How can fashion be used as a force for good?
The 2022 Technology, Hub, Research, Entrepreneurship, Academia, Design, and Sustainability Summit, otherwise known as THREADS, is shifting the dialogue on fashion.
With the theme “Fashion Social Innovation,” the event held on October 26 to 29, 2022 at the Richmonde Hotel Ortigas sought to strengthen the competitive advantage and unlock the full potential of the creative, impact-driven entrepreneurship industry. Out of 140 hopefuls from across the country, 50 Filipino creative entrepreneurs and innovators were selected to participate.
The four-day summit also helped connect these individuals with mentors: Philippine government representatives, educators from academic institutions, industry leaders, alumni of the prestigious Chevening Awards, and members of the British Embassy.
The THREADS Summit was funded by the Chevening Alumni Fund Program (CAFP) by the Foreign, Commonwealth, and Development Office (FCDO) and partner organizations of the UK government. Chevening is the UK government’s prestigious and highly competitive international scholarships program.
In addition, the summit was co-presented by the FIBERS (Fashion Innovative Businesses for the Environment, Reformation, and Sustainability) Collective, an organization that trains and empowers both aspiring and current fashion entrepreneurs in Southeast Asia to grow their impact-driven businesses.
According to FIBERS founder Pamela Mejia, the event is inspired and motivated by “the call to promote positive social and environmental impact” through the convergence of four things: creativity, design, innovation, and entrepreneurship.
While a closed session not open to the public, learnings here were abundant. Ahead, learn some of the key takeaways from the THREADS Summit 2022.
#1: We only have one planet and we should take care of it.
Did you know that 85% of textiles go to dumpsites every year? The fashion industry is the second largest polluter in the world next to the oil industry. According to a report by the WWF Organization, the microplastics that pollute our oceans and destroy wildlife have now found their way into human blood. Humans have caused these problems, so it’s up to us to find solutions as well.
In 2015, all United Nations Member States adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. At the core of this are the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which serve as an urgent call to action by all countries in a global partnership towards attaining peace and prosperity for people and the planet.
For the fashion industry, among the concerns that need to be addressed is the immense quantity of textile waste. Here, the challenge is to seek alternative materials that are renewable while providing good working conditions to laborers. Local brands such as RIOtaso Clothing and SIDE B Upcycling practice circularity in fashion by repurposing fabric waste.
#2: Know your numbers.
Often, creatives wind up with a love-hate relationship with numbers. In the world of business, however, it will always be important to look into financial literacy. Be mindful of various figures to see if your enterprise can sustain the livelihood of your community in the long run.
Speakers at THREADS Summit 2022, in addition, stressed the need for entrepreneurs to study thoroughly their cash flow. See if your business is earning steadily or if it’s incurring losses, so you can plot out your next steps: Do you carry on? Do you pivot?
From an environmental perspective, one other aspect worth measuring is the ecological impact of your business. As much as possible, keep track of the kilos of textile waste produced by your company. Were you able to repurpose any of your scraps? How many pieces of thrifted garments were you able to upcycle? These guide questions can help you see if your business practices are aligned with the 17 sustainable development goals.
#3: Working toward sustainability is a community effort.
Everyone is on their own journey as entrepreneurs, but they should all learn from one another and from those beyond their circles. For designers like Zarah Juan and Wilson Limon, this is seen through their work with ethnolinguistic groups as collaborators. They foster creative partnerships to promote the preservation of our cultural heritage. Local brands like Rags2Riches work with artisan mothers from underprivileged communities to help them earn livelihood for their families, too.
Collaboration within the community, the speakers also shared, happens to be a key to creating a significant impact. To incorporate this concept in the culmination of THREADS Summit 2022, the participants were invited to a pitching competition. Here, they worked together to identify problems in the areas of academia, national and local government units, rural enterprises, ocean restoration, technology, and climate action. The participants then presented solutions, all of which were innovative, impactful, feasible, and relevant.
The project that won overall was WEAVE (Women Empowerment through Artisanal Ventures and Entrepreneurship), which “envisions empowering artisanal communities to become self-reliant through training that will develop their technical skills.” Community members also get to go through coaching workshops, essentially combining education and empowerment so they can sustain their livelihoods.
Project WEAVE will be implemented by the group in 2023 through a seed grant from SCALE PH.
#4: Always strive for authenticity. Stay true to your purpose.
Success does not happen overnight; running a fashion social enterprise takes an enormous amount of commitment and work. However, the big picture is a fulfilling one: to make a lasting positive change in the environment and in society through fashion. During difficult situations, being anchored by your purpose works to motivate you to keep going and to try again.
To “keep a laser-sharp focus on what you want and pour your heart into your craft” is one key takeaway. Through this, fashion brands that are centered on a calling can serve as beacons of hope for underprivileged communities, uplifting the lives of different artisans and their families.
As the fashion industry continues to grow, so do the environmental and societal consequences. But these can be solved by raising awareness…and having the willingness to change the system. Participants at THREADS Summit 2022 ultimately learned: “We do not need a handful of people practicing sustainability perfectly. We need millions of people doing it imperfectly. Everything starts with a single step.”
To learn more about sustainability, visit Fibers Collective, Design Center of the Philippines, Sustainable Ocean Alliance, and the UN Development Programme for more information about the THREADS Summit or programs just like it.