Article by Centre for Sustainable Fashion | Monica Buchan-Ng | 06.29.2021

How can fashion value Nature? A behind-the-scenes look at the Challenge brief

We recently launched our inaugural challenge – the Fashion Values Challenge. With an open brief asking change-makers ‘how can fashion value Nature?’ with a set of focal lenses including design, media and technology, calling for future-focused ideas that can transform the fashion industry.  

But how was this brief created?  

The Fashion Values Roundtable, held in January 2021, brought together voices from across the fashion industry – educators, researchers, brands, start-ups, activists and NGOs – to discuss what Nature needs from fashion, and in doing so, co-developed the Challenge brief.  

While their input is embedded in the Challenge itself read on for a behind-the-scenes look at the conversations that led to its development.

What happens when you put sustainability advocates, experts and activists in a (digital) room to focus their collective power on fashion and Nature? Conversations at the Roundtable were challenging and varied, offering perspectives on everything from journalism to consumerism and traditional knowledge. Not only did the conversation help to shape the brief, their insights provide a little extra help for you, as you develop your application. 

What did the Roundtable panellists identify as the path towards a more sustainable future? 

Three key findings from the conversation included:  

  1. Complexity and Communication: The Roundtable experts highlighted the need for new communication strategies for diverse audiences, that constructively engage with complexities of fashion and nature issues.  

  2. Connection is necessary to make change happen. It addresses the need for us to empathise, recognise each other, our individual and collective circumstances and the global context in which we exist, as well as the nature being essential for our life. Connection (between fashion and Nature) is also a vital factor in decision-making with regards to materials, supply chains, design and production processes. 

  3. Collaboration is key to innovation and systemic progress. The experts in complementary disciplines called for collaboration to educate each other; address complexity together; communicate effectively to diverse audiences; and connect with each other and others. 

But how would a transformative idea take these findings into consideration?

Our Roundtable participants had a myriad of suggestions for what the fashion industry needs now, such as… 

Sustainability mindsets, cultures and perspectives 

  • Ways to connect people emotionally with their clothes or with Nature 

  • Questioning and addressing sources of valid knowledge 

  • Ways to decolonise fashion  

  • Ways to change fashion mindsets, attitudes or behaviours 

  • Recognition and application of traditional or indigenous knowledge 

  • Ways to affect change across social, cultural, generational, political and geographic boundaries 

  • Think global, act local: ideas with world-wide relevance, but applied regionally  

Decoupling fashion from growth 

  • Ways to decouple business growth from emissions and resource extraction growth 

  • Ways to address fashion overproduction  

  • Ways to create fashion without making new products 

New knowledge, systems and values 

  • Innovation that presents new perspectives and alternatives to normative systems, behaviours and practices 

  • Ways to leverage technology to help the planet 

  • New values, standards or definitions of success for fashion 

  • Ways to incentivise sustainable decisions and business, based on new values for fashion 

  • Cross-disciplinary partnerships to create change on a systemic level 

  • Consolidating collaborations and priorities for the climate emergency in the next decade 

  • Application of science-based targets for nature and scientific innovation to fashion 

This year’s Fashion Values programme is focused on shifting fashion out of the Age of Extraction and into the Age of Regeneration – looking at how we can change our relationship with Nature to be more empathetic, embedded and reciprocal. 

Many conversations during the Roundtable event centred on biodiversity, and the need for biodiversity in enabling Nature to flourish. To put it in simple words, biodiversity means ‘living nature’; the living skin across the whole world, including animals, plants, the habitats and ecosystems they live in, and how they interact with each other. Our skin holds us together, enables us to breathe and move, to create and to interact in the world.  

Fashion can help to restore its relationship with Nature is by supporting and restoring biodiversity. While the above suggestions outline possible ways to do so, the panellists offered further insights into the complexity of this topic…  

  • Understanding biodiversity means understanding that we are part of it, are connected to it, and that we collaborate with it when we design and create. 

  • Biodiversity benefits multiple beings in multiple ways. From farmers to local communities to ecosystems to wildlife, biodiversity supports greater resilience to the effects of the climate emergency, and a healthier planet for all that reside here.   

  • Indigenous and traditional knowledge is a vital source for practices of care to support biodiversity. For example, returning land to indigenous caretakers has an overwhelmingly positive effect – see this article from Grist to learn more. 

  • Efforts to address the climate emergency must also address biodiversity. Those that focus on the former without considering the latter are at risk of developing ‘bandaid’ solutions that tackle symptoms rather than causes. 

Now you’ve explored the insights that formed this years Challenge brief, what’s next? 

We hope that these additional insights help you to develop your application for the Fashion Values Challenge.  We look forward to receiving your submissions (due 10:00 BST on Monday 6th September 2021) and can’t wait hear about your transformational ideas to help shake up the fashion industry. 

In the meantime, here are some more resources to keep you learning: 

  • Take our open-source online course Fashion Values: Nature on Futurelearn now. 

  • Read further Voices on the Fashion Values platform.