The little shop on Pepper Street in Canary Wharf where our beautifully curated pop-up is taking place had it’s launch night last Tuesday. And by all accounts it was a great success!
There were delicious nibbles and fresh punch, a shop full of beautiful products to browse, and lots of like-minded people wanting to hear more about the contentious question of whether Fast Fashion can ever be sustainable.
The discussion was chaired by Carol Rose, Technical Advisor to the UK Government’s Sustainable Clothing Action Plan, and the panel was made up of Dr. Francesco Mazzarella, a post-doctoral research fellow at the Centre for Sustainable Fashion, currently researching and teaching about the role of design activism in the field of sustainable fashion; Fee Uhssi, a fashion designer with her own ethical luxury brand of clothing; and Sylwia Bajek, a fashion and art consultant specialising in brand strategy and development.
What was clear from the outset was that we are all still looking for answers to the question of whether or not Fast Fashion, (the concept that designs move quickly from the catwalks to the highstreet so as to capture current fashion trends), can actually be sustainable. Whereas most fashion labels traditionally produced two main collections a year (spring/summer and autumn/winter), in the early 90s, high street brands began to feel the need to increase mid-season interest in their products thereby increasing the number of collections and boosting sales. Today, the high street shop Zara, for example, has up to 24 collections a year. The giant retailer H&M can design and execute a new style in as little as two weeks. Surely examples of Fast Fashion gone mad?
It was agreed across the panel that for sustainability in the fashion industry to succeed, there needs to be more transparency for the consumer. The emotional and functional desirability of a product is what initially grabs a consumer's interest and, all too often, the provenance of a product or its ethical or sustainable criteria is neither known about, nor considered as a deciding factor in its purchase. What keeps coming to mind for me though, is that we cannot escape the fact that to be truly sustainable would possibly mean to not be selling new things at all, which of course would mean massive failings to a core business model, something these multinational fashion behemoths are never going to let happen.
Dr Mazzarella was optimistic, however. He talked about how people are becoming more interested in the story behind what they consume and are keen to make a connection with the maker or artisan. I can personally attest to this as I have noticed this is something that makes people come back to me and my StripeySquirrel brand time and again. Consumers are intrigued to understand how I make my clothing, where I source my textiles from, and in many cases they want to donate their old clothing and fabrics to be upcycled and given another lease of life. They are investing in my story as well as in a new piece of clothing.
The reaction to Fast Fashion is definitely a slow burner, but it does feel like change is happening. There are so many initiatives to engage consumers, captivate the sustainable shopper and to raise awareness in general. Pop-up shops such as our Kitty Ferreira & Friends shop, swishing parties, swap shops, repair cafes and sustainable lifestyle workshops hosted by ethical and sustainable enterprises are all helping to alert the consumer to the fact that Fast Fashion, although not erasable as a concept, does not have to be the only way we consume fashion.
(From left, Carol Rose, Fee Uhssi, Francesco Mazzarella and Sylwia Bajek)
The panellists all concurred however that there does need to be more connection between these sort of initiatives and Sylwia Bajek expressed her well held belief that there is most definitely a role for government in assisting in raising awareness of this very important issue. Dr Mazzarella was keen to point out that small businesses and local artisans have a positive scope in the future of the fashion industry – we are adaptable and open to change and have local audiences who we can positively influence.
Panellist Fee Uhssi, with her work as an ethical luxury fashion designer, promotes a zero waste ethic with her products and is working hard to break down sizing discrimination within her product lines. Her patterns are creative and inventive so as to waste as little matrerial as possible. These are the very steps towards successful sustainability that many enterprises could learn from.
Dr Mazarrella concluded that the heritage of making and creating is is being lost, so it is of crucial importance that the message communicated to small enterprises and businesses regarding sustainability is not that it is all just about the environment, but that cultural and social sustainability need a greater focus too.
Fashion Revolution week has finished for another year, but the crusade to change a damaging and destructive model of consumerism is by no means over. Designers can be catalysts of change and together with the small scale and varied global initiatives that are helping audiences change the way they buy. It was agreed that to see a revolution in fashion, Fashion Activism is a fundamental concept for its success. We need to focus much less on the idea of seasonal collections and ranges and we need to empower and educate our audiences to make changes in the way they consume. From the audience at the launch event, Karen Arthur, founder of www.Reddskin.co.uk, herself a creative designer, maker and educator, made the very valid point that we should be teaching our children and, in turn our communities, about the importance and value of crafting, sewing and making. I couldn’t agree more with Karen and would go further to say that the 1940s concept of ‘make do and mend’ needs to have a real resurgence too.
Carol Rose wrapped up what was indeed a very interesting and informative panel discussion by reinforcing the point that the idea of a linear system of consumerism, profit and greed feels to be on the way out, and that a new and exciting approach to designing, creating and consuming seems to be creeping into the way we approach fashion. Education, empowerment and activism are surely the key features for a sustainable future of slow fashion.
(Valerie Goode, Founder of Kitty Ferreira, and myself during
set up of the pop-up shop.)