Tonight’s excellent Inspiring Entrepreneurs event looked at different approaches to ethical, environmentally-friendly and sustainable fashion.
Rather than seeing ethical fashion as an add-on, our speakers are taking advantage of new technology and practical innovative business models to make them more creative and also sustainable in the long-term.
Tonight was run in partnership with London College of Fashion’s Centre for Fashion Enterprise (CFE) and Designer-Manufacturer Innovation Support Centre (DISC).
Christian Smith is Corporate Responsibility Manager at ASOS, and has an MSc in Environment and Sustainable Development from UCL. His work at ASOS includes measurement of greenhouse gas emissions, helping the company to understand its impacts and opportunities for improvement.
Annegret Affolderbach is designer and founder of Choolips, who revive ancient textile traditions. She is passionate about sustainable fashion, and the exciting and potent future it presents for global fashion. Her range is now sold through the ASOS Green Room.
Annegret spent a year and a half after graduating collecting ideas on Post-It notes trying to work out how she could use her talent to make a positive difference to fashion in the world. She also felt the need to be inspired for her whole business career, rather than a short term goal.
Annegret spent another year travelling and listening, visiting the Gambia to learn about Batik, and how the local producers thought about their lives and impact on their local environment.
She was determined to create a product that would be harmonious to both the producers and consumers of the products, and started with just two simple dresses.
Mark Bloomfield with a background experience of designing wearable accessories for brands such as Vivienne Westwood, Matthew Williamson and Asprey, talked about developing his own jewellery business, Electrobloom.
This has been inspired by how the worlds of nature, art, technology and science collide, he produces unique jewellery designs using 3D printing technology.
Eleanor Dorrien-Smith is the founder of PARTIMI, and graduated from Central Saint Martins with a BA in Fashion and Print. She has worked for Mary Katrantzou, Tata Naka, John Galliano and Eley Kishimoto before setting up PARTIMI. After creating a capsule collection for US retailer Anthropologie, the PARTIMI ready-to-wear collection was launched in 2010. The PARTIMI collections are defined by striking prints, a distinctive personal narrative and an environmental edge.
The evening was chaired by Melanie Frame, Sustainability Manufacturing Developer at London College of Fashion (DISC). Melanie is part of the DISC project to support fashion manufacturers and designers to innovate their production process. Melanie has been involved in various sustainability projects helping small businesses to set up sustainable and ethical practices.
A question about the concentration on sustainable supply lines led to a fascinating discussion about the speaker’s views on what sustainable fashion means to them.
For Mark it was about recreating a made-to-order type of personalised shopping experience, which gives a more engaged experience for customers.
For Christian improving the welfare of the environment and fashion producers are an important new additional part of the business model, from the traditional success measures of company share price and market share.
He talked about how the Green Room at ASOS helps breakdown the enormous challenges of sustainable fashion into bite sized chunks, making it more manageable. Also telling the story behind the product is another way of engaging customers and staff.
He gave several examples of innovation and change:
- Nike’s Considered Design
- H&M – Waste, Water and Conscious Collection, using hemp and organic cotton
- PUMA – Environmental Profit & Loss Account
- Louis Vuitton’s purchase of Edun
- Stella McCartney’s biodegradable shoes, made from paper pulp. So using the waste product from one industry to supply another
- Veja French shoe brand using canvas made with organic cotton and a sole of wild rubber. Their brand doesn’t use advertising or celebrity endorsement.
- Osklen from Brazil making shoes from fish skins.
- Colder Shoulder from the UK. A triple bottom line of people, planet and profit, recognizes the interconnectedness of all forms of planetary life. From farmer to wearer, fibre to hanger, factory to store, dye to reuse.
The discussion ended with a transparent discussion of producer pricing and markups that are common in sustainable fashion.