Mary Creagh MP

LONDON — What’s Going On?

That’s what The Centre for Sustainable Fashion is looking to answer with a two-day conference marking its 10-year anniversary at London College of Fashion.

The conference, which began Wednesday, comes on the heels of an inquiry into fast fashion’s impact on the environment that was launched in June by the House of Commons’ environmental audit committee and chaired by Mary Creagh, a member of Parliament, who also opened the two-day event.

“The U.K. buys more clothes than any other European country and every year we dispose of 1.1 million tons of clothes and 80 percent of that goes into the landfill,” she said, pointing out her reason for opening the inquiry.

While waste is the industry’s most visible problem, Creagh also addressed the impact of microbeads, plastic packaging, microfibers in waste water and pollution resulting from production. “Fashion has a history of chasing the cheap needle around the globe and turning a blind eye to environmental degradation,” she said.

The committee is working on finding solutions to these problems, she said, citing the microbeads ban that passed in the U.K. earlier this year and calls for industry players to replace their linear model with a circular one.

Dr. Helen Crowley, head of sustainable sourcing innovation at Kering, provided examples of how the luxury conglomerate is also working toward that goal.

“We are working within finite boundaries and we are looking at nature-based solutions to work within that framework,” Crowley said. Some of the nature-based solutions that Kering employs include regenerative grazing practices, engaging in wildlife-friendly practices and improving practices with local producers.

She acknowledged that sustainability can be overwhelming and encouraged the industry to engage with agriculture.

“People are always talking about scaling, but nature doesn’t scale very well. It replicates beautifully. When you have things that work, let’s replicate them and that’s how we get to scale by replicating a lot of little systems,” Crowley added.

Despite the sustainable achievements the industry has made over the past few years, designer Katharine Hamnett said that changes are not happening fast enough — and, as usual, called out the industry’s practices.

“The industry can be ignorant, we’re abandoning fur, but the fur that brands are using instead is made up of acetate, nylon and viscose, which is hideously destructive to the environment,” Hamnett said.

She emphasized the need for radical change through legislation. “Brands don’t give a s–t. The only reason why they’re becoming more sustainable is because it dents their pockets and unless we have legislation that forces brands to do better, nothing is going to change.”

The day’s discussion ended with Dilys Williams’, professor of fashion design for sustainability at CSF, who talked about designing with an “ecological heart and socially responsible brain.” Thursday’s session will explore fashion business practices for better buying and fashion design for democracy with speakers including Orsola de Castro, founder of Fashion Revolution, and Claire Bergkamp, global director of sustainability and innovation at Stella McCartney.

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