Tuesday, 17 January 2017

Review: Fashion#TALK Panel Discussion in Berlin


It's the start of a new year, and time to think about what 2017 might mean for sustainable fashion. In the run up to the Ethical Fashion Show and hot on the heels of Ecouterre's fantastic roundup of predictions featuring Livia Firth and Kathleen Talbot of Reformation, we also recently debated the topic here in Berlin, during the latest edition of Fashion#TALK at the University of Applied Sciences.

It was great to see a mix of speakers from both sides of the fashion industry: Sonja Lotz of Möon, an independent sustainable clothing boutique in Berlin; Ellen Köhrer, established journalist and author of Fashion Made Fair; Kim Pöhland-Block, who has designed for a range of major retailers including H&M; and Helen Gimber, textile technology lecturer at ESMOD Berlin and member of the Clean Clothes Campaign. The title of the panel discussion was "How to Make Sustainable Fashion More Visible", and in addition to discussing the challenges of promoting smaller, independent labels in a market already oversaturated with powerful, global brands, a large part of the conversation also revolved around the low consumer awareness of environmental and social issues along the supply chain, and the 'true value' of our clothing.

ARE WE LOSING OUR SENSE OF STYLE?

An interesting topic that came up early in the discussion was the question of whether the rise of fast fashion is impacting our ability to create our own sense of style. Boutique owner Sonja Lotz commented that her product selection tends to suit "customers in their 30s and older - when you've found your style". This got me thinking - sure, experimenting and trying new things when you're young is definitely part of everyone's fashion journey, but the current combination of social media and the crazily low prices of fast fashion brands is teaching a whole new generation of shoppers bad habits - that it's more desirable to re-create identikit Instagram outfits rather than create your own with a bit of creativity and innovation. As one of the audience members rightly pointed out during the discussion, the incredible wealth of online tutorials available means it's never been easier to learn how to sew, but I would argue that such skills now serve as a niche hobby rather than being borne out of necessity. If we want to encourage a return to individual style, the sustainable fashion community might have more luck promoting "conscious consumption" through a new growing breed of bloggers and writers focused on creating the perfect capsule wardrobe, made up of considered pieces rather than a closet full to bursting with bad quality, mismatched items.

SO WHAT DOES "SUSTAINABLE FASHION" ACTUALLY MEAN?

Thinking about conscious consumption also brings up the question of what we actually mean by "sustainable" fashion. When asked this question there were lots of different answers, which I think demonstrates both the complexity of the subject matter and the difficulty of communicating the topic effectively and inspirationally to potential customers.

HG: "At the Clean Clothes Campaign we always put workers' rights first. But I have a couple of definitions which I think cover it best - one from the Ethical Fashion Forum, which defines sustainable fashion as 'clothing that maximises benefits for workers and minimises impact to the environment', and Made-By's definition of 'fashion with respect to people and planet'. We are talking about absolute basics here."

SL: "It has to be stylish. I don't look at certifications any more because there is so much to consider - I would rather talk to designers and brands who are trying to make a difference."

EK: "Firstly it should be be well-designed, second eco-friendly and third fairly made. I don't like the term sustainable fashion because it's a contradiction - fashion means new but sustainable can have negative connotations of the 70s and 80s. We need a new name to make it attractive, more about innovation and 'future fashion'."

EXCITING DEVELOPMENTS ON THE HORIZON

'Future fashion' is exactly what's needed to drive the sustainability agenda - whether that's zero waste design, using new and innovative materials like rhubarb or pineapple leather, or open source technology such as Kering's Environmental Profit and Loss (EP&L) accounting. According to Helen Gimber, the good news is that it's fashion students themselves who are pushing for change, demanding that their courses cover such topics in order to adequately prepare them for the challenges that await. The millennial generation is the most informed about environmental issues than any that's gone before, and viral social media campaigns such as "The 2 Euro T-Shirt" have the ability to reach millions in only a few days. Combine this social media presence with education in schools, improved marketing for smaller independent labels and slow, but steady progress on a governmental level, and there's definitely hope that the concept of a 'sustainable' fashion industry might one day be a reality. If the engagement levels at this event were anything to go by, there's some passionate, determined people out there who'll make sure that the future's in good hands.




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