A meeting of the minds at the intersection of sustainability, fashion, ethics and culture
Images: Sustainable Fashion Forum
On Earth Day, I had the opportunity to attend the Sustainable Fashion Forum which made its live and in-person comeback after being hosted on zoom for the last three years. Held at the Ecotrust building in Portland’s Pearl District, SFF allured a packed house of industry leaders, brands, activists, scientists and organizations, from places as far as Canada, Brazil, Australia and Singapore.
Since 2017, the event has grown to be a leading symposium for in-depth conversations at the intersection of sustainability, fashion, ethics and culture as well as an industry breeding ground for connections and collaborations.
“Sustainable Fashion Forum is a testament to the power of collective action toward a common goal,” said Brittany Sierra, the CEO of SFF who also hosts the Crash Course Fashion podcast. “We strive to bridge the gap between industry silos and create an inclusive platform for conscious fashion enthusiasts and sustainability professionals of all industry levels.”
Sponsored in part by Neiman Marcus, Trove and the Sustainable Apparel Coalition, panel discussions explored “the nuanced layers” of sustainability in fashion featuring a roll call of industry powerhouses like Amina Razvi, CEO of Sustainable Apparel Coalition, Maxine Bedat, the Executive Director of New Standard Institute, Zhara Biabani, the CEO and founder of In the Loop, Michelle Cliffe, Senior Corporate Campaigner at Canopy, Nicole Bassett, Circularity lead at Bleckmann, Kestrel Jenkins, host of Conscious Chatter, and many more.
Panelists spoke of the lack of inclusivity within circular solutions, took a psychology page from the fast fashion playbook when it comes to resonating with customers, explored advocacy campaigns from influencer economy to the greater economy (with a nod to ThredUp’s “fast fashion confessional” hotline featuring Priah Ferguson), and exposed the challenges faced with pushing the needle on policy (The Fashion Act) to evoke real change and accountability.
Images: Sustainable Fashion Forum
Just before a panel about progress through the collaboration of activist groups and apparel brands, the event was cut short by a protest against Adidas in regards to wage theft allegations in Cambodia. The Clean Clothes Campaign claims that Adidas owes over $11 million in wages to Cambodian garment workers in eight of their supplier factories. Adidas sustainability lead, Kara Brody, had already left two hours prior to the demonstration. You can read more about the protest here.
The ironic turn of events reminded us all that progress is interpreted through different lenses and that events such as SFF can provide an important platform for acknowledgment, discussion and collaboration towards change. Despite having to cancel the rest of the event, to keep attendees safe, Brittany Sierra and her team spoke with protestors and offered their main stage for discussion.
"After the protest, we spoke with the protest organizers and invited them to join future conversations. They wanted to be heard but didn’t think they would be welcome on the SFF MainStage, but this is exactly what The Sustainable Fashion Forum stands for — bridging the gap between silos and bringing people together to foster dynamic conversations that encourage grey-area thinking." Brittany Sierra told us. "Despite this, I’m optimistic about what lies ahead and am excited for the meaningful conversations that will emerge from this shared experience. We’re in ongoing discussions with Remake and Stand.earth to explore safe and meaningful ways for SFF to work with labor and activist organizations to amplify underrepresented voices in the fashion industry."
The canceled panel featuring Stand.earth and Canopy, will be available for viewing through the SFF digital vault -- a "treasure trove" of webinars, live events, and much more expected to launch this summer.