Ralph Lauren Campaign Success: A Retrospective.

By Ethan Nuss

The global fashion icon, Ralph Lauren just took the first step to end the risk of forest destruction in its clothing.

Ralph Lauren announced that they would take action to ensure that its clothing—and all of its associated brands—do not contribute to rainforest destruction and human rights violations. This change didn’t happen overnight—it is the result of years of campaigning and corporate negotiation. Here’s a timeline of how we did it together:

In September 2014, RAN launched the Out of Fashion campaign targeting Ralph Lauren, among others, to highlight companies with the risk of rainforest destruction and human rights abuses in their supply chain. Shockingly, many common synthetic fabrics used by the fashion industry—like rayon, viscose and modal—are all made from trees.

In April 2015, we focused our campaigning on one of the biggest names in the fashion world:  Ralph Lauren, a $7.9 billion global fashion icon. The Ralph Lauren campaign launch included an online petition signed by over 20,000 supporters calling on the fashion giant to commit to rainforest-free fabrics.

RAN’s supporters across the globe generated a flurry of phone calls, online petitions, and social media posts targeting Ralph Lauren. Throughout the life of the campaign, there were roughly 19,000 messages sent by email, Facebook, and Twitter from supporters, and over 400 phone calls made to company leadership.
In June 2015, RAN activists diverted attention from the red carpet event at the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) by unfurling a 14-foot balloon banner with a Ralph Lauren parody logo that read, “When Deforestation is Part of Your Lifestyle.”
Following that high-profile action at the CFDA awards, Ralph Lauren released its annual citizenship report highlighting its stated commitment to preserving and protecting the earth and its natural resources. RAN highlighted the inconsistency in words and actions in a series of graphics shared on social media, as well as at an on-the-ground protest where roughly 10 RAN activists descended on Ralph Lauren’s San Francisco flagship store, located in a busy shopping district, and handed out balloons (printed with our Ralph Lauren brand jam) to make sure customers knew about the company’s role in rainforest destruction for fabric.

At the company’s annual shareholder meeting in August 2015, RAN activists popped up again to hand out copies of our new report, “Lessons from the Incense Forest”, to encourage shareholders to raise these important issues to leadership in the meeting.
The report detailed the struggles of the people of Pandumaan-Sipituhuta in North Sumatra, Indonesia, who are on the frontlines of human rights abuses and forest destruction for wood-based fabrics.
RAN_Lessons_From_The_Incense_Forests_cover.jpgIt was around this time that representatives from Ralph Lauren expressed interest in taking an active role to address the risk in its wood-based fabrics supply chain. All this hard work campaigning paid off throughout 2016 as Ralph Lauren and RAN worked together closely to develop a policy on the sourcing of its wood-based fabric supply chain.

Finally, on January 4th, 2017 Ralph Lauren announced its commitment to release a rainforest-free fabric policy. The news received widespread media-fanfare through coverage by Reuters, New York Times, and the UK Daily Mail, among others.   

Ralph Lauren is joining the sea change of over 60 leading brands like H&M, Zara, Stella McCartney, ASOS, Levis Strauss & Co., and others, who have adopted similar rainforest-free fabric policies that are sending waves throughout fabric supply chains globally. Ralph Lauren is setting an example for other laggard companies to follow. RAN looks forward to seeing leadership from the other companies in the Fashion 15, like Abercrombie & Fitch, Michael Kors, Guess, Forever 21, Under Armour, and Foot Locker.

While the final policy itself has not been officially released, Ralph Lauren has already communicated its commitment to its suppliers and committed to publicly release the final policy mid-2017, alongside procurement policies for many of their other raw materials.  RAN looks forward to our continued work with Ralph Lauren to ensure that its policies create real change on the ground.