Spanning two focal days, World Environment Day and World Oceans Day, the second edition of Fashinnovation Worldwide Talks marked the coming together of over 100 industry thought-leaders, innovators and business owners to discuss the fashion industry’s biggest challenges and opportunities.
Casting fresh light on the evolving relationship between fashion, culture, art, and the environment, the topics of discussion included sustainability, innovation, advanced technology, plastic-waste, ocean pollution and the attitudes and behaviours of Gen Z consumers. This article shares selected highlights from day 1 of the talks, beginning with the opening address from Annemarie Hou, Acting Executive Director of the United Nations Office for Partnerships. Hou shared an overview of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) calling for “inclusive solutions” for what is now a “health, humanitarian and a development crisis” during the coronavirus pandemic. She reminded the online audience that the SDGs offer a roadmap to sustainable transformation, to which innovation and entrepreneurship must be coupled.
Global Supply Chains
Taking a global stance from the outset, Lian Kariuki, founder of online artisan shopping platform Loocid Global joined the online talks from Nairobi, Kenya. With behind-the-scenes access to the manufacturing of screen-printed face masks, this session placed artisans on a global stage. From there, the broadcast moved to India, with Sunil Sethi, Chairman, FDCI (Fashion Design Council of India) explaining how the Design Council is supporting fashion designers and companies who are suffering during the Covid-19 crisis. Sethi said the FDCI foundation, funded by private sponsorship, supports small businesses to stay afloat and “pay their master cutters, their weavers, their office boys.” He envies the “big fashion design councils of the world,” and said that by comparison, the FDCI does not have “such deep pockets.” Despite this, sponsorship will continue to be allocated to FDCI member and non-member businesses who apply for support.
“Financial help is not enough to aid the designers. We started a program called insights to curate content relevant to the hour. We, the Fashion Design Council of India, brought together different experts. We had webinars, talks, and more, and provided designers with solutions.”Sunil Sethi, Chairman, FDCI
Social entrepreneurship and the impact of culture on fashion were explored in the context of race, class, gender and spirituality across a series of panels during the day 1 sessions. Speakers included Yash Ranga, Stakeholder Engagement Partner, Jaipur Rugs Foundation; Samata, CEO of Red Carpet Green Dress and Farai Simoyi, Founder, The Narativ. Crucially, the speakers brought perspectives from the design and manufacturing industries in India, Mexico, Peru, Spain, Kenya and beyond, expanding the industry dialogue beyond the usual supply chains and global brands already known to consumers worldwide.
“The most important aspect of Jaipur Rugs is the sustainability vertical. The customers we engage with worldwide are conscious consumers. They are art connoisseurs who believe in the art and celebrate the craftsmanship that goes into creating a product.”Yash Ranga, Conscious Luxury Evangelist, Stakeholder Engagement Partner, Jaipur Rugs Foundation
The Power of AI
As the coronavirus pandemic has caused worldwide disruption I have reported extensively on the impact and technologies offering solutions in my recent Forbes articles. Technology adoption has escalated during the pandemic and new digital retail solutions include App The Yes. Founded by industry eCommerce veteran of 20 years Julie Bornstein, who is ex- Stitch Fix, LVMH and Nordstrom, her knowledge is being channelled into an AI solution to offer a new level of shopping personalisation.
Speaking with Elizabeth Segran, Staff writer at Fast Company, Bornstein explained that the app pulls data from the user’s feeds and searches to compile shopping recommendations based on their online behaviour. The Yes aims to cut through digital shopping noise by asking the user some fun, simple questions then create a feed of products for them, pulling in products from partner brands’ online stores and promising to halt ‘endless scrolling and fruitless searches’. Backed by several VC investors (and included in the CB Insights’ annual ranking of the 100 most promising AI startups in the world), The Yes is further proof that AI-powered solutions for fashion retail are fast becoming omnipresent. This indicates that data-based solutions will replace “guesswork” and subjective decision-making. Promising to place Prada next to artisan brands, feeds on The Yes are driven by the sensibility of the user, rather than the brands that have the means to shout the loudest and rank the highest by traditional aggregation metrics. This makes the app a potent tech tool for a democratic, inclusive and accessible fashion industry now and in the future.
Sustainability Facts Versus Perceptions
Industry stalwart Sara Sozzani Maino, Deputy Editor in Chief of Vogue Italia and Marina Spadafora, Sustainability Consultant and Country Coordinator, Fashion Revolution Italia spoke with by Lance Gould, Co-founder and CCO of Silicon Valley Story Lab about the sustainable development goals and how the fashion industry should action them. Spadafora and Sozzani Maino are both based in Northern Italy, closely linked to luxury fashion, however during the discussion they also reflected on fast fashion and its global environmental impact.
“We have to slow down and go back to two collections a year. Dries van Noten gathered a big group of people and said the same. Gucci last week announced that they will do the same. In the luxury industry, after Covid-19, we’re moving back to wanting to produce less that’s good quality and produce in Italy/ locally. This could be a good development.”Marina Spadafora, Sustainability Consultant & Country Coordinator, Fashion Revolution Italia
This narrative, while important in terms of ostensibly slowing down the industry, may be problematic in some ways. This is because the presentation of fashion does not represent the production and sale of fashion, which is expected to continue throughout the year in multiple collections, despite a reduction in fashion shows by luxury brands. Will Gucci only sell products twice a year? In my recent Forbes article, I argue that this is not likely. The profitability of luxury brands depends on regular product launches throughout the year, and tackling waste and overstock with responsive business models (AI and tech-based systems offers the most potent solutions) will undoubtedly have more a bigger impact on sustainability than reducing the number of fashion shows.
The biggest obstacles to sustainable reform in the fashion industry are education and brands “being stubborn and afraid” of being called out as not 100% sustainable or “not doing enough,” according to Sara Sozzani Maino.Sara Sozzani Maino, Deputy Editor in Chief of Vogue Italia, Head of Vogue Talents & International Brand Ambassador, Camera Nazionale della Moda Italiana
Also debatable is the notion that luxury is synonymous with manufacturing in Italy or “locally” as it diminishes the importance of rigorous sustainability assessments of manufacturers, regardless of geographical location. Saitex in Vietnam, for example, is the only large scale denim manufacturer in the world to have achieved B Corp Certification and is a leader in garment upcycling and digital transformation. Taiwan has the highest recycling rates in the world and is a leading producer of high-quality recycled PET yarns, including those used for the Adidas Parley for the Oceans products. Bangladesh has the largest proportion of LEEDS certified sustainable garment factories in the world, indicating the magnitude of the turnaround in manufacturing standards after the Rana Plaza disaster. These examples indicate that simplistic assumptions about sustainability and attitudes towards manufacturers in the far east have been shaped by subjectivity, rather than fact-based information. As the Sustainable Development Goals were discussed in terms of the global volume of waste created, it’s undeniable that fast fashion and high volume production are causing much of the industry’s overstock and landfill waste. These problems must be addressed from a systemic perspective, and new profitable fashion business models that do not rely on simply producing and selling more clothes offer the biggest hope, alongside radical streamlining and digitalisation of fashion design and production. It is a mistake to assume, however, that sustainability is simply a matter of local production.
Gen Z Consumer Demands
During a panel discussion focusing on Gen Z, Blakely Thornton, co-founder CEO of C1V1L Jewelry, called for the fashion industry to tackle diversity beyond outward appearances (for example, diversity in ad campaigns) to the teams working “behind the camera.”
“The way you get a Gucci sweater that looks like blackface is that there was no one black at the company to tell you ‘hold on, don’t do that!’ If you had one (black person) you could have passed (that disaster) by,” said Thornton.Blakely Thornton, Co-Founder, C1V1L & CEO, Blakely Thornton
Thornton was referring to the jumper in a Gucci campaign that created a backlash online with one Twitter user declaring it “Haute Couture Blackface for the millennials???”, forcing Gucci to remove the product from stores and issue an apology.
The panel, which also included Chloe Songer, co-founder, Thousand Fell, a trainer company with circularity ambitions and Merri Smith, Co-Founder & COO, Tulerie, a peer-to-peer fashion rental platform, agreed that the ‘next Gen’ consumer expects transparency and can quickly fact-check a brand’s values online. Authenticity and brands demonstrating values that are an extension of the Gen Z consumer are key, according to Thornton.
IP and Trademarking
During an in-depth discussion on protecting cultural and creative legacies, Attorney and co-founder of Ebitu Law Group, Uduak Oduok, explained the importance of IP protection and Trademarking. Specifically, she said African Governments should protect the IP of their cultural heritage to ensure the designs developed by African creatives cannot be plundered as seasonal ‘Africa’ trends by International brands. This type of appropriation has long been rife across the fashion industry and has led to incidences of demands for payment of royalties for the use of unique design details and fabrics. Oduok also explained that a lack of a formal approach by many African fashion businesses to trademarking and IP is leading to loss of income and creative control. She advocated for business support to help develop African fashion businesses for long term global success. Panel moderator Alexis Rai Hernandez, Director of Digital Strategy and Partnerships, African Fashion Foundation directed viewers to their website for further information, guidance and business support.
Circularity and Sustainable Transformation
A panel discussion on supply chain and circular economy included Jessica Schreiber, Founder, Fabscrap (a total solution for handling textile waste responsibly and sustainably), who spoke about the importance of developing business relationships to action effective circular solutions. Fabscrap works with various parties, including those who typically incinerate unsold merchandise, to channel those textiles back into the creation of new products. They charge a fee for this service, understandably, and that can be a challenging proposition for companies simply wanting to offload waste.
Sustainability tends to be inaccessible for a lot of people and in a way mismanagement. Where resources, transfer stations, etc. are placed, and where waste is produced are also not entirely fair across locations. There’s a lot to be done, not just in fashion but in the environmental movement as a whole, making sure that diversity is part of environmental education.Jessica Schreiber, Founder, Fabscrap
In a parallel realm, Stephanie Benedetto, CEO of Queen of Raw explained that they sell wholesale luxury deadstock and offcut fabrics direct to makers via their online store, but highlighted the importance of digitising inventory and stock management as an effective way to funnel deadstock into online marketplaces. Divya Demato, CEO and co-founder of Goodops, a sustainable supply chain consultancy, urged brands to share their progress in sustainable transformation, regardless of the stage they are at versus their ultimate goals, and advocated for a “technology and data-centred approach.”
Discussions throughout the day were dominated by social and cultural diversity in fashion. The importance of the presence of people of colour and those from minority groups at every level in the fashion industry was universally called for. This was demanded not just in terms of fair and correct representation, but in terms of acknowledging the craft, skill and knowledge held within the cultures currently underrepresented, and the mistakes being made as a result. The speakers on day 1 of Fashinnovation Worldwide Talks, Edition 2 illustrated that a more diverse industry will be a more successful and sustainable industry. In parallel, adopting new technologies and business models and harnessing the power of AI will allow informed decision making to solve overstock problems, reduce waste and provide more personalised shopping experiences. Stay tuned for my download on Day 2, coming soon.
Brooke Roberts-Islam, Founder, Techstyler