April 3, 2019
Last month a number of Planet Ark staff members had the opportunity to attend the second Australian Circular Fashion Conference (ACFC), Australia’s leading sustainability-focused fashion business event. The event brought together over 500 industry leaders, sustainability experts and brand representatives with the aim of transitioning the fashion industry towards sustainable and circular practices.
In recent years the environmental impact of fashion has become increasingly clear, with the industry being the world’s second-largest polluter behind the fossil fuel industry. Australia is no exception; Aussies are the second largest consumers of apparel worldwide and send approximately 6 tonnes of textiles to landfill every 10 minutes.
Following on from the success of last year’s inaugural conference, the event once again explored the latest in innovative and pioneering industry practices in sustainability. From recycled polyester to revolutions in cotton and the genomics of organisational sustainability, a great number of diverse topics were explored. Here are some of the key takeaways.
Collaboration is king
Without doubt the most frequently mentioned theme throughout the day was the absolute necessity of collaboration in moving the fashion industry towards greater sustainability. Encouraging this transition will require a serious challenging of preconceived industry ideals and some difficult changes, which can only be achieved if the majority of the industry moves together. This not only means collaboration amongst brands, but also up and down the supply chain.
Speakers and attendees alike were under no illusions that achieving such a lofty goal will be a long-term process, so much so that ACFC founder Camille Reed equated it to ‘curing cancer’. But as Dana Davis and Celine DeCarlo of Mara Hoffman noted, there is “no room for competition” if the fashion industry is serious about taking responsibility for its environmental impact. A collectivist approach is the only way forward.
Supply chain transparency
The production of clothing and other textiles is highly labour intensive and involves some of the longest and most complex supply chains of any global industry. Traditionally, it has been very difficult to find out who is participating in these supply chains, where they are and how they are being treated. Many speakers emphasised the need for this lack of transparency to change if circularity within the fashion industry is to be achieved.
This is mainly because providing supply chain transparency offers consumers the evidence they need to make informed decisions, from both an environmental and ethical perspective, when purchasing textiles. Organisations such as Good On You that provide ethical brand ratings have made this easier for consumers in recent years, but ultimately the responsibility should fall on the shoulders of brands.
Designing for end-of-life and commoditising waste streams
Another frequently repeated theme from the conference was the necessity of designing both garments and business models for end-of-life. As described by Elin Larsson, sustainability manager at Filippa K, this means beginning one’s designs with their end already in mind, whether that means reuse, recycling or disposal.
An important element of the shift towards sustainability in fashion will be changing the perception of textile waste from worthless trash to a valuable commodity. By making these changes to the design process, brands make it easier for themselves to commoditise a waste stream that has traditionally been sent to landfill.
Liam is Planet Ark's Communications Coordinator. Prior to joining Planet Ark Liam spent his time studying global environmental issues, travelling Southeast Asia on the cheap and working for a sustainable property management company in Bali, Indonesia.