Deborah Campbell of DCA (Deborah Campbell Atelier), was the first to speak after the staff panel which introduced the forum. She told the story of her own journey in building her own sustainable fashion brand, and the many brick walls she hit on the way to getting her clothes into John Lewis.
Among the issues she faced were finding suppliers and manufacturers from within the UK. Among problems which included manufacturers closing and supply chains failing, she managed to fulfil her early orders. But these problems led to her now use a fair-trade company in Bangalore, which allows her to control both quality and price in a way which was impossible before.
Issues still remain around the prices DCA have to pay when compared to the prices retailers are willing to stand, but she is working hard to address these, and her clothes are now on-sale in John Lewis.
Going forward, among many other issues, she sees a need to reform manufacturing in the UK to meet the needs of brands and retailers.
The second speaker was Hilary Marsh of the Ethical Fashion Forum. She outlined many of the environmental and issues associated with fashion, including massive pollution and modern slavery.
She talked about the legislation which now requires UK businesses to ensure their supply chains are free from slave labour, and other ways in which manufacturing has improved.
However, she sees a problem with fast fashion devaluing the respect the consumer has for the production of clothes, and this is something which needs to be addressed. Businesses can do this by focusing on a ‘triple bottom line’ where the same ideas applied to finances are also applied to both social issues and environmental ones.
She highlighted the ways in which designers can address many issues by paying attention to, amongst other things: longevity of a garment, the fibres and fabrics used, the possibility of upcycling and recycling, and innovations such as modular clothing.
The Ethical Fashion Forum, which Hilary was representing, provides information and education, networking opportunities, contacts, events, a large database of suppliers, and much more, to help fashion businesses be more sustainable. More information can be found at http://www.ethicalfashionforum.com/
Rounding out the morning was Mo Tomaney of Wise Birds, talking about her nearly 40 years in the fashion business, and trying to unpick some of the longer standing issues in the business.
She looked at the history of fashion and identified the way that early supply chains to the UK relied on cotton from slave labour in the USA, and more recently from low-cost materials from the colonies, such as India. These show that there is a long and problematic background to today’s supply chains, with little of the value of a finished garment finding its way down to the beginning of the chain.
Her work with Wise Birds has been to work with small producers to foster growth at home and overseas, and to find ways to spread the value more evenly along the chain.
More information can be found at https://www.wisebirds.london/