A Day Well Spent
For me, the recent Ethical Fashion Forum was like a retreat. Hundreds of designers, retailers, educationalists, activists, press and students converged, and the day was jam-packed – literally – with panel discussions, talks and forums around topics related to the fashion industry and specifically the ethical side of it. We discussed traditional and cutting edge ways we can do what we do responsibly, we discussed Bangladesh, searched our souls and searched for solutions, heard from those who’d gone before us and broken ground – the wizened among us.
I for one left with renewed clarity and vigour about my company’s purpose in the grand scheme of things. I left encouraged that what we’re aiming to achieve with Sapellé, which is a scaleable, ethical, viable business that gives a thriving platform to talented, creative people who wouldn’t otherwise have one, is absolutely achievable.
A Bit About the Summit
Here’s Ethical Fashion Forum’s preamble to the event:
“Sustainability in the fashion industry is gaining momentum. At this year’s London Fashion Week exhibition, almost a third of showcasing brands had a sustainability focus. SOURCE Summit 2013 will unite leaders from the largest global retailers to the most pioneering brands and suppliers, from all over the world and every part of the fashion industry supply chain; to build upon and accelerate this momentum.
The day will include inspirational speakers, focused forums, tailored networking and in-depth masterclasses.
In the wake of the Bangladesh garment factory collapse of 24.04.13 the Summit will aim to constructively address challenges, share and learn from best practice and innovation.”
By the end of the day I’d made new contacts, shared experiences, debated issues and felt positively rejuvenated. It was a chance to step away from the ‘daily grind’ and crystallise some of the new ideas that haven’t had the space to become fully formed (more of that in another post). My inspiration tank was filled.
What I Learned, Whom I Met
Here are some of the things that provoked, challenged and resonated with me:
Baroness Lola Young OBE a life peer in the House of Lords who founded and is chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Ethics and Sustainability in Fashion, on what’s going on in the industry today:
“It’s hard to argue that the advent of high street fashion and the call to buy, buy, buy represents the democratisation of fashion when so many people are oppressed by it.
We need to find fresh ways of communicating the concept of sustainable fashion to the lay-person who wants to change the way they consume.
We need a global strategy, global in the sense that the collective acts as one in order to have an optimum impact.”
Brigitte Stepputis, Head of Couture at Vivienne Westwood, a long term supporter for sustainability and fair trade, had this to say on working on the Fashion Africa Project in collaboration with the International Trade Centre:
“The point is not to do charity but to create business opportunity. (We used) existing local skills and upgraded these every season, using ethical production methods. (We’re) proud that it’s…a sustainable business model”
Cyndi Rhodes, CEO of Worn Again. Established in 2005, Worn Again is pioneering a closed-loop technology and resource model turning textile waste into new products of higher value. Worn Again’s groundbreaking technology will allow fashion brands and retailers to recycle end of line products into new ranges, with zero waste, and has the potential to transform the industry.
” Behaviour change is required. Education around re-using plastic and paper is there and it’s good, but this hasn’t extended as far as fashion and textiles.
36 million tonnes of polyester is created every year. If we changed the way we re-use this, we’d never need to use oil resources to make new polyester… The closed-loop model just makes common sense.”
Orsola de Castro, a pioneer and internationally recognised opinion leader in sustainable fashion who launched Estethica at London Fashion Week in collaboration with The British Fashion Council, the first-ever official platform showcasing sustainable labels at an International Fashion Week. Esthetica has catalyzed similar initiatives all over the world. In 1997, Orsola started From Somewhere, a revolutionary fashion label that was the first to address the issue of pre-consumer waste and reproducibility in recycling.
“We’re introducing the concept of design with sustainability, and creativity with sustainability…Once we start integrating all of the sustainability initiatives and solutions, then a real impact will be made right across the entire supply chain”
Bruno Pieters a Belgian fashion designer and art director who launched Honest By, the first company in the world to offer price transparency to their customers with complete details of retail mark ups, sources and costs. On why he set up his own sustainable fashion brand:
“Buying is like voting and I don’t want to support someone who’s values I don’t agree with… If you’re buying unsustainable fashion, you’re paying that brand to be unsustainable and encouraging them to continue.”
Russell Spiller, Director of Mantis World, on why Mantis World has grown over decades to be one of the biggest employers in East Africa, working in an ethical way:
“It takes time, it takes patience, it takes persistence. Our employees are encouraged to join workers’ committees and be involved in the workings of the company”
Ben Ramsden, Founder and CEO of Pants to Poverty, the UK’s leading sustainable underwear brand, selling in over 20 countries around the world and supporting over 5,000 farmers in India. The company is ground breaking in its business model, marketing, and financing, and has successfully raised several rounds of funding for growth through crowd funding, the “Pants Bond”, and “Pants for Life.”
“(We’re) building a viable, scaleable business model that’s ethical.
Fashion goes beyond the industry, it impacts culture, it links the very richest with the very poorest through the value chain.
We need to look at fashion in a new framework, reshaping the way it works, redefine what we mean by ‘profit’, look at relationships along hevalue chain, learn from an open source of data and promote (sustainability) as the new mainstream. Or bear the consequences of not doing so.”
There were thought-proving and insightful presentations from more pioneers in ethical fashion, including:
Edmond Chesneau of LuLeA, the luxury leather accessories brand that took production to Kenya (watch the story here),
Merryn Leslie of independent ethical boutique 69b, a womenswear boutique showcasing innovative, forward thinking designers and brands committed to contemporary, sustainable fashion.
Jacqueline Andrews-Udall, Formerly Textile and Fabrics Designer at Stella McCartney, and now a leading consultant in sustainable development for fashion and textiles, and an expert advisor for The Department for International Development.
Benjamin Itter, co-founder of Lebenskleidung, that specializes in environmentally sound and fairly produced organic cotton and silk fabrics for small order quantities.
Going Forward, More of the Same
The ethical fashion industry is definitely gaining momentum – I felt this even comparing it with the same summit held a year ago. Bigger and bigger names are becoming associated with sustainable and ethical fashion; and whilst it may be a box-ticking exercise for some of them, they’ve jumped on the bandwagon nonetheless. If we can all use our clout to push for better practice across the whole value chain, then it’s a great thing.
The many different players in this space just need to galvanise our efforts, our resources and voices – something I feel is still lacking. If we do, the required change that is inevitable will be accelerated. We need to push from every angle possible: commercial campaigns, engaging local authorities, celebrity endorsements, government petitions and every other trick in the book to tackle the old habits that have led to such tragedies as the Rana Plaza disaster.
And most importantly, we need to engage with our consumers, convince them to change their mindset – show them there is a stylish, trendy, affordable, more sensible alternative to the status quo, because in the final analysis this will be the biggest catalyst for change across the industry.