society for people of all genders.
As part of the TIME’S UP movement, we’ve campaigned hard to ensure that all workplaces are safe places for women. Having heard horrific stories of abuse and intimidation from within many industries, I’m keen to ensure that workers across the fashion supply chain can do their jobs free from fear and intimidation, and that new policy developments like the International Labour Organisation’s Violence and Harassment Convention are felt on the ground in factories and on shop floors. Many of the organisations I’ve supported over the years work with garment workers, women farmers, and others in the textile trade, and I hope to share what I’ve learnt from these voices in my new role.
I’ve worked a lot with domestic violence charities here in the UK and beyond, and during the Covid-19 lockdown, calls to these services in many countries have seen a sharp increase. So I’m also really keen to work with Kering’s foundation to see how we can meet the challenges that organisations working on gender-based violence are facing in these difficult times.
Are there particular issues within the fashion industry that concern you?
There are so many, from the ways that fashion marketing can affect body image issues in young girls to levels of water pollution by denim brands.
Covid-19 has obviously had a huge impact on the demand for clothing and it concerns me that not all companies are acting responsibly towards factories and workers in these challenging times, with many cancelling orders or demanding price reductions for clothes that are already being made. Happily, Kering has honoured all of its commitments during the pandemic.
In the present moment, brands have rushed to show their solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement, but we need to ensure that this is not rhetoric and that the industry gets its house in order with regard to representation and inclusion. There are still huge issues with employment discrimination, issues with how black talent is represented in leadership and creative roles, how black people are depicted in marketing materials and the fashion media and so on.
So yes, there are lots of concerning issues, but it feels like there is a real opportunity for uncomfortable conversations, radical decision-making and lasting systemic change—whether that’s in relation to environmental sustainability or racial justice. 2020 has been tough so far for so many people, and there’s a lot of talk about ‘going back to normal’. But it’s increasingly clear that ‘normal’ wasn’t working for so many people in our society.
Do you have any tips on how to shop more sustainably?
I’m a supporter of the Good On You app which makes it very easy for consumers to see what impact individual brands are having. I have committed to only purchasing and wearing brands that are rated ‘It’s A Start’ or above, as I want to be able to support brands moving in the right direction.
I’m also a big fan of TRAID [in the UK] who provide door-step collections of clothes you no longer wear and then reuse and resell them in their shops. They then use the money raised to fund projects to end abuse in fashion supply chains.
Really learning about yourself, who you are, and what you actually wear enables you to be a smarter buyer. Tailoring, modifying and being creative with clothes gives them a longer life, more meaning and personality. I recently wore a dress for a [pre-lockdown] photoshoot that I originally wore to a premiere when I was 15. I carefully archive and catalogue everything special I wear in my wardrobe and keep everything!
The best-dressed people I know have figured out their formula and know they tend to wear a few favourite things over and over again. Invest in those and don’t buy fashion you’ll throw away. Never buy anything unless it’s perfect. I’ve convinced myself to buy some strange things because I said I’d alter them or I’d grow etc. And I don’t!
My friend Emily used to say that everything has a ‘cost per wear’. Meaning every time she wore it, it reduced its overall cost of purchase in her mind and the cost to make it. A bargain isn’t a bargain if you never wear it or it falls apart! I often leave a shop and if I don’t go back for the item, it’s a sign I didn’t really want it.
What are some of your favourite sustainable and ethical brands?
Anything vintage! Reusing and recycling and rewearing clothing that already exists is the most sustainable thing you can do as a consumer. I highlighted some really awesome black-owned vintage shops on my Instagram recently. If you do need to buy something new, I am loving Christy Dawn’s summer dresses and jumpsuits. The brand’s designer and founder Christy is wonderful.