The Emperor’s New Clothes conference hosted at the University of Leeds

The event saw industry and academia descend on the University to deliberate the multifaceted issue of sustainability within the fashion and textiles industry.

This year the annual event, hosted by the School of Design, focused on the theme of leverage points, and discussed different approaches to sustainability within the industry process.

Keynote speaker, Kate Fletcher, Professor of Sustainability, Design, Fashion at London College of Fashion, kicked off the day with concepts of “Localisation” and “Craft of Use.”

Throughout the conference fellow speakers such as, Dr Alison Gwilt, Reader in Fashion and Sustainability, Sheffield Hallam University continued to investigate the idea of prizing and repairing items which we already own, instead of continuously buying new.

Debbie Luffman, Product Director at Finisterre, showed how some of this theory is already being put into action by their brand which balances sustainability and business.

The Finesterre team are invested in sustainability from a product development angle, using recycled insulation for their jacket linings and working with ECONYL on swimwear made from waste marine plastic. However, they also put an emphasis on treasuring these garments after purchase. Their hand repair service allows customers to mend the battle scars from their adventures;

“We often see the same garments again and again, they tell the story of the owner,” explained Debbie.

However, the need for and possibilities of innovation within the production process itself was also highlighted within multiple talks, including those from Primark, who discussed their intensive programmes to deliver a more sustainable cotton source and Dr Parik Gowsami, Director of Research and Innovation at the School of Design, University of Leeds.

Running multiple research projects concerned with technical textiles, including research into fibre/polymer science, plasma technology, nonwovens and medical textiles, Dr Goswami explained that it was often through collaboration with his colleagues within the School of Design, which put his research into a design context.

Mark Sumner, Lecturer in Sustainability, Fashion and Retail, School of Design, University of Leeds reflected on this year’s event;

“As at previous conferences, this year’s Emperor’s New Clothes event provide a rounded and systemic view of the challenges the fashion community faces for a more sustainable future. Contribution from speakers as diverse as Primark, The Ellen MacArthur Foundation, Finnistere and Kate Fletcher reflected the diverse and complicated nature of fashion sustainability and we hope the event encouraged all attendees to challenge myths and question actions of the current model to see how new models for the future can be developed.”

Feedback from conference delegates confirmed that this mixture of speakers from industry and academia provided a great opportunity to grasp a current overview of the latest research and implementation of sustainability within the textiles and fashion industry:

“There was a wide range of speakers, covering both industry and academia. This gave a really good balance to the discussions.”

“There were great insights provided by expert speakers and excellent networking opportunities.”

“The speakers were well chosen and offered a balanced view information from different areas of the industry and research giving a very rounded view of the topic.”

Of course, the issues surrounding sustainability within these industries are ever evolving, and as the theories, solutions and the hurdles which stand in the way of industry evolve, so too will the discussions and debates which need to take place. We look forward to seeing how this shapes the Emperor’s New Clothes conference next year.