Rosie Wollacott Phillips, Head of Sustainability at Mulberry, Commits To A Sustainable Future
June 11, 2024

With over 10 years of experience at responsible luxury lifestyle brand Mulberry, Rosie Wollacott Phillips currently holds the role of Head of Sustainability. In this role, Rosie manages the delivery of Mulberry's Made to Last Manifesto; the brand's transformation to a regenerative and circular model.

Rosie is a member of the Sustainable Leather Foundation's Advisory Board, and was named on Walpole's 2022 Power List as a Future Proofer.

Circularity remains a growing space, and digital product passports will be an interesting new development, especially with legislation requiring all brands to adopt it!

What has driven Mulberry’s commitment to sustainability? And, what does this look like in practice?

Since our inception in 1971, sustainability has been at the heart of Mulberry. Our founder Roger Saul created the first Mulberry products using leather offcuts from a local shoe factory where his parents worked. This philosophy of Made to Last is the foundation of everything we make and do - we have been repairing bags for over 35 years, launched our circular economy programme, The Mulberry Exchange, in 2020 which has now become one of the leading circular business models among our peers and continue to craft 50% of our bags on UK soil at our two carbon-neutral Somerset factories.

In 2021, we celebrated 50 years of Mulberry, and on our anniversary affirmed our commitment to keeping these values at the heart of our brand, with the launch of our Made to Last Manifesto. Our Manifesto lays out an ambitious commitment to transform the business to a regenerative and circular model, encompassing the entire supply chain from field to wardrobe, and to become Net Zero by 2035.

In practice, our Sustainability team is supported by our CEO, wider Management Board and an internal network of around 50 Made to Last Ambassadors, a team of employees from across the business who expressed an interest in furthering our sustainability ambitions. They are our “boots on the ground” to drive impacts in their own departments - whether that's finding new ways to utilise our leather offcuts in the factories or suggesting new ways of engaging our customers in retail.

How do you manage the pressures of sustainability with the drive to keep products fresh and constantly changing?

Our ultimate goal at Mulberry is to make bags that will be used for a lifetime and passed onto the next generation. More than ever, customers want to know about what they’re buying and how it affects the world around them. Whilst we are always looking to work with innovative new materials, and methods of creation and production, our ‘icons’ are also perennially popular.

For new products, our Sourcing Guidelines ensure that materials are as low-impact as possible, we know raw material sourcing has a huge effect on our carbon footprint.

Our core material is leather, which features on around 90% of our products. Since October 2022, all leather is sourced from tanneries with an environmental accreditation, and is carbon-neutral, achieved through offsetting with our environmental partner, the World Land Trust.

How do you work with partners in a way that aligns with your brand ethos?

Partners play a huge part in our sustainability journey and we recognise the importance of collaboration as we continue to develop more sustainable solutions across our whole business.

As the largest manufacturer of luxury leather goods in the UK, with 50% of our bags made here, we have always been at the forefront of improving practices in the leather industry, taking an active role in a number of multi-stakeholder initiatives. We are founding partners of the Sustainable Leather Foundation and are members of the Leather Working Group.

At Mulberry, we are committed to improving our impact on both planet and people - a sustainable future must benefit all the people we work with and the communities we are part of. We have a number of charity and community partners, from The Felix Project, a charity which aims to tackle both food waste and hunger across London, to Mentoring Matters, a global mentoring scheme for young people from black, asian and minority ethnic backgrounds breaking into the creative industries, as well as a thriving apprenticeship scheme in Leather Goods Manufacturing with Bridgwater & Taunton College.

We don’t want to just forge partnerships with like-minded people, we want to learn from those who can help push us forward, as well as sharing our knowledge too.

For legacy brands obviously innovation is necessary to stay relevant. How has your customer responded to your sustainability focus? What specific responses have you observed?

We have more conversations than ever with our customers about our sustainability achievements and ambitions. One area where we have seen an overwhelmingly positive customer response is The Mulberry Exchange, our circular economy programme, which continues to grow each year and expand to new markets. We were one of the first luxury brands to launch our own circular economy programme in 2020, and today our iconic styles, such as the Bayswater, are even finding popularity with a whole new generation, exemplifying their made to last design.

How do you balance price with sustainability?

Mulberry don’t believe in charging a premium to customers just because we are providing more sustainable options for them. We source our materials from valued supply chain partners who share our vision for a more responsible future. This means we are able to source materials within our margins, and when there is an uplift, we absorb this cost so as to not pass it on to our consumers. We’re seeing the material offering from suppliers diversify as more and more brands are demanding lower impact materials.

What is one piece of advice you have for other businesses looking to become more sustainable?

Don’t spread yourself too thinly. It’s easy to get caught up in the complexities of sustainability, and try to be everything to everyone. Instead, focus on where you can actually have an impact and push hard. For Mulberry, this is leather sourcing and circularity - two focus areas where we can use our industry knowledge and expertise to influence change.

Who is one woman you admire?

My maternal grandmother, Hazel, who is still cattle farming in her mid-80s on the Somerset levels with my grandfather, proving that age is just a number.

What is one thing you can’t live without?

The calendar sharing app, TimeTree. I’m the type of person who tries to have things to look forward to, meaning life outside work gets pretty busy. I use TimeTree with my husband to keep track of our upcoming adventures, as well as saving ourselves from lots of “what are we doing on Friday night in 2 weeks time?” conversations.

What’s the next big trend in sustainability and luxury?

Circularity remains a growing space, and digital product passports will be an interesting new development, especially with legislation requiring all brands to adopt it!

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