This month, SOURCE focuses on production in the UK. We get the inside story from Paul Alger, Director of International Affairs at UKFT about how they are supporting sustainable fashion brands to markets across the globe and how they are also supporting UK brands and fashion businesses to work closer to home through the ‘Let’s Make It Here” initiative. Find out what ethical and sustainable fashion brands UKFT is already working with and discover their plans to address sustainability at the legislative level.
How is UKFT promoting sustainability?
Ethical fashion, sustainability and CSR are very important issues to UKFT and the entire fashion chain. Whilst a lot of companies pay lip service to these issues, UKFT believes that ethical and social production should lie at the heart of the industry. The UK fashion industry lies at the forefront of the Ethical Fashion movement.
Do you offer any training or business support for UK businesses that would like to work more sustainably?
We do not have any specific training courses but, generally speaking, companies which are aware of the issues are able to obtain this information from other organisations which are already closely involved in these issues. In addition to the Ethical Fashion Forum, we also recommend:
- Ecoluxe London – associate members of UKFT.
- Estethica at London Fashion Week – LFW is a federated member of UKFT. This section is curated by Orsola di Castro and Filippo Ricco of the ethical brand “From Somewhere” who also work on sustainable and recycling projects with the likes of Speedo and Tesco.
- Environmental Justice Foundation (EJF) – who regularly show at London Fashion Week.
We have also worked with the British Council on its Young Fashion Entrepreneurs programme which, a couple of years ago, sent a number of UK designers on an ethical fashion visit to Indonesia. J Smith Esquire was the winner of the competition. I have been involved in the judging for this group at the BC’s request on a number of occasions.
UKFT has also worked very closely with the British Consulate Milan on the “Green Closet” event at the NeoZone fashion show in February 2012. We hope there will be another in 2013. Among other companies which were showcased at this event, Vivienne Westwood showed her ethical range sourced in Africa.
Do you work with any UK sustainable businesses at present, and if so, could you give examples of how you help support those businesses?
A number of UKFT’s member and associate companies are involved in ethical and sustainable business, and we regularly visit the key international ethical shows. Companies we have worked with closely on trade shows and market development seminars are:
Ada Zanditon (Members of UKFT)
People Tree (Members of UKFT)
Christopher Raeburn (winner of last year’s UKFT New Business Awards)
Does UKFT view social and environmental issues as an increasingly important part of doing business?
UK consumers are genuinely interested in buying ethical fashion, food and other products in a responsible and sustainable way. However, all too often consumers do not have the right information to help them with their purchasing decisions. They are often confused by some of the conflicting claims or implications of large multinational brands and retailers, and some of the sustainable/ethical issues in fashion may seem to conflict and cause confusion. Many naturally assume that someone out there is ensuring that everything is sustainably and ethically produced – clearly this is not the case.
In 2006, UKFT launched its very own Ethical Fashion Award at the UKFT Awards, presented by our President, HRH The Princess Royal. In 2006, the Award went to Ciel, to Sarah Ratty [board member of Ethical Fashion Forum] who, alongside people like Katharine Hamnett, have been beating the drum about ethical and sustainable fashion for the past 20 years or more – long before the subject reached the mainstream. In 2007, the award went to Scotland’s Eribé Knitwear. From 2008 onwards, it was decided that the ethical and sustainable issues should be reinforced at the heart of the competition. There would be no specific category but all of the companies were asked questions about their commitment to ethical manufacturing.
The return of interest towards UK and EU manufacturing is primarily driven by the higher costs of manufacturing in China and shipping collections halfway around the world. There is also a greater awareness of authenticity and quality and a redefinition of what consumers want. There is a growing interest in moving away from throw away collections and a greater interest in investing in fewer but better key pieces in menswear and womenswear.
Some countries, including Japan, have always been staunch supporters of products manufactured in the UK. This is less about fashion ethics than it is about quality and authenticity, but we are determined to capitalise on this resurgent trend.
Have you noticed trends around sustainability and if so, what issues seem to be the most significant?
Generally speaking, there is increasing awareness of the issues surrounding ethical and sustainable fashion in Europe. Germany and the UK tend to lead the way but the Italians are also aware of the power of the trend to sell product. In Asia, including Japan, the message remains very difficult. Consumers are much less aware of these issues.
Is sustainability something you plan to address at the policy and legislative level?
A sustainable environment for the UK and a commitment to rebalancing the UK economy were both integral parts of UKFT’s launch of its 2012 Manifesto to Ministers and MPs at an event co-hosted by UKFT and HSBC at the House of Commons in April. UKFT works with the Department for Energy and Climate Change on climate change policies and has asked Government for a commitment to reinforce the Climate Change Levy. So far, it is estimated that this scheme, operated by UKFT on behalf of the Government and the industry, has saved the UK fashion and textile industry £30m. The carbon offset figures are estimated at 365,000 tonnes of carbon, meeting all 5 targets and reducing energy consumption by 22%.
Whilst recognising that not every company can afford to produce their goods in the UK and the EU, we actively encourage exporters to look at sustainable sourcing as well as sourcing closer to home to encourage ethical production closer to home and a return of quality manufacturing jobs to the UK. A key part of this is UKFT’s ““Let’s Make It Here”:www.ukft.org/letsmakeithere ” website initiative.