An invitation to Breakfast….

When I first received the invitation to breakfast at the Pure London exhibition at Olympia I was perplexed – why were they inviting an ethical clothing brand owner and influencer to an exhibition designed to sell large amounts of mass-produced clothes? 

Then I looked at the key speakers – Caryn Franklin, former host of ‘The Clothes Show’ and now well-known champion of diversity in fashion, and Steve Kenzie from the United Nations talking about the Sustainable Development Goals.  Wow – this was not going to be a fast fashion pitch!

Pure London Breakfast on a Catwalk

pure london breakfast on a catwalk 2019

Breakfast was surreal – At 8.30am we were eating Muesli on a catwalk – long table a la Alice in Wonderland tea party (I was in Mad Hatter position at the far end)  – and watching a screening of ‘Catwalk to Creation’.  This film, part of a docu-series directed by Charney Margi and Ramzi Moutran, explores issues around fashion production and, especially, its traceability. So, close to my heart. 

Steve Kenzie outlined the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals which aim to bring about key improvements for our planet and society.  The UK has signed up to these goals – a fact that is not widely obvious in our day to day news or government discussions.  At Where Does It Come From? we’ve already mapped our impacts against the goals (SDGs).

I met Caryn for the first time at Ipswich Town Football club (not a match, a business lunch…) so to have a second meeting at a catwalk breakfast didn’t seem too incongruous.  Caryn and Julie Driscoll from Pure London then told us about the new ‘Power of One’ campaign – all about encouraging us as individuals to take responsibility for our own ethical choices in fashion.  This thinking seemed a good fit with Caryn’s stance as a disrupter that she outlined at her Suffolk Businesswomen talk last year – you can read about this in my blog Caryn Franklin, Diversity and the BBC.

One of my fellow guests – Lizzie Riviera from BicBim drew our attention to the fact that although we were all advocating change to a more ethical fashion culture, we were actually eating breakfast surrounded by an exhibition of fast fashion.  Julie Driscoll told us that we’d be surprised how many of the brands exhibiting were doing some impressive ethical work – monitoring their supply chains, using upcycled and sustainable materials – but not telling their stories.  I decided to find out for myself so spent a few hours digging a bit deeper into the show.

Exploring the Pure London Exhibition

I spent several hours looking around and talking to brands who were showcasing – I certainly could have spent longer.  These were my favourites – mainly down to their innovative approaches in fabrics, design and upcycling. 

pure london breakfast on a catwalk
Jellyfish shirt by Gibson and Birkbeck

I loved the hand drawn designs which had been digitally printed on pure cotton by the Scottish brand Gibson and Birkbeck. The fabulous detail on the original designs such as jelly fish and spider webs is fabulous.  I enjoyed a chat with two ladies on the stand – the sister and cousin of the brand founder and artist.  The quality of the fabric was beautiful but they weren’t able to tell me more about the provenance beyond the Turkish production unit.  As traceability is now becoming much more mainstream they would benefit from sharing more supply chain information, because their products are lovely!

Laura and Cheryl Hooper are a mother and daughter team called The Conscious Company who have come up with a gorgeous and range of slogan T shirts and other items.  With a background in NGO work and a clear supply chain their garments were good quality, ethical and transparent too.   

For a stylish zero waste option I was impressed by the leather jackets hand created by Zamback – really innovative use of offcuts! Nomad Tribe had a collection of beautiful upcycled, recycled and ethical clothing from Guetamala and I loved the wood pulp fabrics being created by Brakeburn (lovely prints too!).

Gorgeous upcycled top from Nomad Tribe
pure london breakfast on a catwalk
Zamback zero waste leather jackets from offcuts

On a wider area of interest, I had a chat with Natalie Au from TUV Rheinland whose purpose is to map responsible supply chains.  They have representatives based throughout the world who will monitor, assess and certificate suppliers and have the ambitious goal to be ‘the world’s best sustainable and independent service provider along the supply chain’.  Investing in this kind of monitoring will be vital for larger businesses who want to prove their ethical supply and meet with the requirements of a (hopefully) more stringent Modern Slavery Act.

There were many gems like these but on a more realistic note I did see a lot of polyester and shiny stuff.  However with Pure’s obvious focus on ethical fashion and initiatives such as ‘Power of One’ it may well be that there will be an increased number of ethical brands and more of a focus on showcasing brand ethics and traceability next year.

Mary Creagh MP and Lucy Siegle

pure london breakfast on a catwalk

Later I was in the audience for a conversation between Lucy Siegle, TV journalist and author and Mary Creagh MP who chaired the UK Government review into fast fashion. It was an interesting, entertaining and very inspiring talk – I fully support Mary Creagh’s view that fixing fashion is a feminist issue, as the majority of garment workers are women – when talking to Marks and Spencers about the issue she told them that she knew more about the pigs that were turned into their sausages than about the women who make their clothes. I also enjoyed her description of teaching her monosyllabic 16 year old son to sew, calling it ‘fabric engineering’ – a comical interlude with a serious side, young people are not learning to create or mend clothing, a lost button often means a garment is discarded and a new one bought. 

I did feel that Mary overestimated the level of concern in the general public for a more ethical industry, my experience and comments on BBC news articles seem to imply that ethics comes a lot further down the list than cheap prices.  I hope she is right and that I am being too negative.

Since this event the UK Government report on the impacts of Fast Fashion has been released – see highlights at UK Government Review into Fast Fashion – so it will be interesting to see how much this impacts the format and exhibitors at the Pure event next year.

Thank you so much to Pure London for inviting me to be part of this event.

pure london breakfast on a catwalk
Pure London Breakfast on a Catwalk – talking ethics in fashion