How fashion found new purpose in sustainability

Fashion, at its best, acts as a mirror of our time; it’s always pushed boundaries and I believe nowhere is this more prevalent than in London. The capital has a long-standing reputation for attracting creativity, championing freedom of speech, and plays a key role in innovating and initiating cultural change which resonates across the global fashion industry.

All businesses need to focus on purpose, action and positive change. The fashion industry is no exception and works at an incredible pace; businesses have to be reactive, delivering product in step with consumer demand and investor pressure, while also embracing a more sustainable future.

The government has declared a climate emergency and the fashion industry, alongside all others, must take action. But it’s a positive change that has to come from brands and businesses, driving innovation and new ways of working, while also collectively shifting consumer habits. This isn’t about compromising, it’s redressing the balance of craft and consumerism.

How fashion can promote sustainable growth

In the UK, the fashion industry employs around 890,000 people and contributes £32 billion to the economy, which is similar in size to telecoms or car manufacturing. But like the bold designs on the catwalk, it’s more debated than either of these sectors because its voice is much louder. It’s within our cultural and social dialogue and consciousness, so businesses have greater opportunities to engage in meaningful conversations that will lead to conscious consumerism.

The British Fashion Council (BFC) is a not-for-profit organisation whose mission is to harness the collective power of the fashion industry to enable sustainable growth. Now is the time to ensure we do this. We have established a Positive Fashion committee of sustainable and communications experts to help focus our engagement and adoption of sustainable and ethical practices, creating a significant network to embrace and promote this movement of change.

Supporting sustainable growth has meant creating global platforms, such as London Fashion Week and The Fashion Awards, to showcase UK businesses to global audiences, and helps create strong and long-lasting partnerships with business and creative networks in key markets overseas. Now we are engaging this global network, enabling knowledge-sharing between large businesses and luxury groups with small and medium-sized enterprises to ensure businesses can continue to grow, but also easily switch to more sustainable practices.

Steps the industry has taken towards sustainability

The BFC established Positive Fashion in 2014, a stream of work that would enhance our strategic pillars of education, business and reputation. Since then Positive Fashion has championed more accessible local high-end manufacturing, Vivienne Westwood’s SWITCH to green energy campaign, and is focusing on the creation of practical guides and toolkits to enable us to create a programme to help the industry become net carbon neutral.

The good news is that significant work is already being done by many of the large responsible businesses. Kering Group have been identified as luxury leaders, while Marks & Spencer were first to focus on the environment on the high street; both have representatives on the BFC Positive Fashion committee. The designer fashion businesses, starting today, are doing so through a sense of purpose and with an intent to be sustainable.

This is a direct reflection of our graduating generation’s view of the world and the role they want to play as creatives in the future of our global industry. This is something we should all support. Our aim is to create momentum for change, yet still champion the incredible creativity, craftsmanship and ingenuity that comes from inspirational and original design.