Sustainable Fashion Forum in Portland Oregon - Takeaways from the Conference
On April 22, 2023, the Sustainable Fashion Forum took place in Portland, Oregon, bringing together experts and practitioners in the sustainable fashion industry. The conference was aimed at highlighting the importance of sustainability in the fashion industry and discussing strategies and practices that can be adopted to create a more sustainable future.
Here are the key takeaways from the conference:
1. Sustainability needs to be more accessible to become widespread
Many speakers emphasizing the need for the fashion industry to balance growth and profitability with its impact on the environment and society. One message hit home - even though consumers care about sustainability, they will not buy it until it is more affordable.
2. Circularity is in early days
Circularity was defined as taking back product at end-of-life to create new products. Speakers doubted that true circularity exists for any brand because it is not cost effective. However, there are new business models being tested. An innovative circularity example is CloudNeo from OnRunning. CloudNeo is a 100% recyclable running shoe available through a $29.99/month subscription model.
Speakers also speculated that rental's environmental impact is unknown with some suspecting that it causes more environmental damage than good because of the cleaning and shipping costs.
3. Start with brand values
Brands should not take on dozens of different sustainability efforts. Instead, they should focus on which social and environmental issues are tied to their brand values. For example, Arc'teryx has a resale platform because one of their core values is accessibility to the outdoors. Their messaging should remain consistent as a reason why they are launching ReGear, as a way for consumers to access more gear at a lower price.
4. Steal fast fashion's playbook
Too often, sustainable brands only talk about sustainability. "This is made of organic cotton" cannot be the first or only product attribute talked about. Fast fashion has been able to speak directly to individuals - making it fun and using micro-influencers to reach large audiences. Speakers also suggested sustainable brands should focus on climate optimism and positivity versus fear mongering on social media.
5. Complex conversations should include more voices
The theme of the conference was "nuanced layers" emphasizing the complexity of the conversations. Currently, the definition is from non-profits and consulting firms, but it should be more inclusive of creators and customers.
The conference ended early as there were protesters against Adidas for underpaying their workers. I had a chance to speak to them and they asked a very good question: "Do you have any garment workers in the conversation?" Even though the protest was targeted towards Adidas and not the conference, it did make me realize that we can be more expansive in who we include in the conversation.
In conclusion, the Sustainable Fashion Forum highlighted the crucial role of accessibility, optimism, and inclusion to grow sustainability in the industry. The conference showed that sustainable fashion is not a trend but a movement that is gaining momentum and will continue to shape the industry in the coming years.
Watch the digital replay here.