Thierry Andretta on Mulberry’s new Made to Last Manifesto
Can a bag save the world? Possibly not, but it can at least prevent it from becoming even more polluted.
Which is the goal at Mulberry, the UK luxury brand, that on Tuesday unveiled its new Made to Last Manifesto, timed to dovetail with its 50th anniversary.
Their new goal – a farm-to-finished product supply chain, which the house’s CEO Thierry Andretta sees as essential for both the company and the planet’s future.
“The idea is that Mulberry really began Made to Last, so this is the evolution in 2021 of something started 50 years ago. The brand began by using offcuts and the remains of the shoe leather industry from Somerset. So, since day one we have offered lifetime service and focused on sustainability. Which is why, three years ago, we started working on this project,” explained Andretta.
Their debut product with the new vision was the Portobello bag, which sold out online in 48 hrs, as the brand focused precisely on what customers were demanding. A soft tote that mimics the shape of a single-use plastic bag, the Portobello is made of 100% sustainable leather.
Founded in 1971 in Somerset by Roger Saul, who began by stitching together leather accessories from offcuts and scraps on his mum’s kitchen table, Mulberry grew to become an iconic British marque. Famed for its practical Poacher, Binocular and Dispatch bags.
“The market was still asking for leather, so we thought, 'let’s use net-zero leather in our manufacturing, and make all our sourcing with full transparency',” added Andretta.
The brand has also developed Mulberry Exchange, an in-store and digital platform to match authentically restored bags with new owners.
“This is a vital part of the circular economy. Now, every year, we repair over 10,000 bags. People have a lot of affection for particular bags, and we discovered that nearly 99% can be repaired,” the CEO stressed, recalling a visit to the repair department in The Rookery, the marque’s Somerset manufacturing plant.
“Within three hours I witnessed a bag completely dismounted and they were changing the lining and putting back together,” he marvelled.
“Plus, the younger generation loves a flea market and we thought, ‘why not the circular economy, where we give life back to a much-loved bag?’ It turns out we have achieved very strong prices on eBay,” added Andretta, who also signed a full-service digital agreement with luxury vintage e-commerce platform Vestiaire Collective.
A key element in Made to Last was linking up with regenerative farmers and radically reducing the amount of carbon in any leathers the brand uses.
So, Mulberry teamed up with the Scottish Leather Group, the UK’s largest leather manufacturer, and strategic partner Muirhead, to develop bags sourced from local farms practicing regenerative farming. These new products will reach stores later this year.
“I am quite pleased with work the team did. Using the world’s lowest carbon leather is right and sensible and completes the cycle. There has been less request for vegan leather. The quality is not quite there yet. And we have been testing mushroom leather for durability,” notes the CEO, who speaks fluent English with a Franco-Italian accent.
A highly experience luxury executive, Andretta arrived at Mulberry six years ago. His resume includes being CEO of Lanvin for four years; chief executive at Italian jeweler Buccellati; and stints at Moschino, Gucci, LVMH and Celine.
A Tuesday morning Zoom presentation by Mulberry also included an address by Dr Warren Bowden, a chartered environmentalist and sustainable director of the Scottish Leather Group.
“We lead the world at Muirhead, through our industrial epiphany. We plan to be 100% carbon free by 2025. And we do that by sourcing from local farms and from grass-fed cattle, while providing the highest standards of traceability,” said Bowden.
Like every luxury brand, Mulberry has been buffeted by the pandemic, however the house has enjoyed rapid growth in digital sales.
“Two years ago we were at 23% of turnover for digital, when many other brands were in single digits. We also have full integration of services and that gives us a competitive advantage, especially in the US, China, Japan and Korea. So, for the first half of last year, digital grew to over 50% of sales,” says Andretta.
Mulberry is in a closed period financially. But in 2019, sales reached some £165 million.
The brand is publicly quoted with a flotation of less than 10%. Though it witnessed considerable market interest last year, as Mike Ashley’s Fraser Group built up a 37% stake in Mulberry. However, after initial speculation, Ashley did not make a full tender offer for the brand, which is 56% owned by Challice Limited.
Asked about the Ashley acquisition, Andretta termed it “a vote of confidence in our company.”
This spring, Mulberry has enjoyed a gradual reopening of its chain of around 100 stores and is fully opened internationally except for in France and Norway. Plus, Mulberry just opened next to Fendi in the giant South Coast Plaza, the largest shopping center in the West Coast of the United States.
“Our future expansion will be Asia, and mostly in China as for everyone. The Chinese are not travelling and won’t be soon. And, in my opinion, when they do travel, it will be less to shop, more for culture experiences,” argues the CEO.
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