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The Fashion Memo

How to create a sustainable future for fashion

Gabriela Hearst SS20 on the runway

Conversations around protecting our planet have heightened following the global health crisis. Here, three passionate change-makers in the fashion industry share their views on where we go from here, and the modifications – great and small – they’re making to live and work more ethically

Gabriela Hearst
I hope that there will be more of a focus on quality – that things not only have to look good, but have to feel good, too

The Uruguayan-American fashion designer has built her eponymous luxury brand on beautifully crafted collections that are rooted in sustainable business practices. Her latest Resort 21 line was a landmark moment for the brand in that more than 60 percent of its materials were repurposed and recycled, redefining the notion of ‘deadstock’. Her goal is to completely eliminate virgin materials by 2022, and she recently announced a switch from NYFW to the Paris schedule in order to reduce the label’s carbon footprint, putting her closer to the Italian factories that make 90 percent of the collection.

Don’t give up “We had been hunting and gathering [for repurposed fabrics] before the pandemic, so we had these precious, beautiful materials – cashmere silk, cotton silk – that we could move into production. We were already prepping and I’m really proud of the collection and what the team and I have achieved – because, at times, it was very difficult to maintain the purpose of why we were doing this. It seemed like it wasn’t a priority, but then you realize that this is your medium and you push forward. I always say it’s OK to struggle, but it’s not OK to give up.”

The collective conscience “Transparency is a key factor that we need to apply. During the pandemic, we launched our spring collection, which has the garment journey on each product – a QR code that takes you to our website and explains why we chose linen instead of cotton, for example; because it absorbs less water and uses fewer herbicides and pesticides. If the insect world, which is in mass extinction right now, disappears, the whole planet goes into environmental collapse, because they are the pollinators and the decomposers – basically the ones who create the fabrics and textures of our planet. So those are things that we think about when we make our choices – and we want to let our clients know why we’ve made these choices.”

Find forever pieces[Following the pandemic], I hope that there will be more of a focus on quality – that things not only have to look good, but have to feel good, too. In order to feel good, they have to be made the proper way, so that people will buy less and keep pieces forever, which is how I grew up on a ranch in South America. We didn’t have many things – the clothes my mother had, which were stunning, were made by the family seamstress. That was very special. She would choose the fabric, then they would choose a design together. There were all these processes, so I have a very romantic take on what garments should be – and I have that standard of quality in mind. I hope that people go back to wanting or demanding that quality and, when it comes to purchasing something, that they keep clothes for the rest of their lives – like objects that go through life with you.”

As CEO of the Global Fashion Agenda, Kruse established the Copenhagen Fashion Summit in 2009 – a hugely influential forum on sustainable fashion that brings together industry leaders and diverse voices, from environmentalists to fashion designers. With a background in magazines and TV, Kruse also co-founded Copenhagen Fashion Week in 2005, and is someone who understands the huge value of the fashion industry; while her mission is to make sustainability its first priority. Due to the pandemic, the summit has shifted from its usual May timing to October 12-13, running as an innovative content platform called CFS+ in lieu of a physical event.

Rethink, rebuild and reimagine “I hope that we’re in a moment of resetting our minds in terms of what the fashion industry can be, both now and in the future. For the Global Fashion Agenda, we have had to be very flexible this year. Rather than pursue a physical event, we now have a new opportunity to present an entirely new approach to storytelling; one that brings to life stories that champion the intersection of fashion and sustainability – and the people and perspectives driving our industry forward. For example, as part of our annual flagship event, the Copenhagen Fashion Summit, we have what we call the Innovation Forum, which, in essence, is a trade show where solution providers exhibit ideas to drive businesses forward in sustainability; this could be anything from materials to consultancies to technology. Because this format will not take place physically, we have a chance to transport viewers to the different stages and life cycles of how a product is made. By filming the process of a designer challenged to produce a sustainable product, we can take our audience to said designer’s studio, where they can witness the many challenges, as well as opportunities, that today’s designers have when it comes to producing sustainably.”

Prioritize values “Initially, when the lockdowns kicked in, the fashion industry was suffering massively, economically, and we were afraid that sustainability as a business imperative would go down the ladder of priorities – but it hasn’t. All the feedback we get from conversations with executives, and also surveys that are carried out by different consultant companies, show that there’s an increased interest – both within the industry and among consumers – towards sustainability. I think this type of pause for all of us has also made us all more reflective of what value means to us: what has value in my life? What is valuable for me going forward and what could I do without? This thought process has ignited a lot of conversations that point straight back to sustainability; where sustainability is not just about doing the right thing, but is also about creating a resilient business model.”

Take action together “Throughout this coronavirus crisis, we’ve shown the ability to make a lot of corrective actions and changes in societies, in companies and individually at home. And those types of reactions are missing when it comes to action towards the climate crisis, which is the next big threat to our planet and our societies. It’s painful to think, ‘Where’s that action?’ – but there’s also something empowering in thinking we can act if we want to. And I think we are able to if we really set our minds to it and begin to do things differently. So it’s just a matter of getting people motivated… we have global connectivity between us all.”

Eva Kruse
I hope that we’re in a moment of resetting our minds in terms of what the fashion industry can be, both now and in the future
Áine Rose Campbell
I’m optimistic that fashion, which touches all of our lives, can be a leader in sustainability

Having co-founded the Model Mafia – a community of model activists – with Cameron Russell in 2017, Campbell uses her platform to empower other women and foster social change, with a particular focus on racial inequality and the climate emergency. During the Global Climate Strike last September, the Model Mafia had members marching in 15 different cities – from LA and London to Shanghai and Melbourne – which illustrates the power of collective activism.

Be the change “Our continuous education internally is one of our achievements, because we’re building internal advocates who will go on set and feel more comfortable and more versed in talking about the climate crisis – and how fashion contributes to it. When you’re a model, you have touchpoints with everybody – the makeup artist, the hair artist, the stylist, the photographer – and you can engage with them all and start opening up these conversations. That in itself is extremely powerful. One of the things I did on a shoot once – when we had a lot of food left over after our lunch break and I felt uncomfortable about it being thrown away – was to call a nearby shelter to ask if they wanted it. I was unsure whether it would make me look like a troublemaker or not, but in fact, the rest of the production team felt the same way. I gave the studio the contact details of the shelter and they now give them any food that’s appropriate. To me, that is such a good example of how just speaking up and saying something, even when you’re a bit nervous to, can have a really positive impact.”

Build an online community of powerful voices “I’m really enjoying watching this culture shift towards women leaders and BIPOC [Black, Indigenous and People of Color] leaders who are in fashion. I think it’s going to be really powerful. Activists like Dominique Drakeford and Teju Adisa-Farrar, environmentalists like Dr Ayana Elizabeth Johnson (who is an amazing biologist and advises a lot of people in fashion) and Céline Semaan, who is a co-founder of Slow Factory.”

Put equality at the heart of everything “Something I think we in fashion should be thinking about right now – given how Covid and the BLM movement have shifted our mindset further towards community, lower consumption, the environment and social justice – is, how can fashion support and continue to foster this shift towards sustainability, equity and justice? How can we use fashion to create a better world for all of us? I'm optimistic that fashion, which touches all of our lives, can be a leader in sustainability.”