Edinburgh has a lot of festivals celebrating all arts and creative industries, just the other week I attended the Magic Festival. This weekend’s festival was Edinburgh’s International Fashion Festival. The fashion festival is not to be confused with fashion week (read about my fashion week experience and of course what I wore). Unlike fashion week which focuses on getting people into the city centre, the fashion festival focuses on educating us on the fashion industry. As soon as the programme was realised I signed myself up to pretty much everything, which meant I had a very busy weekend.
There was a wide range of topics covered from sex and fashion to lifestyle to sustainable business models. The talks took the form of panel discussions, and every single one was incredibly interesting with knowledgeable experts who I could spend hours listening to. It really does make a different attending an event and coming away feeling more educated and inspired. The two discussions which really stood out for me were Sustainable Business Models Masterclass and What does it mean to be ethical in fashion? for obvious reasons.
Sustainable Business Models Masterclass
The Sustainable Business Models Masterclass was led by Claire Bergkamp, Head of sustainability and ethical trade at Stella McCartney. Claire spoke about the work she does at Stella McCartney to ensure their supply chain is transparent and ethical. She spoke about the importance of stabilising the supply chain and brands working directly with manufacturers and suppliers so they can be involved in the full chain. This means brands know exactly where the raw materials used in their products come from and can help to stabilise prices. One of the issues with the fast fashion supply chain is brands are constantly changing suppliers to keep prices as low as possible. She also spoke about how Stella McCartney is developing an environmental profit and loss account, similar to a traditional economic profit and loss but looking at the environmental impact of their production.
There was also a discussion around the importance of everyone (brands and consumers) asking questions about where their clothes come from. We shouldn’t take things on face value if a brand says something is sustainable we need to be asking how. We should also be taking ownership of what we buy and make sure we actually wear the clothes we purchase (ask yourself will I wear this at least 30 times before buying). Stella McCartney has found that people don’t throw away their luxury purchases in the same way as cheaper alternatives. As well as being a financial investment, luxury fashion also has an emotional value to consumers. Perhaps we need to start viewing all our clothes in the same way as our high-end designer pieces?
The panel also spoke about the circular or closed loop business model (I was excited to learn that Scotland has a national strategy on the circular economy). Unfortunately, this model is still very difficult to adopt in the fashion industry as the technology to recycle fabrics isn’t available. Recycling fibre degrades the material so currently we still need to mix in new materials to make it wearable. However, the panel was confident that the technology will continue to advance and it will soon be possible to recycle fibres without degrading them.
This was a really interesting masterclass covering how to make the fashion industry more sustainable and the challenges we face. What’s needed is a cultural change around the way we purchase and get rid of our clothes. It’s not just consumers who need to change but businesses and governments should be leading the way.
What does it mean to be ethical is fashion?
I was really looking forward to this panel, as you all know it’s a topic I’m interested in and wanted to hear from experts on the topic. The panel included Carry Somers from Fashion Revolution, Anna Telcs from Not Just a Label, Lynn Wilson a Scottish textile designer and was chaired by Mary Hanlon from Social Alterations. The discussion started with a look at what we mean by ethical fashion. The consensus was that ethical fashion needs transparency across the supply chain not just with the final manufacturers. Brands need to know where their raw materials come from (apparently 10% know this). If we don’t know where the raw materials come from we could be inadvertently supporting terrorism (ISIS have control of many cotton farms) or slave labour when we buy a t-shirt. There was also some discussion around onshoring manufacturing and supporting local designers. One audience member brought up a brilliant point about the low value of the pound being an ideal time to start manufacturing here in the UK.
A huge positive of the ethical fashion movement is the bringing together of customers and designers with shared ethics. Customers have a closer relationship with designers, the story behind the brand or garment becomes more important when purchasing ethical fashion.
As always with discussions around ethical fashion, the topic of the higher cost came up. The panel came up with a few great ways to save money and still enjoy fashion. Carry from Fashion Revolution spoke about their haulternative campaign which encourages people to ‘haul’ from their wardrobe or charity and vintage shops and share videos and pictures online. This is a reaction to the popular Youtube haul videos but encouraging more thoughtful purchases and enjoying what you already own. The panel also mentioned the 30 wears campaign and only buying clothes you will wear again and again. Another great idea came from Lynn Wilson who suggested people looked into more collaborative consumption, for example, flatmates splitting the cost of an item and sharing the wear. The panel also spoke about how little difference it makes to the cost of an item to make it more ethically and that the majority of consumers are willing to pay up to 5% more for ethical clothing. It only costs 30 pence more on the average item of clothing to double the wage and improve working conditions for garment workers in Bangladesh. This fact makes me really angry that brands won’t increase prices by as little as 30 pence to help support the workers who make them.
The panel also discussed how brands need to view transparency in the supply chain as a positive thing and start to embrace a more circular business model. They need to start considering how to keep raw materials in use for as long as possible at the design stage. Apparently, 80% of a product’s environmental impact is decided at the design stage, not when we decide to get rid of it.
As I said earlier every panel discussion at the festival was really interesting and inspiring. The weekend was full of fascinating discussions and if I went into them all this would be the longest blog post ever. We looked at the use of sex to sell almost anything and the impact this has on children and their view of sex and pleasure. We discussed the future of menswear and unisex fashion, and the challenge of getting men to embrace more design led fashion. We looked at the impact of Instagram and lifestyle blogs on the way we shop. We found out about Betony Vernon’s book the Boudoir Bible and heard some of her fascination story (and I think we all fell a little bit in love with her). The weekend ended with a bang as Karen Mabon showcased her first sleepwear collection in the stunning Waldorf Astoria Hotel (the photos in this post are mostly from this event).
One of the things I loved most about the Edinburgh International Fashion Festival is that everything was free to attend (and not just for bloggers but everyone). I honestly have no idea how they put together such a great range of events without having to charge attendance. It was a great weekend and I can’t wait for next years festival.