Dear Ms. Press, in January 2019 you opened the international Fashionsustain conference at Neonyt in Berlin with your keynote speech "We are Water". Why is it so important that both the fashion industry and consumers alike do cultivate a new approach to this vital resource?
Many of us take access to fresh water for granted. In 2019, we can’t afford to do that. Water is an extremely precious resource - without it, there is no life. Increased demand from industry and rising populations coupled with increased water pollution is putting pressure on supply. That’s why the UN has named this decade (from 2018) the Water Action Decade.
The fashion industry consumes large amounts of water. According to Global Fashion Agenda’s Pulse of Fashion report, the industry used almost 79 billion cubic meters in 2015—the equivalent of 35 million Olympic swimming pools’ worth. I think it’s time we asked ourselves if this is justifiable. When there are people without clean water to drink and when we need water for food crops, should we be using so much water to make clothes? Conventionally grown, irrigated cotton is the poster child for thirsty fashion. You’ve probably seen the statistics and Instagram tiles that say: it takes up to 2700 liters of water to produce one T-shirt. And up to 10,000 litres for a single pair of jeans. We need new methods, systems and design-thinking to reduce fashion’s water footprint.
Are there pioneers and promising innovations at the interface of water and fashion that prove that change is possible?
Absolutely. More and more. I was interested to learn about SpinDye, a Swedish company that was also present at Neonyt. They’ve developed a process that dyes polyester before it is spun into yarn. New York-based ColorZen’s technology modifies cotton's molecular structure so that dyes more easily bond with it. They say this process can reduce the water required to dye a garment by 90 %. One of the most exciting areas of innovation is recycling, where advancements are happening very quickly. It used to be virtually impossible to recycle post consumer clothing waste made from fabrics with blended fibres - poly-cotton, for example. But pioneers like Evrnu have figured out how to do this.
Osomtex, another American startup, uses a mechanical rather than chemical process to recycle post-consumer waste into high quality yarn. Their shredding process uses zero water.
The Fashionsustain conference was part of the global hub Neonyt, that opened its doors from 15 to 17 January 2019 during Berlin Fashion Week. What personal impressions, insights or encounters did you take away from Neonyt?
I was so impressed, and can’t wait to return. I loved the energy of the event and the mix: the brands showcasing, the panel discussions, the runway show and the energy of the people involved. I actually met a lot of people and brands I hadn’t been aware of, so there was a sense of discovery for me, which is always fantastic for a journalist. I also liked that there were established names involved. I met Neonyt’s creative director, the pioneering Magdalena Schaffrin at Helsinki fashion week last year, and I think her energy and passion is a force to be reckoned with!
In the sustainability space, we talk a lot about openness, collaboration and community but we don’t see enough of it in action. At Neonyt I did see this. How inspiring, for example, to have speakers share a stage from Inditex (which owns Zara) with Greenpeace and WWF to address the topic of water use in fashion. That was groundbreaking.
To what extent has the topic of sustainable fashion arrived in today’s major fashion magazines and in the segment of luxury fashion? What developments can be observed and what is your prognosis for the future?
Much has changed in the last two years. I first started working in this space in 2013, after Rana Plaza and while researching my book Wardrobe Crisis, How we went from Sunday Best to fast fashion. At that time, conversations about ethical and sustainable fashion were still quite niche.
Now the mainstream fashion press is beginning to dive into the topic. I was the first sustainability editor in the world, but there are more coming. We are seeing rising interest from the consumer in things like supply chain transparency, the circular economy, lab-grown fabrics, material-to-material recycling. There are also way more sustainable fashion and accessories brands launching, and more bloggers and influencers taking an interest.
In my opinion, the luxury sector has actually been the slowest to change. Sports giants like Nike and Adidas are way ahead, while the big fast fashion brands are also innovating - in part because they have to. Ask yourself, what’s the alternative to sustainable fashion? Unsustainable fashion! Seriously, who’s going to be interested in that?
#Clare Press #Sustainability #Fashion Industry #Neonyt #Fashionsustain