Retail in Asia

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FASHION ASIA HONG KONG, wrap-up and interview : “Sustainable fashion: high end vs. high street”.

FASHION ASIA HONG KONG is part of the fashion initiatives of HKSAR Government, and combines insightful conversations, engaging interactions and cultural exchanges, reinforcing the city’s position as the Asian hub for fashion trade and business development.

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The programme brings together brand executives, cutting-edge designer, conscious entrepreneurs, merchandisers, buyers, marketers, strategists and creatives from various fields to discuss the most pertinent issues facing the industry today, while providing insight and strategies to navigate the current market.

With Hong Kong’s rich textile history and strong retail background, we aspire to reinvent Hong Kong’s position as a global hub for creative developments and innovations.

Last edition took place from 5 to 12 December 2017 with a two-day forum and a week-long exhibition during this year’s Business of Design Week (BODW).

Retail in Asia joined the panel discussion entitled “Sustainable fashion: high end vs. high street” animated by Ann-Sofie Johansson, Chief Creative Advisor of H&M, Géraldine Vallejo, Sustainability Programme Director of Kering Group, and Shaway Yeh, Group Style Editorial Director of Modern Media Group. The session was moderated by Robert Meeder, Associate Chair Building Arts, Fashion and Language Studio, at
Savannah College of Art and Design® Hong Kong SCAD.

Robert Meeder
Source : SCAD

After the panel we met Prof. Robert Meeder to talk about sustainable fashion and the main take-aways from the session and SCAD collaboration with brands to promote sustainability.

RiA : What are the characteristics of a sustainable fashion brand?
Robert : It is more than the characteristics or the system, processes or materials. True sustainability is at the heart of the company and brand. A brand that embraces and has sustainability at its core value, looks at sustainability in its entirety; from how they produce, what they produce, what it’s produced from, where its produced (from the factory environment to the retail floor), the fair treatment/salary for those who produced it and all the people that form part of the supply chain. Most importantly a company that does not produce for the sake of producing, but rather believes in their product’s purpose.

RiA : More and more luxury brands have embraced sustainability. Is sustainability luxury brands’ business only?
Robert : Not at all – sustainability is everyone’s business and effects all touch points from consumers, to governments, brands and industry etc. If we don’t make a change, the effects of sustainability will impact us all. For example, climate change, it doesn’t discriminate or distinguish between mass or luxury consumers. The difference is the level of investment and cost that brands are prepared to spend to change the way they do business. I think there is a difference between old brands and new younger brands. It is much easier for a new start up brand to embrace and have sustainability at its core than it is for an older, more established brand who has been doing things the same way for years.

A big part and drive for sustainability comes from the perspective of material resources. Take cotton for example, companies are starting to realize that by 2030 cotton will be an extremely expensive commodity/material because of the amount of resources it takes to produce. So the need for alternative materials is crucial.

RiA : How a high-street fashion brand can be sustainable?
Robert : This is the million-dollar question everyone is asking. But the first step is for brands to take the time to look at themselves internally, to fundamentally question what it is they are doing and how they are doing it. Separately, brands need to understand what sustainability means for their business, set goals and then set a road map. Most importantly, it is imperative for businesses to begin their sustainability journey. There is no one perfect plan or formula for companies to become sustainable overnight, brands need to see it as a journey and to transition, whilst educating all players in their ecosystem.

RiA : What is the role of consumers in pushing brands towards sustainability?
Robert : Consumers need to be educated to be able to ask the right questions and understand the impact of their purchase. Without their money, companies will not exist, so there is power in each purchase. Another big hurdle for consumers to overcome is the driving forces of consumerism, we need to stop and question ourselves. Do we need another pair of blue jeans and if we do make the purchase, does the product have longevity? I call it “Mindful consumption”. To be appreciative and resourceful of the things we already have, to be conscious of the products we wish to purchase and to be considerate of the impact the purchase will have to all those involved in the process.

RiA : Do you see any difference in the approach towards sustainability across different markets?
Robert : Absolutely! This has a lot to do with culture, government, investment and education. In the Nordic countries for example, brands are working to raise the issue of sustainability. We see some are even considering having the world’s first ‘Sustainable Fashion Week’ only exhibiting truly sustainable products and brands.

It is certainly not a new topic and we’ve been speaking about it for many years, the difference now is the level of urgency to implement and change. All the conversations about organic cotton for example – these issues haven’t disappeared nor have they been fully resolved. They form part of the greater discourse we now call “Sustainability”.

SEE ALSO : LUXARITY : sustainable luxury is everybody’s business

RiA : As an education institution, involved in the Luxarity project and very connected to the fashion industry, what are the challenges that you face and opportunities you encounter in interacting with professionals?
Robert : We all have to take our fair share and responsibility of the “Sustainability” discussion and question ourselves; what am I doing to contribute or create the change that is needed? At SCAD Hong Kong, we are conscious and responsible for ensuring our students are aware and educate them on all options, processes, and to encourage students to research and ask the tough questions. Naturally if we all stop and think of our own efforts we can form the collective change that is needed.