At Textiles Conference, Sincerity and Sustainability Promise to Move Fashion Industry Forward

John Patrick of John Patrick Organic (center) with Dawn Pickering of Pickering International (right) and Aydin Unsal of Egedeniz (left) at the Textile Exchange's 2010 Sustainable Textiles Conference. Photo: Sandra Marquardt.

During the two-day Sustainable Textiles Conference held the last week of October in New York City, dozens of international companies attended the "transformation" conference where the Organic Exchange—the non-profit organization dedicated to advancing the sustainable development of textiles— officially became the Textile Exchange. The scope of the organization is now much larger; it will now serve as "the non-profit convener, catalyst, and market-maker for the overall sustainable textile industry worldwide," while still keeping organic cotton as a key focus. One of the most riveting talks was held by Linda Greer of the NRDC. She talked about China, water pollution, and the major impact of dye and finishing plants in China. She highlighted the results of an NRDC study of the Jiangsu Redbud Textile Company, a Chinese-owned mill that dyes cotton-woven fabric and supplies that Wal-Mart, among other big manufacturers. As I sat in the audience, which included people from companies including Wal-Mart, H+M, Eileen Fisher, The Gap, Brooks Brothers, Anvil and a host of others, I realized that the fashion and textile industry is quickly changing.

As a speaker, Linda Greer held the audience spellbound by her fast paced and informative talk, which focused on fully understanding that the "wet processes" of garment production are the most damaging to the environment and that it is critical that we change them. The good news: Consumers and designers very shortly are going to be able to look at both how and where garments were made. A sourcing "index" and tracking will help us understand where each piece of, say, a winter coat, has been sourced and traveled from, right down to the zipper and thread. That is what I call progress.

Another standout speaker was Charline Ducas, of Textile Exchange, who is based in the Netherlands and gave a refreshing and thought-provoking talk about efficiency and creating new textiles. Although it can be overwhelming at conferences such as these to be surrounded by so much information and the realization that you cant speak to each and every person, she spoke very eloquently about issues relevant in today's fashion world and beyond.

To have made the Organic Exchange's list of "Top Ten Companies Using
Organic Cotton" seems to have been every participating company's dream this year, and several of the winners were in attendance. But the insider's talk was less about who was there than who wasn't.

Sustainability is relevant to each and every person (and company) in the world these days; it just has different implications for different people. It is an exciting time for all designers and manufacturers, when we can anticipate a truly transparent supply chain and the emergence of a sustainability index that the average consumer will actually be able to understand within the next several years.

Overall, it was an amazing two days with a host of topics covered. Some of the many other highlights were the founder of Patagonia, Yvon Chouinard, who gave a fascinating speech, hinting at their latest announcement (made earlier this week), which is to actually ask the customer if they really need something new. It's a wonderful way to dig deeper into the psyche of the customer. It also fits a current trend in retail: Things tat are selling are well made, wonderful, and relevant—which seems to fit Patagonia's design philosophy, too. Other manufacturers should follow suit, and incorporate some of the wisdom of this forward-thinking company.

To engage and keep the attention of millenials also seems to be top of mind these days, and Timo Rissanen, assistant professor of sustainability at Parsons, put out some thought-provoking ideas on the topic that were on point. I think sincerity is what Timo and his generation look for most in brands and products. And as a champion and pioneer of "zero waste," he touched on a concept that has large implications for an industry that is struggling with change on a daily basis, and how it runs will be key in how it will remain relevant.

That the Organic Exchange is now the Textile Alliance is a move toward greater transparency and meaning for the supply chain itself. The Textile Alliance now has the opportunity to create a meaningful meeting place where everyone is welcome. I look forward to watching as David Bennell, executive director of Textile Exchange, and his team grow the organization, and I hope that students from all over the world will also be encouraged to attend and observe all of the goings on, just as the many participants at the conference have been. These attendees, such as Ellie Skeele, who lives in Kathmandu and is working on an innovative fiber made from nettles, can be a true inspiration for designers. Others, such as Darin Jones from the Oregon Tilth program, represent farmers and other stewards of the land, and I find it very comforting that farmers would come around the busy fashion world. It reminds me of how basic some things actually are. The sooner that we all come to the realization that we are what we both eat and wear, the better everything will be.

Read more about sustainable fabrics:
Ricardo Calmet's Forward-Thinking Fashion in Traditional Peru
Summer Rayne Oakes Launches Online Source for Sustainable Textile (Video)
Eco-Tip: Mini Directory of Green Fabrics

Tags: Clothing | Sustainable Fabrics


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