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.