Historic Futures: Promoting value chain traceability

With only days to go before the 4th Future Fabrics Expo opens at London Olympia Exhibition Centre (28th-30th September), we’re looking forward to showcasing some other organisations that are doing important work in the field of sustainable fashion and textiles, along with our core showcase of globally sourced reduced impact fabrics.

One of these organisations is Historic Futures, who have spent more than 10 years exploring value chain transparency and traceability. This work is integral to knowing more about where our products come from, how they are made, and the impact they are having on both the environment and on global communities.

Historic Futures are currently developing String3, so we spoke to co-founder and director Tim Wilson to find out more, and we found what he had to say so interesting that you can read it in full here.

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TSA: What was the motivation to start Historic Futures and to work on improving supply chain transparency?
HF: I had been working in the value chain / traceability area for many years and realised there were no solutions focusing simply on getting reliable data from the whole chain without linking to specific product or production systems (e.g. organic). The triggering event – to actually get started – was a conversation with Nike that demonstrated how difficult it was to collect reliable data from the value chain.

TSA: Historic Futures makes it possible for companies to collect and manage value chain data – can you tell us a bit about how you do this?
The basic concept is very simple, and is analogous to situations we all face everyday. I need to speak to somebody at Company X about their new product, but I don’t have their contact details. I could ask my colleague sitting next to me, who has read about Company X, what they know about this new product and just go with that. It’s really quick and easy, and they probably know more than I do. But if I want to rely on the information – to write an article in the press, or to use in a presentation perhaps, then I’d want to speak to someone who really knows, inside Company X. It’s the same problem with value chains. I need to know the country of origin of the raw materials used in my product – because my brand has made a commitment on this, or because the law now requires me to know. I could ask my supplier – who sells me the finished goods – that’s quick and easy and they probably know more that I do, but I can’t rely on the information. Our String3 system fixes that problem – I send my question to my supplier inside String3, and it provides the tools for my supplier to send it on to their supplier. There might have been several suppliers and even they don’t actually work with the raw materials. String3 makes it simple for everyone to keep passing the question on until it gets to those who really know the answer. Sounds very simple, in reality the system is quite sophisticated – making sure that only the answer to the question is ever shared, not the details of each actor in the chain, keeping people informed of progress, benchmarking performance and so on.

TSA: You’re currently developing the newest phase of String, what will this be able to offer clients?
HF: String3 – the service we are working on now – will make it simple and efficient for people to find information about how and where their products were made. It will save them time and provide answers which are more reliable than other methods. Interestingly it will also provide a means to benchmark supplier performance – clearly identifying which suppliers and value chains are good at providing this information, driving continuous improvement. Crucially for suppliers, the service can be used free of charge and it does not disclose sourcing details to customers – so suppliers can confidently use the system to help their customers get answers to legitimate questions about raw material country of origin or value chain certification status.

TSA: We’re looking forward to showcasing Historic Futures at the Future Fabrics Expo, which is geared towards the fashion and textiles industries – can you tell us about some of the work you have done in these industries?
HF: We’ve been working in fashion and textiles for nearly 12 years – since the very beginnings of HF. During that time we have delivered projects for many of the world’s leading brands. Those projects have ranged from strategy formulation to large scale data collection and reporting – all focused on value chain mapping, to understand how and where products were made.

TSA: Are there some positive impacts you have seen from your work that you can tell us about?
HF: We’ve seen benefits across the entire value chain from better, bolder claims about finished goods for brands, to improved relationships between supplier and customer for sourcing agents, to improved inventory control and “right first time” rates for manufacturers. We’ve seen suppliers get new business through being able to deliver value chain information and improved efficiency in differentiated raw materials such as organic cotton or recycled polyester. There are many ways that reliable value chain data can deliver benefits, but the area that seems to be the most consistent across geographies and sectors is this ability to obtain reliable data – when needed – for products that contain raw materials where country of origin or compliance with some 3rd party standard is important.

TSA: What do you think are the biggest obstacles with incorporating more sustainable materials into supply chains of different sized companies?
HF: Sustainable materials is a difficult term – I’m not sure anybody really knows what it means – but there are clearly important choices to be made about materials and production processes in terms of the impact they have on people, planet and profit. For buyers, understanding what’s in your product – and whether it’s what you specified – is a critical first step. For suppliers, being able to demonstrate good practice and regulatory compliance throughout the value chain quickly and efficiently is vital if better performing materials are to become mainstream.

You can learn about String3 at the 4th Future Fabrics Expo on 28th – 30th September at Olympia Exhibition Centre, London. We’ll be showcasing the work of several organisations and projects, as well as hundreds of individually sourced and researched materials with a reduced environmental impact.

Register for free here

In conversation with CmiA: Cotton made in Africa

Over the years we have researched thousands of sustainable textiles sourced from dozens, even hundreds of mills from around the world. However we have not until now had the opportunity to really showcase what Africa has to offer, something which is essential if we want to show what African industry is capable of, especially if it receives investment and support from the industry.

The House of Lords recently hosted a roundtable event to discuss sourcing African-Made goods, which highlighted the fact that profit to Africa is decreasing, whilst value added abroad is increasing, even though in the last decade a number of the fastest growing markets have been in Africa. This imbalance coupled with volatile cotton prices is something that the Aid by Trade Foundation (AbTF) aims to address with its Cotton made in Africa (CmiA) initiative, working with small holder farmers in Sub-Saharan Africa to improve social, economic and ecological living conditions.

CmiA and a range of CmiA fabrics will be included in the 4th Future Fabrics Expo (28th-30th September, London), but before then we wanted to share with you everything you should know about Cotton made in Africa.

TSA: What was the motivation behind initiating CmiA?
CmiA: Cotton plays a key role in fighting poverty in Sub-Saharan Africa and contributes to food security in many countries of Sub-Saharan Africa. So far, this potential has often been underused to further economic development. Volatile cotton prices and low productivity leave African smallholder farmers struggling to make a living from cotton production. Against this background, the Aid by Trade Foundation (AbTF) and its Cotton made in Africa (CmiA) initiative have been initiated. Since 2005, we have improved the living conditions of cotton farmers in Sub-Saharan Africa by activating market forces and creating a quality label for sustainably produced African cotton.

TSA: What are CmiA’s goals?
CmiA: The goal of CmiA is to improve the social, economic and ecological living conditions of smallholder cotton farmers and their families in Sub-Saharan Africa. Our commitment is not based on donations, but rather, on the principle of helping people to help themselves through trade: African smallholders learn about efficient and environmentally friendly cotton cultivation methods through agricultural training provided by our experts. At the same time, we establish an international alliance of textile companies which purchase the CmiA raw material and pay a licensing fee to use the label. Income from licensing fees, are reinvested in the project regions of Sub-Saharan Africa. At the end, CmiA farmers and their families profit from these investments. The underlying philosophy is already reflected in the name of the Foundation – “Aid by Trade”. Additionally, Cotton made in Africa’s purpose is to give African cotton the recognition it deserves in international trade and to lend a positive, recognizable “face” to a hitherto anonymous mass product.

TSA: Can you tell us more about the cotton industry in Africa?
CmiA: Almost 10% of the world’s cotton production is grown and harvested in Sub-Saharan Africa. Sub-Saharan Africa is the fifth largest cotton exporter worldwide. Following the USA, India, Australia and Brazil around 2.2million smallholder farmers in West and South-East Africa cultivate cotton. Often it is grown on small lots and in rotation with staple foods, such as grain, corn and peanuts, within the context of very diversified production systems. Although cotton is one major cash income, 80% of the African cotton farmers have an income per day of less than 1.5USD. By means of CmiA, the Aid by Trade Foundation tries to support cotton farmers. The initiative strengthens their resilience towards external effects like volatile prices and increasingly adverse climate changes that keep them from improving their living conditions and that of future generations ensure their food supply and preserve their health as well as the environment.

TSA: Can you give some examples of the effect CmiA has on farmers, the environment, and local economies?
CmiA: Since 2005, CmiA has created a large impact on cotton farmer’s lives and that of their families because the focus of our work are the people in the growing countries in Africa. As an inclusive standard relying on a constant improvement plan for participating farmers, the initiative has become a major player in the cotton sector across Sub-Saharan Africa. Whereas CmiA started with 150,000 in three African countries in 2007, the initiative expanded its work to up to now more than 415,000 smallholders in six Sub Saharan African countries. Family members included more than three million people profit from CmiA. Due to training in efficient and modern cultivation methods CmiA farmers have been enabled to increase their crop yields compared to a control group that is not part of the initiative by an average of 23% and thus to also improve their income. By working with CmiA, the employees in the ginneries benefit from fair contracts and prompt payment. Through community projects, CmiA improves the educational infrastructure in the project regions, ensures a better drinking water supply and strengthens the rights of women. These projects that go beyond pure cotton cultivation strengthen the local community and contribute directly to improving the living conditions of African cotton farmers and their families. Additionally, CmiA has a proven significantly better environmental footprint than conventionally grown cotton. As CmiA cotton is exclusively grown under rain-fed conditions, it thereby saves around 1,500 litres of water translated to the amount of cotton required to make a t-shirt. During the cultivation of the raw material, conventionally grown cotton produces 2.4 times more greenhouse gas emissions per kilogram of cotton fibre than CmiA.

TSA: What are your plans moving forward?
CmiA: Our plan moving forward it to expand the positive effects of CmiA on the cotton industry to the textile industry on the African continent. We aim to use our experiences to support the establishment of a sustainable textile value chain in Africa. As major international textile retailers increasingly look to diversify their sourcing, we see many opportunities for Africa’s textile to capture parts of these markets. CmiA together with its partners are therefore pro-actively promoting the concept of “Textiles made in Africa” produced for African markets as well as for export.

TSA: How do you think initiatives like the Future Fabrics Expo can help organizations such as yours?
CmiA: For us, the Future Fabrics Expo is very important as it offers the chance to create awareness for our CmiA quality label on the UK market. Thanks to the expo, we can directly interact with companies and other members of the textile value chain who are searching for an optimal solution for ecological and ethical challenges within the textile value chain. Why? We are the first initiative that made it possible to introduce sustainable cotton into the mass market and thereby create a win-win situation for every participant – from cotton farmers to textile companies and consumers worldwide. Cotton farmers and their families profit from license fees retailers pay for purchasing CmiA cotton as we re-invest the income from license fees in the project regions. Partnering textile companies obtain cotton produced under socially and environmentally improved conditions without having to pay a significantly higher price. They can thus achieve their sustainability as well as accountability goals. Consumers can directly support African smallholder farmers and their families by purchasing CmiA labelled products. With every purchase, they make a valuable contribution to Africa’s long-term future.

TSA: How can industry professionals and consumers get involved and engage with the work you are doing?
CmiA: Industry professionals and consumers can get involved in various ways: You can register for our CmiA newsletter to stay informed about our work or follow us on Youtube, Facebook or Twitter. In addition, you have the chance to support our work by purchasing CmiA labelled products. Finally yet importantly, interested companies or traders can make a valuable contribution to the future of hundreds of thousands of people in Africa by becoming partner of our initiative and purchasing the CmiA verified cotton.

You can see a range of CmiA fabrics and find out more at the Future Fabrics Expo, 28th – 30th September, London.

How to build sustainability in to your textiles buying: announcing upcoming seminar

We’re delighted to announce that we will once again be presenting a seminar during the 4th Future Fabrics Expo at Fashion SVP, London, on 28th – 30th September, as part of Fashion SVP’s ‘Sourcing Briefing’ seminar series.

The seminar will take place on Tuesday 30th September at 10.30am near the Future Fabrics Expo (Stand SF1 at Fashion SVP, Olympia Central Exhibition Centre) – to attend simply register for a free event pass here.

Last year our seminar exploring the future of sustainable fashion fabrics was one of the most highly visited sessions during the two-day programme, and the impressive line up this year will also be well worth a visit.

This year, Amanda Johnston, curator and consultant at The Sustainable Angle, will be delivering a seminar looking at how to build sustainability into your textile buying.

Future Fabrics Expo seminar by Amanda Johnston 2013 Image by Green Lens Studios

Future Fabrics Expo seminar by Amanda Johnston 2013

The session will cover topics including:

  • Sustainability criteria – how to assess fabrics
  • Making good choices – avoiding pitfalls when sourcing sustainable fabrics
  • Current developments of the sustainable textiles market as seen through the lens of The Sustainable Angle

As well as attending the seminar, you will be able to visit the Future Fabrics Expo stand (SF1) to discover hundreds of individually sourced sustainable textiles from dozens of mills around the world, along with extensive background research on sustainability, and some of the latest resources and tools related to sustainability in fashion and textiles.

To attend the Future Fabrics Expo and seminar simply register for a free event pass here.

About Amanda Johnston:
Amanda is curator and consultant at The Sustainable Angle, having curated the sustainable textiles collection and Future Fabrics Expo since its inception. She has a background in design consultancy and education, and has co-authored two books: Fabric For Fashion, and Fabric For Fashion The Swatch Book (both published 2010; 2nd edition 2014). Amanda teaches at the London College of Fashion, and regularly runs sustainable materials workshops, delivering presentations and seminars internationally, both at industry events and in educational forums.

Kassim Denim interview: Reducing the impact of denim

Kassim Denim is a pioneering vertically integrated denim mill from Pakistan, and long time supporter of the Future Fabrics Expo and The Sustainable Angle. Kassim Denim develop, innovate, and produce an extensive range of denims, many made with organic cotton and cellulosic fibres, finished using low impact processes.

Kassim Denim have worked with some of the world’s leading denim brands, so we has a conversation with Sohail Ahmed, Kassim Denim’s market developer, to find out the latest news on what the company is doing to reduce it’s environmental impact, and instead create positive change for the company and the environment that hosts it.

Read the full conversation below, and discover a range of Kassim Denim sustainable fabrics at www.futurefabricsvirtualexpo.com.

TSA: Can you tell us what your role is, and how you are involved in improving sustainability within your company, and in the textiles industry?
KD: As a market developer it’s my task to keep our administration updated on matters of sustainability, whether it be sustainable processing, or sustainable raw materials like yarns, dyes and chemicals.

TSA: What first inspired Kassim Denim to start working on improving sustainability in the textiles industry?
KD: Our motivation… “Sustainable, environmentally responsible, green management”  are the key factors to Kassim Denim’s endeavors to produce the best denim fabrics while maintaining the true essentials of being eco-friendly, to match up with the drive to consumer product sustainability. 

Each of these three perspectives is an integral part of our commitment for integration of an environmental and social lens into core operational and financial management — from material sourcing through product design, manufacturing, distribution, delivery and end-of-life management.

We travail to implement sustainability-focused initiatives along our entire supply chain, both upstream and downstream.

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Kassim Denim at the Future Fabrics Expo, 2013

TSA: Can you tell us a bit about what Kassim Denim is doing to be more sustainable?
KD: We keep a stringent vigilance to environmental, health and safety-driven issues, and always take immediate initiative on new regulations like restricting toxic chemicals, innovations in toxic disposal etc. We have committed ourselves to minimize our carbon footprint, in addition to other major concerns such as energy use, material and water resource use, and waste management.

TSA: What do you hope your initiatives and products will change and improve?
KD:

  1. Protecting the environment and the health and safety of employees and others
  2. Seeking innovative technologies and cost-effective ways to further improve our manufacturing processes
  3. Strategizing to increase energy efficiency and reduction of emissions of solid waste, air and water pollutants.
  4. Increasing competitiveness of products and technologies to meet the needs of our clientele.
  5. Innovative and eco-beneficial productions

TSA: What do you think are the most pressing environmental and social challenges in the industry currently?
KD: We look at the impact textile production has on global climate change. We equate climate change with our own lives and base this on studies of just how the changes will impact us directly, that wet regions will be wetter, causing flash flooding; dry regions will get drier, resulting in drought. And  …  a heat wave that used to occur once every 100 years now happens every five years. Most of the current focus on the carbon footprint revolves around transportation and heating issues, and the modest little fabric all around seems to be unseen. But we at Kassim Textiles see it as a gigantic carbon footprint. The textile industry is the 3rd largest contributor to CO2 emissions in Pakistan, after primary metals and nonmetallic products and their exhausts.

TSA: What do you think is the biggest obstacle to becoming a more sustainable and less harmful industry?
KD: The biggest obstacle to sustainability is greed. The race to make more and more money with minimum expenses. And to top it all the total lack of respect of the nature and turning a blind eye to the future of this planet.

TSA: What positive developments have you seen in the industry over the years?
KD: In the years I have been working here at Kassim and also observing industrial changes, though very slow paced, there is a definite awaking to the realities of the dangers to the environment. The bodies working for environmental protection have gained the voice to bring their point to the consumers, who in turn are now demanding eco-friendly and sustainable products from the producers.

TSA: In your opinion, will it be the consumer who will facilitate the change in the supply chain, or will it be the design and manufacturing industry?
KD: Designing and manufacturing is always dependent on the consumers wants and demands, hence it’s the consumer who will initiate the want, and the manufacturer shall have to cater to these demands.

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Kassim Denim develop, innovate, and produce an extensive range of denims, many made with organic cotton and cellulosic fibres, finished using low impact processes.

Kassim Denim can be seen at the Future Fabrics Expo on 28th – 30th September, London, and all year round on www.futurefabricsvirtualexpo.com.

They can also be visited twice a year at several global trade fairs: Texworld, Munich Fabric Start, Premier Vision China, Premier Vision Istanbul, and Bangladesh Show (Dhaka).

Kassim Denim are generous sponsors of the Future Fabrics Virtual Expo, and the Future Fabrics Expo, 28th – 30th September, London.

Natural dyeing with Bougainvillea Couture

As one of the companies featured on our sustainable textiles sourcing website Future Fabrics Virtual Expo, we wanted to introduce natural dye studio Bougainvillea Couture, which was founded in 2011 by UK based and renowned textile designer Luiven Rivas-Sanchez. Bougainvillea Couture produces limited edition ranges of sustainable luxurious fashion accessories, ensembles and fabrics using premium natural materials, responsibly and globally sourced from all over the world.

We spoke with Luiven to find out more about Bougainvillea Couture, sustainability in relation to textiles production and finishing, and what needs to improve in the fashion and textile industry.

Luiven explained that “Bougainvillea Couture engages in holistic and generative textile processes that transcend design trends. We work with a dedicated team of textile experts, designers, artists and practitioners. Together, we source the finest fabrics worldwide to selectively and sustainably hand dye and treat cloth. With craftsmanship and intimacy at the helm, every fabric and accessory created under the Bougainvillea Couture label, meets with uncompromising standards of sustainable assurance and ethical excellence, key factors we believe have been stripped away by a fashion industry with imperatives leaning towards speed and low cost.”

You can read the full conversation below…

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TSA: What was the motivation to start Bougainvillea Couture?
BC: Being trained in design, the motivation to found Bougainvillea Couture was firstly based mainly on aesthetics. However, as we became more aware of textile pollution, our design ethos and rationale consequently changed.

TSA: How has your work with natural dyes evolved since its inception?
BC: Our work with natural dyes has come a long way. We are in a position to develop dyeing strategies and invest in lower impact methods of fabric production. It is a team effort that requires constant research and nourishment.

TSA: What first inspired you to start working on improving sustainability in the fashion / textiles industries?
BC: Colour, and the way it can be used to improve textile dyeing strategies without compromising the environment.

TSA: Can you explain how do you classify ‘sustainability’ in relation to your work?
BC: At Bougainvillea Couture, we aim to be as innovative and sustainable as we possibly can, for us sustainability means the ability to design and produce high end fabrics using low impact dyeing methods and techniques.

TSA: Can you provide an outline of your project?
BC: Our project is based on long term ideals. We have a vision to develop a range of sustainable fabrics and fashion accessories for men and women using sustainable guidelines. We work closely with practitioners and suppliers and have huge respect for them. It is part of the sustainable strategy we support, and one of the reasons that makes us proud of what we do and produce.

TSA: What do you hope the work of Bougainvillea Couture will improve in the industry?
BC: Because of the amount of chemical dyeing processes remaining unchanged, with critical high levels of pollution still affecting our eco-systems, we hope that our revised dyeing guidelines will eventually make a difference.

TSA: Can you tell us about any positive impact you have seen from your work?
BC: Yes, the way our customer base see textiles through our work is slowly changing. They understand more about how it is made and are more respectful of our ideals and goals.

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TSA: What do you think are the most pressing environmental and social challenges in the industry currently?
BC: Chemical pollution is still top of the agenda, the elevated cost of sustainable organic materials, and lack of respect towards the lower tier members of the supply chain continue to negatively affect the industry. Practical and feasible changes are needed to achieve higher standards of textile and social sustainability.

TSA: What would you like to see happen more in the fashion and textiles industries?
BC: We would like more comprehensive dialogue and collaborations between textile manufacturers, suppliers, scientists, designers and consumers.

TSA: Are there any common misconceptions about sustainability in fashion and textiles that you’d like to talk about?
BC: There is this huge misconception that sustainability is fashion exclusive and part of a trend. To us, sustainability means consumption in dire need of reassessment, purely to avoid further environmental disasters, if not for us, for future generations. To widely address and embrace sustainable issues, the industry and consumers need to take a more holistic approach to clothing.

TSA: Do you see designers and practitioners becoming more sustainable in your eyes, and how?
BC: The potential is huge, but only if their general views of sustainability are pragmatic and their goals are realistically achievable, slow and long term planning is part of our mantra.

TSA: In your opinion, who will primarily facilitate change in the supply chain?
BC: We believe the biggest onus lies within the manufacturing industry, but designers need to work closely with them, it needs to be a symbiotic relationship. The consumer tends to be price driven.

TSA: Do you have any events or courses coming up where people can connect with you?
BC: Yes, we have started running sustainable dyeing workshops, and have plans to develop and expand on this.

You can see a range of Bougainvillea Couture’s naturally hand dyed fabrics on the Future Fabrics Virtual Expo. Keep an eye on the blog and twitter for news of upcoming sustainable dyeing workshops.

Building a ‘Sustainable’ Business – Start up workshop

Charlotte Turner, researcher and project manager at The Sustainable Angle was recently invited to present a sustainable sourcing workshop to fashion start-up companies at the Fashion and Textiles Museum in London, as part of the Creative Hub project led by the Centre for Sustainable Fashion. We were delighted to take part to provide guidance on sourcing more sustainably, alongside a tailored series of talks on design strategy, manufacturing, and brand values and communication.

The Creative Hub is a new business-mentoring scheme run from the Fashion and Textiles Museum, with the Centre for Sustainable Fashion offering tailored business support to 30 fashion businesses over the next year. They selected “beneficiaries with an interest in and commitment to doing things differently, those who are willing and able to explore and instigate new business models; those with genuine creative flair and those who understand that good business involves 360 vision.”

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This one-day workshop was designed to provide a snapshot analysis of the opportunities sustainability can provide for a new business, and the starting points for integrating sustainability into the design and business planning process.

As materials are often the starting point when considering sustainability in a design business, the sustainable sourcing session delivered by The Sustainable Angle provided simple framework for sustainable materials and supplier sourcing, as well as showcasing over a hundred sustainable textiles samples. The presentation included:

  • Sustainable materials – an overview of how and why we need to rethink the materials and processes we use in fashion and clothing production
  • Measurements and guidelines – What benchmarks exist and how can we best use them to our advantage
  • Today / Tomorrow – How do we improve our sourcing practices / who should be involved?
  • Fabric showcase ‐ What is available and a discussion of commercial viability and questions to ask mills and suppliers

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It is exciting to see the diverse and boundary pushing ideas being explored by start-ups and small businesses, and so we hope that initiatives like Creative Hub, and sustainable sourcing platforms like the Future Fabrics Expo and online Future Fabrics Virtual Expo will continue to equip designers, buyers, product developers and more with the knowledge, resources and skills needed to run their businesses in the most sustainable ways possible.

People, planet, and profit at the Source Summit

I recently attended the SOURCE Summit hosted by the Ethical Fashion Forum at the Human Rights Action Centre at Amnesty International HQ, to find out about some of the latest developments in ethical and sustainable fashion. The day was focused around 3D profit, discussing how you can link financial profit with positive social and environmental impact.

Photography by Rachel Mann

Photography by Rachel Mann

We believe that business is changing, it’s in part due to external pressures but what I find most relevant about the topic today is that there is a real business case to investing in sustainable reform,” Summerly Horning from Tau Investment Management.

Photography by Rachel Mann

Photography by Rachel Mann

After a range of panel discussions and break up sessions discussing topics ranging from accounting to production, the day wrapped up with a panel discussion chaired by Baronness Lola Young of Hornsey about the future of the fashion industry and how it might achieve “3D” success. Dr. Maximilian Martin, founder of Impact Economy and one of the panelists summed it up by saying:

The textile and garment industry has a role to play, you are innovators and many of you are operating boutique businesses that are working with really interesting ideas about shared products, long value chains, etc. I think many of the things that you’re working on have much more potency to drive wider change than you realize.