Melbourne Australia: The Youth Fashion Summit (YFS) was held in Copenhagen, Denmark last week and brought together 112 students from around the world. It was one of the side events held in conjunction with Copenhagen Fashion Summit (CFS), the biggest sustainable fashion event in the world, where CEOs, industry leaders and innovators discuss where fashion is heading. I was one of the participating students and it was amazing to meet and connect with other students from a wealth of backgrounds and knowledge, representing 36 different nationalities. We were tasked with putting our minds together to envision what a future might look like where fashion was a force for good.
This year’s event focussed on two of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), #3 health and wellbeing, and #5 gender equality. The SDGs were created by the United Nations to direct the world towards a more sustainable future.
The participants were split into eight different groups, each then focusing on one of the two SDGs, and either natural, social, human or manufacturing capital – my group looked into how to improve health and well-being by changing the way we use our natural resources.
Over three days we brainstormed a different type of future and questioned how those goals might be broken down to reach it. We drafted narratives around these futures, and summed them up with demands to the industry which we then trialled on industry representatives to truly assess their potential. At the end of the summit, we presented to the industry, summing up our findings and including eight demands that we believe the industry must fulfil to have a great long-term future.
- We demand gender equality through partnerships for the implementation of culture-specific education with the aid of effective measurement systems starting at the corporate level.
- We demand “truthenticity”: a society and an industry that respects differences, appreciates natural resources, ensures honest communication, and allows all individuals to unleash their creative selves.
- We demand an end to exploitation and symbolic annihilation through the equal representation of all genders, extending beyond the corporate community and to the sphere of media and advertising.
- We demand that CEOs prioritise gender equality in all business operations by putting people before profit and combining technology and education to empower women.
- We – the youth – demand that the fashion industry take full responsibility to ensure the health and well-being of all supply chain participants
- We demand new methodologies are built upon empathy and implemented by decision makers who prioritize the health and well-being of all members within the value-chain
- We demand the industry to take responsibility and collaborate with government and NGOs, through legislation and enforcement, to ensure the health and well-being of individuals.
- We demand your participation in a “Glocalised” hybrid organisation. Through the systematic sharing of knowledge, we will foster traceability and circularity throughout the value chain, ensuring the health and well-being of natural and human resources.
One of our imaginings was a world where the whole fashion system had full traceability so that there was clear accessible information about the growing, manufacturing, finishing and marketing of fashion. We saw this as including a rating system so all people in the value-chain could contribute their experience anonymously, without fear of retribution. This rating would also consider the data regarding sourcing and chemical use, and a physical representation would be embedded into each garment, so that upon purchasing an item of clothing, not only could a customer trace the full story, but have a clear concise understanding of how it stacks up against garments. This reality isn’t actually that crazy. We already have the Sustainable Apparel Coalition, who have created the HIGG index, where brands can contribute their sourcing and traceability and rate them using the index to create a global unified system. Not only this, we found that blockchain, an incorruptible digital record system, to hold the key to tracing supply chains. The technology for this is already being developed and implemented. As for a consumer rating system, the app Good On You, rates brands and provides information direct to consumer, and while it still has many fashion brands to assess, a large proportion of major Australian fashion brands are already on there.
The Copenhagen Fashion Summit
The summit was attended by an incredible mix of government, business and industry members as well as many researchers and educators within fashion. The emphasis of the event was collaboration. There were multiple reports produced by both the Global Fashion Agenda, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, and Sustainable Apparel Coalition, almost all of which included research by Kering (owners of Gucci, Alexander McQueen, Stella McCartney, Balenciaga etc), H&M, Target (US) and Li and Fung (manufacturers) which in themselves testified to the new collaborative attitude of the industry. Traceability and transparency were largely regarded as being the keys to achieving circular and sustainable practices, with many companies proving they have made first, and in some cases second and third tier research into their supply chain.
Dame Ellen MacArthur, of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, one of the leading research organisations for sustainable fashion identified three key goals:
- Build a fashion system whereby the inputs – the materials – are safe, non-toxic and renewable
- That garments should be kept in the system for as long as possible – by renting systems, making higher quality garments, make repairable garments or many other initiatives
- That at the end of that system clothing can be transformed into something new (new fabrics, upcycled etc)
So what’s stopping us from having a fashion industry that’s good for people and planet?
At the Copenhagen Fashion Summit, Paul Dillinger, Vice President and Head of Global Innovation and Premium Collection Design at Levi Strauss & Co stated:
“If six out of ten garments that we produce end up in landfill or incinerated within the first year of production, should we have made those six? At a moment when Cape Town is running out of water, and when I know every jean I make conventionally consumes 3781 litres per garment, what moral excuse do I have to make these six extraneous things that are going to be thrown away, when four is good enough? And how much better could the four have been if the six had never been made?”'If six out of ten garments that we produce end up in landfill or incinerated within the first year of production, should we have made those six?' Paul Dillinger, Copenhagen Fashion Summit 2018Click To Tweet
His was the first comment of the day that received spontaneous applause from the audience, and it was because for once someone was speaking about the elephant in the room – consumption. Eric Sprunk, COO of Nike, said that they want to double their business and halve their impact – but the unspoken question was how can that be a good use of our resources? H&M have a goal to achieve full circularity and renewable resources but hasn’t set a date for that yet. Both their conversations were around recycling textiles, yet myself, and many of my colleagues from YFS felt this had its own set of problems. On discussing this with my peer from the YFS, Kathrine Rasmussen, she had this to say:
“We can do all of these sustainable things, and make the greenest garments, but if we don’t address the big problem, consumerism, particularly in the Western countries, then I don’t think we are getting where we want. There are not enough resources in the world to provide everyone with sustainable clothes – not with the amount of things we are buying today.”
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As part of the Youth Fashion Summit’s contribution to the Copenhagen Summit, we presented a speech, calling for action in the industry to rectify its current lack of responsibility for all people in the industry, although I wonder now if we should have considered the issue of consumption more. My point of view is that we need a systems shift, and the reason that perhaps it wasn’t addressed in our speech is that our consumptive habits are really dang hard to change. How do we ask people to buy less? How can we ask businesses to sell less? More importantly, how do we ask in a way that enables it to happen? Truthfully, I don’t have an answer, but if this year’s buzzword was collaboration, then I hope that next year’s buzzword will be consumption, and what it means to have a business where selling more stuff, in a better way, still isn’t the answer.
Ultimately, the conference was a place where innovation, business, government and research sectors combined, but there was a key player missing – the consumers. If there are three things that I hope you can all take away it is this:
- Buying sustainably is not just about buying more ethical and sustainable clothes, it should really be about buying less, so be conscious about your choices.
- Things are changing and we are definitely moving in the right direction.
- You have to put your money in what you believe and this will continue to push the industry towards positive change – so keep up the good work!
Want to know more?
To watch the full summit or hear the YFS speech to the industry, visit this page.
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