Buffalo  Day 3: Manchester by Jennifer

Anna giving her presentation. 20150311_153513 Buffalo connect team. Today was our actual Connect Conference. A day full of many talks, but also good laughs and other enjoyable moments. Our conference started out with the traveling faculty members discussing consumer waste in each of their prospective countries. I know that yesterday I did a quick overview of the speeches but today I would like to go more in depth because this pertains to our project on Sustainability.

We first heard from Dr. Boorady from Buffalo State (my incredible faculty member). She told us some of the following staggering facts; facts that I will bring together in a second, just focus on the amount of consumption that the U.S. has. An average U.S. person has 64 garments and 7 shoes in their home at one time. 97% of all of the U.S. clothing is imported, where 98.6% of U.S. shoes are imported. Only 33% of U.S. retail companies are fully based in the U.S. And, the U.S. only recycles 15% of all textiles wherein that number could be as high as 95%. Hopefully you gave a gasp at reading some of these numbers. I know that a few audience members gasped at hearing this. A huge theme in today’s conference was on awareness. And not corporate or business awareness, they are aware, but rather consumer awareness. If anything Dr. Boorady’s numbers show that the U.S. does two things: source our manufacturing outside of the country for cheaper labor in return for cheaper merchandise and consume an incredibly large amount of textiles. Dr. Boorady also stated that the U.S. spent $350 Billion on retail purchases last year alone. It is quite scary how the U.S. is such a consumption monster.

Nick Hall was next and he spoke about the fashion consumption in the U.K. He titled his talk: A broken system we can fix. This was another theme that was brought up a lot. Many people focus on the negative about fashion sustainability, but we need to remember that there are solutions and we can fix this. The U.K. throws away 18 million tons of textiles a year, making the U.K. a consumption monster as well. He stated that we purchase clothing for that “temporary happiness” but we are losing out on quality and true investment on our garments. He stated that we need to start a war on “want.” Some really good statements and incredible speech.

Bingbing Du spoke next about China’s trends. She brought up that in China fast fashion is only purchased by a younger consumer, and that they do this because their malls are starting to be made into lifestyle centers where young consumers spend a lot of time. She also brought up another trend: newer technology is making materials more sustainable. She used her class as an example, she teaches on a graduate level and this year they took older denim jeans, washed them and put them in a recycling process. In the end they made the denim into journals for the Connect project. The outside of the journal shows more of the denim material and the pages show the  old threads. Really incredible process.

RMIT-Melbourne was last with their faculty member Grant Emerson. He has been studying about sustainability, especially Australia’s waste levels, for some time now. His presentation was fantastic and left us all shocked. Australia is still a fairly young country with only 21 Million people populating Australia. But their numbers of waste are right alongside of the U.S. and U.K. The creation of fast fashion is not hurting Australia or hurting their environment but rather their economy; a lot of small shops and local designers are dying due to the fast fashion and ecommerce markets. Australia is actually a large e-retailing market being the 3rd largest market for both Net-A-Porter and Asos.

He then continued with his research. He asked, “Are corporations being responsible? If so, can small businesses be sustainable and keep up?” He told us that we need to find companies that are aware of the problem, have a plan of action, and can give evidence of their engagement in their plan. This can be hard to find even with all of the sustainability awareness. He found through his research that it is not corporation’s fault but rather the consumer. Companies are aware but consumers are apathetic to the fact and therefore companies do nothing about it, and don’t care to do anything about it on their own. He wants us to continue to drive knowledge of sustainability to the mainstream consumer.

After Grant we got to hear from Orsola De Castro, the Queen of Sustainability. She started to tell us all about what I loved about the speeches today. “You need to concentrate on the fact that you are part of the solution.” From her speech I learned that if I, and my colleagues build awareness of the waste, the consumption, and the exportation,  we can help consumers make smarter choices in clothing. She also brought some interesting facts: 0% waste companies don’t exist, there’s no way they can build an empire like this. But we can ask for these companies to do better: use sustainable materials, participate in the production process more, and do not create waste.

She also brought us up to speed with Fashion Revolution, “Every piece of clothing is made by hand. We are wearing them. We no longer bother to find out who makes our clothes.” So who made your clothes? And more importantly ask who made my clothes?

Tonight I attended the MMU Gala dinner. I’ll tell you all of the items I wore, and if they stated where they are made on the label, just to see how disconnected I really am. I purchased my skirt from a boutique Shabby Apple, who I believe make all of their clothing themselves, but I’m probably wrong, the label said made in Mexico. I wore a tank top from The Limited and the label said that it is made in China. My lace top was purchased through a boutique named Poppy and Dot, but the vendor label is Pastel and the label from there says that it was made in China. Who actually made my clothing?? Did I choose well with my clothing purchases where I helped those workers? Are they being paid well? Treated well?

Sass Brown followed her (did I mention that today was jammed packed with impressive speakers??? Thank you MMU!) Sass fully knows incredible companies that are sustainable or are eliminating waste in some part of the life cycle of garments. These sustainable lines can be just as luxurious as luxury lines, and competitively enough paying for luxury lines is the same as luxury designs made by sustainable fabrics. Something that shocked me is that Organic Cotton, which maybe better for all of our skin, is only 1% of the Cotton market. This means that we’re still not anywhere closer at getting rid of pesticides in the natural fiber market.

Carry Somers spoke to us again today. She reiterated Fashion Revolution: #fashrev and I hope that we all ask Who made my clothes? on 04/24/15. We don’t have to boycott our favorite stores and brands, just ask them where they got their clothes. Let’s start thinking about the supply chain of our textile production, and talking this challenge seriously.

After Carry spoke, myself and the other three students in the Connect project spoke about style in our city. I believe we did very well for being in front of such a large audience.

Today was fascinating and got me inspired to check out different areas of sustainability, which really covers such a vast area of the fashion industry. We should be concerned with who is making our clothes and how we, as consumers purchasing their hand crafted items, can make their lives better. We should also consider how to help upcycle, or eliminate the extra fabric in manufacturing plants and warehouses. We should also look at both luxury lines and fast fashion equally to do better, as well as hold the customer responsible. The customer has the choice in what they purchase.

I hope that you are enjoying reading my posts and my colleagues posts, and if you have any questions for me or any of the guest speakers I meet, voice them!! Contact me or any of my connect members through facebook, twitter, and instagram. @buffalostateftt @mmu_connect #fttconnect You’ll also be able to find our personal sites through these accounts as well.

Wish us luck in our next location as we will be leaving for Beijing tomorrow to continue learning about Sustainability in China.

Lynn Boorady

Written by Lynn Boorady