Rapha aims to use recycled materials and organic natural fibres across their products

Francois Convercey is the newly appointed CEO of luxury cycling brand Rapha. Here he speaks to LUX about the company’s sustainability initiatives and the need for greater age and gender diversity in cycling

LUX: How has the structure of Rapha changed with the renewed focus on cycling and its benefits since the pandemic?
Francois Convercey: I wouldn’t say that the pandemic and its involvement in cycling actually changed our strategies or the organisation of our business. Rapha already had the focus of making cycling the most popular sport in the world. From day one, we had the ambition of making cycling aspirational and beautiful, and to get as many people as we could to fall in love with the sport.

As much as the pandemic got people to turn their heads towards the outdoors and cycling, it actually acted as a catalyst towards our original purpose and strategies more than anything else. There was a much broader receptive audience for us to engage with – but all the different building blocks and strategies that we had put in place a decade before the pandemic were still very much relevant in the way we have developed our pricing structure and the way we have made the brand more approachable and more relevant to more people. This made it easier for us to capitalise on the renewed interest in cycling – the way we set up as a business, being a direct-to-consumer business in the first place. The pandemic didn’t change much, but it allowed us to accelerate and grow more quickly. It hasn’t made us shift or change the direction of travel for the business. It just reinforced our belief that we are on the right track.

Rapha CEO Francois Convercey

LUX: What do you believe are the imbalances which need to be addressed by sporting brands in conversations about gender equality and diversity?
FC: Cycling as a sport has imbalances which we are trying to address, although it is a long journey. Gender diversity is definitely one of those, which starts at the pinnacle end of the sport, at racing. Equity and equality when it comes to world tour racing and bike racing as a whole is still very imbalanced and focused on male races. Female races have only begun to be broadcasted in the last couple of years. The Tour de France, which is the cycling world’s biggest sporting event and one of the top ten sporting events in the world, didn’t have a women’s tour until 1955, which was then stopped for thirty years, and only reinstated last year. There are still lots of things to be done to provide balance when it comes to media exposure, broadcasting, prize money and salaries for professional cyclists.

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We try to help drive this balance through the storytelling we do, through our initiatives. During last year’s Tour de France we had a collaboration with a streetwear brand PALACE, using our men’s racing team as a billboard to promote the women’s tour. We are making investments on the women’s tour, sponsoring the women’s world tour team, spending 50% of our marketing money on content and athletes on minorities – women and individuals from under-represented backgrounds, which is part of our impact commitment as a brand. I think the gender balance is one of the key imbalances.

Members of the Rapha Cycling Club coming together

There is definitely an element of age; we want more of the youth to look at cycling as an amazing thing to do. Cycling isn’t the most approachable or accessible sport there is – a bike is more expensive than a pair of running shoes, it requires more time and sometimes infrastructures. Five years ago at Rapha, we began supporting cycling at its grassroots and breaking down barriers to make the sport more accessible to young people and under-represented individuals, and people from under-privileged backgrounds. Over the past five years, the Rapha Foundation donated over $5 million in grants to 38 different grantees who all have concrete initiatives to help break down accessibility to the sport and to support under-privileged kids to have access to cycling – whether it’s supporting programs in schools, or young talent programs. We’ve recently partnered with USA Cycling as part of a program called Search for Speed, which is a track cycling talent identification program, looking for the next US track talent for the 2028 Los Angeles Olympics.

Gender balance is key, age balance is key. The third to look at is accessibility and the role that cycling can play in helping mitigate access to education and healthcare. There have been fantastic initiatives such as World Bicycle Relief, which we have supported over the years and continue to support with the Rapha Foundation, which gives bikes to communities who need bikes for basic life needs – whether it’s education for children to travel to school and not have to walk, or to provide a level of healthcare and health benefits which individuals deserve. The bike can be an amazing tool to break down accessibility barriers for under-privileged communities.

Items from Rapha’s exclusive Rapha + Paul Smith RCC Collection, launched in 2023

LUX: How do you balance promoting professional cycling and equipment whilst also trying to encourage a new generation of amateur cyclists?
FC: I do not necessarily think they are mutually exclusive. The pinnacle-end of the sport, high-performance racing, is aspirational to many individuals and will continue to be in the future. I think being able to provide the opportunity to make a career in cycling and being in a position to inspire communities and future generations about the sport is an amazing prospect. But we won’t succeed in achieving our purpose as a brand if we only focus on racing.

We also have to work on more accessible and more approachable activities which help people discover the values and joys of being on a bike, and how being on a bike is a remedy to the world’s biggest societal challenges and threats – whether it’s environmental benefits with more people commuting on a bike, whether it’s mental health and personal wellbeing which comes when you spend time with yourself and challenge yourself as an individual, or the social friendship and comradery which comes with being on a bike. I think professional and amateur cycling should co-exist and they have their distinctive role to play.

An image from the Rapha Spring/Summer ’23 Collection campaign

LUX: Can you tell us about the main ways you incorporate sustainability into your company?
FC: Sustainability is central. We’ve always looked at it as a duty we have to do the right thing. We launched a repair program which provides the opportunity for any garment which may be damaged to be repaired. We used to do that in-house. We have started to involve partners to help us do it. Over time, we started to pay more attention to how we make our products and the impact that we have. For the last couple of years we’ve been offsetting all the carbon emissions that are generated from the shipments to customers. We’ve offset 100% of our carbon emissions coming from our logistics impact that we have on the planet.

We have been driving a lot of work to convert 100% of our product range into sustainable materials, whether it’s recycled fabrics, recycled fibres, or recyclable or compostable fibres. We’ve covered about 70% of the range now. We are removing all PFC materials from our weather protection products. We’re taking a much more abrasive stance on excess materials we produce. We are now repurposing excess material through excess collections in the Spring of this year. This is now becoming part of our ongoing initiatives. Although it only accounts for 2% of our total volume, it is still a meaningful initiative.

The Los Angeles Rapha Clubhouse

We are about to publish our second impact report in September, which will show our impact over the last twelve months and how much we’ve progressed. We are ahead of track on some key commitments, and some others we have found more challenging than we hoped, or we realise we needed to communicate in a very different way, or we realised that people, planet and communities take framework for broader impact. It takes time, and we’ve embedded that as a culture and as a priority. We have a small sustainability team, but that team is there to inspire a vision. If it’s not embedded in business, we will never make the progress we want to make.

Read more: Pierre Barreau on the future of AI in the music industry 

LUX: Do you think cities are adapting to cyclists, or is there more to be done?
FC: We’ve seen cities adapting more and more to cyclists. I think the pandemic has been an amazing catalyst for more infrastructure to be provided, but we are far from being in the right place.

We can look at places like Denmark and Holland, where urban commuting is ingrained in the local culture, and see cities which are built around cycling. There is lots of fantastic work being done by cities and local organisations. I’ve seen places like Paris, for instance, make amazing progress over the last three years and transforming the way people can ride through the city in a much safer way.

The RCC is now a global community with over 10,000 members

It’s a constant push and pull. Safety on a bike is still one of the top three barriers from people riding their bikes. More and more people have decided to take their bikes off the road and ride off the beaten track or in front of the TV, because you’re in a safer environment. This shows we are still far from where we need to be to make riding safe, whether it’s inside or outside the city.

LUX: How do cyclist communities created by the Rapha clubhouses influence the outlook of the company?
FC: We’ve always been committed to real-life experiences from the earliest days of Rapha. We call our physical Rapha stores clubhouses, because they are not just stores, they are a home away from home for our customers. In 2014, we launched Rapha Cycling Club which is part of a membership program which gives people access to unique benefits and unique experiences. That community is now made up of 20,000 individuals across the world spread across 25 different chapters. Actively investing in building communities on the ground is a direct consequence of us trying to inspire the world to take up the bike. The RCC and our clubhouses are there to inspire people to go on a ride every day of the week, you will have a collection of rides you can join as a member.

The cycling communities influence the company on a few levels. It pushes the customer-centrality of the brand because of the unique customer-directed nature of the brand we have got to have the customer-mentality and direct relationship. It depends on feedback from customers and RCC members to have that customer-first mentality. As CEO of the company, I can go on a ride tomorrow morning in a London clubhouse and get real-time feedback from our customers on how they feel and what they think.

Find out more: www.rapha.cc

Reading time: 9 min
A group of people wearing dress up clothes
A group of people wearing dress up clothes

A new film – part fiction, part documentary – explores London’s wildly creative and multifaceted East End with a colourful cast of characters. Directed by Oscar-winner Tim Yip, Love Infinity stars the renowned artistic duo Gilbert and George and ‘living sculpture’ Daniel Lismore, among many flamboyant others. Here, Maryam Eisler talks us through some riotous and poignant highlights

Worlds Collide
I love seeing Tim Yip (above, front row, right, sitting on the floor) and my fellow Love Infinity creative producer Mei-Hui Liu (far left, with the white collar) surrounded by such wonderful diversity of expression. Different worlds connected in the warmth of the moment, created by the film.

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A woman in black standing in front of a postered wall

It’s Utopian, Darling
While demonstrating the breathtaking creativity of the featured artists such as Chrissy Darling (left), this image speaks also to Tim’s sensibilities as a director. Love Infinity is not a narrative film. It’s an aesthetic voyage through London by an outsider, attuned to the communicative potential of costume, with the sculpture Lili (centre) as a probe. Lili becomes Tim’s alter ego in this Utopian world of endless possibilities.

A man in a hat and jacket saying hello to a plastic blonde woman in a pink dress

Welcome to Lobster Land
This is what Love Infinity is all about. Direct, unencumbered contact between the artist-film- maker Tim Yip (left), and the artists Pandemonia (centre) and Philip Colbert (right). We were in Philip’s Shoreditch studio, here. It was a sticky June morning in 2019, a year into what would become a two-year shoot and a four-year journey – and counting! Pandemonia (centre) must have been terribly hot in all that latex. In this scene, Philip is welcoming Pandemonia to Lobster Land, a digital town he created for his lobster alter ego.

A man wearing a beaded head scarf and armour

Living Art
Daniel Lismore and Lili (a mannequin) are the stars of Love Infinity. Christened ‘living art’ by the artists Gilbert & George, Daniel is a culture unto himself. While not exactly ‘living’, Lili is certainly art. Since their first appearance at an exhibition of Tim Yip’s work in Beijing in 2009, the ever-present Lilis have become the artist’s signature.

Read more: Six NFTs To Watch

Vivienne Westwood in a grey blazer standing in a shop speaking to a man

On-Screen Poetry
After telling Tim her strategy for saving the world from global warming, Vivienne Westwood (above, centre) shared her love of ancient China. In the film, she quotes Confucius, and tells Tim she writes poetry in the Taoist tradition, which she recites to Lili in one of the film’s most memorable scenes. Such a beautiful meeting of worlds and minds.

people sitting around a table with a prototype on it

East Enders
Gilbert & George (far left, alongside other cast members Stella, Lili and Tim) are perhaps the most famous living artist duo, quintessentially British, and fêted at museums round the world. Yet when they were young artists in the 1960s, they were total outsiders. In this film they embody a certain East End quality, in that this part of London tends to produce and attract writers, thinkers, and particularly artists who, from the fringes of culture, come to define the centre.

Maryam Eisler is the film’s co- creative producer, alongside Mei-Hui Liu; and Benjamin Teare, who is the creative editor and first assistant director. ‘Love Infinity’ is available to view on Mubi

This article appears in the Summer 2022 issue of LUX

Reading time: 6 min
A man painting by a window with a skyscraper outside
A man painting by a window with a skyscraper outside

Artist Jared Owen during his residency at the World Trade Center. Photo by Josh Katz

With the support of Silverstein Properties, Silver Art Projects was founded by Cory Silverstein and Joshua Pulman in 2018. Here, the two philanthropists speak to LUX Contributing Editor, Samantha Welsh, about providing a space for underrepresented artists in an iconic location, the World Trade Center, New York City.

LUX: How did you meet?
Cory Silverstein: It’s a really interesting story! Joshua and I met in college and bonded over art. I was exploring a work I was interested in by Julio Le Parc, and I knew Joshua was very knowledgeable about art – so I approached him one day in the library. That is how our friendship and interest in supporting artists started.

LUX: Who or what were your inspirations?
Cory Silverstein: My grandfather, Larry Silverstein, and Michael Bloomberg are two of my biggest inspirations, largely for their philanthropic endeavours that focus on the arts in New York City. Our residency program Silver Art Projects was primarily inspired by K11 in Hong Kong and Manifesto in Paris.

Two men standing with masks on in a lounge in a skyscraper

Cory Silverstein and Joshua Pulman at the opening of the World Trade Center Artist Residency

LUX: What drove you both to found Silver Art Projects?
Cory Silverstein & Joshua Pulman: We observed a great demand for studio space in Manhattan as artists have been forced to move further and further from the galleries they work with and the institutions who that inspire them. We wanted to support these artists, and together with the commitment of Silverstein Properties to nurturing art in Lower Manhattan, we were able to establish Silver Art Projects.

LUX: How would you say you are disrupting arts patronage?
Joshua Pulman: We are providing access to some of this country’s most premier real estate to a group of up-and-coming artists, all made possible by the generous support of foundations and individuals as well as unique corporate social responsibility efforts from companies in the area. In this way, we have been able to enhance the neighbourhood while supporting artist communities beyond it.

New World Trade Centre

Larry Silverstein was the developer of the rebuilt World Trade Center complex in Lower Manhattan. Photo by Julie di Majo

LUX: The world watched with collective horror the destruction of the World Trade Center and its communities on 9/11. Each of us remembers where we were that day. How does Silver Arts Projects go beyond renewed real estate?
Cory Silverstein: 9/11 was a tragedy that impacted everyone, but it also reminded us of our collective humanity and the societal need for community engagement. Hope emerged from the adversity as well as a desire to rebuild and re-engage. For me, there was a personal commitment and obligation on behalf of my family to nurture culture in Lower Manhattan and across the city, but this was something that resonated with the wider neighbourhood. Art brings people together, and the World Trade Center is an important and iconic site to do that. There has been an evolution of artist-led programs and residencies in the area, and we are hoping to continue that legacy with Silver Art Projects.

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LUX: What measurable impact have you had so far working with marginalised communities?
Joshua Pulman: As Silver Art is at the epicentre of commerce in New York City, our program focuses on enabling artists to achieve more sustainable financial and business practices. Looking back at our first cohort, eighty-five percent of artists who came to Silver Art Projects without gallery representation achieved it after the program. Several artists have also gone on to achieve other impressive accolades, from press coverage in prominent publications to awards and institutional recognition. Ultimately, we gauge the impact Silver Art Projects has by our artists’ long-term ability to support themselves through their art practice.

A man sitting in front of blue canvases

Tariku Shiferaw during his residency at the World Trade Center. Photo by Josh Katz

LUX: How do you manage the engagement between emerging artists and artist activists?
Joshua Pulman: Some artists who joined our Social Justice Cohort are active activists in their communities, while others seek to incorporate narratives addressing social justice into their practices. By creating a melting pot of these artists in one place, we have seen pure magic happen at the intersection of artistic practice and activism.

A woman painting in a denim shirt

Helina Metaferia during her residency at the World Trade Center

LUX: Which mentors have particularly stood out and why do you think they are so effective?
Cory Silverstein and Joshua Pulman: All three mentors who support the 2021-2022 artist cohort really stand out:

For Freedoms and Hank Willis Thomas provide monthly Wide Awakes Sessions at Silver Art Projects. Artists are invited to participate in monthly disorientation sessions, encouraging artists to connect in an open forum by reimagining the future together. This has been effective in bringing together our community of artists and giving a voice to everyone in our cohort.

A man sitting on the floor paining on canvases with art works around him

Chella Man during his residency at the World Trade Center. Photo by Josh Katz

Chella Man understands the importance of representation and aims to be the kind of role model he wishes he had growing up. Just last month, Chella hosted an open discussion on ‘Creativity and The Productivity of Resting.’ Chella has been a great mentor to many of the underrepresented artists in our community, as he talks about authenticity and remaining true to oneself.

Read more: Volta’s Kamiar Maleki On Supporting New Artistic Talent

Tourmaline’s mentorship and involvement at Silver Art has particularly stood out because Silver Art Projects provided her with new space and perspective to connect and inspire emerging artists in our community. A member of the Black trans community, she’s passionate about sharing and celebrating the stories of her predecessors. Last month, Tourmaline took a group of the artists to visit her work on view in The Afro Futurist Period Room at The Met, encouraging other artists to live joyfully, confidently and authentically.

An art work of people standing with political signs in protest

#StopAsianHate by Susan Chen, an artist from Silver Art Projects

LUX: How is your vision for social justice informing upcoming projects?
Cory Silverstein: Our program is guided by the mission of supporting underrepresented artists. Artists in our 2020-2021 cohort, for instance, were all selected for their focus on social justice and activism. As an organisation, we are equally committed to developing programs that nurture more awareness and equality. In partnership with Art for Justice, we recently announced an extended commitment to supporting formerly incarcerated artists by dedicating a quarter of all future residency spaces to ex-prisoners. We are also seeking to bring in other art forms and interests to widen the conversation and offer greater support.

Find out more: silverart.com

Reading time: 5 min
A man working in a tequila agave field
A tree with orange and green leaves

Beam Suntory has established the James B. Beam Institute for Kentucky Spirits at the University of Kentucky, which supports a curriculum to educate the next generation of distillers

Kim Marotta is head of sustainability at Beam Suntory, the drinks behemoth behind Jim Beam, Courvoisier and Sipsmith with annual revenues of more than $4bn. She speaks to Ella Johnson about what the sector can do to help preserve water and agricultural resources, and why more companies need to be putting their necks on the ESG line
A blonde woman wearing a black top smiling at the camera

Kim Marotta

LUX: Why has the spirits industry been slower to act on ESG than food?
Kim Marotta: The spirits and food industries share several foundational environmental concerns: the sustainability of agriculture, helping fight climate change, looking after water resources and working towards more sustainable packaging.

While the spirits industry may not have been as visible in communicating its work as the food industry, I do think these have been central concerns for a long time. From agave, to corn, wheat to barley, and of course, water, I’m glad to see both industries on the same page in terms of the importance of environmental sustainability.

A man working in a tequila agave field

Tequila from agave fields can take between 8 and 12 years to harvest

LUX: Where do the challenges lie?
Kim Marotta: Water, transport and packaging. It goes without saying that water is one of the two foundational ingredients in the spirits industry, presenting enormous opportunity for positive environmental impact. We have established water sanctuaries in Loretto, Kentucky, at Maker’s Mark and in Clermont, Kentucky, at Jim Beam. We’ve also set out an extensive program of peatlands water sanctuaries in the Highlands of Scotland, not to mention our pioneering work in the tequila industry where our Casa Sauza brand has the lowest carbon footprint and water usage.

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With transport, just looking at the amount of products spirits companies ship all over the world, there is a fantastic opportunity to influence and partner with logistics groups to ensure everyone is working together for more sustainable methods of transport.

Packaging, one of the most crucial parts of the customer relationship to any premium spirit brand, is also a critical area. Brands all around the world are looking at how to make it more sustainable, whether it’s conducting a lifecycle analysis on every piece of packaging, as we do, to prioritising right weighting to minimise materials usage and waste, to total redesign of bottles, which we did this year with Courvoisier.

A waterfall surrounded by red and orange trees

Following Beam Suntory’s establishment of Natural Water Sanctuaries in both Japan and the US, their new initiative focuses on peatlands water sanctuaries in the Highlands of Scotland

LUX: What is the biggest obstacle the industry faces right now?
Kim Marotta: Mobilising the industry, governments, NGOs, communities and customers to all come together and drive real change. This is obviously a huge task and needs to be a global effort. While there has been significant progress in recent years, there is still a lot of work to be done.

LUX: Which group is most important?
Kim Marotta: I’m not sure any one of these groups can be singled out as the most important, but what we do often see is that change is accelerated by consumer preferences and activism. That said, corporations and governments play a central role in ensuring the important issues are addressed for the long-term.

Read more: Unilever’s Rebecca Marmot On The Sustainable Everyday

LUX: Beam Suntory saw sales up by 11% in 2021, the same year that it launched its Proof Positive program. Does this imply a correlation between profit and purpose?
Kim Marotta: Proof Positive only launched last year and is a long-term initiative over ten years, so I don’t know that that alone demonstrates a correlation between the two. However, what does show that connection is that the foundation of Proof Positive – what we refer to as ‘Growing for Good’ – has been part of our DNA for generations. That certainly has helped our performance, and, I would argue, has shown itself as a commercial imperative.

LUX: How are you embedding social justice into your sustainability strategy?
Kim Marotta: Our ambitions, by 2030, are to have 45% racially and ethnically diverse employee representation in the US and to achieve an industry-leading sense of belonging among employees. We are also committing to achieve one million volunteer hours to communities and initiatives that promote social justice and to reach 50% women representation in leadership positions.

green fields from a bird's eye view

Maker’s Mark, Loretto, Kentucky

We partner closely with our employee impact groups to ensure that we are guided by our people and values in how we support social justice. We’re committed to financially supporting the important work undertaken by leading social justice organisations.

For example, Courvoisier has partnered with the National Urban League to support Black-owned businesses and entrepreneurs facing hardship as a result of the pandemic and committed $1 million to provide support to Black-owned businesses over the span of five years. Hornitos, another of our brands, has also made significant donations to The League of United Latin American Citizens and We Are All Human to support the Fair Shot program, which supports immigrants seeking US citizenship.

Read more: GreenBiz’s Heather Clancy On Corporate Climate Action

LUX: How can companies move their ESG agendas beyond reporting and compliance towards business enablement?
Kim Marotta: Companies should not be afraid to set out the most ambitious targets that they can, even if the specific road map isn’t totally clear. Whether they’re unsure if the technology is there, or what the commitment to R&D might be over the years, the solution is simple: set aggressive targets, make the investments in technology you need to make to hit those targets, and be accountable and transparent, showing evidence of progress along the way. If companies aren’t setting aggressive targets, they aren’t going to make as much as of an impact as they can.

Kim Marotta is Global Vice President – Environmental Sustainability at Beam Suntory

Find out more: beamsuntory.com

Reading time: 5 min