So: what do you get when someone with tremendous passion, a scientific background and a charming nature are put together for a presentation about sustainable fashion? One rocking session which started a conversation many continue to be having.
WBII member, Katharina Andrés, a Consultant for sustainable and healthy lifestyle, made it very clear from the start of her presentation at the WBII’s November networking evening: this was not one which would address our businesses. Yet, I could not help thinking that while the topic may not have been business related; she taught us many things we can carry over into our business. More about that later.

Setting the scene

Her intention was to speak to us as role models, as fashion consumers and she did so by taking us on a journey of research, as her scientific background dictates. It started in her own closet’s contents and went on to the staggering figures of the fashion industry – from profit margins to the waste created and people involved.
This set the scene for the question:
How is it, in knowing so much – especially about waste and the labour conditions of textile workers, that we still consume fashion as we do?

Well, here was where she asked us to reflect on WHY we have clothes. Really! Why do we clothe ourselves? Well, looking at it from a basic needs point of view: we prefer to stand before people clothed, versus naked; our bodies need warmth/protection from the elements and there is a human nature desire to ‘fit in’ with our surroundings, or dress for an occasion. Few of us for instance would wear our sportswear to make a presentation.
That is why we dress, but why do we consume, buy more? What is behind that drive? Emotions. Essentially. The fashion industry plays on this, and we have them, and respond. We are surrounded by messages which suggest that having this or that will make us feel good, or are required to achieve something, and so we react accordingly – and purchase often more than we need, without thought. Katharina was by no means distributing blame or guilt. It was simply a review of how the human brain reacts, emotionally, intuitively.

Rocking the boat

It was this very point, about human nature which provided a bridge to what Katharina wanted to do: start the conversation. Rationally, we know the facts, about waste, poisonous chemicals, atrocious labour conditions for textile works and unsustainable agricultural practices. We learn about this every day. Information is in abundance, and growing. So, with all this knowledge, how is it we continue to consume – fast fashion in particular? In essence, the problems listed above are so far away from us – in experience, geographically, conceptually – that they seem so insurmountable.

They in fact leave us feeling powerless and rational decision making is ‘silenced’ by emotional reactions. Question is, it simply a matter of not consulting. Katharina reminded us the industry does provide employment, and, if we were to all stop buying then the employment opportunities provided by the industry would also disappear.
This desperate image did not have long to linger in our minds though, as Katharina quickly led us towards what we CAN do, how we CAN be part of the change which is already taking place. We CAN be the role models a sustainable future needs by making conscious choices. Stopping and reflecting on not only where we buy but why. Do we really need that item we just saw? Will it for instance match other items in our wardrobe? How often will we in fact wear it? Are we purchasing from producers which are themselves following sustainable practices?
Our first step in being a part of the change, and becoming role models is to have this conversation – with ourselves and then, by talking about the choices made, asking for advice, sharing what we know (and own). Even if we start this with our daughters, we are already setting a tone for their own conversations.
She captivated us. Drew us in. Held our attention. Informed and entertained. And most certainly ‘started’ a conversation. To help us answer some of the questions, Katharina recommended for when we next have to decide – should we, or should we not?
Oh, and did I mention the illustrations in her presentation, seen here? Also the result of this talented, passionate woman with a purpose! Keep your eye out for future presentations as we have since heard that Katharina will be one of the speakers – on this topic – at the WEF-EU taking place in The Hague in January 2017. If you missed what she had to share last month at the WBII, you do not want to miss her in January!

More about that …

I mentioned earlier that I thought that what Katharina shared with us, did in fact have a business element to it. For me, what I took away as ‘business learnings’ were: when you speak with passion, are committed to what you DO, are open to receiving input and clearly state what you need/want your business WILL flourish. Katharina’s presentation was a confirmation of many things we hear and have been hearing through our networking events. So, for me, fit the profile of what one can expect at a WBII networking evening. After all, hearing about what steps are recommended for our businesses is one thing – seeing it in practice is yet another.
(Write in by Deborah Valentines)