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Smythson CEO Xavier Rougeaux on the company’s sustainability journey

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Smythson CEO Xavier Rougeaux on the company’s sustainability journey

Xavier Rougeaux, who is speaking on our Positive Week panel in Paris, is also about to wrap up his first year as the CEO of Smythson. As he nears that milestone, we caught up with him to talk about the future of the British luxury leather goods brand, and the sustainability initiatives the company is working towards.

On sustainability across the whole company

I am very adamant that it’s all about a team effort rather than just one person. It has to be done in a way that we give a direction that we explain to the entire business, and make sure that we are embarking on the journey all together. Sustainability is something we need to engrain as a philosophy within our people and within the whole company, making sure that the way we work brings new ideas and initiatives naturally. I think people are very committed, and I have to say, I was very happy when I joined Smythson because I feel that it’s a team where there is a high level of responsibility, a high level of business ethics, and people do care. Within all that, there is a positive mindset.

On the journey so far

We are quite proud to be FSC-certified, which was something that was very important to us because we are partially a stationery company. Also, recently, because of the conversations we are having about sustainability and about the attitude towards running a business properly, there have been some decisions that have been made at the warehouse level, like sourcing compostable plastic bags. What I see is that it’s a step-by-step process, and it’s a journey.

On what the Smythson customer wants

There is a changing mindset. It’s not just happening within internal people at Smythson. I think the way we are going forward, there is a consciousness about protecting our environment. It goes hand-in-hand with the notion of well-being and indulgence and living well, because you can’t live well in a world that isn’t well itself. We continue not to use that as a marketing tool, but as an educational tool. It’s all about your brand DNA and your legacy. Our customers are not just interested in the storytelling, but the truth and how we are behaving and how we are evolving our business. There is a global consciousness and a desire to know how you are behaving as a brand in terms of not only sustainability but social responsibility. We are creating that dialogue with the client in an authentic way which is something that is very important for Smythson.

On doing sustainability the right way

The challenge is making sure we are avoiding the shortcuts. There are practices that seem to be sustainable in a way, but in the end, they are bad for the environment. It’s about assessing things in the proper way and not jumping to the wrong conclusions. It’s about having a long-term vision and building it to that point. The challenge will be to be consistent and to be focussed on achieving it and not necessarily moving away from the initial trajectory we’ve given ourselves as an objective. It has to become something that is holistically part of every single decision we are making.

On Smythson’s future

It’s about the way you manage your business. During the industrial revolution, there were businesses that were not able to evolve and almost disappeared. We are probably at a similar turning point in terms of consciousness, and I feel that if we’re not embracing it, we might be totally irrelevant in the future. It’s important for future generations, the respect of our clientele, and the people who believe in the brand. If you don’t evolve, you can’t really grow, and you can’t really live on. There are challenges that I can see but there are opportunities and there are certainly solutions. If we go in the right direction all together, the more we are going to be able to make a real impact.

On being ready for change

I think it’s about having an open mind. That’s my own personal philosophy, always questioning yourself. And I can always learn and grow and improve things and change my way of thinking. Life, by definition, is an evolution. So if you make that a lifestyle and make sure you are supported by your team and your partners in making those changes, I think we can do it beautifully.

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Written by - Tara MacInnis

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