How We Got to CanopyStyle 500 – Stories from Campaigners

Amanda Carr: HOW IT ALL BEGAN: The Turkey Launch

CanopyStyle is now 500 brands strong (and counting) but it all began with a Turkey launch nine years ago.  

We don’t mean throwing turkeys out of a helicopter (IYKYK), but rather the launch of CanopyStyle in Istanbul, Türkiye in 2013.

I was there, six months pregnant with my second child. The Arab Spring uprising was so recent that there was a bullet hole in a window at the hotel where the event was held. It felt like a time of change and transition.

When we launched CanopyStyle, the brand representatives in the audience had A LOT of questions. Some people did not know that rayon and viscose fabrics came from trees, and most of the crowd did not know just how much dissolving pulp from the world’s Ancient and Endangered Forests was going into production of these fabrics. It made for a very lively discussion.

A few days later, my colleague Tara and I were in A Coruña, Spain at a second conference for a side event supported by Inditex. We felt that the room for our event was visually uninspiring, so we rushed to a florist at the last minute to get some greenery. We ended up chatting with the florist about what we were doing there, the new CanopyStyle initiative, and our work to protect forests. They shared in our inspiration and vision, and maybe agreed that there was a need for our little NGO, and gave us the ferns and other plants for the room for free!

We had around 40 people at that event, and only a few of whom knew us at all. So, we decided to have them all make their favourite animal noise as an intro! We continue this sort of playfulness at our brand summits and other events. It lets our partners know that with Canopy, they may be in for something a little different.

Casey Brennan: Recognizing expertise in other markets

CanopyStyle has been working with producers in Asia and India for many years now, but recently we began to make inroads with huge and influential brands and retailers in these critical markets. Flipkart, India’s largest e-tailer was an early ignitor of these critical efforts. Their sustainability lead was someone we first worked with at VF Corp, the American fashion conglomerate that signed onto CanopyStyle in 2017.

Flipkart is a huge company, and they have managed to implement its CanopyStyle policy quite quickly. But getting to policy signing was a different experience for us. Usually, when we court a brand, we will do an introductory presentation for their sustainability leads or other appropriate team members. With Flipkart, my campaign colleague, Elly Dinnadge, and I gave that presentation to five different internal groups. We assumed we were losing the attention of decision-makers, or that we were missing the value proposition for their company. But our internal champion, who knew Canopy’s work so well, assured us that the company needed to understand CanopyStyle and that we needed to share as much information as we could so that they could dive into details. 

This internal champion was right, of course, and trusting her knowledge of the company, and of our work, paid off. Flipkart is very motivated to make positive change in India and to spread the word about a variety of sustainability initiatives. In the time we have worked with them, they have not only implemented their policy very quickly, but we now have a team of champions within the company working on and thinking about forests.

Amanda Carr: The Long Game

There are ways that CanopyStyle works like a seesaw. We needed early ignitors from smaller to medium-sized companies to join us early to inspire, and start to give the market a signal that a change was coming. 

Once we had reached a certain level of producer response to the initiative and there were enough ‘green shirt’ producers available to meet demand, giants like Walmart and Amazon could join the initiative. They knew that if they came onto the initiative too early, they’d be the big kid who inadvertently sends a smaller kid flying off the seesaw. So working on signing companies with large production volumes was a long game for CanopyStyle. It wasn’t our first time on the playground and we knew we had to maintain a sort of balance.

Large companies can take a longer time to sign on, they, understandably, have more layers of approval to work through. The upside of this long-game approach though is a deep institutionalization of the procurement commitment.

Now, there are lots of ‘green shirt’ ranked producers and more and more Next Gen textiles available for global fashion brands of all sizes, but we did have to teeter-totter a bit to get there.

Catharine Grant: Make connections around the world

Working globally with MMCF (man-made cellulosic fibres – which eventually become fabrics like rayon) producers around the world requires the ability to push through barriers. There are time zone challenges, language barriers, and cultural differences to consider while working across countries like Austria, India, Turkey, and China. Canopy made significant breakthroughs in our efforts with MMCF producers headquartered in China starting in 2018 and 2019, when many of these producers, who had previously not been part of CanopyStyle, adopted policies and began to champion responsible fibre sourcing and Next Generation Solutions. 

So how did we get there?

Relationship building was the key, and in this regard, meeting in person was especially important. We had the opportunity, at the annual CCF viscose conference in Hangzhou, and at our Shanghai summit. But there have also been, many, many late-night (early morning for our partners in China) calls. We have been working with an excellent translator and interpreter since 2016 who knows our work inside and out. 

We do our best to meet viscose producers where they are, by recognizing the leadership they have already taken, collaborating to support the sourcing of their raw materials, and unlocking sourcing relationships for them with big brands such as Inditex and H&M. China is one of the largest importers of forest-based materials and the dissolving pulp that goes into the manufacture of MMCFs. However, many of the MMCF producers based in China are not integrated, meaning they do not harvest the wood they use or own dissolving pulp mills themselves. Many are buying wood pulp from countries on the other side of the world and have to take at face value the sustainability claims made by logging companies. For this reason, when MMCF producers in China asked us for guidance on raw materials, Canopy began to develop a suite of tools that would assist them in making choices about their pulp sources. We quickly saw companies working to avoid risky sources, and several completely eliminated the red (which denotes high likelihood of sourcing from Ancient and Endangered Forests) in their Hot Button shirts. 

Another major development which has dovetailed very nicely with the requirements of CanopyStyle is leadership from the Chinese Government on initiatives such as carbon reduction in 2020 and the increased use of textile waste in 2021. These initiatives are aligned with the goals of the CanopyStyle initiative and have contributed to the widespread uptake of Next Gen materials by Chinese MMCF producers. At least three have launched products containing Next Gen materials in the last three years and more are actively working on research and development.

Personally, relationships with our producer partners based in China, and trips there to meet them in person, have been remarkable experiences for me. We have been given the opportunity to learn about business culture in China, eat delicious food (thank you to the man in the Shanghai temple restaurant who showed me how to eat noodles without embarrassing myself), and visit amazing cultural sites. And we have been treated with warmth and enthusiasm by our hosts, who are eager to work with us on forest conservation. 

I have happy memories of being shown around a market in Shanghai so I could buy a waving cat (a Japanese tradition, wholly adopted in China, it seems as a sign of prosperity), and I still have the cat in my office to remind me of that trip. And the moment when we asked our partners at Tangshan Sanyou to participate in a warm-up activity by posing as their favourite trees (a classic Canopy move), and not being sure how they would react – but being very pleased when everyone participated and each team member even chose a different tree species. 

I very much look forward to my next visit. 

Amanda Carr: Hooray for the Underground Network for Forests!

Who hasn’t considered, or been forced to consider, job changes since COVID? Apparently, 20% of Americans have changed jobs since the start of the pandemic. This wave of change has turned out to be an unexpected opportunity for CanopyStyle.

We work so closely with our contacts within brands – helping them unravel supply chains, providing sourcing tools, having implementation meetings, making animal noises (see above), brainstorming on ways to improve the initiative, working on conservation goals, figuring out investment in Next Gen textiles – that eventually, they become experts in all things CanopyStyle, and in many cases, they become forest advocates themselves. So, as they have moved jobs, they have brought CanopyStyle with them to new fashion brands.

Puma, Fast Retailing, Primark, C&A, Amazon, Flipkart – all of these companies, and more, signed on because their new sustainability hires were well-versed in CanopyStyle from their work history with other brands. Thank you to everyone in this network. We can’t wait to connect with you wherever you surface.