In recognition and celebration of the wide variety of sectors and roles women cover within our network, we’re delighted to launch a new blog series featuring ‘Women in Sustainability’.
Starting us off is Tara Luckman, Fabric & Sustainability Manager for ASOS.com
1. Tell us a little about who you are and what you do.
I work for ASOS.com, the world’s fastest growing online fashion retailer focused on the twenty-something market. I am responsible for our Sustainable Products agenda, driving our work to continuously reduce the impact of fashion on the environment through the whole product lifecycle. This covers our approach to raw materials, sustainable design and manufacturing processes, customer use and end of life – or circularity as its now becoming.
2. What do you enjoy most about your job?
So many things… the breadth and scope of the sustainable fashion remit means working with a vast array of stakeholders from retail teams to NGOs to suppliers and customers. The diversity of people and projects makes for continuous challenge and, corny as it sounds, I really do learn something every day.
3. How did you come to be in this role?
Starting out as a textile science graduate I built up my experience in the technical field working on materials and processing for clothing retailers, facing into the supply base to improve product quality and compliance. I’ve been lucky enough to travel widely and understand manufacturing first hand – which has really helped me in my work. Around ten years ago, both environmental and legislative pressure on the industry started to build and my work turned from enhancing quality to protecting the business from emerging risk.
Early work to measure and understand the environmental impacts of the garment industry highlighted the convergence between the raw commodities we depend on and the risk to supply chain security we would face in future. I found this work so absorbing I made the conscious decision to focus my career on sustainability and took a year in corporate affairs (Tesco Climate Change team) to deepen my knowledge. From there, having really missed the buzz of fashion, I realised I could maximise my impact by using what I know about the supply chain in an industry I’m passionate about.
I would say my career to date has been a series of projects, it’s not been routine day to day but there has been a cycle of identifying issues on the horizon, understanding the problem and developing solutions. I’ve been able to carve out my own roles by putting my hand up for projects.
4. What opportunities and challenges do you see emerging for sustainability professionals in your field over the next couple of years?
I think it’s going to be hard to keep up with the pace! Sustainable fashion is exploding – which is what people like me have dreamt of for years – and now we find ourselves in the spotlight the expectation will be to deliver change much more rapidly. This is clearly full of opportunity as well as challenge, so we’re entering an exciting time when careers can prosper and we need to invest in people. Our work will face criticism and we need to harness that to enhance our work rather than feel defeated in our efforts to do the right thing.
5. Tell us a little on how you’ve experienced being a woman in your sector?
Fashion is a female dominated sector, so I would say that women are generally well supported and issues like flexible working are taken seriously. I think there’s something cross-sectoral about women’s professional confidence – that old adage that a man will look at a job role and if he can tick a quarter of the requirements he feels he’s perfect for the job, whereas a woman will worry if she can’t tick off the whole list. I’ve tried to learn to focus on what I can offer rather than what I haven’t learned yet.
6. What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
‘Progress is what happens whilst others are searching for perfection’ Anon)
In sustainable fashion there is so much to do, so much new ground to break, that it would be easy to be overwhelmed by the enormity of the challenge and get lost searching for the perfect approach. I’m a firm believer in doing something practical and positive now rather than waiting for certainty that may never come.
7. What advice do you have for women looking to move into your type of role?
Build your experience in the subject matter at the earliest opportunity – travel, learn about the industry first hand. Later in your life and career, it’s much harder to devote the time to learning the technical knowledge, whereas I feel management skills can be honed as you go. Women are natural networkers -use your network and don’t be afraid to ask for advice and information, most people will give it freely. The people we are recruiting are increasingly diverse in their skills and experience from environmental scientists and chemists, to data analysts and project managers.
8. What has helped you the most to get you where you are today?
Being bold enough to take risks with my career and try a few things, to tread the less popular path. I’ve taken on work that others found less interesting or ‘looked difficult’ which looking back now has given me rich first-hand experience and a sense of pride in knowing that I’ve helped to crack some of the industry challenges.
9. Where do you want to go from here?
I feel relaxed about the future right now, I can’t imagine an end point to my work in sustainable fashion. To quote the inspirational, thought-leader William McDonough
“It will take all of us, and it will take forever”
I still have plenty of learning opportunities and I’m happy just to see where that takes me. I think we can worry too much about career planning. If we follow our passion and seize opportunities, the career piece becomes organic.
10. How do you keep your work and the rest of your life balanced?
Isn’t this the modern day preoccupation for us all?! Like our work in sustainability, achieving work life balance may never be ‘done’ but I think small acts every day to nourish ourselves and protect time for family and friends is critical. For me, as the stereotypical ‘busy working mum’, it’s about grabbing those little opportunities when they present themselves, like enjoying a swim when I’m travelling in hotels or surprising the kids with an early pick-up on a sunny day.
If you would like to be featured here (or can recommend someone) please email us and state in no more that 200 words why she should be featured. Key criteria for being selected:
- Offers insightful commentary on the above questions.
- Has a breadth/ depth of experience to share.
- Allows us to cover new areas/ sectors/ roles of ‘women in sustainability’.
- Can provide high quality recent head shot.