Women Leading in AI Manifesto Launch Event: why and how to legislate for AI

The stronger the presence of AI in our day-to-day lives, the more vulnerable we are to bias present in the algorithms, especially if algorithms are being used to approve or reject loans, screen job applications or to inform social workers. Algorithms rely on data, and when the decisions being made by algorithms is on human lives and interactions, the data used for predictions is a record of how people have interacted in the past and of how society is structured. And it is no surprise that power hierarchies and social dynamics work exist and that people are privileged for simply for having certain characteristics. The challenge becomes how to deconstruct bias in the data so that AI can be an effective tool to improve our lives.

Q&A with Dr Lisa Cameron MP, Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group For Textiles and Fashion (pictured centre, here with Tamara Cincik and Kelly Tolhurst MP).

Have you seen a shift in perception of the fashion industry among parliamentarians?

Yes, there’s a surprisingly avid interest that I’ve noted amongst cross-party members regarding the fashion and textile industry. Since becoming chair and raising the APPG’s ambitions in Parliament, I’ve found widespread support for these aims across the house. 

The PR move that left Boohoo looking sheepish. An op-ed by Eleanor O'Leary

Last Friday afternoon, the press was abuzz with news that Boohoo had plans to implement a ‘wool ban’.

In a statement that seems to use the word ‘knowingly’ to suspicious effect, the brand announced that “as of AW19/20, we will not knowingly source any wool products”. PETA’s Director of Corporate Projects, Yvonne Taylor stated “PETA is toasting boohoo group's compassionate, business-savvy decision to scrap wool. Kind shoppers agree that no jumper or scarf is worth kicking, punching, and killing gentle sheep on the shearing floor, and we're urging other retailers to follow boohoo's forward-thinking example.”

From a brand that was declared as “failing to commit” by the Environmental Audit Committee in its recent investigation of British fashion brands, this move would be considered a real step in the right direction, yes?

Breaking the Fourth Wall. An op-Ed by Kshitija Mruthyunjaya

The French philosopher Denis Diderot defined the ‘fourth wall’ as an imaginary barrier that divides an audience from the world in a theatrical play. This barrier forms a setting to transport the audience into an imaginary world, away from the real world. Diderot’s concept of a ‘fourth wall’ can be used as a metaphor for the role of advertising in present-day economic system of production, distribution and consumption. There is an enormous disconnect between what Barthes calls real garment (produced) and used garment (consumed) as the represented garment (advertised/distributed) fails to mediate the truth between the producer and the consumer.

Interview with Zebedee Management: The UK’s First Inclusive Modelling Agency

Since launching in early 2017, Zebedee Management has become the UK’s first modelling agency to exclusively represent people with physical and learning disabilities. With clients including luxury womenswear brand Teatum Jones and popular high-street stores like River Island and H&M, they are fast proving that diverse casting is the future. Founded by sisters-in-law Zoe Proctor and Laura Johnson from Sheffield, the idea for their agency arose during a discussion about the severe lack of opportunities for people with disabilities. According to the pair, it was truly “a light bulb moment” while out walking their dogs. In reality, this shared desire to champion diversity was by no means a spur of the moment decision, rather it was a culmination of years working in parallel industries; where Laura is a qualified social worker with a wealth of experience working with vulnerable adults and children, Zoe is a performing arts teacher specialising in teaching people with disabilities.

Are we using our intelligence to get the best out of AI and tech? An Op-Ed by Fiona Carter

On a wet miserable February evening, a sell out crowd gathered at GCU to hear an illustrious group of speakers talk about Fashion-Tech, Disrupting business models, AI Innovations and Fashion Futures. Quite an agenda, but all with the desire to be inclusive, informative, and disruptive. Fashion has always been the enfant terrible of the business world. However, lets not forget that it provides the UK with £32 bn GDP which is over 20 times more than fisheries at £1.6bn GDP. Where is our minister for fashion, I ask?

“We want to ensure that anyone can feel heard, included and involved”: Q&A with Huda Jawad, the co-organiser of Women's March London. By Lottie Jackson

On Saturday 19 January, thousands gathered in protest of gender inequality, and more specifically to call out the economic hardship severely afflicting women in the UK. This year’s ‘Bread & Roses’ theme was an allusion to the Bread and Roses March 1912 which revolutionised working women’s rights in the United States. Protesters who congregated in Trafalgar Square witnessed a fantastic line up of speakers from the Fawcett SocietySolace Women’s Aid and the Women’s Equality Party. Following the event, I caught up with the co-organiser of Women's March London, Huda Jawad over email to discuss the ongoing role of this global, female-led movement.

January Political Intelligence

Low-Level Letter Boxes – It is indicative of our peculiar Westminster system, that in a period dominated by uncertainty around Brexit and when Parliamentary time is so precious, that debating time was allocated to a discussion about changing the height of letter boxes. Fashion Roundtable has always tried to argue that Parliament will listen to fashion, as long as they shout loudly enough, and in the right direction. So if you’re reading this and you are frustrated, write to your MP with our help, and your message will be delivered (albeit it in a higher than usual letter box). 

The Future is Bright for Fashion at 8Future Fabrics Expo. An Op-Ed by Fiona Carter

In the depths of the basement of Victoria House, Bloomsbury Square a fabric revolution is on the rise. This year sees the 8th Future Fabrics Expo move into their new 22,000 sq ft of space, having outgrown their original show space in the Eco complex Iris Studios in South West London. Future Fabrics Expo is curated by The Sustainable Angle,  a Swiss not-for-profit organisation founded and run by Nina Marenzi.  Starting in her native Switzerland in 2011, she has now made London her home because of the size and creative nature of the UK fashion market. The Sustainable Angle provides a conduit that brings manufacturers, consumers and designers together to seek best outcomes and practice through innovation and sustainability.

Why The Fashion Industry Is Awesome But What It Needs To Survive & Thrive By Jenny Holloway CEO Fashion - Enter.

The Fashion Industry is awesome! It contributes over £1.4billion in GVA to East London alone. Fashion related jobs in Haringey north London, (where we are based) have increased by 136% between 2010 and 2015 and in East London and Upper Lea Valley there has been an increase of 10,900 jobs during that period too. Garment manufacturing is back and it’s here to stay!

However it’s been a long hard climb since we opened our factory almost ten years ago now.

As an ex Senior Buyer I can remember the heady days when M&S used to manufacture 94% of their garments in the UK. I used to visit the large scale factories based in Barnsley and Nottingham and I can distinctly recall the pride of British sewers expertly producing quality garments for a host of high street retailers. I didn't realise how amazing those factories were at that time; shame on me!  

Will those days come back? Not necessarily to the same scale and size of the factories that I visited in the 1990s  but the re-shoring of production is definitely occurring now and is set to grow as more and more retailers understand the importance of Speed to Market and reducing quantities of buys so the exit margin is key and not the intake margin.

Sustainability In The Fashion Industry - Interim Report Analysis & Recommendations from the Environment Audit Committee. By Tamara Cincik.

Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) For Textiles and Fashion Dr Lisa Cameron MP said:  

“The work of the EAC, has highlighted the need for fuller transparency in the supply chains of the fashion industry, both within the UK and our international trading partners. The APPG for Textiles and Fashion, (which includes as Vice Chair John McNally MP who sits on the EAC) support the findings of the committee and will do all we can to ensure our work within Parliament and with our fashion industry associates, highlights the recommendations and findings of this interim report.  

Our Sustainable Fashion APPG meeting in December brought numerous leaders from sustainable, designer and fast-fashion components of the sector into Parliament to outline, share and discuss their concerns as well as offering key solutions. By bringing the fashion industry into Parliament, along with the work of the EAC, I hope that awareness amongst politicians, will lead to policy amendments and implementations which support long-term sustainable business practices.” 

Positioning your company post-Brexit : The Fashion Industry And Environmental Responsibility As An Opportunity. By Eszter Kantor Fashion Roundtable's EU Expert.

This will be a time of scarcity, economic contraction and yet businesses in the UK will need to find an angle, however narrow, to make themselves visible, distinguishable and recognizable. Building on their past and heritage will not be enough when competing in a global marketplace where talents migrate on a daily basis and governments compete to lavish innovators with financial support. Will the UK remain open to welcome new talents, will the government have the financial resources to find or retain innovators? Perhaps unlikely, but definitely uncertain.

Fashion And Mental Health: Appearances Can Be Deceptive Op-Ed By Jodi Muter-Hamilton For Black Neon Digital.

Encourage Courageous Conversations by focusing on human connection and the concept of identification, educate ourselves on mental health and its diverse manifestations, to uncovering meaningful pathways to recovery for ourselves and others.

We know that the inclusion of diverse perspectives leads to a more creative, empathic and successful workforce. One where we can explore our unique gifts, so it’s about time that mental health was given space to be discussed in the fashion industry.

Minor Fashionista: How To Use Fashion To Foster Inclusivity In a Digital Age - An Op-Ed by Kshitija Mruthyunjaya

 The role of the CEO in a brand is very important in making conscious transformations in the company. The barriers between CEO and shop floor create dominant social structures in house, which in turn hamper conscious structures of societies. Communication barriers and no personal involvement of the top team with shop floor pushes them to engage in practices that does not support transformative power of the organization in a positive way. All shop floors can hear is the economic growth driven voice of the CEO and they work towards luring customers to spend and consume unconsciously. Although one can argue that brands priorities are in keeping up with trends and current lifestyles of consumers, isn’t there a way they can use it towards transforming lifestyles? While sales driven autonomous corporations and economic growth driven governments think that fostering conspicuous consumers to buy more and more seems like a victory to them, it is not. 

Is retail a drop on the landscape? An Op-Ed by Fiona Carter

The British Retail Consortium recently published figures show a further 0.7% drop, year on year, of tough retail trading.

This continued pressure on our retailers has led to a dramatic change in landscape on our local High Streets. Having lived in the same area of North London all my life, I have witnessed the slow demise of the independent retailer, squeezed out by pernicious rents, online shopping and unreasonable competition from retail chains.

After the Government Brexit meaningful vote, our EU and UK experts explain what this means and what might happen next

The European Commission is waiting for a result, there are no more negotiating rounds planned, in fact the negotiating team has gone back to their usual, non-Brexit related tasks. While there have been reports that the EU would be willing to extend the Article 50 deadline beyond March 29, it is only possible if there is a request for such a step and additionally, a well rounded reason for the extension. The EU is waiting for the UK to identify a future path they want to follow. In the absence of such a plan or strategy, the Commission will not be extending the deadline. 

Top three tips for communicating sustainability in 2019 - Op-Ed by Eleanor O'Leary

In the year that sustainable fashion is tipped to ‘go mainstream’, Eleanor O’Leary, The Better Brand Consultant gives us her top three tips on keeping the momentum, and making this complex topic accessible. “In ten years time, we're going to look at fast fashion in the same way we look at fast food"; this was the quote that I read in a Business Of Fashion article published in 2015 that cemented my belief that the future of fashion had to be sustainable." At the time I knew nothing of circular economies or closed loop manufacturing, but the simplicity of this statement told me everything I needed to know. I realised two things: 1) that a more sustainable fashion future was possible if we could reframe the current conversation and 2) to be successful, existing sustainable fashion brands were going to need to start ‘speaking the fashion language’ which included creating signature tone of voice, chicer more editorial-led styling, and an acceptance that often the ‘average consumer’ is probably put off by messages that champion science over style.

November and December Political Intelligence

Approaching the end of November, we were posed with a difficult question: do we try and take the shocking events of that month and leave several unanswered questions going into December? Or do we batten down the hatches and review the end of year once the Christmas festivities have died down?

Furthermore, as we are well through the ‘100 days to go’ point, there are three self-perpetuating challenges that face the UK Parliament: there is no Parliamentary majority for the deal negotiated by the Government, there is no time or European appetite to renegotiate, Parliament has passed the bill to leave but hasn’t passed the bill that tells us how. 

Code in Fashion - Tamara Cincik for Fabiana

Fashion has a front row; politics has a front bench.

Both operate on a clearly hierarchical system: one where there are constant threats of being dethroned from the back benches/row, as politics, fashion change.

As a stylist, I have long known that the power of clothes: to enhance sales for a brand, to make a designer relevant in a jaded (and saturated) market, and as a communication tool. Strangers assess all of us before we speak: in a matter of seconds what we wear communicates who we are. Not only is fashion a clearly valuable asset to the global market place, if it was a nation state, it would rank 7th in the world economies, understanding it as a means to decode who we are to target audiences is I believe vital to any seeking either a position in public life, or being considered for promotion. Knowing what you are saying with how you present yourself isn't simply an irrelevance, it is in fact vital.