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.
January 2019 saw a huge leap in attendance figures from 1000 last year, to well over 2,500, showcasing over 5000 commercially available fabrics from mainly European suppliers offering innovative solutions with a lower environmental footprint. Sitting within this was an Innovation Hub of more than 30 of the most radical and creative ideas in textile development and manufacturing. Laura Luchtman of Living Colour, for instance, has created natural dyes using pigments from bacteria. Alice Potts of “Perspire” has managed to make crystal products from human sweat and secretions(Eeew!). It could bring a whole new meaning to Sweat shops?! It sounds a bit new age, but it really is the ultimate in sustainability. Bethany Williams committed to alternative use of fabric, was one of the fashion designers who had their own space to showcase. A comprehensive program of a dozen seminars ran over the two days featuring the most influential organisations in textiles and fashion. Speakers included Krishna Manda from Lenzing, looking at circular manufacturing; discussion panels included Stella McCartney and Orsola De Castro from Fashion Revolution in conversation with Claire Bergkamp.
When I asked Nina what has made this leap in attendance, she said that in her view there were 3 main factors: “First,” she said “our increased awareness of environmental pollution affecting each one of us. It’s no longer abstract, it’s more visible now i.e. plastic in the ocean. Second, the fashion industry recognising its contribution to this problem, and third, emerging nascent mills and suppliers of sustainable materials is maturing providing more styles and higher quality materials that are now available.”
Nina describes the sustainability industry as a bit like the Wild West. What they do through their research is filter standards and bring them into line enabling the fashion industry to actively shift away from being one of the largest polluters to be one of the most sustainable and ethical.
Future fabrics Expo is as much about education as it is about exhibiting. Walls were filled with bit-size information and there is no doubt there is a lot to learn. There was a very clear message, that it was not just about product, but as much about people and responsibility to all the communities who are involved in the process of creating fabric from farmer through to garment. Katty Fashion was one of many stands I looked at where there was as much emphasis on the ethical standards of the communities that they worked with, as much as the sustainable standard of the product.
The issue of labelling was a recurring theme. Sharing a table at the cafe, I talked to Brenda Sheil who runs a factory in Bangalore. She explained how she had just got Fair Trade status. She said how hard everyone had worked for it and the positive difference it will make to her business. Orsola de Castro suggested in her seminar that we could have a traffic light label system, as we do with food. This idea had been raised previously by Jodi Muter-Hamilton and others at the APPG for Textiles and Fashion meeting on sustainable fashion back in December last year. Technology too can help provide answers to this by having a chip in the garment. Probably the most effective solution at the moment is an app - CoGo (Conscious Consumer Guide) created by Ben Gleiser that provides information on any garment you buy. As he said, it is important that you connect with your values. You might prioritise organic cotton over carbon footprint and that is important. A lot of work is needed to make this clear so that it is not open to abuse. One label can be in conflict with another and lead to confusion. For instance organic cotton is not the same as sustainable cotton. Hence the value and importance of organisations like Fashion Roundtable where they are able to lobby government to ratify such labelling systems to insure we have a strong robust system protecting growers, manufacturers and consumers alike.
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