British Fashion Council panel discussion on the ‘Craft of Sustainability’

Last Friday, the British Fashion Council hosted a panel discussion on sustainability, a pillar of their Positive Fashion initiative, as part of London Craft Week. Chaired by Frances Corner – Head of London College of Fashion and Pro-Vice Chancellor of the University of the Arts London – the discussion aimed to ‘craft fashion through a sustainable lens’ with fashion designers Christopher Raeburn and Bethany Williams, and founder of The Sustainable Angle, Nina Marenzi. The website has a bit more information about this initiative, which explains how the panel discussion fits within their plans for 2018:

The British Fashion Council is focused on its Positive Fashion initiative in 2018, an initiative designed as a platform to celebrate industry best practice and encourage future business decisions to create positive change. Encompassing three pillars the Positive Fashion topics are Sustainability; Gender Equality, Model Health & Diversity and Local Manufacturing & Craftsmanship.

The discussion kicked off with introductions from the three participants. Christopher Raeburn described his brand’s philosophy as ‘remake, reduce and recycle’, Bethany Williams said that she was working with community groups and charities, and Nina Marenzi explained that The Sustainable Angle was connecting fashion brands with more sustainable suppliers.

Raeburn went on to explain that the way we consume things is problematic, “but the solution is design led” and Marenzi later went on to remark that “80% of the environmental impact is decided at the design stage.” I was in complete agreement when Raeburn mentioned Blue Planet II as a game changer, but he reminded us that people still need affordable clothing – they do care and they want to support sustainable businesses, but there needs to be affordable options.

The group then discussed small initiatives that are making a difference in fashion production and changing the way consumers think. Williams explained that she has been working with Making for Change, a fashion training and manufacturing unit within HMP Downview women’s prison. Raeburn said that his animal bags and mascots were developed to use up the fabric off-cuts (his brand now runs making workshops for customers, where the money from the workshops goes to WWF, which he describes as “inspiring and educating without preaching”). Marenzi spoke about various types of sustainable fabrics – including Orange Fiber and apple leather – which are currently small scale and need further investment of time and money. There is lots of innovation at the Performance Days fabric fair where giant sportswear brands are going for inspiration, effecting huge change by using recycled fabrics in football kit.

BFC panel discussion on 'the Craft of Sustainability"

The panel touched on the use of blockchain technology to trace the origins of what you wear, and how small agile sustainable brands are communicating their values to customers – “There’s so much storytelling potential… consumers love that!” said Raeburn. Marenzi spoke about the Future Fabric Expo, and how they’re “looking to give the visitors that ‘aha! moment’ with the fabrics” by allowing designers and buyers to experience the feel, the colour, and the sheer number of options first hand. An inspirational moment for Raeburn was M&S announcing they were only selling free range eggs, as it was an example of a big brand using its influence to make a difference and educate consumers. He described it as a ripple effect, “It’s about collaboration and partnership… We’re all part of the problem and part of the solution.” Frances Corner agreed, “there are so many issues but we can all do something”, while Marenzi described sustainability as “a bit of a Pandoras Box.”

Discussing technology again, Raeburn commented that “any opportunity where we make for the individual will save on waste” and Williams agreed that some consumers are definitely looking to bespoke in their quest to be different. Raeburn pointed out that Savile Row is still one of the best examples of responsible design. After the panel discussion ended, the audience had a chance to ask questions. There were a few things that had really inspired me so I was desperate to ask a question, and so kept raising my hand. Eventually I got the mic, and mine ended up being the last question of the night.

Returning to Nina’s point about sustainability as a bit of a Pandoras Box, I mentioned how when I first did some reading around sustainable fashion I was overwhelmed and left wondering how I could possibly make a difference. Then I realised that some of the seemingly small things I was doing were already making a difference. Linking back to a point that Corner had just made in answer to the previous question, where she said “we are all consumers”, I asked the panel what they do to make a difference with their own wardrobe. What followed was a series of passionately voiced insights into how these four people select and truly love their own clothing. I hope everyone else in the audience left as inspired as I did!

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