The final panel of this year’s Conscious Festival in Singapore explored the fashion industry. It gets a bad rap, and deservedly so, for being one of the dirtiest industries in the world that hides behind a mask of glitz and glamour. We were presented with a raft of alarming facts about fast fashion, but left impressed (and heartened!) by the number of #LittleGreenSteps offered as solutions. This session proved that problems can be the best drive for innovation. And that there is so much we can do, but we have to work together to implement and solve these problems. Here’s what we learned.
We learned about why we need a fashion revolution
We first heard from Green Is The New Black Founder Stephanie Dickson, who explained how she worked in the fashion industry for many years until she discovered how blind-sided she was by her industry. This led her to leave her job and paved the way to founding Green Is The New Black. She recommends watching the True Cost documentary on Netflix for a little of that same enlightenment.
We heard from the youths at the front lines of the plastic crisis about travelling plastic-free
Zaiyan and Christian are youth activists who believe that hotels use too many plastic bottles. Since other industries have come up with solutions to the plastic crisis, in the way Adidas has by turning plastic bottles into shoes or athletes are using water pods, why haven’t hotels? Some have begun switching to water dispensers, but more solutions exist, and Zaiyan and Christian have invented one: portable water filters. They wrapped up by reminding people that there are solutions, they may be hard to get or expensive, but do it!
> Spread the word to hotels, friends, and fellow travellers
We heard about how dirty the fashion industry is
In a keynote delivered by Naomi, she began by illustrating that in 2018, two-thirds of fashions labels were still using furs, feathers or exotic reptile skin. Often, it’s just for accents. She also reminded people that aside from these products coming from animals, that chemicals are then applied to fur to stop it from decomposing. She added that fake fur isn’t sustainable either when you consider CO2 emissions. Five fake fur coats have the same impact on the environment as one real fur coat. But change is happening, and millennials play a big part in that.
As a designer always on the lookout for alternatives, she’s broken down what the appeals are in exotic reptile skins. Patterns are rare and unique. Each skin is different from the next. They give people a connection to nature. They come with the association of heightened craftsmanship. They are handmade and aesthetically pleasing. The movement of things like ostrich feathers is lightweight. And finally that the texture and touch are hard to replicate. So in her designs, she looks at materials that better emulate the appeal of exotic materials, such as using organic cotton and hemp to mimic the movements of a caterpillar.
>Ban furs and exotic reptile skin
>Bring together different groups to find out why people are still using materials that are damaging to the environment
>Develop alternatives and adopt those
We learned about dressing with sense
Nissa Cornish, who has been working with Redress for around 10 years, reminded us that we all participate in the fashion industry (except for a handful of nudists!). Then she shocked the crowd by stating that the fashion industry produces 100 billion garments every year. Here are a few more staggering stats from Nissa’s talk:
> It takes 3kgs of chemical to produce 1 kg of cotton
> It takes 10 square metres of cotton to make one pair of jeans
> Fashion is the second biggest polluter of water (next to agriculture)
> It takes 300 litres of water to make one pair of jeans
> Polyester takes 200 years to decompose
> One garbage truck of textiles is burned every second around the world
> Fashion is making a lot of clothes that don’t even make it to the shelves
> Pleather is crap; it can’t be recycled
She also provided even more solutions than the problems she listed
> Reuse, recycle and repair your clothes
> Don’t buy shit, or they will keep making shit
> Think about cost per use
> Rethink and re-love
> Consider second hand, swapping, borrowing, renting
> Buy sustainably and support local brands
> Reuse and resell
> Google is your friend
> Upcycle your wardrobe and make things wearable again
> Recycle and down-cycle
> Cut clothing into rags
> Recycle by sending to organisations
> Ask questions: who made my clothes?
We questioned if fast fashion should even exist
Are we treating clothes like single-use plastic? Because we only use 20% of our clothes 80% of the time. In a panel presented by Gen T featuring Karen Riley-Grant from Levi’s, Raena from Style Theory, Raye Padit from the Fashion Pulpit, Kai Paul from Indosole and Green Is The New Black’s own Paula Miquelis; they questioned if fast fashion should exist. The short answer? Yes. “It’s not about if it exists, it’s how we produce it. It must exist, but there are ways to make it better.” Everyone has a role to play in the future of fashion, and these are the ways we can help shape the future of this industry:
> Find technologies/machinery to reduce environment impact
> Wash things less
> Work together; big and small companies
> Innovate and collaborate
> Work with better farmers who are putting in sustainable efforts
> Educate (to eradicate things like stigmas surrounding buying second hand)
> Lead with your values
> Innovate to keep the cost there
> Reduce the number of chemicals
> Make fast fashion more expensive
> Do a lifecycle assessment
> Coordinate clothes swaps
And finally, we learned what happens when fashion meets technology.
The final panel of the event saw Philippe Benedetti from Reflaunt, Alexander Ho Young Chang from The Mills Fabrica, Bernice Pan from Deploy, and Jon Max Koh from Living Wear all come together to discuss the existence of technology in fashion. Technology is the answer, but what is the question? Is it how to serve customers better? Because there are things that technology can’t replace — like fine-tuning details through fittings. That said, technology is what is allowing us to develop innovative materials like leather made from corn waste and bio-materials like fibres made from seaweed. Technological advancements also help forecasting, which is crucial to being sustainable.
- Educate consumers about the ramifications of their purchase
- Instil programs to help people become more sustainable
- Get a directory or agency to help you to build your supply chain
- Explore innovations in design materials
- Make bold statements
- Ask yourself ‘do I need it?’
- Asking ‘if they need it?’
- Think about longevity before you buy something
The next Conscious Festival takes place in Hong Kong in 2020. And in case you missed it, we’re heading to Europe in late 2020 as well.