Livia Firth’s Eco-Age – Time to End Our Fast-Fashion Binge

Thursday 16th November marked the 7th Annual Lovie Awards, honouring the best of the European Internet and recognising the talent making waves and effecting positive change across industries including gaming, film and fashion.

This year, Livia Firth was the winner of the Emerging Entrepreneur Award for her fight for sustainable fashion as the founder and creative director of Eco-Age, a brand/marketing consultancy that helps businesses to grow by creating, implementing and communicating sustainability solutions.  More specifically, she was honoured for her Green Carpet Challenge initiative and using the internet to both educate the public about ethical and sustainable fashion consumption and to put pressure on brands to do more to meet sustainable business practices.  On hearing of Livia’s accolade ahead of the Lovie Awards ceremony, I arranged to interview her to find out how Eco-Age is forging ahead with sustainability initiatives and to understand more about Livia’s goals and beliefs about the current state of sustainability in the fashion industry.  Another precursor to this interview was hearing Livia passionately speak in May this year at the Copenhagen Fashion Summit, where she boldly declared that the fashion industry was in trouble given the findings of The Circle report Fashion Focus:  The Fundamental Right To A Living Wage.

Livia Firth (left) and Jessica Simor QC (right) speaking on a panel chaired by Lucy Siegle at Copenhagen Fashion Summit, 2017    Image: Copenhagen Fashion Summit

‘Sustainability’, ‘circularity’ and ‘ethical practice’ are words used regularly in the fashion industry, but often lack specific meaning and clarity for both industry members and consumers.  As we launch into our discussion, Livia Firth makes quick work of breaking down some of these meanings and provides a refreshingly clear and insightful commentary on what is happening in the industry right now and how it is effecting the planet and people.  “Sustainability is a complex issue that needs to be communicated simply”.

Livia founded Eco-Age in 2009 as a brand consultancy providing sustainability strategies and communication tools to fashion brands.  Their modus operandi is to demystify the supply chain so that brands can be sure they are working with suppliers and manufacturers that guarantee responsible sourcing and production of materials and ethical labour practices.  She and her team work with several brands to help them become sustainable and conscious as part of their core operations and values – not as a token ‘project’ seeking to gain sustainability credentials, without true and ongoing commitment to a truly sustainable business model. 

Livia points to a tactic of some large, fast-fashion brands, of producing a product or small number of products ‘sustainably’, that are then heavily promoted in an attempt to create a cleaner, greener brand image, which she dismisses as “bullshit green-washing”, to divert attention from the dirty fashion practices continuing throughout the supply chain in those brands.  She points to fast-fashion as the culprit for the dire and urgent environmental crises coming about now, and cites the endemic use of slave labour and unsafe working practices in the Far East as the root of the problem with the fast-fashion business model, which she says “must change”.  Eco-Age refuses to conduct business with fast-fashion businesses due to the ethical crimes being committed and their failure to provide a living wage.  To that end, Eco-Age works with luxury brands, which she explains as having the R&D budget and story-telling capability through their brands, to produce and sell fashion in an aspirational and responsible way. 

Discussing sustainability initiatives with Livia Firth (right), ahead of receiving her Lovie Award   Image: The 7th Annual Lovie Awards

My conversation with Livia throws up some nostalgic stories about her travels in search of responsibly-sourced materials, including a recent trip to my native Australia, where she visited a farm a stone’s throw (in Australian terms) from where my father farms his sheep.  She spoke of the farmers describing themselves as ‘custodians of the land’ and the sheep their treasures from which their livelihood stems. It is familiar to me – I grew up in a family of wheat and sheep farmers in Australia – and it brings back beautiful memories of when the nobility and longevity of wool was far more powerful than the cheap, fast pull of Primark. 

“I’m 48.  I’m old enough to have lived without fast-fashion.  We knew how to appreciate quality”.  Frank and to the point, Livia poetically describes fast-fashion as the trigger for our ‘divorce’ from fashion made from quality materials, that we historically loved, cherished and passed on.  She explained that her team chat about the state of fast-fashion in their office, commenting on how we have overindulged on fast-fashion, consuming too much, too quickly.  ‘So we’ve binged on fast-fashion and now it’s time for a diet in the form of sustainable, ethically made fashion?’ I ask.  “YES!” is Livia’s emphatic response. 

As we discuss the role of Eco-Age and others trying to transform the industry, it becomes apparent that fashion businesses wanting to transform their practices to meet increasing consumer demands for transparency and low environmental impact will need to function in a socially and politically compliant framework, no longer focussed primarily (or perhaps solely) on profits.  This is where the tension, and the biggest challenge, lies, according to Livia.  Due to planetary changes, including extreme flooding, drought and pollution to waterways, manufacturers are being forced to accept that depleted resources will effect production quantities and therefore effect price (and their ability to sustain the fast-fashion model) in a way that is physically and economically unsustainable – never mind the highly questionable ethics.  When profit margins are hit, action is likely.

Hearing about Eco-Age initiatives from Harriet Vocking, Head of Marketing (left) and Communication and Hannah Levitt, Senior Account Manager (right)   Image: The 7th Annual Lovie Awards

We turn to new technologies to solve some of the biggest challenges we face, both within fashion and other industries.  Livia comments that Fashion Tech Lab, a fund launched by Mira Duma earlier this year, is bringing new technologies to the fore that provide solutions that harness the power of science and that do not come at a huge environmental cost.  Discussing new scientific developments with Livia, she declares “science is our friend”.  “It can help us transition to the future without compromising on ethics”.  Her excitement at developments in materials so far, include lab-grown leather, mushroom and pineapple leathers and Orange Fiber, and she sees the relationship with fashion and technology as growing harmoniously – as long as technological advancements are not at a human cost.  The evolution of robotics, for example, worries Livia, along with the potential impact on future workforces.  When transitioning from ‘human-led’ to ‘tech-led’, taking the time for reflection and regulation to determine where the future career paths lie for those human workers is essential, she says. 

Livia Firth and Mira Duma have been friends for some time.  Describing her as a warrior, Livia tells me about a call she received from Mira after she had watched the ‘The True Cost’, pledging her commitment to doing something to help and describing how seeing the film had changed her.  Mira re-surfaced some time later having founded FashionTech Lab and subsequently enlisted Livia to the board, helping to guide and drive their initiatives forward. 

Livia’s online power is in her ability to harness and direct the voice of ethical practice towards the global stage.  Citing social media as a powerful and exciting tool, she comments that being awarded a Lovie is recognition of her engagement with the public, and indeed other public figures, to inform, educate and enlighten consumers – a powerful piece of the puzzle that requires solving to transform the polluting fashion industry.  “Imagine if every big blogger started to talk about social justice and environmental issues (on social media)!  It would change everything!”

Livia harnessing the power of Instagram to educate and inform consumers

The passion and commitment Livia has to effect positive change in the world’s second most polluting industry is crystal clear.  As an extension of the brands, manufacturers and makers (the fashion industry ‘stakeholders’) that Eco-Age works with, her team created the Green Carpet Fashion Awards alongside the Camera Nazionale Della Moda (CNMI), to bring all members of the industry (including textile mills, seamstresses and tech pioneers) together and publicise their involvement in creating fashion.  Undeniably, telling the story of how products are made and by whom is a powerful tool for engaging the public in choosing products that do not compromise the environment and the lives of others.  Livia harnessed her power with actresses, brands and other high profile stakeholders to help her drive the message of conscious consumption.

The Seamstresses of Maison Valentino Awarded the Art of Craftsmanship by Annie Lennox  Image:  Eco-Age.com

Orange Fiber and Newlife awarded for Technology and Innovation, presented by Mira Duma (centre) and Derek Blasberg (right)

We discussed recycling of textiles and garments and Livia is initially dismissive, in the sense that the deep rooted problems in the fast-fashion model can never be solved by simply recycling the millions of tonnes of products produced every year, which deplete the planet’s resources only to be discarded (or recycled) after a handful or wears.  The lack of provision of a living wage within the fast-fashion business model will not be addressed by creating a circular economy, she states.  She also points to the growing issue of micro-plastics in our waterways from synthetic fabrics, which release these tiny plastic particles into the water with each wash and for which new technologies are being developed in order to ingest or filter them out.  Some headway has been made here, but Livia sees this as yet another example of how the fast-fashion demands for synthetics (because natural fibres are too expensive) has led to environmental problems – causing dire costs to both planet and people.

Wrapping up my interview with the knowledge that we will be meeting at the Lovie Awards, Livia leaves me with the parting news of an upcoming store launch by Eco-Age client Bottletop, creating accessories made from recycled leathers in their flagship store, which is being entirely 3D printed from recycled plastic waste.  Stay tuned for the upcoming story, here on Techstyler.

Header Image:  Livia Firth, Winner of the Emerging Entrepreneur Award.  Image:  The 7th Annual Lovie Awards

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London College of Fashion and Kering – Fashion Sustainability and Education in Focus

Professor Frances Corner, Head of London College of Fashion opened the 3rd annual Kering Talk with the comment that when LCF moves to the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in 2020, all the faculties and facilities will be under one roof, giving the students and teaching staff “literally the space to think”.  There was a lot of thinking going on last night at this LCFxKering event and Professor Dilys Williams, Director of the Centre for Sustainable Fashion at LCF, bookended Frances Corner’s comment when she later closed the event by saying she likes to think of fashion by flipping a Zadie Smith’s quote to arrive at “what is the point of making beautiful clothes if they don’t make you think?” 

LONDON, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 14: Frances Corner (L), Head of London College of Fashion, and Dilys Williams, Director of Centre for Sustainable Fashion at London College of Fashion, attend the 2016 Kering Talk at the London College of Fashion on November 14, 2016 in London, England. Pic Credit: Dave Benett
Frances Corner (L) and Dilys Williams – Photo: Dave Benett

To that end, this Kering talk was a platform to showcase the sustainable principles and practice of Stella McCartney, the designer and the brand.  Not the only designer and brand focussing on sustainability, but certainly the most well known, Stella attended the talk to perform a Q&A with a fashion journalist.  It was enlightening in so much as Stella candidly described the fashion industry as a whole as “old fashioned”, “getting away with murder” and in dire need of a new approach to materials and production methods.


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I was hoping to ask Stella about her desire or success to date in introducing sustainable practices and materials into her Adidas collaboration, but alas, question time was short.  She did mention that Adidas made her the first ever pair of vegetarian leather Stan Smiths and she then pleaded with them to make all of their Stan Smiths with this material and see if anyone notices the difference.  Consumers might not, but given that the vegetarian version costs up to 70% more to produce than animal leathers, and Stan Smiths are sold at an accessible price point rather than the luxury price points of Stella’s brand, the financial team at Adidas definitely would.  That’s not to say this shouldn’t happen, it’s just clear that for mainstream sports and leisure wear brands there is less pricing leeway than for luxury brands.  

On to the presentation of the 2016 Kering Awards for Sustainable Fashion, which followed Stella’s Q&A.  Awards were issued on behalf of Stella McCartney and Brioni, both members of the Kering stable, to a number of LCF students who had designed and created products, materials and digital platforms in line with the brands’ sustainability initiatives.  

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LONDON, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 14: (L to R) Dilys Williams, Director of Centre for Sustainable Fashion at London College of Fashion, award winners Elise Comrie and Agraj Jain, and Beatrice Lazat, Human Resources Director at Kering,attend the 2016 Kering Talk at the London College of Fashion on November 14, 2016 in London, England. Pic Credit: Dave Benett
Dilys Williams, Elise Comrie, Agraj Jain, and Beatrice Lazat – Photo: Dave Benett
LONDON, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 14: Stella McCartney (2R) poses with award winners Iciar Bravo, Anna Pasalic, and Irene-Marie Seeling at the 2016 Kering Talk at the London College of Fashion on November 14, 2016 in London, England. Pic Credit: Dave Benett
Iciar Bravo, Anna Pasalic, Stella McCartney and Irene-Marie Seeling – Photo: Dave Benett

It was difficult on the night to get to grips with the projects and research the students undertook as they were only explained in 30-second summaries during the talk.  I’ve dug a little deeper to get the inside track on the work of Innovation award winner Irene-Marie Seelig, who developed Amadou mushroom skin and proved its properties were workable in accessories, offering an alternative to animal suede and leather.

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Irene’s journey began with a focus elsewhere, on health and the medicinal benefits of mushrooms in treating disease, which led her to research the usability of a particular Transylvanian mushroom material as a leather alternative, supported by Jess Lertvilai.  Her focus was to improve the textile’s aesthetic, durability, circular supply chain and business model.  

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The vegetarian mushroom leather textile is a 100 percent renewable, biodegradable and compostable material.  Products that are made with this material decompose at the end of their lifecycle and enrich soil, supporting plant growth and feeding back into the ecosystem.  

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Irene called upon the expertise of SATRA to test the material with a multitude of finishes and experimented with varying treatments and worked the leather into various thicknesses, eventually using the optimal material to create a prototype shoe in collaboration with LCF Footwear and materials PhD student, Liz Ciokajlo.  She is now looking to develop the Amadou mushroom skin further and work with NGO’s to create a reliable and sustainable supply chain for this material. 

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The CSF website explains that the awards take place after the students receive three months of intensive mentoring from sustainability experts from Stella McCartney, CSF and LCF.  “Two prizes will be awarded for each brand: a monetary prize of ten thousand Euros to the project that displayed the most innovation and a three month internship with one of the brands to the student who demonstrated collaboration and rigorous research”. 

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Professor Dilys Williams engaged the audience with her closing speech, urging the crowd to consider the role education has in creating a more sustainable, responsible fashion industry.  “Changing education is the biggest change we can make…practices will then change and so will our culture and society”.  

The finalists of the 2016 Kering Award for Sustainable Fashion were: Irene-Marie Seelig, Iciar Bravo Tomboly, and Ana Pasalic for Stella McCartney; and students Agraj Jain and Elise Comrie for Brioni.

For an overview of the finalists’ work see the CSF blog : http://sustainable-fashion.com/tag/kering-award-for-sustainable-fashion/

For more information about the work of Professor Dilys Williams and the CSF click here: http://sustainable-fashion.com/

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Martine Jarlgaard’s Mixed Reality Show at London Fashion Week – A World First

Often looking inward (and perhaps gazing too much at it’s own toned, teenage-model navel),  fashion, for all the illusion of creativity and dynamism that it exudes to a captive public audience, is, in reality, largely conservative.  “I don’t see much innovation in fashion” says Martine Jarlgaard, ex-Vivienne Westwood Red Label Head Designer who has also designed for All Saints and Diesel.  It’s a broad professional backdrop from which she launched her brand Martine Jarlgaard London in 2014, and is presenting for the first time in an immersive ‘mixed reality’ experience on the official schedule at London Fashion Week in September 2016.

“I wanted to wait until I had a significant reason to present” said Martine, following a long discussion about the current state of the fashion industry and concerns about the environmental impact of mass production and waste in the garment manufacturing industry.  These are concerns that have been simmering for some time and a handful of emerging designers are tackling these issues head on.  Martine is one.  She is “disappointed with fashion” and feels a universal transparent system that untangles and delineates the supply chain and sourcing of materials is needed so that it is possible for brands and consumers to understand the impact of the materials being chosen and make informed decisions.  Many designers, for example, are not aware that some fabrics are created using devastatingly toxic chemicals that pollute and endanger workers and local populations.  Currently, this is not transparent.  She says it’s time for the fashion industry to be re-envisioned and re-defined and find the investment to create alternatives to the current polluting and wasteful processes. 

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As this article goes to print I read a piece by Richie Siegel about the expected future domination of Amazon Fashion, despite its current lack of curation and aesthetic appeal to fashion shoppers – a problem now being addressed.  Amazon’s pricing model is not based on large margins and sales discounting to shift stock like traditional fashion retailers.  Its margins are small, prices are keen and products are produced to fill gaps in the market – an already more ‘sustainable’ and pragmatic model – where a t-shirt costing £5 to produce is sold to consumers at around £6.50, in contrast to a traditional retailer who would squeeze suppliers down to a price of closer to £2 in order to sell to the consumer at £6.50.  Since Amazon would potentially sell tens of thousands of units (based on it’s market penetration and 65 million worldwide subscribers) it follows that if the products created by Amazon were sustainably and ethically produced it could trigger a big shift in the current polluting, inefficient, land-fill creating fast fashion sector.  Granted, this still may result in a lot of product eventually finding its way to land-fill, but the business model and the motivations are promising, especially if cleaner production methods are employed, and the customer is at the centre of this model.  For more information about calculating the cost of fast fashion, see my previous article Fashion Data: Calculating the cost of the fashion machine.

Martine is a curious and impassioned designer with a rich educational background (she gained a BA/MA at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts in Copenhagen and did a stint at Rhode Island School of Design where she studied sculpture, artistic anatomy and anthropology amongst other broader fine art and design subjects, and has always worked in a cross-disciplinary manner.  She feels that the solutions and impetus for the change needed in the fashion industry to achieve a level of responsible, sustainable manufacturing will come from outside the industry and that technology will most likely find the solution.  Amazon is a technology company, and as mentioned above, looks set to disrupt fast fashion and provide some solutions to production excess and bloated inventories.    

Martine and I discuss current examples of big brands tackling sustainability and I mention the Nike Flyknit trainers, manufactured using a single knitting process creating the upper with minimal wastage – no leather tanning and sewing of component layers is required – and it can be manufactured anywhere in the world as it is machine driven.  This knitted upper began as a running shoe style and has now been used in a vast array of styles including the classic Air Force One and Nike Air Max.  Hershel have just released their ‘ApexKnit’ range of backpacks using the same knit technology and other product lines will surely follow.  Digital knitting provides a solution that creates superior design, comfort, wearability and sustainability.  Maybe that’s the key.  The sustainability looks like a bonus here, as the design and product performance is enhanced AND the product is sustainable.  It is also cheaper and easier to develop and iterate, therefore creating a far superior solution to the old leather, fabric and foam uppers made of many components requiring man power for stitching and assembly. 

af1m1 nike-flyknit-air-max-blue-lagoon-bright-crimson-01 Herschel-Supply-ApexKnit-CollectionTop: Nike Air Force One  –  Middle: Nike Air Max  – Above:  Herschel ApexKnit backpack

Martine mentions being inspired by Nike’s presentation at the Copenhagen Fashion Summit in which they explained the commercial and sustainable success of FlyKnit, achieved through technology and innovation.  Martine later clarifies that Nike displayed a rare level of honesty at the summit, expressing frustration with the slow pace of change towards sustainability in the fashion industry.  She happens to be wearing a pair of flyknit trainers during our interview, along with a gorgeous pinky, fleshy shimmering silk peaked slash neck blouse from her AW15 collection.

01 Martine Jarlgaard London AW15Martine Jarlgaard London AW15

We discuss luxury fashion in this context and when Martine mentions the apparent lack of desire for true innovation in this sector our discussion leads to a lack of cross-disciplinary teams in luxury fashion and a persistent uniformity and conservatism.  Where a team’s perspective is limited, perhaps the resulting creative expression through product is too.  It’s difficult to find varied perspectives on solutions to creative problems if every team member has a similar professional experience and background, which tends to be the case in the luxury fashion sector. 

Since launching her brand, Martine has used a combination of sustainable, recycled and surplus fabrics from luxury mills in Italy.  Her design philosophy is to create garments with a lifespan beyond one season, that are made to the highest quality, with a minimal aesthetic and an element of the unexpected.  She explores the tension between minimal and maximal so that her pieces have a personality and cites sculptural three dimensional creation of the garments as a driver for the silhouettes. 

b. Martine Jarlgaard London Drift Ice AW16 c. Martine Jarlgaard London Drift Ice AW16 d. Martine Jarlgaard London Drift Ice AW16Martine Jarlgaard London AW16

Martine’s SS17 collection will launch at London Fashion Week on September 17th with a mixed reality experience using Hololens, in collaboration with DoubleMe, who provide a novel 3D capture system, HoloPortal, that converts 2D videos into dynamic 3D models in real-time and supported by the Fashion Innovation AgencyHololens is a headset that projects a hologram in front of the wearer and allows them to interact with it by walking around it and moving nearer or farther, giving a truly immersive and personal experience dictated by the wearer. Martine’s collection will be presented via Hololens, meaning technically, it could be viewed by anyone in any location who possesses the headset, and physically in an accompanying garment presentation at the W Hotel London, marking the first ever holographic 3D mixed reality fashion ‘show’ for want of a more appropriate word.  So why this rather than a fashion show?  The fashion show format has barely changed since its inception in the early 1900’s and does not allow any kind of personal experience with the clothes – it is passive – as is much of the interaction in the way fashion is presented.  There is a lack of true engagement when sat at a distance viewing clothes zoom past on a runway and in a matter of minutes, the whole experience is over.  The format of a fashion show is also restrictive in that there is an intense build-up and planning and a huge team required to deliver a show to very tight deadlines within a remit that can curb the creativity of the designers and restrict the selection of garments shown, as outlined in a recent interview with London-based designers Fyodor Golan.  

Volvo-Cars-Microsoft-HoloLens-experience_01Microsoft Hololens – experimenting with car models in mixed reality

Martine found complete synergy with Hololens because it allows her to work across disciplines with their digital team and create a 3D experience befitting her sculptural design approach.  Here, the presentation format is symbiotic with her design approach and affords her the opportunity to showcase that and tell a story which can then be navigated from the viewer’s perspective, making another leap forward in our journey to the experiential as a form of fashion presentation.  Crucially, her buyers are “super-excited” about the presentation format.  Fashion is changing, albeit slowly, and it feels like Martine is at the foot of what will ultimately be the crest of an experiential fashion wave.  She plans to work with this technology for coming seasons, declaring that this is in no way a one-off, but rather the beginning of an exciting journey to differentiating her brand in an intelligent and meaningful way and raising awareness of her successful creation of sustainable luxury fashion.   

dune-london-diipa-khosla-15Online Influencer Diipa Khosla in Martine Jarlgaard London  at London Fashion Week

For details of Martine’s previous collaboration with Alcantara SpA click here 

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For information on first forays into fashion design using Hololens, click here

For a run down of fashion’s exploration of VR to date, read Emma Hope Allwood’s piece on Dazed Digital

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Fashion Data: Calculating the Cost of the Fashion Machine

A sister exhibition to Fashion Hacked at the Het Nieuwe Instituut in Rotterdam, Fashion Data is a stark reality check about the consumption of clothing and its societal meaning both in the West and East, along with the environmental implications for the planet. 

tmm_fashion_data_3_foto_johannes_schwartz tmm_fashion_data_4-_foto_johannes_schwartzImages: Johannes Schwartz

Fashion Data incorporates Fashion Machine: an installation by Conny Groenewegen in which she slashes and re-works a typical leftover product of the fast fashion/clothing industry, the fleece sweater.  Conny and her team of students cut up and ‘re-spun’ the fleeces onto giant spools and looped them onto huge looms’ to demonstrate the scale of waste and the banality of the fleece jumper, which is largely undesired as a second-hand product and regularly finds its way into mattresses at the end of its lifecycle, or worse still, landfill.  Conny makes thought-provoking statements about the role of designers in mass manufacturing for fast fashion, summed up in the set of stills below, followed by a film documenting the creation of the Fashion Machine installation. 

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To view Conny Groenewegen’s fashion and knitwear design process in depth, watch this video.

In the film, note the polyethylene (PET) water bottles in the background, from which fleece jumpers have historically been made.  The recycling of PET bottles into polyester fabric to create fleeces is fascinating.  See the full process here.

Balancing Conny’s visual representation of physical waste is Fashion Data – a series of black and white (visually and metaphorically) statistics that give a context to the current European habits of purchasing, wearing and disposing of clothing.  I’ll let the numbers do the talking.

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The exhibition was curated by fashion historian José Teunissen.  Her publication Fashion Data is available to read online and fleshes out the numbers stated above.  It’s essential reading and explains the historic foundation of Fast Fashion, its environmental impact and the emerging slow fashion movement.  It is also a useful visual summary of the Fashion Data exhibition that’s as good as viewing it first hand.  To paraphrase Teunissen, 30% of today’s clothing is sold at the recommended retail price, another 30% disappears in the sales and 40% remains unsold or doesn’t even reach the shops.  This is the deadstock I spoke of in my previous post Fashion Hacked.   Today’s overproduction of Fast Fashion produces an enormous amount of waste with negative social and environmental impacts.  There are solutions being developed to make materials production cleaner and more sustainable, but the business of, and appetite for, Fast Fashion remain strong.

Fashion Data also alerted me to the work of Dutch fashion brand Youasme (womens) Measyou (mens), which launched in 2010 as the world’s first crowdfunded fashion brand creating slow fashion collections of high quality made-to-last knitwear and accessories.

youasme_measyou_pilgrimage_photo_j.w._kaldenbachImage: J.W. Kaldenbach

Screen Shot 2016-04-04 at 10.00.23 Screen Shot 2016-04-04 at 10.00.44 Screen Shot 2016-04-04 at 10.01.04An understated androgynous collage – Youasme Measyou AW14 collection.  Images: Blommers/Schumm.  Styling: Maarten Spruyt

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On a stylistic level I was also struck by the natural ease of Youasme/Measyou’s androgyny – it feels tangible and forever.  This is in stark contrast with the overt androgyny expressed by some current fashion designers, including JW Anderson, whose work feels firmly ‘of the moment’ and deliberately provocative – more a scream of gender bending than a quiet dissolving of the aesthetic gender divide.  No doubt both have merit and power for different reasons but it strikes me that Youasme’s expression feels more real; more authentic.  Herein lies the ever fascinating aspect of fashion’s aesthetic debate – its subjectivity.

In addition to Youasme, a host of Dutch designers are utilising sustainable materials and practices, highlighted in conjunction with Fashion Data at Het Nieuwe Instituut’s Temporary Fashion Exhibition.  Here’s a roundup.

paulin1Pauline Van Dongen‘s washable, wearable solar panel knitted shirt.  Image: Liselotte Fleur

The parting insight delivered by Fashion Data comes in the form of award winning film Unravel by Meghna Gupta.  Shot in India, the film illustrates the end point of clothing from the West that is sent for recycling and reveals the gaping divide between East and West and the perceived value of clothing.

The film runs deep into value judgements about society as a whole.  It is shocking and revelatory.  Some Indian factory workers assume that clothes being bought from stores like Primark are very expensive, meaning that Western consumers are very wealthy and can afford to simply give away their clothes for recycling and buy new ones. They also draw the conclusion that Western women are more worthy and beautiful compared to Eastern women because of this excessive consumption.  One female factory worker ponders, while removing decorative crystals from underwear, what the wearer must have done to deserve such a fate – stones on her underwear?!  She concluded the woman must have been forced to wear it as some form of punishment for bad behaviour.  Her comment is a stark reminder of a practical and functional attitude towards clothing, and of patriarchal dominance. 

The full length film can be viewed here. It is a profound and perspective-inducing film that is equally compelling and educational.  Further clothing recycling information is available here.  For information about the sustainable fashion effort in the UK, click here

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Fashion Hacked – The Designers Giving Zara a Lesson in ‘Derivative Design’

There are constant rumblings throughout the fashion industry about copyright, Fast Fashion and IP ownership.  Add to this debates about the impact of Fast Fashion outlets copying designer fashion and you have to wonder; how will small independent designer brands survive in an industry that is getting faster and cheaper by the day?  Independent designers can’t compete with the likes of Zara, the mega-brand owned by Inditex fashion magnate Amancio Ortega who was for a time last year the richest man in the world ahead of Bill Gates and is currently the second richest.  

Zara can copy a design developed and crafted by an independent designer or more established fashion house – check out this example of Zara copying Celine – that may have taken months to create and have a cheaper version for sale in their stores within weeks of that design being presented (and snatched). How should independent designers confront this?  If they claim infringement of their design rights can they afford to pursue legal action against the likes of Zara?  Doubtful.

tmm_hacked_1_foto_johannes_schwartz tmm_hacked_3_foto_johannes_schwartzImages: Johannes Schwartz

Dutch designers Alexander van Slobbe and Francisco van Benthum took the bold and unexpected approach of hacking Zara and other retailers guilty of copying theirs and their contemporaries designs – they’re playing them at their own game. They’ve added another phase to the clothing lifecycle by purchasing a huge quantity of dead-stock (unsold and out of season clothing that often goes to landfill) from clothing retailers selling garments ‘inspired by’ or derived directly from the work of other designers and re-engineered it to make it new.  Some garments had pockets added.  Others were slashed and had sections of fabric inserted into them to create new silhouettes.  In summary, the duo have created a new collection from a number of unsold ones – hacking the hackers.

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It’s ingenious and inspiring.  It’s green and creative.  The exhibition staff were on hand to explain the designers’ motivation and inspiration, and what was initially a statement about industry ethics and environmental awareness has now grown into a brand.  Pieces from the collection are currently exhibited and for sale at the Het Nieuwe Instituut in Rotterdam and the statement has been so popular and garnered such demand that the designers are setting up an online store too. Their stockists include Margreet Holsthoorn, an expansive gallery-like boutique I visited en route to the ‘Hacked exhibition’. 

DSC01279Margreet Holsthoorn Boutique, Rotterdam

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The exhibition ‘Hacked’ features their ‘re-made’ collection and the work of fashion students from the Willem De Kooning Academie invited to re-engineer clothing and consider the lifespan of a garment following a week long masterclass with van Slobbe and van Benthum.  The thinking here is that if a garment is altered it becomes new and therefore at least equally, if not more, valuable. 

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Workshops are also being held at the Instituut for school children to learn how to customise clothing to renew its appeal – even taking it as far as turning stains on t-shirts into decorative embroidered sections to make them wearable again.

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This exhibition compliments the Instituut’s third floor gallery presentation ‘Fashion Data’, a stark reality check about the Western consumption of clothing and its societal meaning, along with the implications for the planet.  I’ll be expanding on this in an upcoming post.

Right now, fashion is ripe for disruption – hackers welcome!

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