“Not coming from a traditional fashion background has given me a more critical eye when it comes to design, so it’s not coming from someone that’s creating for just an emotional pursuit,” said Samuel Ross, founder and creative director of London-based fashion label A-COLD-WALL*, during his on-stage panel talk at Copenhagen Fashion Summit.

During the two-day annual gathering over 1,300 industry leaders united to celebrate the conference’s 10th anniversary and tackle challenges around sustainability, circularity and workers rights in the fashion industry at large.

Alongside Ross, Nike’s chief design officer, John Hoke and moderator Miles Socha, editor-in-chief of WWD, discussed the aforementioned challenges along with approaches for prioritizing sustainability and enforcing a caring mindset in the creative decision-making process.

“All doctors create an oath to do no harm, the fashion industry should have the same,” Nike’s John Hoke urged the audience. “Sustainability can look innovative, technical and beautiful, there doesn’t have to be a compromise. [In the end] no one wants to buy ugly conscious.”

Earlier in the week, Copenhagen Fashion Summit released pressing statistics urging the industry that positive change is not nearly happening fast enough.

Currently, 73 percent of the world's clothing ends up in landfills while the global fashion industry is projected to grow by 81 percent by 2030, exerting an unprecedented strain on the planet. It means the linear model of "take, make, dispose" will soon reach its physical limits.

Rethinking the ways in which we produce, consume and market fashion are therefore a necessary step to minimize the use of finite resources, but it demands a unified approach.

This week, Nike, in collaboration with students and staff at Central Saint Martins School of Arts, released Circularity: Guiding the Future of Design, a workbook providing designers and product makers across the industry with a common language for circularity by establishing 10 key principles for sustainable design.

At its core, the guide aims to push designers to create products that last longer, and are designed with the end in mind, and breaks down how creatives can do this, ranging from conscious material choices and waste avoidance to refurbishment and circular packaging.

“It’s a start and by no means finished, [but] I believe that bringing the guide for circularity into the public is one positive step forward,” said Hoke. “The future designer is a citizen designer, who is very thoughtful to the ideas they bring into the ecologies they live in.”

While Hoke admits the challenges around sustainability for a mass global brand such as Nike, he highlights a number of innovations like Nike’s new Vapormax shoe, made from recycled fabric waste, and its Flyleather fabric made from 50 percent reclaimed leather fibers resulting in less water being used in its development process. More recently, the company transformed 6.4 million plastic bottles into recycled polyester which will be used for jerseys in the upcoming women’s football world cup and in many NBA games.

Key to bringing the often dismissed sustainability discussion to the masses, however, will be through collaboration and working with designers rooted in subculture that have communities of their own, argues Hoke. “The next gen of designers are even more informed to make a dent,” he says. “We’re tackling problems as equals and together we find new space that we couldn’t do alone. It’s about finding these agencies where collaboration really helps. [Through collaborations] we can push the status quo.”

A-COLD-WALL*’s Samuel Ross agrees. “Fashion is currently a macro speakerphone in our community,” he says. “I use fashion as a social vessel to say what’s important and what is said needs to be echoed [because] as a smaller company we don’t have access to put the bigger ideas in place.”

That’s where Nike comes into play. Some of the design solutions Ross has worked on in the past year with the sportswear giant include his take on the brand’s Air Force 1 model, which took the theme of reduction literal by using less materials in the design process. The Vomero +5 model that followed was stripped from its PU coating, allowing its color to change over time in a bid to encourage its owner to wear the shoe for longer periods of time creating a personal narrative around the item. In the end, battling streetwear’s insatiable and unsustainable need for constant novelty.

“It’s about having those moments of nuance and intervention to drive change,” he said. “I really think there’s a new way to reengineer how we interact with products.”

For a deeper dive into Nike, watch the video below.

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