Ethical Sourcing Seminar at Fashion SVP June 2017 , Kensington Olympia

The Ethical Fashion and Textile Seminar staged at the Fashion SVP was moderated by Tamsin Lejeune, founder of the not for profit network The Ethical Fashion Forum, focusing upon social and environmental sustainability in the fashion industry. Common Objective: www.commonobjective.co  is a business which connects people in the fashion industry encouraging ethical values and profitability across businesses, regardless of size. They encourage 'better business practices':  a three dimensional approach to business:

1. Achieving financial goals

2. Maximising benefits to people

3. Minimising impact on the environment

ETHICAL SOURCING: HOW BUYERS CAN SQUARE THE HARD COMMERCIAL EDGE WITH ETHICAL IDEALS

  • Ethical is no longer peripheral for consumers, now mainstream
  • Success stories in competitive ethical trading
  • Developments in ethical fabrics e.g. ISCO

The contributors to the panel discussion included Sara Lewis, CMO, ASAP54, formerly Brand Marketing Manager, Harrods London and Ozgu Cubukcuoglu, Director, Egedeniz Textiles, Turkey.

Sara has worked in the luxury retail market for over 10 years, and noticed and influenced a strategic shift to the sustainable market, challenging brands over the past 4 years.

Ozgu initially started with a organic dried foods business, followed by cotton, Egedeniz is Turkey's first "organic cotton producer".  with farmers contracted for organic agriculture. The ethical factory services provided by Egedeniz Textiles adds value to brands, and factory production in Izmir is carbon offset, and solar panels provide around 40% of energy. Egedeniz is partnered with a government sponsored 'living wage' project in Turkey and aims to improve service quality throughout the supply chain. Being in the research and development stage of examining manfacturers to produce my own designs, and I was encouraged by Ozgu Cubukcuoglu's articulate vision.

Egedeniz is addressing the refugee crisis in Turkey by supporting and training Syrian refugees into work on a living wage. This also assists with integration into society and faciliating work opportunities and economic growth. One of the aspects I was examining in conversation with Harvard graduate, model, activist and artist Elle Peril in Berlin recently was how can we as individuals and society encourage the integration of people who have been dispersed by war and crisis in a way which encourages self fulfillment and does to denigrate them into second class citizens.  Autonomous development of a skill set, ongoing training and ability to earn and develop ambition, and be partnered with mentors and teachers in a field of their ability and choice was outlined as vital, with access criteria to be outlined on a holistic basis, encouraging identity and individual growth. 

Suppliers need support from start up grants, farmers need support from suppliers. There is a circular economy and start ups are currently flourishing. Sara outlined a multiplicity of 'overnight' pop up stores who achieved huge success by staging their store fronts on Instagram. The exterior facets of Instagram and online stores showcase beautiful products, visual merchandise and showcase design and the brand story - the vital gift of passionate emerging brands as they move with their audience. She outlined her current business model strategy for success in the luxury market to be the juxtaposition of hiring millenials with fantastic ideas, by industry experts in the field of sustainable fashion who can link them to the factories ideal for their product. Apparently 9/10 millenials currently invested in are new brands, there is a huge move to the start up market.

She suggests that emerging brands create a sustainability policy in the formation of the initial stages of their business, which creates a code of conduct and transparency model to vet suppliers. This is an active step that fashion SME's can take to play a proactive role in the ethical market. The Modern Slavery Act was introduced in 2015 by Theresa May, demanding action with corporations to prevent slavery and exploitation. Retailers with a turnover of £36, 000, 000 are required by law to publish a statement setting out the steps they are taking to ensure slave labour.. In the Ethical Sourcing panel discussion Tamsin Lejeune identified that in future the size barrier of the Modern Slavery Act in relationship to Sustainable Fashion could be brought down, and the breadth expanded to also be applied to smaller businesses.  Economies of scale could be applied to reduce costs of production if more companies were encouraged to enforce transparency and pay a living wage.

The discussion also lead into examining the development of environmentally positive textiles and fibres, including micro modal tensile, post synthetic cellulose based sustainable fibres developed by Egedeniz, which look and feel similar to quality jersey, with a slight glossy sheen, and are completely biodegradable. They are also recycling polyester, to reduce landfill, and using plastic from recycled bottles to create new fabrics with a high level of performance. Sustainability adds value to a brand. 

Tamsin Lejeune outlined the following criteria as a building benchmark for business:

1. Priority policy - how can you achieve anything without a road map?

2. Set targets - e.g. "I want to source sustainably"

3. Measure impact & look progressively. 

An issue which was addressed in the panel discussion, which I found relevant to myself, was the cost to small factory owners of having to walk their new clients through the sustainable design  and manfacturing process. Tamsin Lejeune mentioned that 89% of college courses wanted to integrate sustainability into their course modules. More companies are choosing to initially manufacture in the UK, as it allows for closer communication, quality control and turnaround time than heading overseas.

The Textile Exchange Organisation is a global non proft, http://textileexchange.org/  which encourages hitting the right brands, providing a platform for members to collaborate and drive industry transformation in preferred fibers, integrity and standards and responsible supply networks.