Driving positive change in the fashion industry - this was the goal of the Fashion Changers Conference. The digital event took place for the third time in November 2022.
Panel discussions, keynote speeches and debates focused on topics ranging from re-commerce to inclusion. In addition, they provided approaches and tips for more responsible action by all industry stakeholders. It became clear that sustainability and fairness must be considered at all levels and seen in an overall social context. Ecological aspects alone are not enough to act responsibly - real sustainability is also social. FashionUnited has summarised the most important topics of the conference.
Saying goodbye to conventional structures
A sustainable fashion brand should offer more sizes than conventional fashion – Norah Joskowitz, the founder of the Valle ō Valle label, started her presentation on needs-based product development with this point of view. With her brand, she relies on a flexible size concept and has said goodbye to conventional sizes.
She explained that in a "fat-phobic society” like ours, fashion discriminates against tall sizes and thus structurally excludes people. The standard remains at sizes 34 and 36 - even among fair labels. Joskowitz's goal is for large sizes to become a matter of course in fashion and in the eyes of society. But to do this, brands have to become active, offer additional or new sizes and, above all, ensure that the target group feels invited again, because the demand is there.
Tips for implementation:
- Cooperation:Exchanging information, working with people and fitting many different bodies.
- Visibility: Making large sizes visible and integrating them on all channels.
- Product development Questioning the initial size of the basic cut, offering size-adjustable clothing, establishing your own sizes.
- Transparency: Creating size charts for each product also reduces the return rate.
Other social groups also receive little attention in conventional fashion. Anna Flemmer, fashion design expert for inclusion, is committed to breaking down barriers through design and thus making clothing more inclusive. In her work, she focuses on inclusion as a social aspect; sustainability in the ecological sense is a matter of course for her.
Inclusive fashion aims to break down the stigmatisation of clothing for disabled people compared to conventional clothing. To do this, people with disabilities and limitations must not only be perceived as a target group, but also included as experts in the entire design and manufacturing process.
How to make clothing more inclusive:
- Integrating reflective details into the design creates a sense of security on the road.
- Incorporating colour contrasts for people with visual impairments, for example makings clasps more visible.
- Designing patterns that are reversible so that it doesn't matter how they are worn.
- Designing prototypes and testing them in everyday life.
Acting ecologically and becoming more circular
Talking about a circular economy should not be missing from any discussion on sustainability, responsible action and changes. In a panel discussion on re-commerce, three speakers discussed various concepts, their implementation and the advantages and disadvantages. It became clear that re-commerce alone does not bring any changes, but that in order to consistently avoid waste and make fashion recyclable, we need to look at the source of the problem: overproduction and the ever-deteriorating quality of fast fashion.
A discussion about recycling material between Kai Nebel, sustainability officer of the textile & design faculty at Reutlingen University, and Johann Bödecker, managing director of Pentatonic GmbH, came to a similar conclusion. A major problem is that the fashion industry hardly uses fibre-to-fibre recycling. Not only do materials accumulate when they cannot be recycled, but recycling companies are already reaching their capacity limits. In addition, a variety of fibre blends in fast fashion clothing ensures that materials can no longer be separated in the recycling process. The idea of recycling is a good one and ensures resource conservation, but the implementation to date has not yet contributed to ecological sustainability. To achieve this, products will have to be manufactured responsibly, used for a long time and returned to the cycle.
Demands for a better circular economy:
- Politicians need to take action: They should regulate production volumes and punish greenwashing.
- Less consumption and less production: Society has to change its consumption behaviour and reduce overproduction.
- Single-origin material:In order for clothing to be used and recycled for a long time, its quality must increase again.
- Developing upcycling further: Finding new functionalities for materials and also upcycling clothing into other things.
- Making fashion brands responsible: Not only for the manufacturing of products, but also for their disposal.
Questioning, informing and thinking ahead
The conference also looked at the importance of fair production in the fair fashion industry critically. Three experts spoke about what actually is behind the term “fair production” and how much fairness production countries receive. Kalpona Akter, team leader at the Bangladesh Center for Worker Solidarity, made it clear that workers in her country don't see much of it. The manufacturing process makes no difference between fair and conventional brands; workers do not benefit from it and do not receive any more wages - the differences are only made through certificates for the customers.
Making a difference
- In order to bring about changes and better working conditions in garment producing countries, not only legislation and political strategies are necessary, brands and consumers also have to become active, question certificates and get an idea of the situation in the factories and production facilities.
The topic of sustainability has also changed the fashion media and the way they deal with the topic. With the addition of social media, fashion journalism also had to reposition itself: It linked print and digital and established new forms of presentation while classic magazines faced restructuring processes.
Kerstin Weng, editor-in-chief of Vogue Germany, sees a positive change in the emergence of online offers: brands can connect with consumers, receive feedback and also become aware of criticism. Journalist Anna Schunck also supports this view and emphasised that fashion has become less elitist and more approachable through social media.
Speakers not only discussed the importance of an online presence for classic media outlets, but also the communication of critical and sustainable topics on social media for both sides - brands and fashion journalism. How is it possible to reach people with difficult topics and does one have to be active on all platforms these days?
How to communicate critical content and sustainable topics on social media:
- Credibility and focus: It is not about being on all channels. But wherever one is, one should be authentic.
- Shareable content: One has to present content succinctly and concisely. Followers must be willing to repost.
- Language and memes: Plain language is important for faster understanding and to make content accessible to more people. Memes are suitable for making critical issues heard.
- Credit and research: Cite sources to prevent greenwashing. Link experts and those affected.
The conference was a critical wake-up call to anyone in the industry. Because all stakeholders in the system bear responsibility not only on an ecological level, but also on a social and economic level.
This article was originally published on FashionUnited.de. Edited and translated by Simone Preuss.