I am not especially fashionable, never paid fashion a great deal of attention - if it doesn't involve jeans and a t-shirt, more often than not with a pair of deck shoes thrown in there's a strong chance that I'm not going to be very engaged. But I'm in the minority, millions of people across the globe are engaged, enthusiastic and passionate about fashion. Whilst estimates vary I was somewhat shocked to learn that the fashion industry in the UK is worth about £26 Billion. According to fashionunited.com the global fashion industry was valued at a staggering US$1.7 trillion in 2012 and employs about 75 million people globally which puts it as one of the largest industries in the worlds. And as with any industry of this magnitude it has a significant social, environmental, and economic impact across the globe, both positive and negative.
On the 3th of November I attended the annual Kering talk at the London College of Fashion organised through the Centre for Sustainable Fashion. The event consisted of an initial talk and Q and A with Kelly Slater, 11x world surfing champions as well as the presentations of the Kering award for sustainable fashion to students who had shown innovation and imagination in creating sustainable fashion products. Each were awarded 10000 Euro and a prestigious internship.
Kering owns Volcom and now with Kelly Slaters new brand Outerknown it has become a significant sustainability leader in the surfing world. Kelly was headlining the event and as someone exploring the way sustainability is being integrated into the surfing industry I popped along to the talk for a listen. On the Outerknown website Kelly says:
I created Outerknown to smash the formula. To lift the lid on the traditional supply chain and prove that you can actually produce great looking menswear in a sustainable way...the last two years have been a huge eye-opener for me. It's clear now just how challenging it is for any brand to put sustainability at the forefront of their business and I'm proud that we're one of the few taking the lead.
It's my job to be sceptical to ask questions and explore what sustainability means in any given context, and I'm doing just that. What is clear to me though after listening to Kelly talk, as well as talking to him afterwards is that whilst, by his own admission he is at the beginning of this sustainability journey he is also someone that is genuinely committed to engaging with the principles of sustainability and understanding what it means for himself, his brand, the industry and the world at large.
When initially launched Outerknown received criticism around its sustainability credentials. Kelly was very aware of these and admitted that comments he received through various channels including social media were hard to read but made him reflect on what it meant and acknowledge that getting it right is a learning curve. Kelly told the audience that his sustainability Eureka moment came during a fast where he began to question where products came from, how they were sourced and what went into them. For Kelly it starts with personal health and radiates outwards, not that surprising from one of the world's top athletes.
The question for me then, what does this mean for increasing the profile of sustainability not only within the surfing industry not even only within the fashion industry but in multiple facets of society? Even the die hard sceptic has to concede that with Kelly behind it, by far the most recognisable name within and beyond surfing, this has huge educational and transformative value. Surfing itself is inspirational and aspirational. Those of us that do it want to keep doing it. Those of us that don't do it would like to do it. And those of us who don't want to do it still want a taste of the image and lifestyle that it projects, illusory or not - that pacific dream, the T-shirt. So again this reinforces for me surfing's capacity to inspire and encourage people from many different walks of life, from many different countries to engage with sustainability and importantly ask the questions that matter, for themselves and for their children.