The tenth anniversary of Beyond Green: 13 April 2016
Beyond Green is an annual symposium on the future of fashion organised by Circle Economy and the Amsterdam Fashion Institute. It uses the collective power of students and industry players to tackle critical issues throughout the fashion system. New and established minds come together and push the boundaries of what we know, and realise what we dare to imagine.
The theme of this year’s Beyond Green was ‘the pace of the industry’. Led by Circle Economy and hosted by Hélène Smits, an afternoon of keynote speakers (inspiration) and workshops (action) brought AMFI students together with faculty and pioneers from industry to explore solutions to serious questions around fast and slow models of production and consumption. Does fast necessarily mean unsustainable, and can a slow fashion business turn a healthy profit?
Inspiration: Keynote Speakers
Gwen Cunningham is a sustainability lecturer at AMFI and Project Manager of Circular Textiles at Circle Economy. She incited the discussion, stating “we are moving away from a past that doesn’t work for us anymore, and freefalling into a future that is not yet defined“. She posited that on the one hand, this moment of history is terrifying, but on the other hand, it is wildly exciting, and full of potential. Gwen challenged us to move beyond current definitions of what’s fast and what’s slow in her consideration of the five most defining moments this past year in fashion.
Firstly, Li Edelkoort’s anti-fashion manifesto. Secondly the departures of Raf Simons and Alber Elbaz due to the dogged pace demanded of them. Thirdly, climatologists recording the warmest year ever, puzzled at the weather volatility that led to stockrooms full of coats, “designed for a winter that never came”. Next, the network effects of social media, which is schooling a generation of what marketers are calling, the “I want-what-I-want-when-I-want-it” generation.
While some brands are fighting the rise of instantaneous fashion consumption, others are moving right along with the times. Lastly, we saw brands like Burberry, Tom Ford, Tommy Hilfiger step out of the fashion system and introduce a ‘see now, buy now’ model. But will this allow more flexibility, or is it simply pandering to this generation who’s creedo is instantaneous gratification?
We’re truly left with the question: what’s next for fashion?
This rhythm and tempo is self-inflicted, and as the actual seasons become obsolete, does the seasonality of fashion actually make any sense? Gwen’s anecdotal story highlighted the instability of the current fashion system and calendar, and therefore suggested that the opportunities to innovate and re-design these structures a-fresh are vast and timely.
Slow and Steady
Elin Larsson has been part of the team behind Filippa K for twenty years, nearly since the beginning. The brand’s founding statement includes not being dependent on the superficial trends of the fashion industry. Since 2011 Elin has focused on sustainability issues, and started by making 5 commitments for 2030. Her vision is that sustainability should be the guide to growth. Yet that’s still in line with what they’ve always been doing, making clothes that can live for a long time in terms of quality and style.
It’s immediately clear that Elin takes sustainability seriously. One of the commitments is not producing more than is needed, but she admits they haven’t quite solved yet that. We saw conscious design and sustainable sourcing coming to life with the practices Filippa K adopts. Filippa K just started with these small initiatives but Elin says “We need to dare to try.” Elin said when we raise awareness, something starts to happen:
“Once you are aware, you can choose to do something about it, or not, but you are still responsible”
Elin mandates that sustainability isn’t just figuring out how to minimise the negative things, or ‘being less bad’, like working with more sustainable materials, skipping the dyeing process entirely or even creating zero waste garments. They’ve also looked beyond the things that a consumer might not even see, like taking out tissue paper in packaging or thinking about the impact of a safety pin to attach the hangtag.
For Filippa K, sustainability is also about exploring how to create garments with a climate positive impact, for example looking at how to create fabric from waste or excess. To evaluate the sustainability of materials from a lifetime perspective, as opposed to just the present value. Beginning to address challenges like these represents the need for all stakeholders of the industry to come together, including consumers.
Elin imparted Filippa K’s ‘front runners‘ initiative: an approach to a circular fashion system which in turn spurs designers to approach their work differently. She continues on to tell of lease and secondhand models as ways of diversifying the business. Nearly everybody can identify with the fact that a great portion of our wardrobe is made up of things we haven’t worn in the last year. She mandates that we need to start getting creative about how we can style our look without contributing to overconsumption. One of the most important parts in this sustainability discussion is the customer, and without them we can’t make this happen.
Fast and Furious
Martijn van Strien is a designer, optimist, future thinker and entrepreneur. For him fast fashion is not necessarily a bad thing, but it’s the way we’ve organised it until now that is incredibly inefficient. Fast fashion was originally was a term coined to represent a model characterised by quick turnover and higher volume of sales. Add on top of this model marketing telling us we need something new every week, and over the course of 20 years we’ve gotten used to this. We now live in a world of accessible, disposable fashion where a product’s been hyped on the internet, then we’re bored because everyone is wearing the same thing. It’s only now that we’re realising that this speed comes at a price that someone, somewhere is paying.
But Martijn, the founder of Post-Couture Collective, asks how we can solve these problems without blaming it on speed. Fashion systems where ownership of garments and designs are shared are transforming what we know as ‘fast fashion’. Moreover, involving consumers in the making process adds more value to the garments that we wear. It fuels the urge to customise and add exclusivity, and ideally leads to less pollution and fairer treatment of everyone involved.
If we increase the speed of fashion even more we might come up with some interesting solutions.
The maker’s movement, or third industrial revolution, is enabling sustainable fast fashion. As local makerspaces sprout up all over the world (including right here at the HvA) this utopia Martijn describes is literally emerging. The definition of ‘made to order’ is changing. With the assistance of digital design we can prevent stuff being made for no reason, and it’s easier for young designers to get involved because they don’t need to pay for stock up front to get started. In such a system we could create something new or at least wear something new every now and then, in a fair and sustainable way. He highlights the crucial impact of open-source collaboration across industries in order to augment the fashion machine.
Martijn says we can dream big because technology is developing so fast, inviting the audience to join the Post-Couture discussion community on Facebook. We can use our ideas to create the fastest fashion, and we’ll soon live in a world where it’s normal to get a body scan, the virtual prototyping process is as easy as ‘drag-and-drop’, and 3D printing textiles and garments will take design to new horizons, as will virtual reality. He asked how we can take the first steps to create a future that’s shared instead of owned. He asked how we can create a circular future, where humans, nature, materials and craft are all equally respected. He’s positive it’s a future that’s made by us which starts right now.
Following the keynote speakers, expert external moderators and dedicated AMFI staff led vivid discussions in workshops. The forty participants used custom workshop materials to produce a series of innovative business concepts. Concepts ranged from the teen-oriented Vodaclothes (a fast fashion, lease-to-recycle brand included in your monthly phone bill) to Wedenim (a members-only club, where basic, unisex denim is amended, treated and customised by local denim specialists) to tech-savvy Changeables (high-quality, durable clothing, equipped with downloadable nano printing technology).
‘Many companies want to take the next step in sustainability, but are not sure how to go about it. Beyond Green is a very necessary model that not only inspires industry to take action, but demonstrates what that action could look like through real business examples, and interactive workshops with students. The event got my adrenaline pumping and opened my eyes to new possibilities for my company’.
– Kirsten Zwart, Queen of Sourcing, Kings of Indigo
“Beyond Green was exciting because of the very inspirational speakers and the mix of people from the industry and fashion students. I thoroughly enjoyed connecting with people with the same interest in sustainability and exchanging ideas and thoughts.”
– Jasmin Hammermayer, Fashion & Management student, AMFI
“In order to speed up the changes necessary in our industry and make those changes as relevant as possible, we need to collaborate with all stakeholders, both existing and future. Beyond Green brings all relevant parties together, and puts the right questions on the table. Discussing future solutions with students gives both insight and inspiration. Their views and perspective can help us to steer changes in the right direction, and make them more strategic and pertinent. Together we can transform and shape tomorrow’s fashion industry.” – Elin Larsson, Director of Sustainability, Filippa K
“What makes Beyond Green unique is the interaction between industry and education.
Some inspiration to kick off the day is excellent, but the afternoon workshop sessions, where industry and students meet to tackle sustainability issues together, is what sets it apart. I was honoured to be a part of this great event that managed to bridge the gap between slow & fast fashion, industry & education and inspiration & practice.”
-Martijn van Strien, Founder, Post-Couture Collective
Watch the keynote speakers from the Beyond Green symposium below or on the Hogeschool’s webcolleges mediasite:
Event photography courtesy of Nina Albada Jelgersma Photography.
Article written and edited by Gwen Cunningham and Fashion & Branding lecturer Kimberly Waldbillig.