Is Paris the capital of sustainable fashion? Introducing a new series of articles inspired by the Luxury For Good podcast by ethiwork. First up, Paris Good Fashion walking the talk of sustainability.
Céline Dassonville, founder of the impact studio ethiwork and ex-CSR director of Cartier, investigates behind the scenes of the fashion and luxury sector through her series of articles “Luxury for Good”. How to reconcile luxury and ethics, inclusivity and exclusivity, timelessness and sustainability? Each article in this series will present unique actors and solutions helping to create a more respectful and conscious relationship between luxury, nature and mankind.
For the first article, Céline Dassonville interviews Isabelle Lefort, co-founder of Paris Good Fashion, an association aiming to make Paris the capital of a more sustainable fashion by 2024. (Listen to the full episode here, or enjoy highlights below).
Finding meaning again
After a career in journalism at renowned french magazines such as le Biba, Jalouse or even la France Madame; in 2008, Isabelle Lefort decided to quit and to distance herself from the obsolescence of the modern fashion system. Witnessing the industry push forward its overconsumption and overproduction schemes in the midst of a global economic crisis, Isabelle felt like she needed to find meaning in her work. She thus turned towards the topics of sustainability, biodiversity and climate change at a broader scale. However, in 2018, she came back to the industry she was so familiar with, this time with the aim to create the sort of concrete impact that she couldn’t achieve through her journalism career.
“Today, sustainability in fashion is mainly understood through the lens of anglophone-centric information” and that’s a problem, points out Isabelle Lefort. Specificities of regional and national fashion ecosystems shouldn’t be overlooked, especially when dealing with sustainability, where engagement with local communities is crucial.
For instance, while it might be said that the US & the UK fashion climate revolve around fast fashion, the French fashion market seems to be the result of a more creative fashion, with deeply embedded traditions and know-how, making the stakes at play fundamentally different. Moreover, due to its economic weight and overall influence in an extremely hierarchical industry, “French fashion has a moral responsibility towards the implementation of sustainability”, argues Isabelle.
Through its vast range of activities, Paris Good Fashion is working towards filling this information gap, working with third parties and creating a better understanding of the french fashion ecosystem, providing all the necessary tools to French actors in order to improve and transform the practices.
“Wicked problems require the cooperation of a multitude of actors”
One of the core principles of the association is that wicked problems require the cooperation of a multitude of actors. Thus, Paris Good Fashion reunites and engages with all types of industry players: brands, designers, citizens and more generally, anyone who is committed to sustainable fashion.
In order for the cooperation amongst all players to remain fruitful and meaningful at all times, Isabelle Lefort built Paris Good Fashion around 4 conditions: Independence, Implementation, Accessibility and Active Listening.
Paris Good Fashion was originally born out of a request from the municipality of Paris. However, when accepting the leadership of the project, Isabelle Lefort, made it clear the association needed to be a fully autonomous and independent body. The reason for this choice is simple yet extremely relevant: Paris Good Fashion can generate systemic change as an association, only as an independent actor, free of politics and lobbying dynamics.
The fashion ecosystem is filled with plenty of educational associations dedicated to communication work. Their work is essential to lay the groundwork for systemic change, however, the latter can only happen if concrete actions are initiated and developed. Once again, Paris Good Fashion aims at filling that gap. In true alignment with a «do it before you talk about it» CSR mentality, Paris Good Fashion acts to find the much needed, concrete, solutions to the sustainability problems.
However, as Lefort points out, these solutions can be thought of, only if the discussions around them are made accessible to all stakeholders, might they be big and established mass-market brands – much needed in this hierarchical industry -, luxury brands, small to medium enterprises, start-ups but also innovators, grass-root movements and citizens. They are aiming, and so far succeeding, at making such a discussion accessible to all, notably through their initiative of Consultation Citoyenne.
Radical ideas are essential for the development of social movements and ideologies, but more often than not, a radical approach is not suitable to the context of the fashion industry. That’s why Paris Good Fashion committed to a more cautionary approach, more likely to induce change, especially amongst the biggest and more influential actors, such as LVMH. Active listening, cooperation, co-creation and involvement of all actors to create consensus and agreement in terms of best practices and solution-scouting, is the approach they opted for, and that seems to be working wonders.
“One of the main hindrances to a more sustainable industry is the way marketing and communication experts perceive consumers”, says Isabelle. Communication experts are often under the false impression that consumers are conservative when it comes to embracing the sustainability discourse. However, the Consultation Citoyenne shows a different reality: consumers are engaged in the topics of sustainability and can actually help brands to rethink their strategy. For instance, the idea of a unique sustainability benchmark common to all actors wouldn’t have been born within Paris Good Fashion if it wasn’t for the input of citizens. Similarly, Consultation Citoyenne highlighted the concern that citizens have towards the environmental impact of polybags and hangers, something that companies hadn’t even thought of yet.
While companies are still lagging behind consumer’s expectations, as is the technology, Isabelle Lefort remains optimistic when thinking about the future of fashion. More and more brands are engaging with sustainability, have noticed Isabelle. Fashion weeks, collections, conferences, events, other international cities, everything is becoming more sustainable.
Certainly, there still is a long way to go for the industry, but collectives such as Paris Good Fashion are providing solutions to citizens as well as brands and other actors to create real and meaningful impact, so to eventually reconcile fashion with sustainability.
FEATURED IMAGE: by EVG Culture from Pexels | IMAGE DESCRIPTION: a photo of a woman smiling wearing a beret
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