Creating a new heritage: The Source Summit 2013, London

· blog, Ethical Fashion, Sustainable Fashion

reviewed for Re-dress by Emma Tynan

The Source Summit is regarded as one of the most important platforms for the discussion of ethics and sustainability in the fashion industry. Emma Tynan, an Irish freelance writer and journalist specialising in sustainable and ethical fashion, attended the event and reported back to Re-dress.

Alongside her own successful blog, Thread Gently, Emma contributes to leading newspapers, fashion and trade magazines including the Guardian, Eluxe Mag and the Ethical Fashion Forum. Emma began her career in luxury fashion and publishing in London where she was based for the last six years until recently relocating to Paris.

Source Summit Report

“I think the same people that doubt its success are the same people who doubted that women would have the right to vote”- Bruno Pieters, Honest By

What if we could rewrite the evolution of the fashion industry? Imagine if the clothes we wear were produced in an industry where transparent, ethical and sustainable practices were the norm? How many human and environmental catastrophes could we have prevented? We were reminded again how far removed the fashion industry is from that vision on the 24 April 2013. On that date the collapse of the Rana Plaza complex in Bangladesh crushed 1,129 garment workers to death and was the biggest industrial disaster in the industry’s history. But only one of many such disasters in recent years and the backdrop for last week’s Source Summit in London.

The Source Summit is regarded as one of the most important platforms for the discussion of ethics and sustainability in the fashion industry. This year the event brought together over a thousand industry insiders, both on the live stream and at the event itself, from every part of the supply chain around the world to discuss and debate at length the future of sustainability in the industry. There was a greater sense of urgency unsurprisingly at this year’s summit in the wake of the Rana Plaza disaster about the need to create a much more transparent supply chain.

Notable industry leaders and speakers at the event included Baroness Lola Young, Founder of All-Party Parliamentary Group on Ethics and Sustainability in Fashion, Dolly Jones, Editor of Vogue.com and founder of the Green Style Blog; Brigitte Stepputis, Head of Couture at Vivienne Westwood, Orsola de Castro, co-curator of the BFC Estethica Showroom and From Somewhere; Lucy Shea, CEO of Futerra and founder of the clothes swapping movement Swishing as well as Michael Beutler, Director of Sustainability Operations at luxury goods group Kering (home of GucciYSLStella McCartneyAlexander McQueen and Balenciaga – to name a few).

Education versus design was a hot topic of discussion, as to which is the most effective way to further the growth of the ethical fashion sector. However, since the Rana Plaza collapse sales in Primark are up by 20%; suggesting that maybe educating consumers might win them over. On the topic Dolly Jones said, “A lecture isn’t really a Vogue way to do things (…) If the clothes are pretty enough Vogue will listen”.

Bruno Pieters, creative director of Honest By was also in attendance and spoke candidly about the inception of his fledgling label that prides itself on 100% transparency, controversially even down to the profit he makes on it. “Everyone deserves to make a living”, said Pieters. He spoke of his frustration at the lack of available design lead ethical and sustainable menswear. “If you buy unsustainable fashion, you are telling brands it is okay to be unsustainable,” he said. “I created the brand because transparency was what I was looking for as a consumer but couldn’t find. I’m using it as a tool for change. Change doesn’t start with institutions. The pyramid of power in fashion has the designer at the bottom, then the CEO, the shareholders and at the very top is the consumer.”

Brigitte Stepputis, head of couture at Vivienne Westwood was challenged from the floor about Vivienne Westwood’s lack of transparency given her outspokeness on climate change.”If Vivienne is so concerned about the ethics of fashion, why doesn’t she have a transparent supply chain?” asked Chere Di Boscio, editor of online eco-luxury fashion magazine, Eluxe. A sheepish Stepputis replied saying, “One of the most important issues for us is to be able to work sustainably but to scale. We have a global brand. (…) It is easier for smaller lines to be more transparent because they don’t have the scale that we have. Many ethical producers and artisans can’t keep up with the thousands of meters of fabric that we need in the short timescales that we ask from them”.

Despite Westwood’s international Climate Revolution campaign she is yet to implement sustainable practices within her own supply chain; one that still includes the indestructible and toxic material, PVC (Kering has already committed to removing it by 2016).

“Screw business as usual”, said panelist Ben Ramsden, founder of Pants to Poverty. Since the disaster at Rana Plaza and the daily environmental and human disasters occurring at the hands of the industry, all the panelists and summit participants echoed this sentiment and the urgent need for a sustainable and transparent supply chains.

There was something different in the air at Source Summit this year. There was a real sense that the sector is standing at the brink of a breakthrough and some kind of mass appeal beckons. And the voice of Vogue at the Summit offered the verification many welcomed: “The time is now”, said Dolly Jones.

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