JEDDAH: Sustainability, diversity and inclusion, entrepreneurship, and innovative solutions in the global fashion industry were the highlights of the second Fashion Futures initiative by the Saudi Ministry of Culture.
The Culture Ministry’s Commission of Fashion hosted a digital event on Thursday through a hybrid model that gathered leaders from the global and regional fashion world at studios in Riyadh and New York, and virtually from around the world to discuss issues related to the future of the industry and ways to build the right ecosystem for it.
“Our mission is to enable the development of (the) thriving Saudi fashion industry, (make it) sustainable and inclusive, maximizing local talent, experiences and competencies. This will be realized through initiatives and our flagship event, Fashion Futures is part of this process,” Princess Noura bint Faisal Al-Saud, sector development director at the Fashion Commission, said in her opening speech.
The program “Fashion Futures: Moving Towards Sustainability, Diversity & Innovation” is the result of a collaboration with US-based Fashinnovation, a multimedia platform focused on sustainability innovation and entrepreneurship led by Jordana Guimaraes.
Chantal Line Carpentier, chief of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), said that the creative industries, such as the fashion business, were worth more than its $2.5 trillion globally. The market in fashion products could lead to significant employment gains in developing countries and for small and medium enterprises, and for many women and young entrepreneurs.
However large environmental footprints were created as the industry was responsible for 8 to 10 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions and 20 percent of industrial wastewater pollution worldwide.
Carpentier discussed the potential of fashion for sustainable development and economic growth. She said the declaration of 2021 as the International Year of Creative Economy for Sustainable Development was an opportunity to raise awareness and promote cooperation and networking. It would encourage the sharing of best practices and experiences to enhance human resource capacity and promote an enabling environment to tackle challenges and take advantage of creative economy opportunities.
The conference’s content was divided into four parts; entrepreneurship and experimentation, diversity in culture and style, investment in new business models and innovation solutions, and sustainable development goals. Each part of the event had four different sessions, including keynote speeches and panel discussions.
Notable international speakers included Susan Rockefeller, the president and trustee of Oceana, a nonprofit marine conservation foundation; Rebecca Minkoff, a fashion designer and author of “Fearless: The New Rules for Unlocking Creativity, Courage, and Success;” Oskar Metsavaht, an environmental activist and founder of fashion brand Osklen; Helen Aboah, the CEO of luxury lifestyle brand Urban Zen; and Abrima Erwiah, co-founder of Studio One Eighty-Nine, a social enterprise that promotes and curates African fashion.
Morten Lehmann, chief sustainability officer at the Global Fashion Agenda, highlighted the need to embrace and encourage change in the global fashion industry to be more sustainable and overcome the challenges it faced environmentally, socially and from a human rights perspective.
“If we can change fashion, which is so complex and so fragmented, we can change everything,” Lehmann said. “We can inspire other industries to do the same, and we can inspire citizens also to be part of that movement.”
The event featured leading Saudi fashion leaders such as designer and entrepreneur Arwa Al-Ammari, designer Youssef Akbar, entrepreneur and runway supermodel Bandar Hawsawi, and fashion designer and head of womenswear at Les Benjamins, Lamia Al-Otaishan Aydin.
In addition to addressing issues related to education, business models, fashion design, transparency and women’s empowerment, the diversity and inclusion discussion was a major highlight of almost every talk throughout the conference.
For Youssef Akbar, being a Saudi fashion designer was a unique selling point; however, starting his business and establishing his name was very challenging. Nonetheless, for players that belong to a minority in the global fashion industry such as Akbar, diversity and inclusivity happened out of instinct.
Akbar was critical of shallow presentations of diversity. “The entire company culture needs to reflect these values, not just campaigns, photoshoots and runways. Companies should start with diversity from within, not from the outside,” he said.
The conference ended with an interview with Princess Reema Bandar Al-Saud, Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the US, in which she highlighted how Saudi Arabia could be the leader of sustainable fashion in the coming years.
“Today, the work of our Fashion Commission, we are really proud to have Burak Cakmak as our CEO because he brings not only the background and education of fashion, but also the fashion sustainability,” she said. “And what he’s allowing us to do is enter our pathway through sustainability and leapfrogging essentially, where everybody else has started because we have no historic fashion industry.”
Concepts of sustainability, reusing and recycling were critical foundations of the commission’s mindset; however, it was also built based on Saudi culture and heritage, Princess Reema said.
The Fashion Commission launched the Fashion Future Initiative in 2019 as the first event dedicated to fashion in the Kingdom, and redesigned it in 2021 as a leading digital platform in the field of fashion accessible from all over the world at https://fashionfutures.com/en/home
A main goal of the initiative is to support the creation of a fashion ecosystem in the Kingdom, while also leading the way in achieving a more globally sustainable fashion sector.
The Fashion Commission is one of 11 Saudi cultural bodies established in February last year by the Ministry of Culture to oversee the development and success of cultural subsectors.