Fashion Forward: A Sustainability Report Helps Clothing Brands Plan for the Future

Designers Accord

Amidst the new outfits swishing down runways at this year's London Fashion Week was a different kind of fashion launch: The British non-profit named Forum for the Future released its sustainability trend report for the industry. But the report, named Fashion Futures 2025, is no endless stack of statistics, like so many other trend reports that seem like they were written to make your eyes glaze over. This innovative toolkit includes a range of free materials, from a workshop guide to entertaining animation, that its creators hope will help the report's message reach a wider audience.

"We do futures work because we think it's a great way to discuss sustainability and engage organizations," says Peter Madden, chief executive for Forum for the Future. He noted that especially for such a universal industry the impact could be exponential—a major shift in the fashion world could be one of the biggest factors in improving global issues like climate change. The key to reaching their fashion-forward audience was to do it in a creative, collaborative way.

Fashion

INDUSTRIAL REVOLUTION
The fashion industry is home to contradictory trends, says Madden. While there are plenty of sustainable design brands making their way onto retail racks, by far the most financially-successful clothing is the very cheap, throwaway clothing, what you might call "fast fashion." "The fashion industry has to crack two things," says Madden. "Bringing garments to consumers that they can wear and wash with a fraction of the environmental impact, and focusing on materials like organic cotton, which are responsibly produced with natural ingredients."

Reaching out to fashion industry experts from all over the world, Forum for the Future compiled interviews and resources that helped put together a picture of what fashion will look like 15 years from now. Some of the more intriguing ideas poised by Fashion Futures 2025's 60-page report included business models like clothing libraries where people could rent special occasion or vintage pieces, or high-tech fibers which would be able to repel dirt and grime. Also the question of disposal was an interesting question: If clothes are gently worn but still have valuable fibers, how can pieces be reused or upcycled into something else?

Fashion

FASHION-FORWARD
Although the report is compiled into a beautifully-designed free, downloadable document, Forum for the Future wanted to take the execution one step further. "We find that almost anyone can produce glossy futures reports," says Madden. "The really important part is that they're used." The concept behind Fashion Futures 2025 was to involve the businesses who could start making these changes, and do it in an interactive manner. A workshop model was devised so a company of any size could not only read the report but actually use it to assess their current strategies while they looked at where they wanted to take their company. A workshop resource page provides an agenda, exercises and the report in PowerPoint form that allows company leaders to easily present the workshop to their employees, but also take ownership in the process—rather than have a set of standards and rules passed down from an authoritative body.

The secondary component was a series of four animations about each of the scenarios which illustrated how issues like climate change, resource shortages, population growth will affect the indstry. These informative, yet entertaining videos were produced in partnership with Dom del Torto at Biganimal Studio to be serious in content, yet still incorporate humor and be visually-provoking. Plus, the clever nature of the videos might help engage people outside of the fashion industry who might not read the report. "I encourage our teams not to produce a report if they don't have to," says Madden. "A good little viral film can fly around a company—or fly around the world."

A GLOBAL PARTNER
Part of Forum for the Future's success in its reports for industries from transportation to retail is working closely with large companies and other governing bodies. "We go on a journey with them and look at the challenges together," says Madden, noting that some of their partnerships dated back a decade. But such partnerships also increase impact, especially partnering with organizations that have the power to implement their findings—like major chains or professional associations. Fashion Futures 2025 is aided by a strong partnership with Levi's Strauss & Co., the iconic 150-year-old fashion brand.

As a leader in sustainability themselves, Levi's Strauss & Co. helped to gather information for the study. These tenets—as well as the challenges—are outlined in this article by Levi's Strauss & Co.'s vice president of social and environmental sustainability Michael Kobori. Levi's was the first company in the world with a proper code of content for factory workers. They also became an early member of the Better Cotton Initiative, which hopes to improve farming and labor conditions for cotton growers and producers. And they also added a consumer education element to their brand, adding tags encouraging wearers to wash in cold water and donate used clothing to Goodwill. Now, they will also serve as a large test group for implementing the report's findings, holding workshops within their offices.

Fashion

MASS PRODUCTION
While they don't have a formal system set up for feedback from the fashion workshops, Madden expects that they will be hearing stories from companies that use the program. In the meantime, they're producing a module for fashion schools to use, including a pilot program with the masters program at London College of Fashion and another at California College of the Arts. And they'll be taking the presentation to fashion industry conferences and schools around the world. Forum for the Future's track record has been impressive: A travel report produced last year for the UK outbound tourism industry eventually was presented at an international travel conference, resulting in a unified plan and roadmap for that industry's future.

Ultimately, addressing issues of sustainability and fashion affects all designers because of the opportunity to explore the motivation behind concepts like self-expression and happiness—and how that changes consumer behavior, says Madden. "It's an important lesson for the environmental movement. We can't talk about a future that's all about sacrifice and doom and gloom...and then have ugly clothes that are rubbish." Fashion designers have perhaps the greatest challenge of all, since they have to find sustainable solutions that are beautiful and desirable—and as exciting and ever-changing as the fashion industry itself.

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