SHANGHAI — “People feel at a loss of what to do about sustainability,” said Shaway Yeh, a veteran media executive and special adviser to the Copenhagen Fashion Summit, in her opening address of the Shan Future Forum. Building on the interest of a first edition last year titled “First Sustainable Fashion Open Forum,” Yeh aims to create conversations beyond the half-day event, a series of talks and panel discussions on sustainability held during Shanghai Fashion Week.
The forum’s program moved at a brisk pace, touching on a wide range of subjects, from sustainable practices and enterprise resource planning tools, to innovations still fresh from the lab and technology, reaching as far as contemporary art.
Ling Wang, director of BSR China, a global nonprofit developing sustainable business strategies and solutions, helped kick off the event by talking about the need to challenge conventional thoughts in every field, including infrastructure, urbanization and how business is done. “When a business model is in conflict with natural resources, it affects sustainability,” she said.
Leading by example was a recurring idea among speakers who included Valentina Yinghua Xu, founder of the Creative Fiber brand consulting agency and China representative of Fashion Tech Lab; British Fashion Council chief executive officer Caroline Rush; Kenji Higashi, a representative for Japan’s Spiber spider fiber manufacturer; Elodie Rousselot, a circular design project manager with the Allen MacArthur Foundation; Lorenzo Albrighi, cofounder and ceo of Lablaco, and Tian Zheng, cofounder of the Swelland SneakCoin Project, which proposes blockchain solutions to combat counterfeiting in the secondary market for limited-edition streetwear items.
For cashmere specialists Erdos, land and resource preservation, particularly in their home territory of Inner Mongolia, “is our own cause, we have to do it, whether people like it or not,” said general manager Wei Wang, who sat on the jury of the inaugural K Generation jury. But “we don’t want sustainability associated with pain,” particularly for the customer, she added. The company, who reaches beyond fashion into metallurgy and energy, is seeking a Chinese government certification as a green manufacturer before 2025, following guidelines issued as part of China’s 35-year sustainable development initiatives in the Nineties.
“Sustainability is not just a goal, it’s a topic for all humanity,” reaffirmed Xiaolei Lu, deputy secretary-general of Shanghai Fashion Week, during the “business of good” segment that focused on what entrepreneurs can do to transition to better practices. “Problems don’t appear overnight,” she said.
Austrian fiber producer Lenzing’s head of business development and marketing for Greater China Yuki Hu spoke about the company’s constant efforts to have no impact on the environment. She also reaffirmed its aims to achieve climate neutrality by 2030 and net zero emissions by 2050, citing the virtuous water cycle implemented in the producer’s home in Austria.
Architecture and design curator Aric Chen, curatorial director of Design Miami events in Miami and Basel, took a turn on the stage to showcase contemporary art projects and productions that expose the irrevocable consequences of human activity. What the role of raw materials is and how designers question this was the overarching theme of a presentation in which he looked at speculative and critical design.
While some tried to harness nature for innovation — like American company Modern Meadow and its animal-free leather created from yeasts grown, and Mycotree, which creates architectural load-bearing structures built using bamboo and mycelium, the stringy vegetative part of most fungi — others looked at the consequences of human activity. Studio Swire’s turtle shell made of ocean plastics and the vision of plastic as a rare resource in the works of Chinese photographer Cui Gangjian epitomized the prevalence of postconsumer and industrial pollution.
Rush, in conversation with philanthropist and investor Wendy Yu of Yu Holdings, noted that the positive impact of fashion in communities, leading to empowerment, greater diversity and representation, and the creation of a sense of place, were among the reasons why the sustainability conversation had gained momentum.
Priorities differed from one region to the next, outlined Travis Peoples, chief operating officer of the Global Fashion Agenda, and this is not a contradiction in the overall global agenda. “Sustainability is a journey, not everyone can be accountable on the same level,” he said, adding that current areas of concern and improvement could all be seen as valid, taking into account brand, national or regional perspectives.
It was a sentiment echoed by Kyung-Ae Han, vice chairwoman of the Kolon Group, a prominent Korean sportswear manufacturer that owns brands such as Descente, for whom initiatives needed to “reach beyond commercial concerns and fashion into lifestyle and community,” she said, speaking through a translator. She highlighted the company’s efforts toward empowering North Korean refugees and single parents in local communities.
“If we need to accelerate [the sustainability agenda], we need to be open,” Peoples said, applauding the maturity of conversations. “People know what needs to be done. Now it’s about doing it.”