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How can we design a thriving fashion industry that creates prosperity for all people, communities, and the planet? From the moment LN-CC launched LN-CC Conscious in 2014, this is a question we have continually asked ourselves and our brand partners. We are not alone. Since its first edition in 2009, Copenhagen Fashion Summit has established itself as the leading business event on sustainability in fashion, while discussing this question. There is no escaping the fact that the fashion industry is one of the largest, most resource intensive industries. While the industry continues to improve its social and environmental performance, it is still far from sustainable, and fashion companies are not implementing sustainable solutions fast enough.
In 2020, amidst the challenges imposed by COVID-19, Copenhagen Fashion Summit was transformed into a digital event – CFS+. Building on last year’s focus, Redesigning Value, this year’s CFS+ theme of Prosperity vs. Growth challenges the current fashion system even further by addressing a range of adjacent topics to foster constructive tension and dialogues that drive bold action. Throughout its panels, CFS+ 2021 explores the silent challenge between the two terms. Framed in this way, it encourages a constructive and action-focused dialogue around the limitations and possibilities presented within the sphere of the two terms.
In a moment when new technology is disrupting traditional business models, and upcoming legislation increases regulation in the industry, businesses and organisations have the opportunity to re-evaluate the current growth logic and call for systemic change. Redesigning the concept of growth is one of the biggest systemic issues of our time and, as such, CFS+ seeks to challenge the traditional concepts of growth and prosperity.
Sustainability as a one-solution label has been co-opted, but its definition still rings true for what humans are trying to achieve: the ability to maintain an ecological balance. Together, we must work towards identifying solutions for a thriving industry that creates prosperity for all people and communities by working within planetary boundaries, reversing its impact on climate change and protecting biodiversity. Initiatives like CFS+’s Designer Challenge – an annual activation that matches style and ingenuity with supercharged tech solutions – play an important role in encouraging collaboration, showcasing the power of collective, co-ordinated action. The Designer Challenge follows exceptional Creative Directors and their sustainable design processes from original idea to final product. Previous esteemed participants of the Designer Challenge include Heron Preston who designed a 100% 3D printed sneaker together with Zellerfeld, Priya Ahluwalia who enabled circularity for her SS21 collection through digital labelling together with Avery Dennison, and Jide Osifeso who created an Ocean Plastic® based tracksuit with Parley for the Oceans. For CFS+ 2021, GRAMMY® award-winning singer, songwriter, actor and Creative Director of S1C (Schedule 1 Concepts) Miguel collaborates with Global Fashion Agenda, Sunshine Bertrand and LN-CC.
For 2021 the Designer Challenge sought to find solutions in sunglasses, one of the most overlooked products when it comes to sustainability in fashion. From frames and lenses being mostly made of virgin plastic with few small-scale technologies available to recycle sunglasses, to faster expected market growth, the challenges were numerous and timely. With these issues in mind, the Designer Challenge set out to find a sustainable method and materials to create sunglasses that would show the wider industry that it can be done, and demonstrate to citizens that affordable and sustainable eyewear solutions are possible.
Launched earlier this year, Miguel’s LA-based conscious clothing brand is an impact-driven company committed to sustainability. This Designer Challenge combines S1C’s ethos and style with the solution provider Sunshine Bertrand, which is dedicated to evolving fashion towards a more responsible future. “Why do I care about sustainability? I want my kids to enjoy this,” Miguel explains in his Designer Challenge video, gesturing to the nature that surrounds him. “S1C reflects my DIY attitude,” Miguel explains in the supporting release. “I couldn’t find clothes I wanted to wear that were also responsibly produced so I decided to make them myself. As fashion evolves, we need to challenge current systems and embrace new innovations that can protect our planet without sacrificing our unique style.” LN-CC couldn’t agree more.
As the Designer Challenge highlights multiple issues across the eyewear industry’s value chain, the product release has been delayed. However, as LN-CC shares the Designer Challenge film and sits down with Christina Iskov, Senior Programme Manager, Design and Innovation at Global Fashion Agenda, we see that the work is just as important as the final product.
Could you introduce the Designer Challenge, what is it and what does it hope to achieve?
Christina Iskov: The Designer Challenge evolved out of 2019's Design Studio because it became apparent that beyond executive level, creative directors wanted and needed to focus on sustainability too. Last year we had three designer challenges; Heron, Priya and Jide were each matched with an innovator. This year, it has evolved by bring on a retailer too, LN-CC, because it was important to realise ideas, moving beyond concept to commercial touchpoints.
How much of a challenge was this Designer Challenge?
Christina Iskov: We've encountered problems in securing the most sustainable material, for both lenses and frames. Part of the Designer Challenge for GFA is that it has to be the most sustainable option. Here, the most sustainable option requires an expensive certification process which exposes the issue that only huge companies can have these materials. While we don't yet have the product we wished to have, we have the Case Study that discusses the problems within the eyewear industry. It begins with why Miguel, as an artist created S1C as a sustainable brand, before highlighting the challenges and opportunities within the eyewear industry.
What were the biggest challenges and opportunities encountered?
Much like the jewellery industry, the eyewear industry isn't taking sustainability as seriously as it should. There are no open source materials like we have in the apparel industry, it's 10 steps behind, and this is what we want to focus on. The aim of the project has pivoted, the result is more of a call-to-action. Hopefully we have highlighted a number of solutions that can be actioned. LN-CC along with Miguel, Sunshine Bertrand who helped with the solutions will continue to make the product. Ultimately, it takes time to put innovators and creative directors together. Alongside this year’s example, Heron’s a great example too because earlier this week he unveiled the HERON01, the first fully 3D printed shoe available to the global public and it evolved from the Designer Challenge.
True innovation and change takes time. This Designer Challenge epitomises the challenge for designers and innovators, working to the constraints of the wider industry and what's possible.
Christina Iskov: Exactly. We all learned so much from this Designer Challenge. Suppliers within the Eyewear industry just aren't used to being questioned about transparency.
Finally, what do you hope people take away from the Designer Challenge?
C: For other designers and creative directors of smaller brands, I hope their takeaway is that it's harder than they think when they start building a sustainable brand. The obstacles and challenges are much harder but I hope that they've been inspired by this challenge and Miguel's work, to go on and still do it.
For the bigger brands, I hope they acknowledge the problem of competition versus collaboration, especially in the eyewear industry where there are so many licenses which prohibit wider use.
Lastly, I wish for investment into the industry because there are solutions if a sustainable manufacturer could make a one-stop-shop for sunglasses production. Currently, the lenses are being cut in one place before being shipped to another to be inserted into frames and that's not how it ordinarily works in the apparel industry; it's just so far behind.