6th Responsible Fashion Summit, Colombo Fashion Week

Over the last few years, the global impact of the pandemic has changed many lifestyles. From corporate spaces and work environments to how and what we consume, society at large was forced into changing their perspective and reimagining a newer landscape for their livelihoods. In fact the fashion industry is one of the largest industries to have taken a turn for the worst. Recent reports and studies have shown major concerns in the supply chains of garment industries and apparel sectors. A ‘Fashion on Climate’ report by McKinsey & Company recorded in 2020 that the fashion industry is responsible for about 2.1 billion metric tons of greenhouse-gas emissions in 2018, which amounts to upto 4 percent of the global total. In context, the sector emits about the same quantity of greenhouse gases per year as the entire economies of France, Germany and the UK collectively. The report further stated that one of the challenges that fashion encounters is the shifting population and consumption patterns driving continuing industry growth and push carbon emissions to 2.7 billion metric tons per year by 2030. However, if the industry embraces decarbonisation initiatives at the present scale, carbon emissions could be limited at 2.1 billion metric tons per year by 2030.

Consequently, the world of fashion has had to take a step back and question – how does the industry survive responsibly? We find industries moving towards a circular economy. The trend of fast fashion has inopportunely caused a pattern of ‘take-make-dispose’; the idea of wearing the same outfit twice has been deemed socially unacceptable and subsequently, over the past few years, fast fashion has allowed for an increasingly unsustainable amount of carbon emissions. It is reported that over 60 percent of textiles used in the clothing industry are made in China and India where coal-fuelled power plants increase the carbon footprint with each garment. The concept of circularity in fashion then poses as the ideal solution. A circular fashion industry means that garments and textiles are repurposed and circulated to their maximum value and then returned responsibly to the biosphere. The Responsible Fashion Summit, an initiative launched by Colombo Fashion Week together with the Responsible Fashion Movement is a platform with an agenda to point the nation in the right direction and take steps responsibly. The 6th Annual Edition of the Summit focused on addressing the theme of ‘Circularity-in-Action’.

“Since inception, Responsible Fashion Summit has been driven by the desire to walk-the-talk, this edition has been planned in very interesting times. RFS is not only unique to Sri Lanka but also to Asia, it also showcases Sri Lanka’s efforts while bringing focus to key solutions that the global supply chain needs. As the apex industry body for Sri Lanka, I am glad JAAF has come on board this year. We hope to achieve more this year and keep the momentum going,” said Ajai vir Singh, founder of Colombo Fashion Week. Since its launch in 2018, RFS has continuously served as an essential platform for showcasing ideas and innovations with potential for global impact and a forum for open dialogue between international and local industry leaders and experts.

The first panel moderated by Dr. Mihirini De Zoysa, ‘Impact of Circularity in Design’ featured speakers David Abraham of Abraham & Thakore, India, Arujuna Hettinakanam of InQube Global and Piyumi Perera of Hirdaramani, Sri Lanka. In addressing the idea of circularity, David Abraham discussed the rich sustainable processes that South Asian countries such as India and Sri Lanka have followed, for several years. He said, “What's important is that we have access to old skills going back many years relevant in this context. The reuse of fabric, such as 'Kantham' Bengal old textiles were repurposed and made into shawls. People didn't throw away old sarees, they stitched them together to form textile. We have to incorporate this into the modern conversation.” In conversation, Piyumi Perera continued to explain that the people involved in the conversation are manufacturers, designers, brands, recyclists and collectors, and explained the steps being taken to bridge the innovation gap.

 The second panel focused on the apparel supply chain under the theme ‘Readiness, Challenges and Opportunities regarding Circularity in Fashion Supply Chains’ and featured speakers Nissanga Warnapura of Hela, and Pasindu Samarakkody of MAS Holdings, Sri Lanka. The third panel focused on the theme ‘Influence of Circularity in Textile Innovation’, and featured speakers Moyne Perera (Stretchline), Nalaka Senaviratna (Eco Spindles), Paige Earlam (Plexus-Cotton, UK & Africa), and Joy Nunn (Purfi US & Belgium). While the fourth panel focused on ‘Climate of Standardizing Sustainable Design Based SMEs & Introducing Responsible Meter’ featuring speakers Tharanga Gunasekara of HSBC, Sri Lanka, Charini Suriyage of CHARINI, Didul Kotagoda, Former SLAB, SLSI, Sri Lanka and Ajai Vir Singh, founder of CFW, RFS, Sri Lanka. Each panel was moderated by Chathushka De Alwis. 

The initiative of circularity can best be established through collective and collaborative effort from each sector involved in the fashion and design industry. The McKinsey report states, “The scale of change required implies a need for bold commitments. Stakeholders throughout the value chain should be willing to make bold commitments, followed by equally bold actions, transparency, collaboration and joint investment. Brands and suppliers need to step up engagement with policy makers, support the roll out of renewable energy and drive end-of-use collections for recycling.” The conversations at the Responsible Fashion Summit discussed these concepts of partnership and collaboration. In discussing ‘Climate of Standardizing Sustainable Design Based SMEs & Introducing Responsible Meter’, Tharanga Gunasekara states “There’s a lot of work to be done – including our consumers and us. There’s a lot of collaborative effort that needs to be put in,” before which Paige Earlam of Plexus-Cotton reinforced the same ideal, “There’s truly no going around it – we all have to work together to solve this problem.” An article on Redesigning the Future of Fashion from the Ellen MacArthur Foundation stated the critical need for creatives and policymakers to work transparently.

The Summit concluded with Points of Views from Sharika Senanayake, Director of Environmental Sustainability, MAS on Detoxing Fashion. Sharika Senanayake sits on the global board of the Zero Discharge of Hazardous Chemicals (ZHDC), a testimony of her passion and competence. Throughout the years, Sharika has been a driving force in shaping MAS’ sustainability strategy and in building key stakeholder relationships for the group. Tarun Tahiliani closed the programme as he discussed the 'Perspective of Luxury in the Pandemic'. Tarun is noted for his rich and opulent apparel tailored with modern western silhouettes.Tarun  iani collections have walked the ramp in New York, London, Tokyo, Dubai, Singapore, Hong Kong, Moscow, Durban, and Karachi. He was the founding member of the official fashion week governing body, the Fashion Design Council of India.

The vision for a circular fashion industry is one that requires rethinking and redesigning. There’s a need for change-makers across the globe to address these concerns collectively, from manufacturers, designers, consumers, retailers etc. The Summit, in its 6th edition, is on course to not only raising awareness and building a dialogue but recognizing and sharing initiatives that have begun to put in the work. Each panel of speakers who were key personalities in the industry encouraged an enriching discussion with key personalities across the industry and around the world. Companies including Plexus-Cotton, MAS, HSBC's work in the field of garment, apparel and design and their initiatives to implement circularity in overcoming the consequences of the deteriorating Earth were brought to light and raised an inherent need to continue doing so. As big-brand companies such as Adidas and Inditex and establishments such as the Ellen MacArthur Foundation move forward in creating a circular  economy through making fashion responsible, we strive to see a more eco-conscious approach through the fashion industry.  

9th November, 2021 Applied Art | Sustainable Design