Mr Bruce E Bergstrom
VP, Vendor Compliance,Li & Fung
"Sustainability is a great concept like liberty. We are in a world with many problems and sustainability is the solution. This is the answer given by Bruce Bergstrom, VP vendor compliance of sourcing giant Li & Fung, who tackled the difficult question of What is Sustainable Fashion? at the first-ever Sustainable Fashion Forum held earlier this month.
Moderating the first session, Michael Lavergne, director-Asia, Worldwide Responsible Accredited Production (WRAP), posed to the panel "What does it really mean to be sustainable and what is best practice?"
Adding to his big-picture view of sustainable fashion, Mr. Bergstrom says economics play a strong role in the current approaches to sustainability, while solutions taken from social and environmental perspectives are sure to come.
"Sustainability is now a retailer and brand-driven initiative, but we need to convince the manufacturers to see the benefits of sustainable operation starting with raw materials,’" said Hong Lee, manager of Asia Pacific, Control Union.
But when widespread consumerism drives disposable fashion, is there really a place for sustainable fashion? The answer is yes, according to Janvier Serrano, creative director and founder of The 091/091’s Eco Couture brand, which features bags made from recycled scraps.
Moderator: Mr Michael Lavergne
Session 1 Panel: Mr Javier Serrano, Ms Mary Yan Yan Chan, Mr Bruce E Bergstrom, Mr Hong Lee
"Although it is difficult to achieve sustainability right now and it is a big challenge, we must do it. We must be open, we must be proactive. We must educate the consumers to go for quality and not quantity," advised Serrano.
Agreed Amy Small, Creative Director at Green2greener, a b2b trade platform for eco-fashion: "Sustainability is a continuous goal, it is to put back the same amount as what you take out". In her opinion, small companies, successful in sustainable production, can inspire big companies to follow.
"Fashion is not only in clothing but it is a lifestyle and attitude of life. We have to be vigilant on sustainability in day to day operation and living. It is important to impress upon the students of today the concept of sustainable living so that it can be passed down to the next generations", said Mary Yan Yan Chan, director of Style Central Ltd, the exclusive agent of Perclers Paris.
Taking questions and opinions from the floor, the panel and audience agreed that a paradigm shift is needed for the fashion industry to tackle sustainability effectively. There is a need to drive innovation. Governments can also play a part, through education and green policies.
Devangshu Dutta, chief executive of Third Eyesight led the 2nd session panelists to discuss "Is Sustainable Fashion Profitable?" He commented that sustainability is not viable in the long term without financial returns and a good business sense.
"Sustainable fashion can be profitable because shoppers today are looking for something more meaningful. Consumers are accepting the concept of reuse and recycle in a creative way", said Olivier Grammont, founder of eco fashion brand Francs-Bourgeois. He described how his company uses second hand materials for handbags and the finished products are selling well in boutiques.
Concurred James Ockenden, director of publishing house Media Karma which specializes in the environmental technology, energy and finance industries. Ockenden citied the case of an olive oil company that used olive pits to generate energy for the plant. The company has now expanded to processing palm oil waste to produce a power supply to 400 households. Ockenden strongly believes that green legislation is the way forward but subsidy for new technology is necessary. He proposed adding ‘government’ to the three pillars of sustainability, that being economics, environment and social.
Session 2 Panel: Mr Olivier Grammont, Mr James Ockenden,
Ms Cassandra Postema, Ms Dong Shing Chiu
Moderator: Mr Devangshu Dutta
Meanwhile Carolina Rubiasih, VP sourcing & product development of the SAK questioned whether today’s consumers, who want value-for-money products, are indeed ready to for sustainable options that generally incur greater costs. The younger generation, however, is adopting healthier lifestyles that will likely encompass sustainable fashion. As time goes by, sustainability will be the norm and a way of life and perspective.
Offering ideas on how to be profitable with sustainable products, Ms Rubiasih advises to produce only what you can sell, improve on the design to reduce wastage, use less packaging layers, increase efficiency in logistics and study the tariff code to tap lower tariff categories with minor adjustments to the material & design. Her privately owned company took such steps and yielded good results, outperforming their previous year’s revenue.
Echoing Rubiasih’s emphasis on the importance of design, Cassandra Postema, director of fair trade fashion brand Dialog said "As designers, we have to design a product that can sell and sustain and compete with the regular products. It took People Tree, an eco-friendly company, 10 years to breakeven."
Some audience members felt that sustainability must be price neutral if not cheaper to sell to consumers and noted that supply chain efficiently is critical to profitability, while innovation and good management can bring costs down. It was also suggested that designers should place attention towards engineering so as to produce more efficiency.
In Session 3 Mr Ockenden facilitated the panel to probe into the question of "Who Wants Sustainable Fashion?" People buy fashion for various reasons, but experts often agree is linked to an emotional element. Companies can encourage sustainable fashion purchases by strengthening its ‘feel-good’ factor.
Sustainable fashion is in-demand among fashion brands, but under the financially low-risk terms of cost and time-efficient production, says Mr. Lavergne. NGOs are nudging the concept of sustainability onto the brands and retailers and the social climate is ripe for them to take such a stand.
Meanwhile Mr. Dutta says that general perception of fast fashion is quite wrong; it is actually not about throw away clothing but a management system that can improve the efficiency of the supply chain. Fashion is by nature not a sustainable concept but how can we make it sustainable? He hopes that in 10-20 years time we will truly have sustainable fashion.
Moderator: Mr James Ockenden, Direct, Media Karma
Overview of the forum
The panelists recognise that sustainable business is still in its infancy, and urge the brands, retailers, buyers and suppliers to take small steps towards sustainability. There is no one answer to the complex and multi-faceted issue and finding solutions will require a collaborative effort. Improvements in education, innovation, technology and government policies will make sustainable fashion possible – and profitable.