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

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

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

Image: Henry Nicholls/Reuters

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

Patrick McDowell at LFW. Image: Techstyler

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

Image: Techstyler

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

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

Questionnaire respondent
Image: Techstyler

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

BFC’s Positive Fashion Panel. Image: Instagram

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

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

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

Questionnaire Respondent
Image: Techstyler

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

Image: Techstyler

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

Image: Techstyler

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

In Conversation with Anna Gedda – Head of Sustainability at H&M

H&M made a bold statement at the beginning of the Copenhagen Fashion Summit, declaring their aim to become fully circular (which means moving towards using only recyclable materials and renewable energy sources) by 2030. I spoke with Anna Gedda, their Head of Sustainability to find out how.

Opening our discussion, I asked how H&M will become a fully circular company, with a particular emphasis on materials, which are a key challenge in terms of natural resource consumption and the challenges in recycling textiles containing multiple fibre types – cotton and elastane, for example. Here is Anna’s response:

“We have looked into different parts of a circular system and identified areas to focus on. We use 20% recyclable or recycled materials. We need to develop our current materials so that we can achieve 100%, and also replace some of the currently used materials with new ones”.

Anna then mentions the H&M Foundation’s Global Change Award, which looks for early stage sustainable materials via their annual global competition. This competition is a key source of inspiration and initial ideas for the development of new materials for H&M.  She outlines some of the recent winning entries, including a textile that acts as a solar panel, a leather made of grape waste, and previously a citrus waste textile. She explains that it is not only new materials being proposed, but new processes for manufacturing textiles are also being devised.  The winners may develop materials for H&M, Anna explains, but the competition has an altruistic outlook, which I interpret as meaning it aims to unearth great ideas and developments for their own sake, aligned with the company’s CSR mandate.  Anna goes on to to say that whilst H&M aim to identify innovation and scale it, she concedes that many ideas that work in the lab are not scalable, and therefore not feasible for H&M’s products.

Grape Leather Innovation

Anna segues into the H&M sustainable Conscious Exclusive collection, which is in store all year round and uses innovative recycled and organic materials, including Bionic yarn created from recycled ocean plastic.  H&M uses this collection as a testing ground for sustainable fabrics with the aim of increasing demand for, and awareness of, sustainable products amongst consumers; ultimately bringing the prices down.  This ‘dipping the toe in’ approach is a safe way for H&M to experiment with introducing new technology and textiles into their supply chain without significantly impacting their bottom line, and without taking big risks.

H&M Conscious Exclusive collection 2017 

Linking back to the Global Change Award, Anna explains that in addition to receiving prize money, the winners take part in a year long accelerator, which gives them access to the H&M supply chain to work in their suppliers’ factories.  During this time they are able to test their materials and innovations within a live supply chain context, revealing whether they have the potential to meet the demands of cutting, sewing and finishing in the garment making process – a useful learning experience for the competition winners.

Drilling down in to the materials innovation effort at H&M, I ask about the level of involvement of materials scientists in the development process and ask “who is driving materials innovation?”  Anna explains that scientific input is key to achieving the 2030 circularity goal.  The development of materials depends upon working with academics to understand planetary boundaries and new technologies for agriculture – cotton growing alternatives, for example.  Academia, innovators, and suppliers – the actual producers – are key in driving materials innovation.  She added that suppliers see that the fashion industry is changing and they want to create new materials to better meet sustainability demands.

My next question for Anna, aimed at digging into the issue of fair wages and exploitation in the garment industry, is: “What would you say to consumers who are concerned about the transparency, or a lack of transparency in manufacturing. How can consumers feel comfortable about H&M and about going into H&M and buying something off the shelf and knowing that nobody has been harmed in that process and that a fair wage has been paid, especially as your prices are so competitive. What would you say to the consumer who is concerned about that?”

Anna’s response was as follows: “I would say that they can be confident going into an H&M store and buy things that they love, I mean, we really have high ambitions and we have a long term perspective and want to be part of this industry not just for the next three years, but the next thirty years – we are doing what we can to ‘future-proof’ the company, as well as the industry.”  In an age when transparency is increasingly important, H&M have engaged with the SAC (Sustainable Apparel Coalition) and are using the Higg Index, which they hope will go a long way to achieving transparency.  Anna sees third party verification as an essential part in increasing transparency. Anna mentions the Pulse of the Fashion Industry Report (summarised here) which uses the Higg Index, an open source supply chain and transparency assessment tool, stating that she believes this demonstrates how third party verification (from SAC) can lend credibility to the fashion industry’s sustainability efforts.

Wrapping up the interview, I ask Anna what she considers to be the most exciting and game changing technology in the industry’s efforts to become sustainable. “Finding ways to recycle from textile to textile – today you are not able to do this in a scalable and efficient way, because you don’t have the technology.”  The aim is to be able to place any garment/textile in a solvent, recover the fibres and use them to make new textiles.  “This will be a game changer for a circular system, and I think we will see such technologies within the next five years.”  She tells me she has seen technologies approaching this capability already.  Textile recycling is already possible in this manner, but there are limitations as to the fibres that can be recovered, and some blended textiles (woven cotton and elastane, for example) can not be fully recycled using current technology.

Content Thread for textile recycling

In closing, Anna makes a key point in terms of this recyclability versus design philosophy at H&M – designers being restricted to using one type of fibre or material can significantly restrict their creativity and, ultimately, the aesthetics of the garment.  She suggests that single fibre designs may not satisfy customer demand for interesting products, so full recyclability of all textile blends in order to achieve circularity without a compromise on design appears to be the answer.

For a comprehensive explanation of the H&M Sustainability initiatives see their website and The H&M Group Sustainability Report 2016

The Higg Index modules are downloadable on completion of this form

Follow Techstyler on Twitter and Instagram

CitizenM: The Hotels Inspired by ‘Global Citizen’ Fashion Designers

CitizenM was founded by the ex-owner/CEO of fashion company MEXX, Rattan Chadha.  Mr Chadha was struck by the uninspiring nature of hotel accommodation for his 150-strong design team as they travelled around the world researching fashion trends and visiting suppliers.  His young dynamic design team were travelling on strict budgets and staying in traditional hotels that left them out of budget and uninspired.  That’s when the concept of citizenM was born.  Robin Chadha explains the light bulb moment that led his father Rattan to ask himself why the hotel industry hadn’t been reinvented.  Why didn’t it reflect global citizens who lead dynamic lives? Further inspiration for the concept of providing affordable luxury for global citizens was in the form of H&M’s collaborations with luxury designers like Karl Lagerfeld.  The founder and his team came up with a list of frustrations around the hotel experience (pre 2008, when the first citizenM hotel launched in Amsterdam) which included queuing for check in and check out, filling in the same paperwork every stay, the impersonal nature of a big check-in desk, the restricted restaurant hours … the list went on.  Why wasn’t the hotel experience more customer driven?

Karl-Lagerfeld-x-HM

Enter CitizenM, where technology and design have facilitated a 5 star hotel model in terms of comfort (the bed and shower are second-to-none) with pruning of unnecessary costs (a streamlined 24 hour canteen in favour of a heavily staffed restaurant) and self check-in.  The practical rooms, as mentioned below, are clever pods that were built modular and off-site, meaning a cost effective build and efficient use of hotel space.  The pods are complimented brilliantly by the enormous and welcoming social hubs for drinking, reading, watching TV, sitting by the fire or catching up with friends.

DSC01242DSC01216DSC01238

Arriving at CitizenM Rotterdam feels like embarking on an adventure.  The wooden spiral staircase feels like a modern day entrance to the coolest cubby house  you’ve never seen.  We checked ourselves in at the landing level which welcomes in the harbour via vast glass panels.  Glance left and there’s a sofa-surrounded fire place. Glance right and there’s a buzzing bar. 

DSC01503DSC01245

In between are some cool shelves, a red ceramic glazed gnome and few other oddities and trinkets.  There’s no fuss here.  We’re greeted in a non-pretentious and fun way – it’s more of a chat than a check-in.  The room’s no fuss too.  Our harbour view suits us just fine.  Welcome Citizen Roberts indeed!

DSC01201DSC01494DSC01221

The accommodations are like a pod.  The fun cubby house vibe continues and I unpack in an instant so I can check out the tech.  The blazing sun across the sofas makes breakfast a two hour affair.  Yep, there’s loads to see in Rotterdam.  My list of must-sees is long. I’m just too relaxed to move.  Faced with a book shelf full of interesting reads it’s not until hours later that I venture back to my pod – where I make the mistake of launching on to the way too comfortable bed and indulging in the hundreds of channels on TV.  Maybe I should watch a film?  Trapped again,  I’m typing away here at long after 2pm and feeling plenty chilled and comfy.  Everything’s at the touch of an iPad.  The LED mood-coded lights, the room temperature, the curtains and blinds.  It’s all touch screen simple and feels like a home away from home. It suits me.  It’s my ideal hotel, because it feels nothing like one.

DSC01255DSC01250DSC01532

The bed dominates the room, which is a haven for intense chilling out.  The button operated curtain and blind mean barely moving to get just the right amount of light and let the view in from the harbour side courtyard.  

DSC01194DSC01248DSC01202

Delving a little deeper into the tech and design behind Citizen M, Robin explains that the hotels, which are all identical in terms of IT infrastructure, have a central Dashboard at the HQ near Amsterdam powered by a piece of proprietary software collating data from all the hotels.  If the lights aren’t working in room 303 at the Rotterdam hotel, they – and the smartphone-enabled staff – know about it.  Faults are coded according to importance.  If there’s a problem with a shower the hotel staff (aka Ambassadors) know about it and are probably actioning a fix before it’s even registered with the guest.  The iPad that is the central control panel for the room is out of battery? It’s flagged on the dashboard, but not urgent – in all likelihood the guest is happy to sort this one out, but if they can’t, CitizenM is informed and ready to respond.  CitizenM’s hotels that are customer driven and responsive and I find myself asking the same question as Rattan Chadha pre-2008 – Why hadn’t the hotel industry been reinvented?

153f550eee4b29ea741d511649b1000a

citizenM-London-Bankside-room_JPG_Page_1

The team behind the CitizenM hotels includes Robin Chadha, Michael Levie (COO), Nick Price (IT) and Concrete Architects, whose modular room design is shown above. 

My discussion with Robin rounds off with a view into what’s on the horizon.  A bulging list of new CitizenM Hotel locations over the coming years includes the Tower of London (July 2016), Shoreditch (September 2016) and London St Pauls (2019).  Other locations include The Bowery, New York (2017) and Taipei and Shanghai through their joint venture with Shuntak. 

The fact that we citizens of the world are increasingly global is undisputed.  The centrality of customers to product and service industries and their increasingly consumer-led business models is also irrefutable.  CitizenM fits perfectly, as you would expect from any fashion entrepreneur worth his (sartorial) salt.

Follow me:  Twitter @Thetechstyler  and  Instagram @techstyler

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. 

Screen Shot 2016-04-04 at 13.13.34Screen Shot 2016-04-04 at 13.14.12Screen Shot 2016-04-04 at 13.19.06Screen Shot 2016-04-04 at 13.14.46

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.

Screen Shot 2016-04-04 at 13.26.55

Screen Shot 2016-04-04 at 13.27.49

Screen Shot 2016-04-04 at 13.28.26

Screen Shot 2016-04-04 at 13.28.59

Screen Shot 2016-04-04 at 13.29.36

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

20140510004311-angelique

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

Header Image: Techstyler

Follow me:  Twitter @Thetechstyler  and  Instagram @techstyler