Sustainability

Meet the sustainability pioneer bringing a human touch to the fashion industry

By Clare McInerney

Photo: Fernanda Hernández

Fernanda Hernández, Sustainability Director at luxury retail destination LuisaViaRoma, talks to Vogue Scandinavia about how a focus on people can drive meaningful change

Sustainability director. It’s a job title that has recently established its rightful place, in varying iterations, in the boardrooms and C-suites of every business and corporation. So what sets apart Fernanda Hernández in the role? It’s her human perspective.

Hernandez describes the arrival to her position at LuisaViaRoma as a kind of destiny. Her background was not in fashion, but rather, human rights. Originally from Mexico City, Hernández's human rights career took her everywhere from Canada to Spain and Switzerland, working at a series of impressive organisations including the United Nations.

In fact, it was her frustration with fashion that spurred her move into the industry almost a decade ago. “Back then, no one was really talking about sustainability. It wasn’t really a topic," she says.

“Someone said to me: ‘Why don’t you start what you want?’ They told me to go for it, because as an insider and decision-maker, you can battle. You can change things. Maybe you’re going to build your own pyramid, because when you’re in the middle, you can make sure it’s solid and you can start to build your community,” Hernández recounts.

Photo: LuisaViaRoma x Fête Impériale collection

And so, she did exactly that. Nine years ago, after completing her masters, Hernández was appointed at LuisaViaRoma in Florence to work in global communications. From there, she immediately began her crusade for sustainability. “Always, always, I was doing things related to sustainability, before it was a trending topic. And I’m super feminist and dedicated to women’s rights and empowerment, especially with topics like the pay gap, so I managed to build partnerships with Oxfam and Swarovski to be able to do things in those areas.”

How can you improve sustainability if you don’t have the sensibility of the human perspective?Fernanda Hernández

After facing some initial reluctance, doors started to open for Hernández to grow her sustainability ventures. She also began to identify the human element that was missing for so many in the sustainability field.

"It’s crazy,” she says, “because if you’re speaking about sustainability, you’re speaking about planet and people. But they never include people. I’ve seen with other companies — the people that are in similar roles to me — they’re just focused on statistics and certifications. But how can you improve sustainability if you don’t have the sensibility of the human perspective?”

Photo: LuisaViaRoma x Fête Impériale collection

We are meeting on a warm afternoon in Paris to celebrate the launch of sustainable French brand Fête Impériale to LVR Sustainable, a section of LuisaViaRoma dedicated to offering a curated selection of the best conscious brands and items. Hernández launched LVR Sustainable in 2019, and has already built it up to a platform of around 300 brands. It is no small feat for her team that comprises just a handful of people.

When I ask about the greatest challenge of the three years so far, Hernández answers without hesitation: “Credibility.”

“The most important part is credibility, especially for us as a business. Customers are bombarded with marketing, influencers, aspirational content, and so much misinformation. So why should they believe us? We’re in a jungle. Anything can happen. There is no clear information, there is no kind of perspective.”

We’re in a jungle. Anything can happen. There is no clear information, there is no kind of perspective.Fernanda Hernández

Despite her experience of complexity and confusion in establishing credible sustainability, Hernández can clearly cites the three key areas that she believes would create meaningful change. “Firstly, companies must really believe, stop greenwashing, and invest in communication. Secondly, policies. At the moment, there’s no clear way to identify anything. Is something really organic? Why wouldn’t I believe a brand if they say a product is organic? And policies need to be in place to incentivise companies to do things like shift to renewable energies.

"Lastly, the customer. If the customer doesn’t support sustainability, nothing makes sense and nothing will change. A customer who demands more, makes people and products better.”

Photo: LuisaViaRoma x Fête Impériale collection

Through LVR Sustainable, Hernández is well and truly contributing to change in these three areas. The brands in her community have all been through a thorough process of onboarding, with Hernández personally assessing their ethical perspectives, production processes, sustainability methods and most importantly, respect for people. And as LVR Sustainable continues to grow, it is becoming a powerful platform to amplify smaller brands. “I am trying to boost brands that are not huge, but that are doing good for the industry. And I try and make sure that is communicated to our customers," she comments.

Unsurprisingly, Scandinavian brands have a big presence in the LVR Sustainable community, and in turn, Hernández confirms that LuisaViaRoma’s Scandinavian market is growing. “Personally, I feel like I was Scandinavian in my past life,” she laughs, “because I have this amazing sense of identity with Scandinavia. I feel like I have the same values when it comes to sustainability and rights for people.”

So what’s next for LVR Sustainable? Hernandez shares that, following the entrance of Fête Impériale, there are a number of brands that will also be welcomed towards the end of this year and early next, expanding the community even further. And longer term, Hernandez hopes there is a day when the distinction between LuisaViaRoma and LVR Sustainable fades. “My desire is that is will all be one. I wish that for LuisaViaRoma and also for all retailers, that they don’t just have a dedicated section of sustainability. Because it should just be the way all of fashion is.”


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