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Conference discusses sustainability in the fashion industry

Representatives from industry and academia were present on September 8 at a conference hosted by the University of Leeds which focused on the different approaches towards sustainability in the fashion industry. 

The ‘Emperor’s New Clothes’ conference was organised by the UK university’s School of Design and saw speakers from a wide range of companies and educational institutions discuss the efforts being made to foster change in the industry.

In her keynote address, Professor Kate Fletcher from the Centre for Sustainable Fashion discussed the need for a complete rethinking of the fashion system in order to achieve a more sustainable industry. She emphasised how a society based around consumption was the biggest barrier to sustainability as the fashion industry takes its lead from consumer society. 

Ms Fletcher also presented her ‘craft of use’ project, which aimed to gain a better understanding of how consumers use the garments they purchase. She also gave details about her ongoing ‘Fashion Ecologies’ project, which explores fashion in relation to real people and their lives.

Debbie Luffman, product director at Finisterre, took to the stage to present the company’s efforts to manufacture products with as little environmental impact as possible. She highlighted the importance of starting small in order to eventually bring about a paradigm shift in the industry. 

Among the initiatives she highlighted was Finisterre’s work with Econyl to develop swimwear made from marine waste. She also discussed the company’s ISPY traceability programme, which educates Finisterre’s consumers on the sustainability efforts it is making, with a special focus on the work of its suppliers. Other topics touched on during her thirty-minute presentation were Finisterre’s appreciation of wool, its desire to eradicate PFCs from the supply chain and its opposition to using down in its products.

Dr Parik Goswami, a professor at the School of Design, gave his insight into how advancements in technical textiles could be applicable to the fashion industry. Among the technology he believed could cross the divide were a Chitosan/Cellulose fibre with anti-microbial properties and the use of microcapsules and nanoparticles within the structure of fibres to deliver desired properties.

The afternoon session saw Nik Engineer from the Ellen MacArthur foundation discuss the need for a change in attitude in order to shift towards a circular economy in the fashion/apparel industry. He called for cross-system innovation across different parts of the supply chain in order to foster real change. He highlighted the key role fashion could play in this, due to its importance it holds towards how people define themselves.

The conference was rounded off by Charles Dickinson, Primark’s Environmental Sustainability Controller, who shared his company’s work to change the lives of women in developing countries. One such initiative was the company’s work with the Self-Employed Women’s Association (SEWA) in India, which is one way Primark is aiming to drive long-term change in the cotton industry.

One of the most interesting aspects of the conference was a PechaKucha involving students and researchers from a variety of universities across the UK. It saw six individuals present their current work in the area of sustainable fashion and textiles through rapid-fire presentations featuring 20 slides. Each slide showed for 20 seconds before moving on, giving each presenter just 6 minutes, 40 seconds to give details of their project. Topics covered included PFCs in outdoor apparel, the use of enzyme technology to generate colour in fabric, sustainable fashion consumption and testing of clothing longevity.

Image courtesy of University of Leeds School of Design.




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