The Yes

Fashinnovation Worldwide Talks 2nd Edition: Day 1 Tackles Diversity, AI and Sustainability

Fashinnovation Worldwide Talks 2nd Edition

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
Jaipur Rugs

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. 

Thousand Fell trainers
Thousand Fell trainers

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.

textile waste
Image: Queen of Raw

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

Why Toxic Chemicals Are The Biggest Threat to Sustainable Fashion

Originally published on Eco-Age.

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With recycled and sustainable materials gaining momentum, Brooke Roberts-Islam looks into the impact of toxic chemicals on the circularity in the fashion industry, as well as some of the new innovative solutions. 

As the fashion industry pushes towards identifying and implementing sustainable material solutions, scalable recycling and circular design, there is one rarely addressed limiting factor that threatens its progress – the continued use of toxic chemicals. It is sometimes assumed that all textile waste is suitable for some form of recycling, but the reality is that if textiles contain toxic chemicals, their potential for safe recycling and circularity is at best restricted, and at worst impossible. 

Delving into the mechanics of this, it’s important to note that back in 2011, Greenpeace published some research on the status of global wastewater and the impact of the textile industry, which lead to the Detox Campaign. Additional research by the World Bank declared that “textile mills generate 17 to 20% of the world’s industrial water pollution.” In addition to this, it was revealed that “72 toxic chemicals have been identified in water solely from textile dyeing, 30 of which cannot be removed.” It is thought that the rapid expansion of mass garment manufacturing and the fragmented supply chain for both mass-market and luxury goods (which remains opaque and confusing) are key factors. Many brands and retailers have not historically monitored the chemicals used in textile dyeing and finishing (including waterproofing, stain-resistance, anti-wrinkle and other final processes used in modern textiles) and the revelations of Greenpeace led to an initiative by 19 brands to agree to operate under a restricted chemicals list. 

This list highlights chemicals that are potentially toxic, or toxic and perpetual – meaning they can cause disease or illness, are impossible to break down into non-toxic forms, or cannot be removed from wastewater. This is where we begin to see the link between certain materials not being fit for recycling, as the presence of toxic and/or perpetual chemicals means that they are not safe to process into new recycled materials as these chemicals will remain. These textiles are also not safe to incinerate or dump into landfill. So what is the solution? 

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Well, the solution is to remove these chemicals entirely and replace them with non-toxic alternatives. But what is stopping this from being actioned immediately? A number of things, including the myriad of international chemical manufacturers, the lack of a single global mandatory regulation, the poor understanding of chemical toxicity (in some cases) and perhaps even the pressure to produce huge volumes of cheap materials quickly to meet the demands of mass production. In a more practical sense, the tracing and checking of chemicals contained in formulations for dyeing and finishing have been largely manual, which also introduces human error. 

There are, however, some initiatives that are starting to turn the tide on toxic chemicals and these are part of a global shift towards the use of Cradle to Cradle (C2C) and circular design. This is considered the gold standard in sustainable design because it addresses chemical usage before the product has even been designed, as opposed to the current system of testing the chemical profile of a garment after it has been manufactured – sometimes even after it has been exported from the country of manufacture. 

The key initiative providing a blueprint for safe and non-toxic chemical use is the Manufacturers Restricted Substance List (MRSL). This list was devised by the Zero Discharge of Hazardous Chemicals (ZDHC) programme; a coalition of fashion brands, value chain affiliates and associates working with global textile, leather, apparel and footwear manufacturers to substitute hazardous chemicals for safer ones in the production process.

The MRSL list, although a complete guideline for safe chemical use, is laden with complex chemical names and is not easy to interpret without a solid grasp of chemistry. A company called GoBlu, whose co-founders have decades of experience working in the mass manufacturing sector, have created the BHive app that uses image recognition to cross-check photos of chemical container ingredients with the MRSL list to flag any restricted substances, reducing the need for chemical expertise and reducing the risk of human error. Currently, brands, manufacturers and chemical providers are using the app, along with certification providers including GOTS and Oeko-tex, so that certifications can be cross-checked at the same time. 

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The bigger picture here is that, ultimately, consumers want to know what is in their clothes and whether they are ‘sustainable,’ and that now means going beyond simply using recycled polyester or organic cotton. Sustainable demands are now spreading to questions such as where and how can this garment be recycled after I finish using it? Therefore, BHive seeks to eventually provide a chemical ingredients list option for clothing, akin to ingredients lists on food. 

Some brands are already beginning to provide answers to the consumer questions above by arranging to collect any textile waste to recycle into new materials, then new products. This is where they have hit a roadblock because taking the external textile waste of origins outside their business means that they don’t know its contents. The waste they have collected to date has been shown to include toxic chemicals. Because of their own strict standards in not using restricted chemicals, they cannot use this waste into their recycling systems. 

An alternative to creating textiles using chemicals (either toxic or non-toxic) is to use nature as a blueprint for creating new materials. The emerging sector of biomaterials spans the use of naturally replenishing seaweed in place of cotton, to the use of bacteria to grow cellulose-based materials (cellulose is what cotton and viscose are made from) and many more innovative applications. This emerging field is being invested in heavily, with companies such as Bolt Threads raising hundreds of millions of dollars in investment. Alongside this, new fashion degrees are being established to cultivate the next generation of biomaterials designers. 

Further to this, a company called Evolved By Nature has developed an Activated Silk TM that is made from pure silk in liquid form (simply by combining discarded silkworm cocoons, heat, water, and salt). This is powerful in that it uses the natural properties of silk (such as strength, biocompatibility, natural tendency to absorb dyes without the need for chemicals) to remove the need for synthetics materials or toxic chemicals in composite textiles. 

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Image: Pure silk fibroin in the process of creating Activated Silk™ – Credit: Evolved by Nature

The composite textile options afforded by Activated Silk™ are to coat yarns to provide high-performance characteristics (like wicking of moisture and durability) instead of using chemicals. It can also be used as a ‘natural glue’ when mixed with regenerated fibres when recycling cashmere and wool, for example. In this second form, it supports the structure of the regenerated fibre, improving its performance and enhancing it to make it a viable alternative to virgin materials. Since Activated Silk is 100% biodegradable and biocompatible (it is safe to consume into the body) it also supports circular design principles. 

During a conversation with the co-founder of Evolved By Nature, Dr. Greg Altman he confirmed that CHANEL has just announced their investment in the company over the summer, which he says is “a validation point for us.” He notes, though, that they will also work with mass-market textile manufacturers because they want to “make the technology viable for every consumer.” It is clear that the only way to have a measurable effect on improving human health and reducing the toxic chemicals used in textiles is to make their technology affordable and scalable. With CHANEL on board, and ongoing partnerships with global textile manufacturers (that he can not yet disclose) this milestone looks to be getting closer. 

When it comes to achieving true material sustainability it is clear from an exploration of chemical use that following the blueprint of nature and leveraging the materials provided by the planet in natural abundance is preferable as those materials are naturally non-toxic and biodegradable. Science can help optimise that performance, which is where companies, like Evolved By Nature, come in.

LFW: What Designers Really Think About Calls to Cancel Fashion Week

Originally published on Eco-Age.

As London Fashion Week draws to a close for another season, fashion tech innovator, writer and public speaker Brooke Roberts-Islam speaks to designers and Extinction Rebellion representatives about this week’s protests and how we can all play a part in building a more sustainable fashion industry.

On Day 1 of London Fashion Week, I was met with a row of police vans stationed outside the LFW show venue, parked up, in an ominous standby state as if predicting the worst might happen. With civil unrest predicted following Extinction Rebellion’s calls for a ‘boycott’ of LFW and of the British Fashion Council to acknowledge the climate crisis, the heightened security  signified that the escalating protests about the climate emergency we are now facing were being taken seriously.

Sara Arnold, founder of fashion rental business Higher Studio and member of Extinction Rebellion, now known as XR, explained that they are calling for one thing (with three parts). They want the government to tell the truth about the climate emergency; to act immediately to halt biodiversity loss; and to create a Citizens’ Assembly on climate and ecological justice, to ensure that achieving net-zero carbon emissions by 2025 (as deemed necessary by IPCC) is not beyond hope.

But is boycotting fashion week really the best way to halt the climate crisis? XR has, in fact, penned a letter to the British Fashion Council asking them to cancel London Fashion Week and convene the industry instead, to discuss solutions for halting fashion’s broken and polluting system. The term boycott has been mistakenly used, explained Arnold when I interviewed her on day 2 of LFW. Would it be possible for LFW to go ahead and then convene the industry, I asked? Do these things have to be mutually exclusive? Arnold’s view is that fashion week is a distraction from the truth about the urgent crisis we are in, and to overhaul the system business as usual needs to stop. “We need to have a radical solution, ” she said. But what about the independent designers whose products she rents via her subscription service, Higher Studio? “I feel deep empathy with designers wanting to make a living out of what they are doing,” she said. “But Higher Studio won’t save us.” 

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Image: Sabinna Season 9

Looking to designers for their opinion, I spoke to London-based Sabinna Rachimova, founder of womenswear label SABINNA, which she sells direct to consumer via pop-up stores and an e-commerce site. On the subject of boycotting London Fashion Week, she said: “I would love to see alternative solutions – London Fashion Week could be used as a platform to inform, educate and showcase the necessary changes that this industry is facing.” 

During a Positive Fashion panel discussion on the final day of London Fashion Week, Arizona Muse echoed Rachimova, saying: “fashion week could be harnessed for good (so that it) reflects a more humane approach.” It’s true that London Fashion Week has a hugely influential and powerful voice, which explains the importance of XR being part of the LFW narrative as the BFC ushers in a new era of Positive Fashion and seeks to be part of the sustainable solution and secure the industry’s future – in Brexit Britain, at least. 

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Image: Phoebe English SS20 Ready to Wear, credit Asia Werbel.

Phoebe English also joined the Positive Fashion panel to explain why she stopped making collections for three seasons and discarded “eight years of (working with suppliers) – scrapping it all and starting from scratch.” English and several other designers, including Bethany Williams, who earlier this year won the Queen Elizabeth II Award for Design, have created a Whatsapp group to converse about the challenges and solutions they are facing as fashion designers and brand owners, and to rally around solving sustainability challenges. 

Bel Jacobs, representing XR, presented the stark truths from the IPCC and UN climate reports that we are “in the middle of the 6th mass extinction”. “We called for fashion week to be cancelled to use this as a platform to broadcast the climate emergency,” she said. “Everyone will stop and recognise (the emergency) if the BFC does that. It’s too late for incremental change.”  She dismissed the notion that the XR activation planned for the final day of fashion week entitled “RIP London Fashion Week” was “overly dramatic and alarmist”, again citing the IPCC and UN reports as evidence that the planned action is proportional, reiterating that XR are “calling for an end to the industry in its current incarnation.” 

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Image: Roberter Einer SS20

Designer Roberta Einer, who presented her collection in a London Fashion Week show, commented: “I feel incredibly privileged to be part of the LFW but understand that with that comes a lot of responsibility.” She explained that over the last couple of seasons her team has started to recycle silks for their embroideries, re-dye and reuse fabrics for sampling, and revaluate the mills they are sourcing their fabrics from. This echoes the words of English, who has assessed all aspects of her business and implemented the most sustainable options within her power. She admits there is still much to do, though. 

Tamsin Blanchard, the panel moderator, nailed the crux of the problem by reminding the London Fashion Week audience that “we can’t buy our way to sustainability.” She pointed to fast fashion as the main culprit for the lion’s share of waste and climate impact attributed to the fashion industry.  There was no representation from fast fashion brands at the panel discussion, but JD.com and Foot Locker are current sponsors of LFW, so there is undeniably a direct line of communication from high fashion to fast fashion.

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Image: Martina Spetlova

In terms of the drivers behind the growth of the fashion industry and the huge volumes of fast fashion produced and consumed, Dr. Amy Twigger Holroyd, professor of School of Art and Design, Nottingham Trent University and core team member of the Union of Concerned Researchers of Fashion said we are: “stuck in a capitalist model of growth.” “Do fashion designers need to create things? No. When we recognise this, the scope for creativity is much broader,” she said. 

This conjures up thoughts of the work of digital fashion house The Fabricant, which created the world’s first blockchain registered digital couture, never to be made in physical form, and ‘fitted’ to the avatar of the owner – all for a princely sum approaching £8,000. While that may feel quite futuristic to some, there are immediately accessible solutions that could radically improve fashion’s climate impact, like the high street moving from sales to a rental business model. Tamsin Lejeune, CEO of Common Objective, highlighted rental as a potential solution that may offer immediate and widespread reductions in climate impact.

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Image: Phoebe English SS20 Ready to Wear, credit Asia Werbel.

So if the lion’s share of the fashion industry’s environmental impact lies with fast fashion brands, what role can smaller, independent designers play in halting this climate crisis? Phoebe English contributed to the recent environmental audit committee recommendations, which were rejected in their entirety by the British government. “Parliament and government does not have systems in place to deal with this emergency – the change will only come from us, ” she said. “We need to change and we need to change right now.” 

London fashion week Positive Fashion exhibitor and designer Martina Spetlova told me that ”although LFW is making positive efforts to promote sustainability within the fashion industry, we still need to stand up with XR boycott fashion and provoke that change through media pressure and awareness. Coming from Eastern Europe I have witnessed the power of direct protest with Velvet revolution.” 

So it seems the overriding view of designers and activists at London Fashion Week is that the responsibility falls on all citizens (both those creating and consuming fashion) to demand change. However, protest alone will not effect the change required, and if the existing fast fashion business model and mode of selling remains unchanged, the unbridled use of resources and creation of waste will propel us toward climate devastation. In terms of rallying around solutions and urging recognition of the crisis, the singular, unified message from all parties is that action is required by each and every one of us, right now. I’m starting by reviewing the IPCC and UN reports referenced above. And I haven’t bought a single item of new clothing all year, which I intend to maintain indefinitely. What will you do? 

Hawaiian Shirt Symbolises Sustainability and Safeguarding of 100 Beaches

Strolling along Old Street yesterday, I came across a plastic waste installation created by Andy Billett for Corona x Parley for the Oceans to mark their ambitious sustainability collaboration.  Well known for their work with Adidas, Stella McCartney and other brands, the Parley team have pioneered the use of ocean waste transformed into synthetic yarns which are then reworked into textiles and products including apparel and footwear.  I then connected with the Parley and Corona teams and came to learn more about how for World Oceans Day they are reimagining and recreating the Hawaiian shirt out of ocean plastic and safeguarding 100 beaches.

In the lead up to World Oceans Day, Corona is using plastic from beaches to build sculptures in London, Melbourne, Santiago, Bogota, Santo Domingo and Lima. These installations serve as a representation of the issue with the local plastic seamlessly integrating into Corona’s paradise imagery. The “Wave of Waste” sculpture in Old Street, London, features Australian actor Chris Hemsworth surfing in a wave of plastic collected in the UK, including waste from Holywell beach collected by The Marine Conservation Society. It brings the total weight to 1,200kg of plastic, with over 10,000 individual pieces of plastic – representing the amount of marine plastic pollution found on the beach every two miles in the UK.

To mark World Oceans Day, Corona and Parley for the Oceans have created a symbolic Hawaiian shirt woven from recycled ocean plastic yarn, complete with plastic waste print design (toothbrushes morph into marine life, amongst waves) to drive home the issue of often unseen plastics infiltrating our oceans.

The team at Parley are known for their Parley For The Ocean drive and previous collaborations include Parley x Adidas swimwear, clothing and trainers.  This time around, they are working with Corona to go beyond product collaboration, on an initiative that seeks to protect 100 Islands around the world by 2020, spanning Mexico, Australia, Chile, Dominican Republic, Italy and the Maldives.  The initiative combines an educational drive to put in place preventative measures for plastic waste entering the oceans, collection of plastic waste from beaches and design and development to convert the recovered plastic into new products. ‘Avoid. Intercept. Redesign.’ is the overarching strategy.

With sustainability and materials waste an ever more important issue, it’s interesting to reflect on public perception of textiles that are natural, and often considered more environmentally sound, versus those which are synthetic.  This Hawaiian shirt is 100% polyester, created from plastic bottles which are made of a synthetic polymer that is structurally equivalent to polyester.  The bottles are broken into flakes, then turned into a liquid form which can then be extruded into filaments which are spun – the resulting yarn can then be woven or knitted into new products, like this Hawaiian shirt. By contrast, recycling natural fibres like cotton or linen is not nearly as simple or efficient, and currently does not yield sufficient quality yarn that can be remade into apparel and footwear.  In this sense, achieving sustainability with synthetics is currently more achievable, a fact that is often overlooked in the sustainability narrative between brands and consumers.  It will be interesting to see how this changes as consumers continue to seek more sustainable clothing options and request transparency over materials sources, manufacturing and environmental impact.

To know more about the polyester making process click here

To know more about the recycled yarn process take a look at Bionic Yarn

The limited-edition shirts can be purchased here and proceeds from each Corona Hawaiian shirt will go to Parley for the Oceans to help support its mission to protect our oceans.

Bottletop’s Flagship Store – A Symbiosis of Sustainability and Tech

I know I’m not alone when I say it takes more to get me into a retail store these days than ever before.  Shopping online is the ultimate convenience, so stores have to go bold and offer something really special to get shoppers through the door.  Enter Bottletop, the sustainable luxury accessories brand with a newly launched flagship store on Regent Street sporting a KUKA robot in the window along with films telling the story of their responsibly sourced and produced products projected onto the store walls.  When it comes to fashion brands, this isn’t your average sustainability story.  Let me take a leap back and explain exactly what makes Bottletop a sustainable luxury brand and how their ethos extend from the product, to the store and then the engagement of cutting-edge robot technology in the form the KUKA LBR collaborative robot.

Render of final store – Image:  Bottletop

The Bottletop Fashion Company journey began in 2012 with co-founder Oliver Wayman’s mum picking up an up-cycled ring-pull and crochet bag in Salvador, Brazil – a neat way to fuse readily available waste and the craft of crochet, making a light and strong bag – and led to a partnership with artisans in Brazil that has grown into an atelier producing the brand’s signature products and developing new materials for future product lines.  Bottletop bags are made from discarded ring-pulls sourced in Brazil, along with locally sourced yarns for crochet and responsibly produced Brazilian leathers that are certified ‘Amazon Zero Deforestation‘, guaranteeing zero impact on protected forests from cattle farming and grazing.  Underpinning Bottletop’s fashion brand is the Bottletop Foundation, founded in 2002 by Oliver’s co-founder, Cameron Saul, which raises funds for social enterprise initiatives across Africa, Brazil and the UK.

So what spurred a sustainable fashion duo to delve into the world of robotics and 3D printed interiors for the launch of their flagship store in December this year?  At least in part, for reasons mentioned in my opening paragraph – retail needs to offer customers an experience and tell a story – but also because they wanted to do something different and juxtapose the hand-made natural elements of their products with a very high tech interior, according to Oliver.  “Using natural, sustainable materials would have been an obvious thing to do” he explained, but they wanted to be more ambitious than that, and offer their customers something unexpected.  A brain-storming session between Oliver and a friend Paolo Zilli at Zaha Hadid led to a discussion with KRA– USE ARCHITECTS, who were already exploring robotic manufacturing, and inspired the Bottletop team to delve into this brave new robo-tech retail world.  The team of collaborators then grew to include AI-build who are 3D printing interior surfaces designed by KRA– USE ARCHITECTS and Reflow who created the 3D printing filament from 100% recycled plastic.  The primary purpose of Oliver and Cameron’s tech-led shop fit and KUKA installation is to use technology as a storytelling tool and to foster an understanding amongst consumers about the place that new technologies have in our world and within their business – in this case facilitating the use of a new and exciting recycled plastic material in their store design and build.

A 3D printed wall panel shaped to hold bag handles for display

The instore storytelling of the Bottletop brand begins from the window display, featuring signature Paco Rabanne-esque ring-pull ‘‘bellani’ bags and the enamelled ‘Mistura’ clutches developed in collaboration with Narcisco Rodriguez, amongst which moves a KUKA robot 3D printing bag charms from 100% recycled plastic.  This recycled PET plastic was created from plastic bottles rescued from the ocean and processed into a thin printable plastic tube – a 3D printing filament.  The concept is akin to Parley for the Oceans collaboration with Adidas, which used plastic yarn in trainers and clothing, but instead of spinning the recovered plastic bottles into a yarn, Bottletop collaborators Reflow have processed the plastic into a continuous plastic filament, which the KUKA robot heats and extrudes through a 3D printing ‘gripper’ attachment fixed to the end of the robot arm that prints the bag charms by depositing successive layers of molten plastic – known as additive manufacturing.

In store, working alongside the robot was Daghan Cam of AI Build, who explained that in contrast to usual 3D printing filaments made from non-recycled plastic (including PLA), the recycled plastic filament is trickier to work with and has slightly different structural properties;  And here lies the commonality between Bottletop’s sustainable hybrid ring-pull/crochet/leather materials and this new recycled filament  – the experimentation to develop these new materials is a long and complex process, requiring considerable R&D and bags (pardon the pun) of passion and perseverance.  Oliver and Cameron have it in droves and as they talk me through the store’s 100% recycled rubber flooring and show me samples of the interior walls currently being printed at AI Build, to the products themselves, their dedication to both sustainable hand craft and cutting-edge technology, symbiotically, is inspiring. See how the product is made here.

It was a fitting choice to select a KUKA LBR robot to 3D print the bag charms in the shop window.  Working harmoniously alongside humans in a collaborative manner is the exact purpose of the KUKA LBR, with its inbuilt sensors to stop on contact, preventing it from causing injury to humans and with the absence of trap hazards for human hands, allowing easy and safe collaboration.  We undoubtedly have a growing dependence on technology and robots (although they are usually behind the scenes, carrying out repetitive manufacturing tasks unbeknown to most consumers), so seeing the KUKA LBR used as a creative tool to produce 100% recycled (and recyclable) products was a lovely example of cutting-edge tech enabling sustainable manufacturing.

KUKA LBR with Daghan from AI Build

The store interiors will be installed over the coming weeks, acting as a live installation, punctuated by the official launch last week at the Regent Street Store.  Attended by Mira Duma of Future Tech Lab FTL, Livia Firth of EcoAge and Professors Sandy Black and Dilys Williams of the Centre for Sustainable Fashion at London College of Fashion amongst other instrumental fashion and sustainability pioneers, the launch demonstrated how fusing fashion, technology and sustainability requires a commercial, creative and academic effort.  It was an interesting and enlightening night, with Oliver and Cameron proudly declaring Bottletop the first sustainable luxury brand on Regent Street.

party shots Image top: Left – Oliver Wayman, Right – Cameron Saul.  Above, the Bottletop Store launch party

Oliver and Cameron are excited about building the interior walls as a live installation that shoppers can see evolve, and I went behind the scenes to see some of the 100 wall panels being 3D printed by the KUKA KR90 6 axis arms at AI Build in East London.  The panels each take 7 hours to print and are individually sanded along the edges before being joined to create a unified wall panel for the store.  700 kg of 100% recycled plastic are going into the printing of the interiors at what Oli confirmed was the equivalent of around 60,000 recycled plastic bottles.  I also saw a demo of the 3D printed ceiling structure which is embedded with reclaimed cans in the store and captured in the shots below.

Behind the scenes at AI Build

The interior installation in store is expected to continue into mid-January, so be sure to pop in and see it evolve, alongside the KUKA LBR busily 3D printing  bag charms in the store window.

Header image and all images not otherwise credited: Techstyler

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London College of Fashion Sustainability Initiatives “Fired Up” by Professor Sandy Black

Fashion’s future is about looking forward, however looking back with Sandy Black, Professor of Fashion and Textile Design and Technology at London College of Fashion, serves up a timely lesson for right now on running a fashion business and sustainability.

Professor Black provides the privilege of reflection – of pausing and drawing on decades of analysis of craft and technology and designer fashion businesses through her academic research and practice and asking the question ‘why has so little changed for fashion designers in terms of barriers to growing a successful business’?  Many of the difficulties Professor Black, a maths graduate from UCL (more on that later), faced when running her knitwear business in the 70’s and 80’s still exist today, especially in terms of financing production whilst investing in new collections and finding manufacturers willing to work with emerging brands in a dynamic and affordable way.  The conversation and landscape is changing, though.

Professor Black completed a maths degree at UCL whilst exploring, informally, her interest in craft and knitting.  Upon graduation she became involved in an artistic knitting movement that saw an explosion of her knitwear across the globe.  Sandy Black Fashion knitwear was stocked in boutiques in the US, Japan, Australia and Europe.  Her hand and domestic machine knitted pieces were intricate and painterly, reflecting a new creative and artistic approach to knitwear that thrust itself into the fashion realm, beyond its reputation as a domestic craft.

img_2117Coat by Sandy Black  Photo: David McIntyre

“Digital knitting began in the 70’s” states Professor Black.  The current knitting technology is an extension of, rather than a re-invention of, that knitting technology.  She forged links with Stoll, a world-leading industrial knitting machine manufacturer to have a machine installed at London College of Fashion, enabling students to immerse themselves in industry techniques and adopt new technology in their practice.

The excitement in knitting arguably lies in its fusion of craft and technology and Professor Black’s publications, including Interrogating Fashion, Eco-Chic: The Fashion Paradox and The Sustainable Fashion Handbook explore the impact of this fusion on fashion, in terms of manufacturing, sustainability and aesthetics.  Her recent work, in collaboration with a number of London College of Fashion-based academics, is an online platform allowing the exchange of information between fashion academics and the designer fashion industry to promote insightful, sustainable and collaborative practice for better business and environmental outcomes.

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The platform, FIREup, has fuelled debate around changing business models for sustainability.  It intends to unlock the potential of industry and academic collaboration, and is designed to help designer-fashion businesses in London access knowledge based in the university’s research centres and academic staff across three prestigious colleges: Central Saint Martins, London College of Fashion and Chelsea College of Arts.  The FIREup initiative is now expanding across the UK. 

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Professor Sandy Black in discussion with Michelle Lowe-Holder, Martine Jarlgaard, Kiwy Huang and Ben Alun-Jones at the Creativeworks Festival, King’s College London – Photo: CSF

As part of the FIREup initiative, four projects were undertaken to allow designers to conduct research to inform their business decisions.  This research involved a sort of ‘forced reflection’ and contemplation.  Recent exits of high-profile designers from global fashion businesses (Raf Simons from Dior and Alber Elbaz from Lanvin) were allegedly, at least partly, the result of frustration at a lack of time and space to pause and reflect because of the relentless cycle of punishing product deadlines with no time for contemplation and development.  Although running a smaller business with fewer product categories is arguably less time-pressured, it is absolutely true that the pressures Professor Black faced whilst running her business and that often lead to added strain on small businesses have not yet been resolved.  It is the mandate of FIREup to allow designers space, time, academic support and funding to conduct reflective research and steer their business forward in a more successful and thoughtful way.  Christopher Raeburn is one such designer involved in the FireUp Catalyst Project.

Raeburn’s ‘REMADE’ products are crafted from re-appropriated military fabrics.  The jacket below was remade by deconstructing and shredding original German snow ponchos, the Schneetarn (German for ‘snow camouflage’) Parka.  A limited edition garment, it is one of a maximum of 50, proudly remade in Raeburn’s London studio.

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The women’s Ceremonial Biker Jacket is reworked from original British military ceremonial garments, traditional British military wear that have held the same design for the last century.  The jacket, typical of British cavalry, artillery and infantry, is also a limited edition piece (a maximum of 50) also remade in the Christopher Raeburn Studio.  Shop Christopher Raeburn here.

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Currently promoted on the FIREup platform, and being hosted by Professor Rebecca Earley and Dr. Kate Goldsworthy is the Mistra Fashion Future Conference on textile design and the circular economy which is part of their research aimed at creating the vision of designing for a circular future where materials are designed, produced, used and disposed of in radical new ways. “Circular Transitions will be the first global event to bring together academic and industry research concerned with designing fashion textiles for the circular economy.  The themes will explore the design of new materials for fashion with approaches ranging from emerging technology and social innovation to systems design and tools.”  For more information about the conference in London this November visit FIREup or Mistra Future Fashion.

It’s clear that Professor Black’s research and industry involvement, along with the work of her fellow academics at London College of Fashion, is helping shape the discourse around designer businesses and sustainability.  The broader discussion, encompassing the impact of our lifestyle choices (including fashion) on the environment has been explored by Professor Helen Storey in her recent Dress For Our Time project.  Developed in partnership with Holition, the dress digitally displayed data – extracted from a major study of the global risks of future shifts in ecosystems due to climate, which showed the impact of climate change on our physical world. It showed the planet as it will be, if we don’t do enough.  The film below demonstrates the shocking and compelling figures related to the refugee crises and displacement across across the globe projected onto the Dress For Our Time:

Professor Black and Professor Storey are both also instrumental team members at the Centre for Sustainable Fashion (CSF) at the London College of Fashion – a Research Centre of the University of the Arts London based at London College of Fashion. Our work explores vital elements of Better Lives London College of Fashion’s commitment to using fashion to drive change, build a sustainable future and improve the way we live.  In 2014 the CSF announced a five-year partnership to work closely with Kering to support sustainable practices in education for the fashion industry. The partnership is a three-way approach to ensure new ways of thinking about sustainability in fashion: The Kering Talks, The Kering Award for Sustainable Fashion and The Empowering Imagination module for MA students at LCF.  This year’s Kering Award for Sustainable Fashion will be announced on November 14th and I will be attending and writing about the finalists, so stay tuned!

To learn more about CSF initiatives, click here

To find out more about FIREup and see current opportunities here

Header Image:  Christopher Raeburn, who uses re-appropriated military materials in his collections

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Superhuman – The Ravensbourne Postgraduate Show

Off the back of a frantic London Fashion Week I attended Superhuman, an exhibition of work by the MA and MSc graduates of Ravensbourne, spanning the degrees Communication Design, Interactive Products Features, Fashion, Wearable Futures, Applied Technologies (rapid prototyping and digital technologies), Interactive Digital Media, Moving Image and Environment Design.  The titles of these degrees alone fills me with wonder and optimism and gives anecdotal support to a claim I saw in a tangential teaser video by Future Hub, claiming that ‘40% of the top jobs in 2027 have not even been invented yet’, suggesting that the old educational silos and linear career paths of the past will not fit the bill of the future.  Step up Ravensbourne…

With the work of 29 graduates presented in a compact exhibition space it was a great deal to review and as such, my overview focuses on fashion and digital technologies.

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Farid Bin Karim is the first student to graduate from the MSc Wearable Futures degree and has created a body of written work entitled “Couturier and the Art of Survival: a Technologist’s Guide”.  This work is the result of Farid’s ambitious attempt to explore the appetite within the ‘closed-shop’ of couture for current and future technologies.

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His guide looks into the hypothetical future of the aesthetic embellishments of couture and the couturier in their struggle to remain relevant in an ever-changing and digital future.  Farid seeks to explain how technology can aid in this endeavour and affect the human perception of adornment as a wearable. It is an exploration in updating crafts and disciplines to add dimensionality for wearables of the future.

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MSc Applied Technologies graduate Jason Taylor’s  project “The Bionic Toolkit” explores the idea of changing the way amputees interact with the design world by creating intuitive design tools.  It begins from the basis that the human hand has shaped the way we use traditional tools to design, meaning that such design tools are difficult to use with a prosthetic limb, as these devices are not kinematically accurate.

Taylor began by deconstructing an MRI scan of his own arm to create a 3D digital model. This model then served as a template in which myoelectric sensors, servos, and microprocessors were inserted and arranged so as to preserve kinematic function.  Using an open source robotic arm by InMoov (created by friend of Techstyler, Gael Langevin) for initial testing allowed Jason to explore how tools could be incorporated directly into the arm, reducing the need for sensors that would usually grip an existing tool.

Jason explained that “Rigorous testing has allowed me to explore the most efficient ways in which an amputee could draw, write, paint, sculpt etc… typically by attaching existing tools to each phalanx and recording the level of control, and ease of use. This allows for varying DOF’s (degree’s of freedom) depending upon the tool being used”.  “Using Ravensbourne’s state of the art prototyping facilities has allowed me to 3D print many iterations of mechanisms and prototypes, using a combination of FDM and polyjet 3D printers, laser cutters and 3D CNC machines.”

He plans to continue with the project now that he has graduated, and wishes to design more tools that amputees can attach to the Bionic Toolkit.  “The next step would be to make my project open source, so that other designers can freely edit my designs, and improve the quality of lives of others.” 

Update: 13/10/16 “The Bionic arm now allows the user to not only draw, sculpt, paint etc… but also to interact with digital environments (great for 3D modelling, VR and AR), sculpt dense materials (acting as a dremel-like tool), and 3D print direct from the ‘finger tips’.  Actions and movements can now also be recorded and repeated for iterative designs – lots of improvements since we last spoke!”

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Siyue “Lulu” Xu’s designs propose that denim’s prevalent, cheap, fast fashion reputation can be reshaped by elevating denim design through craft.  The collection challenges the perceptions of environment-friendly fashion design and aims to show that smart design can both be aesthetically sleek and pleasing and at the same time reduce the rate of pollution from industrial manufacturing in a post-humanist future.

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Lulu prints, embroiders and enhances new and second-hand denim fabrics and garments, transforming them from ubiquitous items into rare collectibles.  Her re-worked denim seeks to challenge the polluting reputation that denim carries and is inspired by rebellion and anarchy, taking its manifesto from punk and 1980’s western club culture.  For more of Lulu’s work check out her collection book and Instagram antics.

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Zoe Alexandria Paton Burt’s work in progress is “Neither/Nor” (she is due to graduate from the MA fashion degree next year) and looks into the gender divide in clothing and how it perpetuates inequality amongst different genders.  She is seeking to highlight modern day use of language that is ingrained in western society that she feels undermines individual behavioural traits, expecting men to behave in ‘masculine’ and women in a ‘feminine’ ways.

Zoe’s collection synopsis goes on to explain that “the collection will encompass the use of 3D modelling and printing, textile manipulation, embroidery, a broad range of fabrics from the traditional to the techno”. The final outcomes will be a collection, fashion film and a documentary aiming to raise awareness of the fight for equality.

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The garments presented by Zoe under the name “Alexandria Paton” contain components that have been 3D scanned and modelled using Rhino, then realised with large format 3D printing.  Zoe is also experimenting with 3D printing directly onto fabric using the Ultimaker 2 and Faberdashery PLA. She prints on to both Velvet and PolyUrethane fabrics and plans to further experiment with 3D modelling and printing, incorporating traditional textile techniques to create a new and unique amalgamations of the two.  

ZAPB PG04 DesignsZAPB PG04 Designsscreen-shot-2016-10-08-at-22-17-03screen-shot-2016-10-08-at-22-16-23screen-shot-2016-10-08-at-22-15-53Zoe Burt’s garment prototyping, MA Fashion Degree in progress

For more information on the Ravensbourne MA/MSc graduate show visit superhuman2016.uk

More information on Ravensbourne courses can be found here.

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