Fashion leaders confront industry hazards at BoF VOICES

Fashion leaders considered how their industry must address climate change, technology, and globalization during BoF VOICES 2019, hosted by The Business of Fashion.

The 3-day experience, sponsored by Affirm, brought fashion and luxury business leaders together with cutting-edge entrepreneurs, culture disruptors, environmental visionaries, and other influencers. They exchanged views in late November at the Soho Farmhouse in Oxfordshire, England.

Discomfort as a catalyst for change

The opening keynote speech, from Clare Farrell of environmental group Extinction Rebellion, set the tone with this question: “What is glamorous about living in a dying world, and what is fashion doing to the planet?”

Her presentation—along with others from activists like Trisha Shetty, who addressed human rights abuses against garment workers—provoked some discomfort with the aim of creating positive change. The underlying message: Fashion’s future will be brighter if we confront pressing global realities rather than ignore them.

Participants also got a 2020 outlook from the annual State of Fashion report released during the conference. The report, created by The Business of Fashion and McKinsey & Co., detailed 10 themes that will set the agenda for 2020, including China’s dominance, sustainability, social media innovations, a materials revolution, and inclusive culture. Download the report for the in-depth forecast.

“The fashion industry is not alone in facing some of these global challenges,” said Chris Faught, Affirm’s Director of Strategic Partnerships. “But it was great to see the seriousness and commitment to change demonstrated by participants at BoF VOICES 2019. I look forward to seeing progress in the next year—particularly in cross-border collaboration and overall inclusion—that comes directly from our conversations.”

Making way for new possibilities

Some sessions highlighted innovations that open opportunities and new markets. Dan Widmaier, CEO of Bolt Threads, discussed advances in his company’s lab-grown leather alternative that is now globally scalable. 

“Fashion should proliferate possibility, not constrain it,” said Alok Vaid-Menon, a gender nonconforming performance artist. Vaid-Menon proposed eliminating “men’s fashion week” and “women’s fashion week” as one way to de-gender the industry and avoid harmful stereotypes. 

A bright spot for growth is the fashion resale market, which is set to exceed $50 billion in 2023, up from $24 billion last year. Leaders of Depop and Vestiaire Collective (an Affirm retail partner) acknowledged growing pains in this sector, but they also pointed to the power of resellers to change fashion’s economy and sustainability.

“When you think about the activity that’s on Depop, you see super young, creative people building businesses and creating trends,” said Depop CEO Maria Raga.

“The VOICES event was a refreshing way to see such a variety of leaders confront tough realities with the understanding that this is how transformation can start,” Faught said. “This event is a great example of leadership from The Business of Fashion, and we at Affirm are thrilled to support it.”

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