Megan St Clair Morgan | 03.11.2021

How can the fashion industry move toward a sustainable future?

We all know the fashion industry needs to evolve to protect Nature — and you as a creative can be a part of that change. In January 2021, we asked our Fashion Values Advocates for their insights on what you, the next generation of fashion designers and professionals, need to know to move the industry forward to a sustainable future. Our advocates joined us from around the world for a virtual Roundtable, bringing together perspectives and leading voices across the industry from design, science, technology, education and media. Being 'Fashion Values: Nature' the central focus of the discussion, which is also this year’s theme for the Fashion Values programme, the Advocates represents deep knowledge and understanding of fashion and nature.   

The Roundtable explored current challenges that, if answered, would create the biggest benefit to Nature when implemented through fashion, and discussed how the wealth of existing experience, knowledge, research and understanding can be shared through Fashion Values. We’ll be sharing the insights they shared throughout the Roundtable, across a series of upcoming Voices. The conversation foregrounded critical considerations and a call to action for a whole generation of designers and professional to address the current challenge.   

Centre for Sustainable Fashion Research Fellow, Dr. Francesco Mazzarella chaired the discussion with some of our Fashion Values Advocates:   

As part of a virtual room filled with sustainability experience and knowledge, Francesco asked our Advocates to focus on the next generation of fashion professionals, questioning ‘what have you learned that you’d like to pass on?’   

Catherine Bottrill noted how “bringing together the cross-disciplinary issues from the science to the economics, to the creative elements of this is really critical.” Sarah Cornell adds that working as a collective is equally important, though “the real challenge is helping people see what their role is in these complicated contexts”  – a crucial move to enable genuine action toward change.   

How can the next generation lead change? 

The sustainability agenda is extremely large, “and can seem really overwhelming” notes Catherine, but what’s needed for them to lead the change?  

Education plays a role in how the next generation engage with positive changemaking, but Catherine asks – “what’s the basic literacy that is needed for students and young designers to feel they can engage with this seemingly quite complex area?”   

Dian-Jen Lin, London College of Fashion alumna and a previous winner of The Kering Award for Sustainable Fashion, reflects on one of the biggest challenges within the fashion industry and notes that “the question that we should ask for fashion going forward is... if fashion isn't making a positive value and we have so many things just going to landfill, why can’t we just use those?” So, it begs the question of how the next generation can utilise what is already existing: to re-develop, re-configure and create new from waste. 

Why is sustainability education for design teams key for large scale change? 

With many designers now in leading roles across the industry trained at a time when sustainability and techniques to reduce waste weren’t widely taught, it’s worth asking the question as to how design education should be continually re-visited throughout a design career. Sarah Cornell adds "there’s a sort of assumption that designers will magically know how to design a product that is suitable for these changing contexts or demands... the expertise isn't always in the heads of the people that you think it is. It’s often somewhere else."   

As design schools add zero waste pattern cutting, innovative material development and other practical sustainability-led techniques to the curriculum, we can’t assume that knowledge is widely known or available to those who work in the industry now. As Emily Chan queries, "When new designers are entering the industry, they may be more knowledgeable about some of these issues than people that have been working in the industry for a very long time. So how do we go about sharing that knowledge?"  

Although there’s no single answer or checklist for creating a more sustainable future for fashion, there are many different places to start. We’d like to invite you to be a part of that change by engaging with the learnings available on Fashion Values. Our Advocates have begun to map the changes that they want to see and their insights can help to inspire those who are planning to respond to the Fashion Values Challenge, which calls-out for innovative product, services and systems to disrupt the fashion industry.

More highlights and learnings from the Roundtable will be shared through our open-source educational resources available via the Fashion Values platform.

Develop on your knowledge further with our range of resources: 

Key takeaways