Wear To Next? The future of sustainable fashion

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Creatively Centred

Wear to next? Working together to shape the future for sustainable fashion

This month saw the second event in the Creatively Centred series – this time focusing on fashion, sustainability and how the creative sector can support a much-needed cultural shift in the fashion industry.

Creative Central Newcastle partnered with Impact+ and Northumbria University to host Wear to next? Working together to shape the future for sustainable fashion on Wednesday 22 May at The Common Room in the centre of Newcastle.

Attendees were encouraged to network as well as take in the Impact+ exhibition on the circular economy in fashion, shop for pre-loved bargains at a pop-up boutique from Cancer Research UK and give their wardrobe favourites some TLC at The Repair Shop.

At the centre of the event, Professor Anne Peirson-Smith and Dr Alana James from Northumbria University welcomed a panel of sustainability experts from across the fashion industry and beyond.

Speakers included Gillian Ridley Whittle, founder and CEO of Peachaus, sustainability consultant David Reay, sustainability consultant and writer Emma Slade Edmondson, Deploy chief product officer Tosin Trim and RE:BOURN founder Sophie Cabourn.

The fall of fast fashion

There’s no denying that fashion is big business, and at a dangerously high cost. “The textile and clothing industry are the second biggest industry revenue driver in the world after oil and gas,” David explained, “It’s also the second biggest polluter in the world.”

Responsible for some of the poorest working conditions globally – with 93% of garment workers not being paid a living wage – as well as significant material waste and environmental damage, the fashion industry as it exists today causes significant harm to people as well as the planet.

For former Topshop fashion director Gillian, the industry’s dark side became impossible to ignore: “I realised I had been part of a really cruel industry. I realised I could no longer be part of this because I had been part of the problem, and I needed to be part of a solution – part of creating and reimagining the industry.”

This realisation is one that a lot of people, both fashion industry professionals and consumers, are making. While fast fashion still definitely holds appeal for many – as proved by the popularity of Pretty Little Thing’s (PLT’) recent casting call – an increasing number of people are turning their back on what they see as an unethical, wasteful and damaging industry.

Sustainability consultant Emma explained, “We have seen behaviour change—we have seen the second-hand market grow exponentially.”

According to the panel, fashion brands’ endless pursuit of profit at the expense of people and planet will ultimately pave the way for their own downfall.

“I think what’s going to happen is…a big crumbling of old institutions and businesses who have not been able to re-engineer their model, who’ve kept on the trajectory of trying to drive profit in a declining market,” Gillian warned, “I think they will crumble.”

A new approach for a new world

For David, the matter of educating customers about the importance of sustainability is a crucial one if there is any hope of stopping the consumer cycle of “buying all the junk and feeding the beast”.

“The dilemma is that we have to convince the suppliers and the brands but mainly we’ve got to convince the customer to buy better,” he explained.

However, there is evidence to suggest that the tide is turning. Speaking about the increasing popularity of fashion rental, Emma said: “There’s an appetite for… access over ownership.”

For Emma, embracing new business models can be a way to meet a growing consumer need as well as being sustainable. “It’s a way that we can start to really change our behaviour when it comes to overconsumption and overproduction.”

The time has come to “reimagine what a fashion brand actually is”, according to Gillian. Starting from scratch is a tough order for any business, however it may be one of the best ways to transform fashion into an ethical and sustainable industry.

New small businesses have the flexibility to operate from a sustainable standpoint from their inception. For example, sustainability has been the driver for Sophie’s business from the beginning: “Sustainability is really at the heart of what we do. It’s kind of how I got started.” Speaking about Peachaus, Gillian said: “We just want to be totally authentic and transparent. That’s our culture.”

For chief product officer Tosin, Deploy embodies a “blueprint for 360 sustainability”. She explained: “At every point within our processes and our decision-making, we are looking to be less wasteful and use resources as much as possible.”

Fashion as innovation and community

By its very nature, fashion is adaptable and innovative – and for sustainability experts, it may be this innovation that holds the key to its own salvation.

“Can the fashion industry really have a positive impact on fixing itself? I think there is so much hope in the innovation that comes out,” said Emma, “You see so much innovation come out of the fashion industry that can be applied elsewhere.”

It is this innovation that underpins what Tosin and her team do at Deploy. “Multifunctional clothing…that’s something that we really feel is like a creative solution to an endemic problem of overproduction in the fashion industry,” Tosin explained, taking off her own removable collar and cuffs with a flourish to demonstrate the versatility of Deploy’s garments.

As consumers turn away from the abundance and convenience of mass clothing production, it can be something more complex than monetary value that attracts them to sustainable fashion. While becoming more socially and environmentally conscious, there may also be an element of people reimagining their relationships with garments, and by extension each other.

For pre-loved fashion entrepreneur Sophie, clothing has the power to hold a tangible historic and emotional value that ultimately holds more weight with consumers. “People feel like taking a little bit of a story home with them,” she explained, “We have a lot of information [about each garment] – on the year it was made, where it came from, where it was made.”

Sophie has found that this approach attracts other fans of fashion and sustainability alike and creates new connections: “We’ve started a little bit of a community with our products, [creating] the kind of space where we could have these conversations.”

Moving forward with purpose

It is clear that governments and leaders are starting to take notice of the issues facing fashion. Following an investigation into three prominent fashion brands over greenwashing, the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) recently issued an open letter to the fashion industry, warning businesses of their obligations and responsibilities.

David, who has worked across multiple industries, believes that for any meaningful change to occur, action has to be taken at the top. “Sooner or later, governments in the world will legislate to support what we’re talking about,” he explained, “It has to happen because they know the destructive effect on the planet.”

David also stressed the importance of understanding politics in order to champion change – particularly ahead of the upcoming election: “With the General Election, we all get a chance… to put in place people who will be stimulated, people who will want something to happen.”

For Emma, legislation is the final push needed to make companies change their models: “Over the years, we’ve seen organisations professing to change. I think that we need legislation to hold organisations to account.”

Wear to next? Working together to shape the future for sustainable fashion took place at The Common Room on Wednesday 22 Mayl, with speakers and panellists:

Dr Alana James, Northumbria University

Alana is an Assistant Professor in Fashion in the School of Design at Northumbria University. Her expertise lies in using design tools, methods, and approaches to create sustainable innovation in the global fashion value chain.

Through her work, she collaborates with multiple disciplines and a wide range of stakeholders across the fashion and textile sector to collegiately respond to complex environmental and social challenges.

Alana brings this experience to her role as Director for the IMPACT+ Network, where her priorities are to bridge disciplinary knowledge and develop transparent and inclusive relationships with integral project partners.

Professor Anne Peirson-Smith, Northumbria University

Anne is a Professor and Subject Lead for Fashion in the School of Design at Northumbria University.

She is an experienced academic teacher, researcher, and research project manager with a creative industry background. Anne has secured various industry-oriented research projects focussing on communicating and marketing sustainability and circularity in the fashion industry, clothing longevity and durability and multi-stakeholder initiatives.

Anne has also been involved in a number of recent consultations with global denim manufacturers, workwear companies, leading online retailers, upcycling designers, reuse and recycling companies, and sustainability NGOs.

Emma Slade Edmondson is a sustainability consultant, writer, ethical fashion expert and presenter, who currently splits her time between London and Paris. Emma writes on sustainability, fashion and Race and Identity for publications like The Guardian, Marie Claire, Grazia and Eco Age.

In 2020, she launched her award-winning podcast Mixed Up: An exploration of Identity and Belonging through the Lens of the Mixed Race Experience.

Emma founded ESE Consultancy, a creative strategic marketing agency that elevates brands, initiatives and organisations. She is also a TEDX Speaker and has been named as a Forbes100 Environmentalist. 

Emma on Instagram

Sophie Cabourn’s concept pop up store, RE:BOURN, which derives from her passion and commitment to ethical and eco-friendly fashion practices.  

After 10 years working in the fashion industry in London, Sophie is passionate about bringing a new and exciting project to the North East.  Sophie’s commitment to slow fashion and sustainability is what lies at the heart of RE:BOURN.

The pop up is a curated selection of quality pre-loved and dead stock designer clothing and accessories, as well as specialist vintage and bespoke one off pieces. 

RE:BOURN provides an alternative to the fast fashion model that dominates the fashion industry today.  

David Reay has a lifetime of experience as a leader in the global garment industry, developing sustainability and innovation in textile supply chains.

With extensive international experience, championing quality production and facilitating partnerships bridging industry and academia. David has expertise from the factory floor to executive boardrooms, driving transformative change.

Tosin Trim is Chief Product Officer at DEPLOY, a pioneering fashion brand established in 2006 as a blueprint for 360 Sustainability.  She joined DEPLOY before the first collection launch and is at the heart of delivering this strategic action plan, overseeing each collection from design, sourcing, production, fitting and after care.  

Gillian Ridley Whittle is the founder & the driving force behind Peachaus an ethical underwear & clothing brand. With nearly 3 decades experience in the fashion industry including running M&S underwear and beauty, she moved to Australia in 2014 for 4 years in senior executive roles in Target and Myer and then back in the UK took one of the most coveted roles in British Fashion as Topshop’s fashion director until it was acquired by ASOS in 2021.

Disillusioned with the damage the fashion industry was causing both people and planet she decided she needed to set a new precedent for the industry and so launched ethical underwear, sleep & loungewear brand Peachaus in 2022 to make women feel everyday beautiful inside and out.

 

 

Upcoming Events

Wear to next? Working together to shape the future for sustainable fashion was the second of our Creatively Centred events, a series of lively discussions and expert lectures convened by Creative Central NCL and led by North East organisations with something to say.

Upcoming events include:

27 June, Performance and its Audiences – reimagining the relationship, find out more

Write up by Jane Imrie, event images by Northumbria University.

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