Fashion Week Insiders Call For Sustainability Clarity, Citing Confusing Brand Marketing and “Green-Washing”

Fashion month has come to a close and this season, more than ever, the industry has been under pressure to address its environmental responsibility. There are some steps being taken, whether it is the launch of the British Fashion Council’s Positive Fashion Initiative in London or Dior‘s zero-waste, plastic-free, fully recyclable set and tree replanting scheme at their Paris show, but what does that mean on the ground? What do the people attending the shows, working in the industry, buying the products and living their day-to-day lives think and feel about the role of sustainability in fashion? We took to the streets at London Fashion Week (LFW) to find out.

To delve deeper, Techstyler gathered a crew to find out exactly what people know about sustainability in fashion and how they integrate it into their daily lives, if at all. Continuing from our pilot research project back in February, this season we partnered with The British School of Fashion to develop a questionnaire that would capture individuals’ attitudes towards sustainability in fashion, consumer behaviours and personal views on the topic. We then interviewed hundreds of attendees of LFW, both inside and outside the official venues, over the five days. 

Image: Henry Nicholls/Reuters

This season saw pressure groups including Extinction Rebellion (XR) and PETA protesting against the environmental and ethical impacts of fashion, culminating in a “funeral” march by XR featuring a coffin inscribed with “RIP LFW 1983-2019” sending a clear message to the BFC and wider industry. While these groups were protesting outside the official LFW venue of 180 The Strand, Techstyler and “parent” company BRIA were inside presenting solutions, seeking to understand the current climate and calling for change, amongst other innovators. There are solutions and designers doing “good”, some of which were showcased in the BFC’s Positive Fashion space including Patrick McDowell, RE;CODE and the global movement supporting the UN sustainable development goals #TOGETHERBAND; but there is also huge consumer confusion which needs to be addressed before we can expect widespread change in sustainable consumption. We wanted to find out what’s actually going on on the ground, and this starts with you (yes, you).

Patrick McDowell at LFW. Image: Techstyler

The study found that the overarching sentiment when it came to sustainability in fashion was a resounding, and slightly concerning, “I don’t know”. When asked “which brands do you see as the most sustainable”, one respondent replied, “Tricky question. How do you define sustainability?”, and that, ladies and gentlemen, sums it up in a neat bow. This commentary could probably end right there, but there’s a lot at stake here. If we are out on the streets fighting for our future, we should probably understand what we are fighting for and our roles in the battle beyond the placards.

Image: Techstyler

After combining this past month’s data with our research from February, it is evident that there is a lot of miscommunication and confusion, and, let’s not forget, that the respondents are not regular consumers on the high street; they are buyers, designers, stylists, journalists and fashion students. In other words, they are those at the forefront of the industry. The answers were incredibly varied, showing a large gap in knowledge, but ultimately a desire to do better. Many simply don’t know how because the messaging is highly confusing; brands can say what they want around sustainability as key terms like “organic” and “natural” aren’t even regulated, never mind the word “sustainability”, which, to be honest, is anyone’s guess at this point. One respondent even said that the term “sustainability” is itself off-putting.

“There is too much negativity arising around the term “sustainable” and a huge part of it comes from the misunderstandings created when communicating it.”

Questionnaire respondent
Image: Techstyler

Respondents were asked to list the brands they see as the most sustainable, at which many reeled off those who are shouting the loudest but are not necessarily backing up their efforts up with facts. When telling us which brands they are wearing, high street fast fashion was ever-present, despite the interviewees claims to be concerned about the issues involved with fast fashion manufacturing and consumption. H&M was one brand that regularly appeared on both the “most sustainable” and “least sustainable” brand lists, thanks to their Conscious Collection campaigns. Eight respondents who said they were wearing Zara at the time of the interview then went on to list it as a least sustainable brand, which is sufficiently revealing alone. Five out of the eight claimed that sustainability was important to them, so there is a clear disconnect here which needs to be addressed. Overall many simply didn’t know what to believe. “I think there is too much green-washing going on with brands and the marketing teams confuse the sustainability message. They make it harder for consumers to understand sustainability,” said one respondent. 

BFC’s Positive Fashion Panel. Image: Instagram

Alongside the confusion there was also positivity around the growth of the sustainability movement and a recognition of our individual responsibility, with one respondent saying “I think [sustainable fashion] has a potential to be huge in the future” and another recognising that, “it is so important to think of your wardrobe and how to make it last longer than a season.”

Many are calling for industry change: for designers to implement sustainable strategies, brands to be truthful and transparent, and fellow consumers to make the “right” choices.  And this sentiment has grown slightly since last season’s research, showing a steady change in attitudes in just a short time; short, but impactful, with the rise of Greta Thunberg and her Global Climate Strikes, XR mobilising groups across the world to call for action, and 150 brands signing up to the G7 fashion pact after a highly publicised 45th Summit in Biarritz. 

“Is there really a place for fashion week anymore? Seems out-dated and pretty distasteful given the current climate crisis… It seems like a parade of excess that isn’t needed”

Questionnaire Respondent
Image: Techstyler

In response to London Fashion Week being well and truly under the microscope this season, the British Fashion Council hosted a panel to discuss the climate crisis and fashion’s role in both causing and, hopefully, reversing it. Panellists including Bel Jacobs representing Extinction Rebellion, Tamsin Lejeune founder of Common Objective, Cameron Saul of Bottletop, and model and activist Arizona Muse were moderated by journalist Tamsin Blanchard on the final day of LFW to debate the best way forward. In an open and honest discussion, Bel Jacobs reiterated XR’s warning that we are “in the middle of the 6th mass extinction”, going on to say “we called for fashion week to be cancelled to use this as a platform to broadcast the climate emergency. Everyone will stop and recognise (the emergency) if the BFC does that. It’s too late for incremental change.” Arizona Muse proposed that “fashion week could be harnessed for good [so that it] reflects a more humane approach.” Fashion Week’s role in this change was agreed to be pivotal and the time is now.

Image: Techstyler

Reflecting on our time at LFW, there was a palpable air of eco-anxiety both inside and outside the venue. Although there was consumer confusion surrounding exactly how they can be part of the solution, there was an encouraging desire to understand and do more. The public are looking to brands and the wider industry for clear indicators and evidence of widespread change, with one saying, “The industry is on the right track [it] just needs to gather momentum”. Experts joining the discussion are calling for major change for the sake of our survival as a species, nevermind the survival of Fashion Week as we know it. Following this initial research, Techstyler and The British School of Fashion will be releasing more detailed reports in the coming months and replicating the study internationally in 2020. The need for change has never been so urgent, and to make these changes sustainable we must understand the issues at a grassroots level. There is still a long way to go, but change is in the air and how these changes manifest next fashion month will be key, as, this time, the world is watching. 

Image: Techstyler

We would like to thank the research crew for volunteering their time over the last two seasons. Keep an eye out for more results from our recent study, and news of the international research on Techstyler’s Instagram, Techstyler.fashion and by signing up to our newsletter.

Sadie Williams and Marta Jakubowsi Wield A Sucker Punch Of Colour at London Fashion Week

The ‘insta-fashion’ of today lends a kind of high impact then fast fade to fashion imagery – blink and you’ll miss it.  It occurred to me today that the presentations I have seen at fashion week so far on day one are highly condensed, stringently edited and high impact.  Jammed with colour and unwavering in focus, they are a visual sucker punch that makes for great images ripe for social media – saturated colours, bold sets, texture, drape and exaggeration.  They are a distillation of concentrated strong visual ideas rather than a gently rambling or winding journey.  Kind of like the meat of the story, without the preamble or rounding-off.

Sadie Williams presented a glimmering gang in a folk art disco, mixing old and new on the textile front – 70’s glitter vibes set against retro-reflective ‘high viz’ trousers and corduroy accented with crystals by Swarovski – a pioneer in new technologies with an eye on robotic manufacturing, according to a recent interview with Nadja Swarovski for the McKinsey report on the State of fashion report,2017.  The collection was styled with Converse Chuck Taylors and elastic layered tights and socks smattered with holes by Wolford.  This collection was a fun textile and colour mash-up underpinned by textile mastery.

Marta Jakubowski‘s collection was understated and seriously focussed on turning childhood nostalgia into grown-up elegant tailoring.  The colours were rich and deeply attractive.  On the tube on the way home I considered researching the psychological effects of the deep, warm shades of purple and red in the collection to understand how they somehow ‘fill out’ the aesthetics visually – making the sum of the parts (tailoring and colour) so much greater than either individually.  I bet there’s enlightenment to be found, alas the scope of this piece is short given the gazillion words I want to write about all I have seen so far at London Fashion Week.  Suffice to say, it was beautifully elegant and desirable, not unlike Sade, who not doubt provided aesthetic inspiration for the cutaway polo necks and much of the soundtrack in the form of Sweetest Taboo, Chaka Khan and Tina Turner.  Sometimes simple is best.

Below is a list of the people involved in creating and presenting these collections.  I include these credits, which are on the designer’s printed show notes along with the back story of the collection, because the teams and talent required to realise these collections is huge and diverse.  I type these names to recognise their input (we’ve all been there, working behind the scenes and during the months of preparation) and to show the diversity of backgrounds of London’s fashion creatives.   Long may this diversity continue.

Presentation credits Marta Jakubowski:

Set Design: Gary Card; Styling: Tati Cotliar; Casting: Emilie Astrom; Make-up: Lucy Bridge @ Streeters; Hair: Mari @LGA Management usiing Bumble and Bumble; Nails: Imarni Ashman using Elegant Touch; Music, Elton Gron; Press release: Daryoush Haj-Najafi; Shoes: Jimmy Choo.  Special thanks:  NEWGEN Panel, British Fashion Council, Sarah Mower, Ash Smith, Ella Dror, Jade Willson, Laura Fairfax, Gillian Horsup, Vintage Models, Butler & Wilson.   The Marta Jakubowski team is: Zuzanna Szarlata, Alexandra Sipa, Ines Vilas Boas, Ashley Lee, Ellie Carless, Ash Chari and Audra Kreivyte-Krajewska

Marta Jakubowski showroom:  1-7th March, 3Rue Portefoin, Marais, PARIS, 75003

Presentation credits Sadie Williams:

Styling: Poppy Kain at Intrepid; Casting: Frances Odim-Loughlin; Set Design: Sean Thomson assisted by Warwick Turner-Noakes; Hair: Syd Hayes using Babyliss Pro assisted by Paula McCash and Josh Goodwin; Make-up:  Lucy Bridge using Mac Cosmetics; Nails: Pebbles Aikens at the Wall Group using Nailberry assisted by Brigita Backtye and Lyubomira Koukoutar; Soundtrack: Jackson Holmes.  Special thanks:  NEWGEN team, Topship, the BFC, Nadja Swarovski and team, Sarah Mower, Nora Wong, Arabella Williams, Eden Loweth, Francis Williams, Frida Agren, Jackie Lyall, David Lyall, Jess Kerntiff, Joe Williams, Joseph Horton, Justin Mansfield, Rachel Pelly, The team at IPR and all my family and friends, Stephanie Achonwa, Flavia Abbud, Emily Collier, Emily Coveney, Maddie Denman, Jennifer Drouguett, Florence Hutchings, Nadria Khan, Danielle Kidd, Lola Odumosu, Natalia Niclau, Clara Ormieres, Esther Richardson, Justin Rivera, Christina Ryu, Raiesa Salum, Aasia D’Vaz-Sterling, Nick De Vine, Sophia Messina, Dave Olu Ogunnaike, Hetty Mahlich and Eloise Andrews.

Marta Jakubowski and Sadie Williams are recipients of the Topshop NEWGEN award.

Header:  Marta Jakubowski AW17

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WGSN Futures – VR at Home and Fashion in Space

I love to talk, so it was fortuitous that the WGSN Futures event unravelled like a long and broad conversation spanning fashion, millennials, shopping on and off-line, social media influencers, artificial intelligence, robotics and big data.  I could only have been more comfortable if in an armchair.

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Vanessa Belleau talks to Rita Konig of the New York Times T Magazine about the future of our homes in a tech-driven world

Day one was a warm-up in the form of visualising 2030 via the rock star delivery of Nils Müller, Founder of TrendOne. When was the last time an artificial intelligence-enabled Barbie was whipped out at a conference you attended?  Barbie muffed up – so far, so 2016 – but Nils did successfully take us to the future and beyond via the Bjorn Borg fashion game ‘First Person Lover’ and Amazon Echo, where the human-tech conversation is firmly two way.  Nils set the tone for our digital lives in 2030, describing digital interfaces that overlay the physical landscape like a fog, where technology is seamlessly integrated and communicates with us intelligently and conversationally.  There won’t be a distinction between what is online and offline in this seamlessly connected, Internet of Things world.  

A point made very strongly that is resonating long after the closure of Day one is Marc Schumacher of Liganova’s assertion that luxury fashion brands must collaborate with outside creatives to enrich their in-store experiences and remain relevant, or they’ll die.  His response to a question to this effect from a Richemont employee was ‘adapt and become more transparent – luxury brands should no longer operate with a ‘closed shop’ approach.’  Another surprising snippet: 66% of brands are currently stagnant or in decline.  Yikes!

Peter Jeun Ho Tsang’s Dandy Lab tackles integration of tech into physical stores with NFC scanning to find out product and brand information and a downloadable app for purchasing clothes without staff intervention, allowing customers to pay without visiting the tills.  He mentions the phenomenon of Innovation Fear Factor, which describes the reluctance to integrate tech that has a proven positive impact on customer satisfaction and business success purely because of fear of change.  The message I’m hearing is ‘You snooze you loose’.


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Peter Jeun Ho Tsang of Dandy Lab

Day two provided hugely inspiring talks in the form of cognitive computing insights by Justin Norwood of IBM, whose described the process behind the making of the Marchesa X IBM Watson dress for the Met Gala’s Manus and Machina theme this year.  

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Marchesa X IBM Watson, worn by Karolina Kurkova

Add to this conquering the final frontier – outer space – mentioned in a handful of talks throughout the two days and by the close of day two it was easy to see how artificial intelligence and an automated, digital and seamlessly connected world is forming quickly around us. We know how quickly the technology for powering space travel is developing through the space programs of Google, Elon Musk’s SpaceX and Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic so it’s perfectly realistic to predict holidays in space in 2030.  Ibiza?! Pfft.  That then poses the question, what will we wear?  Enter a new market for fashion/tech/performance clothing in space.  This ties in nicely with my concurrent post ‘Couture in Orbit’, demonstrating the ESA, Science Museum and European fashion Institutions’ commitment to fostering conversation and experimentation with concepts of fashion in space, but more on that later. 

Back to WGSN Futures.  Also inspiring was Blingby – a platform that offers up the online purchase of products and services seen in music videos.  Love the Taylor Swift ‘Wildest Dreams’ video shot in Botswana?  Book the same resort she filmed the video in (whilst watching it) on Blingby.  The evangelical founder, Marcia Favale, was captivating and savvy, deftly batting away my probing question about whether they use cognitive algorithms in their platform.

One of the interesting revelations of the day was the heavy-weight fashion panel diverting away from what they deem to be an irrelevant discussion about whether brands show their collections on the mens or womens’ fashion schedule, or together, or at all, in fact.  The ‘see now, buy now’ model mooted as revolutionary when Burberry announced it several months ago was dismissed by the panel as unlikely to make great shakes in the way buyers place orders and the product life cycle.  A greater problem, according to Erin Mullaney (who incidentally was the first buyer to stock Brooke Roberts knitwear, at Browns) is that the timing of product is wrong for the seasons.  The product life cycle is too short, with summer clothes arriving in store during the coldest months and vice versa.  Menswear designer Lou Dalton explained that her collections have become transitional and the seasonal difference in fabric weight is no longer relevant in a global market. 

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The Fashion Panel led by Carla Busazi of WGSN; Clara Mercer of the BFC; Erin Mullaney of EMC Consulting, Lou Dalton and Alexandra Fullerton of Stylist Magazine

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 Lou Dalton AW16 via dazeddigital.com

I posed the panel a question asking their opinion of the current wave of Fashion Tech and whether they think it offers great opportunities and exciting products or just gimmicks.  Clara Mercer’s take was that digital had enabled new presentation platforms, but that streaming may not be the show format saviour it was originally thought to be.  Erin Mullaney mentions product and cites Unmade’s customisable knitwear as an example of great Fashion Tech, which plays into consumer desire for personalised product.  The appetite for such product is expected to increase as consumers seek to differentiate themselves from an increasingly homogenised product (and content) offering.

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Vanessa Belleau of WGSN interviews Annabel Rivkin of Midult, Sam Baker of The Pool, Daniel Murray of Grabble and Sarah Raphael of Refinery 29 UK

As a fashion designer, reflecting on these upcoming changes there’s a definite air of disruption on the horizon.  We’re seeing the greatest shift our industry has ever seen, said Simon Chambers of model agency Storm, which now has a social media influencers division ‘Storm Vision‘ to reflect the demand for curated and personal content spurred by the digital revolution. 

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Lauretta Roberts of WGSN interviews Lucy Williams, Influencer; Jade Parfitt, Model;  Andreja Pejic, Model and Influencer, Soraya Bakhtiar, Style Blogger and Influencer and Simon Chambers, Owner, Storm Model Management

In a number of talks, predictions were made (but not qualified with data) that the human life span will reach 100-140 years by 2030.  In the spirit of WGSN Futures, bring on the next 15 years!

Header Image: Lauretta Roberts, Director, WGSN Futures

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