Helsinki Fashion Week puts the spotlight on sustainable fashion
For Evelyn Mora, creating the first sustainable fashion week in the world was non-negotiable. Evelyn, at only 26, made it her mission to ensure that Helsinki Fashion Week (HFW) 2018 was as eco-conscious as possible. With solar panels to power the entire event, Teslas to chauffeur the industry who’s who back and forth, vegan catering made from food ‘waste’, and yoga sessions beside the sea in between shows, the team proved that living sustainably can still be sophisticated.
Located inside a former oil silo, HFW was anything but an ordinary fashion week. The eco-village concept was based on a circular economy and sustainable values, creating a micro-society that encourages connecting and co-creating between various industries. Also important to note is the fact that everyone behind HFW, including Evelyn, is a volunteer. They created and produced the entire showcase based on a shared vision and a passion to encourage change. At HFW, sustainable designers from all over the world united to display collections that were at once on-trend and ethical, proving that we’ve moved far beyond just hemp and bamboo alternatives.
Speaking about why she approached HFW 2018 in this way, Evelyn says, ‘Sustainability in fashion – and in everyday life – is no longer an option; this is the only way to move forward, especially in the fashion and textile industry.’ And she’s not alone in her quest for a more eco-conscious fashion landscape. This year also saw the annual London Textile Fair hosting a sustainable-sourcing platform, and inviting The Future Fabrics Virtual Expo to participate for the first time. Two seminars were held daily. The first was by The Sustainable Angle curator Amanda Johnston, highlighting the current impact of fashion and textiles, and ‘the critical need to think more intelligently about outdated models that pollute, waste precious resources and perpetrate the abuse of human rights and animal ethics’. The second, hosted by Oya Barlas Bingül from Lenzing Group (a global textile firm), introduced the company’s award-winning low-impact cellulose fibres, Tencel and Refibra.
While encouraging steps are being taken daily towards educating both the industry and consumers about a more ‘green’ fashion world, there is still a lot of work to be done. The ‘Pulse of the Fashion Industry’ is an annual report compiled by Global Fashion Agenda and The Boston Consulting Group. In 2018 it noted greater strides towards a more sustainable industry, but stated that ‘the Pulse of the fashion industry is still weak. The global Pulse Score, a health measure for the fashion industry, is 38 out of 100. The Pulse Survey, covering the perspectives of decisionmakers from all industry segments, confirms that sustainability is rising on the corporate agenda. Of the executives polled, 52% reported that sustainability targets acted as a guiding principle for nearly every strategic decision they made – an increase of 18 percentage points from last year. While encouraging, these results also speak to the need for still more movement towards increasingly responsible practices.’
‘In the luxury sector, what sets us apart is the influence we have in establishing the trends,’ says MarieClaire Daveu, chief sustainability officer of Kering, the owners of Gucci, Saint Laurent, Balenciaga and others. ‘Similarly, luxury has a leadership role in sustainability but driving its uptake requires a collaborative approach, both inside and outside a company. An unwavering commitment from the CEO and managers is crucial to integrate sustainability into the business strategy of a company.’
Some positive initiatives from big brands include Hugo Boss stopping the preparation of physical samples for its 2018 pre-autumn collections. Instead, all items appear on large touchscreens presented in digital showrooms, eliminating the resources to produce samples and saving transport costs. Similarly, Nike has developed an app in collaboration with the London College of Fashion that seeks to enable designers to create more sustainable products based on the environmental impact of their material choices. The app, called Making, provides a user-friendly tool that ranks materials by four environmental impact areas: water, chemistry, energy and waste. Salvatore Ferragamo recently announced that it will be the first brand to use fabrics made by Orange Fiber, an Italian innovator that has specialised in creating a cellulose yarn from the byproducts of citrus juice, which serves as the basis for a sustainable alternative to silk.
‘We expect transparency to become the norm in the near future, with more and more brands publishing or mapping their supplier list,’ says Orsola de Castro, the founder and creative director of Fashion Revolution. ‘Transparency is only the first step towards brands becoming responsible and accountable for their supply chain, but it encourages a culture of scrutiny and vigilance, which will eventually lead to best practice.’
More than just sourcing sustainable fabrics and producing clothing in an eco-conscious way, the sustainable fashion movement is also concerned with aspects such as animal cruelty, the use of toxic chemicals, pollution, and fair living wages for makers. The H&M group is one of the frontrunners in the last category; it implemented its fair-wage management system at 227 factories, representing 40% of its production volume.
‘The big challenges facing the world can only be tackled by working together. This is a prerequisite for making the fashion industry part of the solution rather than part of the problem. Our collaborative mindset has, for example, helped us when setting the ambitious goal to become climate positive by 2040,’ says KarlJohan Persson, CEO of H&M Group. ‘This means that we will go beyond minimising the negative consequences of our business to create a positive impact on the planet. But no matter if the challenges are about recycling innovation, new sustainable materials or working conditions for the people making our clothes, our collaboration with others is the key to make lasting change.’
However, another element slowing down the industry’s transformation is fast fashion. The rate at which fashion is consumed is a huge concern. In an article for Theconversation.com, Mark Sumner, a lecturer in Sustainability, Fashion and Retail at the University of Leeds, notes, ‘Fast fashion is seen by many as the fundamental cause of all the sustainability issues the
industry faces. And so it has been suggested by numerous commentators, academics and NGOs that ethical consumerism can and will lead to a paradigm shift in behaviour. Over time, it is thought, slow fashion will become the norm, with consumers wearing classically styled garments that last for 10 years.’
He goes on to argue that consumption, and in particular fashion consumption, is quite irrational. ‘Purchase decisions are more likely to be driven by desires linked to pleasure and excitement. Fashion is a social activity for setting our status (the egoistical drivers) but it is also an activity that is driven by emotional desires such as the fantasy, excitement and aspirations of living a better, more fulfilling life.’
Consumers have a big responsibility when it comes to shaping the industry, and the key to transforming the consumer is education. At the end of the day, fashion is made for the people, and if the people are not on board – or knowledgeable about why they should invest in a sustainably created item rather than low-cost fast fashion – the loop remains open. We need a consumer revolution as much as a fashion one. mc
Some of the sustainable designs shown by Berlin-based brand Fuenf at HFW 2018
CLOCKWISE FROM ABOVE Anna Ruohonen’s ranges are handmanufactured in Finland using ethical and environmental best practice; a model on the runway wearing Kata Szegedi at HFW; Helsinki Fashion Week founder and fashion sustainability pioneer Evelyn Mora