Last Wednesday, 10th June, I headed to London in great anticipation to attend the Ethical Fashion Forum Source Summit Event. The event was held at the Amnesty International Building and was attended by around 150 people. There were representatives from Fairtrade and GOTS (Organic) accreditation bodies, both emerging and established brands, education, enabling technologies and consultants. I was looking forward to spending the day hearing the latest trends and meeting some really interesting people!
After an introduction by the Ethical Fashion Forum Founder Tamsin Lejeune the event kicked off with a fascinating insight into current trends in the industry by Sarah Ditty. Snippets that I held on to included the fact that 91% of brands don’t know where their cotton was grown and that though 71% of Indian consumers say they would pay more if a product was sourced responsibly, only 28% of UK consumers say the same. The key message is that ‘Meaningfulness’ is now the key brand driver and those who study markets believe that the demand for products produced in a more meaningful way is set to grow. Phew.
The next session was a panel discussion on how technology can shape a sustainable future for fashion. Panelists were from eBay (Caitlin Bristoll), Worn Again – focussing on a ‘no waste’ approach (Cyndi Rhoades) and GreenGrade Solutions – focussing on specific technologies such as QR Tags and skill sharing (Maher Anjum). The session host was Russ Shaw (notably the only male speaker!) from Tech London Advocates. Ebay are doing some great work promoting the re-use culture, working with big brands. Initially designer brands were concerned when people were selling their used clothing on ebay but it turns out that these pieces have enhanced the brand and they’ve seen overall sales rise because of it! I was especially interested in the work on traceability technologies as it is very relevant to what we do at Where Does It Come From? We’d love to move into using QR tags and/or barcodes to enable customers to trace their garments rather than keying in a code. The issue is around how many customers would be comfortable doing so and have access to phone that will enable this. Another interesting snippet in this session was around ‘no waste’ – technologies are being worked on that can actually separate the polyester and cotton at the end of a garment’s life so they can both be re-used!
We then broke out into groups with a selection of ‘Table Topics’ to choose from, including certification, building a brand, working with artisans and recycling. These were informal discussions with others who had selected the same topic, which led to great chats and valuable networking too. A key discussion that I was involved with was whether or not ‘Ethical’ was seen as a positive differentiator in clothing – it was felt that this can turn some customers off…… Opinion was divided on this – some people thinking that we should promote the ethical elements of our design and production as a selling point, others feeling that this should be at least secondary and that quality and brand needed to come first. It was acknowledged that ethically produced clothing will be higher priced but will people pay more just because it is ethical? Personally I think it has to be a great product, something the customer really wants and high quality – the fact that it is ethical should almost be a given.
After lunch we headed to our pre-selected Masterclasses. I had selected Retail followed by Supply Chain. The Retail masterclass focussed on ways to reach your customers and we covered innovative channels to market and customer engagement. Our session hosts were experts, two were experienced clothing retailers who had worked for a number of brands and the third from a quirky knitting brand called Wool and the Gang. In the Supply Chain session we explored mapping, using some work done to map the Marks and Spencer supply chain. This was slightly disheartening as the work was abandoned due to its complexity and cost. The message was that large brands with existing supply chains face a daunting task. There are technologies and organisations to help though, including Sedex and Historic Futures. At Where Does It Come From? our supply chain is transparent back to where the cotton grew so these lessons from the big brands, and the availability of supply chain mapping tools, will be invaluable to us as we grow.
We all returned to the main auditorium for a wrap up questions and answers session. The vibe was immensely positive and people seemed inspired to push ethical and responsible fashion forward in the ways of our choosing. Equipped with our positive thoughts we all headed for some networking and Fairtrade wine! I had some great chats (and great wine) with Clare and Mark the Founders of Arthur and Henry, with Subindu from the Fairtrade Foundation and with a number of others around the Supply Chain and sourcing fields. A great day out! Thank you Ethical Fashion Forum!