Last Friday, sustainable streetwear went global. In a special event hosted at the United Nations, everyone from Dapper Dan to NASA astronauts dropped knowledge as part of The Study Hall Summit, a one-day conference devoted to sustainable fashion.
The event – brainchild of Céline Semaan’s Brooklyn-based Slow Factory – touched on topics covering every part of fashion, from how clothes can be made more responsibly to why eco solutions must be inclusive. Representatives from brands like adidas, G-STAR, Philip Lim, and Dyne were on hand to share knowledge before a sold-out crowd.
Couldn’t make it to the event? Or did your ALYX vest get stopped at UN security? Here are the 10 tips we learned from Study Hall on how fashion can be more sustainable.
1. Get out with the new.
With advances in textile production, there’s no functional reason to buy new fabrics. Whether you’re a brand or a consumer, upcycling can create equivalent materials with a much lower impact.
When eco consultant Dio Kurazawa is called to help by the world’s biggest brands, his first step is starting with their cloth practices. “We have a lot of recycled and upcycled materials to work with,” explained Kurazawa. “We don’t need virgin material to create awesome clothing. The biggest challenge is just that brands don’t know what’s out there.”
2. Don’t make – just ask.
Dyne designer Christopher Bevans is the definition of an insider. Over his decades of experience, he’s cut and sewn for everyone from Nike to Pharrell.
“Mills just want to get rid of these bolts and bolts of fabric they’re sitting on,” shared Bevans. “They’re willing to share what they know. They just don’t have the vessel.” Dyne, Bevans’ innovative sportswear line, was designed with sustainability in mind, using only fabric already in existence.
3. Sustainability has a diversity problem.
“I have a partnership with Gucci and Gucci stopped selling furs,” said Daniel “Dapper Dan” Day, considered by some as the “Godfather of Streetwear” for his work upcycling luxury bags into apparel fit for 1970s Harlem. “There are people in my community who say, ‘Oh, now that I have money to afford a mink, they ain’t sellin’ mink no more.’”
Sustainability requires global solutions, and global solutions need to incorporate the cultures that make the globe worth living on.
4. Remember where we are.
NASA astronaut Leland Melvin brought a perspective few have seen in person but all can embrace. “I think about me going around the planet every 90 minutes while listening to Sade’s ‘Smooth Operator,’” shared Melvin.
“So many times our youth are thinking myopically in their ZIP codes. Bring that down to the kids. Let them know that if we don’t work together - as a team, as a family - the planet will spit us out.”
5. Influencers might hold the key.
Nora Vasconcellos knows a thing or two about the power of attention. Last year, she became adidas’ first female pro skater, capping a journey that was aided by her posting her skate videos online.
“We need to think about who we choose to partner with,” shared Vasconcellos. “In the grand scheme, things like ‘where do I get my toothpaste from? Is there plastic in it?’ and ‘where do I get my shoes from?’ matter because of who’s watching you do it.”
6. Technology is part of it.
Jifei Ou, an MIT Media Lab researcher, stunned with a presentation on MIT’s developments towards 3D printing ‘hair-like’ structures. Fur, down, and grip textures are all made of these structures. A material-efficient solution could change the industry overnight. In Ou’s own words: “Real fur is bad for the animal. Fake fur is bad for the environment. Our solution could do better.”
7. Nature might do it better.
Designer Philip Lim is world-famous for his work with merino wool, a natural performance fiber that’s renewable, biodegradable, and even needs to be washed less than most synthetics.
“The natural world has always been a source of inspiration – so now it’s time to return to it,” said Lim. “The best solution for any problems is a realistic, natural one. Use what is existing, but instead of mimicking nature, and adding more waste to the solution, just start right.”
8. Platforms matter.
As shown by Amazon and Facebook, giving others room to co-create is one of the best ways to spread an idea. “What we give to brands is a platform to communicate to their clients their commitment to sustainability,” said Enrica Arena, co-founder of upcycling solution maker Orange Fiber. “The only way to make this happen is to partner.”
Arena’s company has worked with brands like Ferragamo to bring this vision to life.
9. The kids matter.
Christopher Bevans: “I chose to show my Fall 19 collection at the Fashion Institute of Technology. I’m doing a Q&A after to give the students the chance to ask any sort of questions they want. You typically don’t do that at fashion week. How can you have sustainable practices of you’re not passing it forward? No one’s going to get better.”
Dapper Dan: “I don’t drink. I don’t wear jewelry. I’ve been a vegetarian for 40 years. But kids see me out there laughing and joking and I’m as cool as they are. It’s important for them to see that.”
10. The future starts today.
Philip Lim: “Let’s try to make less and mean more. Don’t wait for that perfect moment. Perfection in itself is not sustainable. Have the courage to take a hard break and look at yourself.”