Top Takeaways from The Regenerative Fashion Conference
From design to the debt crisis, legislation, and the climate, discover the broad range of issues that are impacting the future of the fashion industry, as explored at The Regenerative Fashion Conference.
STOP USING POLYESTER AND FOSSIL-FUEL-DERIVED PRODUCTS
Fossil fuels – coal, oil, and gas – are by far the most significant contributor to global climate change, accounting for over 75% of global greenhouse gas emissions and nearly 90% of all carbon dioxide emissions. They are the largest cause of global warming.
FashionDeclares Founder, Safia Minney, called the workings out, “Back of the napkin,” but she estimated that we must cut 89% of fossil fuels in order to reach “net zero” and to stop global warming; a colossal task when more than two-thirds of fashion and accessories are made from fossil fuels.
Net zero refers to the balance between the amount of greenhouse gas (GHG) that's produced and the amount that's removed from the atmosphere. It can be achieved through a combination of emission reduction and emission removal.
The answer is to move away from virgin fossil fuel-derived products, including fabrics like nylon and polyester.
But remember, it’s not just about moving to natural fibres. Nishanth Chopra, founder of the Oshadi Collective, talked about the concept of “working alongside nature”. Working in harmony with the raw materials around you is often easy to forget when you’re in the midst of designing. This idea was also echoed by Emma Hakansson, founder of Collective Fashion Justice.
To quote Nishanth: “get your hands dirty”.
Work directly with farmers. But this applies to all of your supply chain; work with the people who are growing, spinning, weaving your fabrics and sewing your garments.
Environmental sustainability and human rights are inextricably bound. Baroness Lola Young brought up the “dehumanisation” prevalent in the fashion industry. The way we consider products is so far removed from where they are produced we have no connection to them. How can we support making this connection?
THE DEBT CRISIS & CLIMATE CHANGE - LIVING WAGES
“When we talk about climate crisis, we have to acknowledge debt crisis.”
The fashion industry is in immense debt to what workers have been doing to drive the obscene profits of the industry, and they are not being paid.
Debt crisis is a situation in which a government loses the ability to pay back its governmental debt. This leads to human rights being denied, or even being put ahead of life itself.
“Refugees are the disasters we’re facing in this lifetime”.
– Christine Gent, Made51
Refugees are a consequence of the climate crisis. Working with refugees showcases their heritage, lifts them out of poverty, gives individuals purpose and supports them in rebuilding their lives. And there is something so inherently beautiful about a business that exists to lift the people in it up.
We must listen to them.
99% of the 250 companies that Fashion Revolution reviews do not disclose the percentage of their workforce earning above living wages. Liv Simpliano from Fashion Revolution noted that only 28% (of the 1%?) of the 250 brands they’ve analysed have created a roadmap to paying their supply chain living wages.
Fashion Revolution launched the, “Good clothes, Fair pay” campaign, calling on the European Commission to introduce mandatory living wage due diligence at EU level that would impact the entire supply chain. It would mean that businesses would have to implement and actively monitor the full journey of their garments.
If you want the EU to act on a particular issue, you can create a citizens’ initiative. This calls on the European Commission to propose new EU legislation on that issue. For an initiative to be considered by the Commission, you need to get 1 million people from across the EU to sign it in support.
While Fashion Revolution didn’t get the 1 million signatures they needed, they do now have backing from different policy-makers.
It’s not all bad news: Businesses are improving their workforce welfare.
Among my favourite learnings were the brilliant changes that basics garment producer, Continental Clothing, is making. Mainly in terms of period dignity (renamed from Period Poverty), employing and promoting female supervisors and engaging with anti-harassment measures.
- Continental Clothing calculated that women lose 30 working days in the year due to their menstrual cycle. The factory now has free sanitary pads for all female workers, and “the problem pretty much disappeared”.
- 20% of women are now in female supervisor positions. He acknowledged this still needs improving, particularly as 60% of the workforce are women.
- Finally, hosting education programmes for female and male workers on anti-harassment and gender-based violence prevention. Having female-only worker-elected committees and setting up safe spaces, complaints and grievance mechanisms.
BIG THINKING: Overproduction & degrowth
The chicken or the egg: who is responsible, the consumers or the brands?
If consumers stop purchasing, businesses will stop making.
“The market is constructed for a particular type of economy”. I.e. if we don’t buy, the market will change.
Kristian Hardman, from the Good On You app, told us about how they consider the overproduction of a business in its rating system.
Ultimately, the concept of “degrowth” is vital in fashion business - which we recently covered in a Masterclass, if you want to learn more about applying the idea to your business.
THOUGHTS ON SALES & MARKETING
Jo Dawson, the founder of HD Wool, uses the word “Custodian” instead of customer (or consumer) to imply that it belongs to that person. They own a bit of it, as per the dictionary definition: “a person who has responsibility for taking care of or protecting something.”
Wool has a higher ecological footprint than Polyester(!!) I tried to find the stat for this but couldn’t locate it. But I imagine it’s in the transportation, as a large percentage of our wool is imported.
Alicia Thew from Green Element mentioned that they avoid buzzwords, instead sticking to “science-based targets”, defined as a 90% reduction in emissions by 2050 at the latest. There is a lot of confusion around the terms “carbon neutral, carbon positive, net zero”, and they are vague, so they avoid phrases like these.
Similarly, “regenerative” is not a regulated term. So, for now, you have to do your homework and investigation when you work with a producer who claims to work regeneratively.
There was acknowledgement across the board that we desperately need legislative measures. I even pulled Urska Trunk from Changing Markets Foundation aside to get her thoughts on getting CEOs on board, and her feeling was that, without legislation, there is absolutely no incentive to make any changes. We need businesses to be accountable for their irresponsible production practices and waste. We need commitment at CEO level.
What is key to getting prominent CEO’s on board?
Currently, changing for the better is seen as a cost.
Tax incentives, for example the EIS scheme, means the UK is the biggest investor in startups in the EU!
A “Just” Transition.
Emma Hakansson says a “just transition towards regeneration” means moving to a more sustainable economy in a way that’s fair to everyone, i.e. making changes without affecting the people who already work there. I haven’t noticed this term used this way before, but it’s been around since the 1980s.
I liked this article if you want to read a bit more about it: Liv Simpliano from Fashion Revolution echoed this; “‘just fashion’ is the first step”.
But also, importantly, remember that there is no one solution, and it will require a “balancing act”.