Green threads: A look back at Eco Fashion Week and the Collective Conversation

As Eco Fashion Week winded down I felt as though a catalyzing energy was starting to take hold on it’s intrigued managers, planners, participants, and attendees. A fashion week that is known to push the boundaries and subjects unconventional to the traditional event has left us reflecting on how we can shop, manufacture, and design textiles with less waste and damage on our environment.

Earlier on at EFW I attended the Value Village 81 lb. challenge, presented by local VCAD design students, where they took 81 pounds (the weight of clothing the average North American throws away annually) of second hand clothing from VV, and turned it into an entire collection for the runway. The results were astounding, a line that explored 1920’s hair and makeup, gender androgyny, and a splash of rhinestones.

I left the 81 pound challenge feeling further rooted in my ongoing thoughts about sustainability in fashion. In a world of captivating social media, brand ambassadors, visual merchandising, and highly executed marketing, it’s hard not to want to consume. How can we develop fashion with greener principles? Should seasonal collections still be routine or should more brands move to multi functional, year-round garments? How can we optimize manufacturing and the seamstresses behind it? How can consumers improve their behaviour? How do we snub the use of dodgy materials and minimize waste from seed and soil to the final product? VCAD has explored it, and they are a part of a larger picture, an ever growing industry all over the globe that wants to see improvements.

The Collective Conversation was an outlet created by President and founder of Eco Fashion Week Myriam Laroche, to discuss all of these issues and concerns that the modern textile industry is facing. Our collective for the day kicked off with discussion on shifting to a circular economy, exploring how we can continue to eliminate waste and re purpose textiles with more design and innovation. Panel speakers Tony Shumpert, VP of recycling and reuse of Value Village, Kyle Rudzinski, sustainability manager of Levi and Strauss Co, and Brock MacDonald, Vice Chair of the National Zero Waste Council and CEO of Recycling Council of BC were ready to lead the conversation. I along with other audience members had questions ready to go. The current state of fashion, the panel remarks, requires much in-store communication with consumers as well as brand awareness. The overall quality and durability of mainstream fashion has gone down because it’s cheaper to design and manufacture that way. Fast fashion is often the root of this cause, because people want variety of current trends now. We as consumers, should try to invest in our wardrobe, as much as it’s easier said than done, it can make a huge difference in the world’s 3rd most environmentally damaging industry. Our objective is to continue to learn and understand reusing textiles and to create provincial recycling programs to be held accountable (there is one in Quebec…and that’s it).

The second panel consisted of local powerhouse designers and influencers Nicole Bridger, Jenny Hughes, Sean Schmidt, and VCAD educator Glencora Twigg as we transitioned into the subject of manufacturing and North America and the difficulties of using local labour. Money is obviously the driving factor here, Vancouver is one of the most costly cities in the world, you knew that already. It’s lead Bridger to closing down her factory in Vancouver last fall, as well as Twigg’s manufacturing network closing up shop and using their home as the factory. It is a grind, but this panel makes it clear that just because you aren’t manufacturing locally doesn’t mean you’re not eco friendly. If you can provide steady, respectful work for someone in a different part of the world, and that money can be stretched further, it’s an ethical bonus. There’s just simply not enough options in our city that are going to benefit everyone involved in the manufacturing process, not to mention there is a shortage of seamstresses to be found in this neck of the woods. Seasonal collections have continued a stir in the fashion world, as there are many fashion lines that simply put out collections sans saison to attract those looking to enrich their wardrobe for all purposes. The panel was right in saying much of the luxury fashion world (especially Europe) is a broken system. It’s a vicious business of intelligent marketing and media but also the culture. The consumer will rarely have a voice in what these fashion houses put out because it is a multi million dollar artistic industry, and the sales associate is often treated with a lack of respect, seen as the simple hands that pass on the goods. There could be much more collaborative work, and bloggers for instance, do have the ability to shape the fashion world in such a unique way, sharing their tricks of the trade and exposing their wardrobe to the public and the social media world. As Bridger said, we have to see positive change start from the bottom up with consumers, and a good policy from the top down. There needs to be more chatter, more awareness of what is being offered on the market and how to filter out the not so environmentally friendly.

To close the conversation, Vancouver’s own John Fluevog did a rare interview in this intimate setting and opened up a lot about his story of becoming one of the city’s most original and renown shoe store. His story is unique, he got into the shoe making business by chance at a young age through the modest encouragement of his father. At 21, he had an investment from his father’s friend and created a brand that Fluevog himself never thought would last this long. Fluevog is raw, a man that shows his flaws with calmness and humble value. Just like the other designers I’ve mentioned, John has seen his stores open, close, and shift concept. In the 90’s he picked up his remaining cash and collection, and drove across the border to Seattle to open up shop during the grunge days (casual smuggling?). We reflected that certain fashion business tactics aren’t what they were, the digital age is getting stronger and there are stricter rules to follow. Fluevog warmly admits he isn’t the most green worker out there, but he does have on-site customer trade, the Fluemarket, where customers can buy, sell, and swap Fluevog kicks. It was fulfilling to hear his story, as it did highlight some of the denser hardships and achievements many designers will face. Nothing can go perfectly, but focusing on vision, versatility, and humility were some of the key factors brought up that day. Vancouver has kicked a good size dent in the slow fashion industry and will certainly continue to set the eco standards for years to come. Until then, I challenge you to find new ways of repurposing your old wardrobe, shopping smart, and to talk about the effects of fast fashion on our planet.