On the 29th June 2016 we launched the first in our series of “New Leadership” round table events at the House of Lords in London. I felt humbled by the fact that we had the highest turnout of any event in the history of my work with the Ethical Fashion Forum – almost 100% attendance (and not much seating room as a result).
Even more humbling, was who was (squeezed) into that room. Over 30 drivers of change in our industry joined us – from pioneering entrepreneurs and influencers, to the owners of major businesses, from one end of the supply chain to the other.
Our remit? To create a core group of senior leaders with the capacity, and the will, to drive meaningful change for a more sustainable fashion industry.
What is New Leadership?
John Kenneth Galbraith defined great leadership as “The willingness to confront unequivocally the major anxiety of their people in their time.”
There is nothing new in this definitiion: John Galbraith was an economist born in 1908.
However two big things have changed:
- The major anxiety of our time: Climate change has placed our planet in jeopardy – and globalisation has resulted in massive levels of inequality across our global society – and the gap is widening
- The role of business – business has become infinitely more powerful and influential on a global scale. For example, Walmart’s revenues are bigger than the GDP of Norway.
This places businesses and business leaders in a unique position of influence – and of responsibility. Yet, how many are taking up the opportunity to confront unequivocally the major anxiety of their people in their time?
I have had the privilege over my ten years of work with Ethical Fashion Forum and in the fashion industry, to have witnessed the results of great leadership in many forms. Individuals who have persevered beyond the odds to achieve change, within businesses small and large, within policy and academia. I find it exhilarating what can be achieved by one individual, or group of individuals, with creativity and drive.
And yet, so much opportunity is missed. So much more could be achieved – if more business leaders would take up the challenge of real leadership – that goes beyond profit and confronts the major anxiety of our times.
The great businesses of the last century – from Ford to Cadbury’s and Rowntree – were built on the premise that business has a responsibility that goes beyond driving profit for its shareholders. A responsibility that goes beyond “doing no harm”. That business is a vehicle for the betterment of society and all of the communities within which it operates.
So what we mean by New Leadership, is really “Old Leadership” – a return to the values that underpinned the birth of industry. In a new context. A context in which the importance of galvanising great leadership is more pressing than ever before.
3 types of “New Leader”
Essentially, the Ethical Fashion Forum began, and has continued to be, a network of leaders and pioneers. Over the years, 3 sorts of leadership have emerged.
- Pioneers: Individuals who go out on a limb, and pursue a vision with enormous levels of perseverance
- Influencers: Individuals working within established systems, persuading, motivating, selling ideas
- Champions: Individuals who give their voice to change, get behind the initiatives driving change, support the pioneers, and listen to the influencers
I believe that New Leadership can and will transform the way fashion business is done.
Our challenge is to move New Leadership from niche to mainstream, to encourage and support more pioneers, influencers, and champions, across every part of the fashion industry supply chain. The goal of our round table series at the House of Lords is to bring together those in leadership positions in the industry to share insights, drive forward change within their spheres of influence, and encourage others to follow suit.
Tell us your thoughts on #NewLeadership on Twitter – @ethicalfashionf
Image credit: Sustainable Fashion Champion Emma Watson modelling for People Tree