While Super Bowl fans were gearing up for the kickoff on Feb. 7, fashion-forward activists and connoisseurs were gathered at Fordham’s Lincoln Center campus to call upon the fashion world to use its influence for social good.
The event, “Fashion + Sustainable Development + Women’s Empowerment,” brought together designers, models, academics, and fashionistas for a runway show and panel discussion about the unique ways that the fashion industry is embracing sustainable practices and improving social and environmental conditions.
The event was sponsored by the Institute for Women and Girls at the Graduate School of Social Service (GSS) and hosted by Lyn Kennedy Slater, PhD, a clinical associate professor at GSS and creator of the popular blog The Accidental Icon.
“GSS and the sustainable fashion movement share the goals of environmental, economical, and social justice, and the realization of human rights and the empowerment of women and children,” Slater said. “When one comes to a conversations about similar issues from different perspectives, new and creative approaches to solving social problems can emerge.”
In her introduction to the event, Veronique Lee, merchandising director for Modavanti, said that fashion is the second largest “dirtiest industry” in the world, coming in just behind the oil and gas industry. Besides producing large amounts of toxic dyes and chemicals, the fashion industry is a significant consumer of natural resources and is notoriously wasteful.
The industry is in need of major overhaul to meet the global challenges we face, Lee said.
“We’re seeing this revolution happen with cars and with food, and now it’s time to start impacting our awareness of how we get our clothes, where they come from, and who is making them,” she said.
Nearly a dozen designers were present for the runway portion of the event, which showcased clothing and accessories that were sustainably made and ethically sourced. Models wove through the aisles of Pope Auditorium wearing clothes made from recycled water bottles and fishnets and sporting artisanal jewelry made by Alaskan and Peruvian natives.
Several designers emphasized that through their brands they aim to make positive social as well as environmental change. Panelist Chid Liberty, owner of the fashion company Uniform, said that for every purchase made, the company donates a school uniform to a child in Liberia.
“It’s about human, environmental, and financial well-being,” said panelist Amy Hall, director of social consciousness for Eileen Fisher. “This means [products or initiatives]that have the lowest environmental impact possible, the greatest social impact possible, and enough financial return to make that work possible.”
Lee recommended that consumers be mindful of what they are buying. Modavanti, she said, created a badge system to make it easy for consumers to tell whether the items they purchase are eco-friendly and ethically sourced. Smartphone apps can also help buyers research products and brands.
Most importantly, Lee said, don’t underestimate the power that consumers—particularly women—have in revolutionizing fashion. According to Forbes, women control $20 trillion in annual consumer spending, making them the largest market opportunity in the world.
“Women have enormous control through their purchasing power and influence, and it’s increasing,” Lee said. “Women can change fashion—the companies are listening.”
The panel was moderated by Jeff Trexler, associate director of Fordham School of Law’s Fashion Law Institute, and included:
- Amy Hall, director of social consciousness for Eileen Fisher;
- Rebecca van Bergen, executive director of Nest;
- Debera Johnson, executive director at the Pratt Institute; and
- Chid Liberty, co-founder of Liberty & Justice.