Valencia, Spain - For the second time in a row, Future of Fashion has become a laboratory of ideas, reflections and conversations around sustainability in fashion. "Can a company be an activist?" "Is it too late to start changing things?" "What can I do as a consumer?" These and many other questions are among those that were thrown around - and attempted to resolve - during the second edition of the event, held this week on the east coast of Spain.
Its first edition was part of the València World Design Capital 2022 programme and now, a year later, it has continued to gain momentum with international speakers, such as that of Natalia Culebras, head of the sustainability department at Dior Men, and Lily Cole, model, climate activist and author of the book 'Who Cares Wins: Reasons for Optimism in a Changing World'. FashionUnited took a look back at some of the best moments of the conference.
Art as a force for expression and activism
The most anticipated moment of yesterday's event was the conversation between British model Lily Cole and Enrica Ponzellini, a fashion consultant based in Castellón who holds decades of experience at Vogue Italia and Prada.
Under the title "What I learned as a change agent in fashion", Cole talked about the power of art to "express things that sometimes society is afraid to say" out loud. Looking at art, literature and, of course, fashion as a creative force, she recalled, for example, the life lessons of her close friend and recently deceased designer Vivienne Westwood. "Her spirit was very refreshing. She was always searching for truth", Cole said, and catalysing that desire to change things "through creative activism projects". She reminisced on the silver gown she wore to the 2016 Oscars ceremony, designed by the punk flag-bearer and made from recycled plastic bottles.
According to Ponzellini, environmental awareness has always come naturally to her. She owes much of it to her mother, who encouraged her from an early age to take care of the planet and be responsible in her daily actions, but also as a vegetarian, it was a genuine stance rather than a statement of intent for the British fashion veteran. Her professional career in the industry began very early, at the age of 15, and it did not take her long to distinguish herself from other models who, at the time, "did not usually express their opinions out loud so as not to carry the label of 'difficult’”, Ponzellini pointed out. However, the actress was never afraid of that definition and always refused to wear fur, among other things. "As a vegetarian it seemed to me the most coherent thing to do, I wouldn't have felt comfortable," she concluded.
"It was 2018, we thought we were very late, but it was a very welcome innovation internally in the company. Almost like a revolution.”
The "injustice" of individual responsibility
One of the concerns most shared by the Future of Fashion audience during these two days was the impotence and even the feeling of individual guilt. An issue on which most of the speakers agreed that "being here and wanting to change things is already a positive thing". Natalia Culebras, head of sustainability for Dior's men's line, said that her department was created in 2018 and the sustainable beachwear collection between Dior and Parley for the Oceans was launched last year.
"It was 2018, we thought we were very late, but it was a very well-received innovation internally in the company. Almost like a revolution," she commented. Culebras, who made her debut in 2007 on the EGO catwalk at the former Cibeles catwalk in Madrid, stressed the importance of "small steps" and being aware that "we are not going to change the world immediately and that you can't start by being 100 percent sustainable", but that you have to start somewhere. "We have to be honest, relax a bit and not be so anxious about being perfect," she added.
The word "anxiety" was also repeated numerous times during the panel discussion “Activism and business: a possible combination?” In it, Mimi Martínez, spokesperson for Fashion Revolution España, shared with the audience that she had gone through eco-depression years ago. Among many powerful messages, the Catalan stated that "learning to sew is the true guerrilla marketing" and that "mending is an act of pure resistance". And that, of course, you have to consume in a conscious way and think that "your money is a vote". Lily Cole also joined in this anguish, saying that "the expectations of us as individuals" are too high and that having "the responsibility to solve the problem is unfair".
"Learning to sew is true guerrilla marketing. Mending is an act of pure resistance."
The importance of transparency and traceability in fabrics and raw materials
There was also time for practical workshops with national organisations, such as Pyratex and Recovo. "My idea was to create a brand that would offer functional fabrics in harmony with nature. When I entered this world I knew nothing about the industry, but I did know that 85 percent of microplastics floating in the ocean come from the textile industry," said Regina Polanco, founder of Recovo, a developer of sustainable fabrics. Some things never change, and when it comes to sustainability, information is power. This is one of the values defended by the Recovo marketplace, created to promote the reuse of waste and unused textile surplus. Its platform, aimed at both large companies and emerging creators, informs professionals of the litres of water invested, CO2 emissions and the use of acids saved in the manufacture of each fabric.
"We've been talking about sustainability in fashion for about twenty years, and there seems to have been a shift in the trend. Many brands are now embracing this conversation as an opportunity and are developing propositions that are demonstrating a real cultural shift."
Sustainability: from outsider concern to mainstream conversation.
"We've been talking about sustainability in fashion for about 20 years, and there seems to have been a shift in trend: it used to be a very niche, even 'unsexy' conversation," said Lily Cole at the close of the conference. "But now many brands are embracing this conversation as an opportunity and developing propositions that are demonstrating a real cultural shift."
María Fernanda Hernández Franco, head of sustainability at LuisaViaRoma, said something similar in her conference "Towards a conscious luxury". This family project, which started as a small shop in Florence in 1929, has become one of the main international operators in the luxury digital market with 53 million unique users and revenues of 268 million euros generated in 2021. Two years earlier, in 2019, Hernandez led the launch of LVRSustainable, a sustainable items and brands section that "continues to grow steadily, doubling the previous year's figures". In an interview with FashionUnited, María Fernanda highlighted the personality and user experience of those interested in this section, noting "they invest more time, read and don't usually leave without buying". In her curatorial work to select brands that can really be labelled as sustainable, she said that the most important thing has been "to educate and sensitise our buyers through specific trainings so that they know what to look for in terms of sustainability and what can be really interesting for us and our client", she concluded.