Toronto, Canada: It seems the world is finally waking up and understanding the detrimental impact of fast fashion. The unfortunate effect it has on our planet and garment makers the developing nations is insurmountable. The future of sustainability in fashion can seem overwhelming and daunting. It’s events like WEAR – World Ethical Apparel Roundtable that inspires and gives me tangible hope for our future.
WEAR, hosted and organized by Fashion Takes Action (FTA), is in fact the only North American convention focused on building sustainable solutions in the textile and apparel industry. This year marks the fourth annual conference in Toronto, which brought in industry experts, both local and global, who are paving the way for a greener fashion future. I felt tremendously blessed to learn, share, discuss and be part of many conversations over the two-day convention, that are incredibly critical for creating massive industry change.
At last year’s WEAR conference, I had the wonderful opportunity to speak on one of the panels on behalf of my business Chic Made Consciously discussing ethical sourcing. This year, I volunteered at the event as one of the note takers, which offered me a completely new perspective.
The WEAR conference was held at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre and covered four main topics of discussion: waste, water, labor and textiles. Each topic was a half-day of keynotes and panel talks with the entire audience, which then proceeded to more intimate workshops. I particularly loved the event layout as it gave attendees the chance to learn new information, ask questions throughout panel discussions and gave an opportunity to dive deeper into whatever topics interested them.
Day One – Textiles and Waste
Day one began with talks on TEXTILES and included one of my favorite presentations over the entire conference. Keynote speaker Ellen Karp, founder of research development company Anerca International, shared data from her latest groundbreaking study on “The Global Consumer + Sustainable Textiles”. This research, conducted with over 11,000 consumers in over 10 countries (a general population study – not niche!), was the first to relate the “green” consumer to clothing.
What I found incredibly interesting was that the research proved that there really is a massive shift happening, especially with consumer awareness and even more surprisingly, behavioural change with 7 of 10 study participants stating that they were committed to living an environmentally sustainable lifestyle, while 4 of 10 said they were actually changing their behaviours in order align it with their values.
It was really encouraging to see that the motivation for consuming was moving more towards preserving our earth. Survey participants even went further to add comments such as: “I want to do the right thing”, “I want to help the earth in my own way”, and “I want to know that what I buy isn’t making the world worse”. This data definitely helped to set a positive tone and gave me reason for optimism – because change is happening now!
The TEXTILE panel proceeded to explore the topic of natural fibres and their environmental impact, with Daren Abney from the Better Cotton Initiative, Chirag Tekchandaney from the Bombay Hemp Company and Jennifer Osborn from Upper Canada Fibreshed focussing on the subject of wool.
Following that, I was keen to take part in Lori Wyman’s workshop on Third Party Certification. Lori, the North American Representative for Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS), gave us insight on the process of certification and how the accreditation can provide give consumers confidence when making a purchase.
The afternoon sessions focused on WASTE. The second keynote of the day, Stacy Flynn had the audience moved by her profound journey, where on a business trip to China, she connected the industrial problems of smog and pollution with the fashion industry. This pivotal moment propelled Stacey to search for solutions, which ultimately took her on an entrepreneurial path turning textile waste into new fiber. Evrnu, Stacy’s regenerative technology company takes cotton garment waste and turns it into pulp that can then be then turned into completely new fiber – made entirely from garment waste!
Can we take things in their current form and turn it into something with more value and less waste?” – Stacy Flynn, founder of Evrnu
As the crowd stood up to give her a standing ovation, my eyes teared a little as her inspiring talk gave me confidence knowing there are so many others out there doing their part for a better future for us all.
The ‘Textile Waste & The Circular Economy’ conversations continued. The last panel of the day featured talks from Value Village, Bank & Vogue, City of Toronto, and Canadian Diabetes. “As there are challenges, there are also incredible opportunities” stated Steven From Bank & Vogue, a pioneer in the post consumer textile waste stream. As Day 1 winded down, we head over to the networking reception at Toronto’s infamous Steam Whistle Brewery. It was clear there were lots of creative discussions happening and I felt inspired from all the speakers and at the amount of innovation available to this industry.
Day Two – Labor and Water
Day two of WEAR began with talks about LABOR, with the morning keynote by Giuliana Ortega, from C&A Foundation, an organisation working on the human rights frontline tackling the challenges and issues surrounding forced labor in the fashion supply chain. Even though I’d heard the stats many times before, I felt my stomach turn as Giuliana read the numbers: 24.9 million people engaged in forced labor, while a staggering 152 million are children.
Will there be a time where the industry will change and the work done by the factory worker will be supported by the fair price of the garments we buy?
These are the policy and market level changes that need to be addressed. We need to put pressure on governments to affect the whole industry.” Giuliana Ortega, C&A Foundation,
How is it that so many people in the developing world are forced to make what we wear? Why can’t we seem to close the wage gap? As the conversations on LABOUR continued, Julie Francoeur from Fair Trade Canada says: “We have gotten to used to price points that are not priced sustainably. On an average $20 t-shirt, paying workers living wages will only add a final $1.50 to the shirt. We can’t let competition stop us from doing what is right.”
We got deep in WATER (no pun intended), for the final afternoon. Kathleen Talbot from LA-based sustainable fashion label Reformation was the first to share on this topic. “Sustainability and fashion don’t have to be mutually exclusive; there doesn’t need to be a trade off,” she said. The company instills core values of what it means to be a sustainable business and have developed their own life cycle tools to reduce environmental impact. Along with using only bluesign® certified materials, running ESL programs and dealing with compost and organic waste, Reformation have also created a pair of jeans that implement water restoration credits (meaning for every pair of jeans sold, 1,000 gallons of water restored in the San Gabriel River) to lower their footprint.
We then watched a 50-minute screening of the film RIVERBLUE (and if you haven’t seen it you absolutely need to), a documentary showing the impact of fashion manufacturing on rivers around the world.
It felt surreal watching this phenomenal documentary, and having director Roger Williams himself lead the WATER panel with the innovative creators of sustainable denim brands including Alex Penades from Jeanologia, Luigi Caccia from ItalDenim and Maria Westerbos from the Plastic Soup Foundation.
It was inspiring to hear ItalDenim’s innovative process and how they are the first brand to fully commit to the detox commitment. This has truly revolutionized the way denim is created by using processes that use 80 percent less water than traditional process.
Sustainability should be shared, otherwise it’s not sustainable.” – Luigi Caccia from ItalDenim
After two full days of intense learning, I felt inspired, renewed and overjoyed for the future of the fashion industry. It was truly astonishing to be amongst so many like-minded people that are pushing sustainability forward. I am honoured to be part of a community that continues to fight for what is right.
“When you know something, you can’t un-know it, when you see something you can’t un-see it” – Kelly Drennan, founder of Fashion Takes Action.
So much truth in that statement. Thank you Kelly Drennan for creating one of the most influential events of the year.
To learn more about the WEAR conference and the speakers, head to wear.fashiontakesaction.com