Fashion is a dirty business. Not only is it the second-largest industrial polluter in the world (oil is first), it’s also infamous for unsafe working conditions, child labor, and a painfully broken supply chain. Add to this the bizarre practice of destroying unsold merchandise — deadstock — to protect a luxury brand’s exclusivity, with Burberry being the latest notorious example as they incinerated 38 million worth of unsold stock last year. Clearly, there is room for improvement.
To say consumers’ tolerance toward these unethical practices has edged toward a historic low is not an exaggeration. This is especially true for Chinese consumers, who, themselves, have more or less been victims of their own country’s environmental issues for years, and are now starting to speak with their wallets regarding more sustainable fashion practices. A recent report from the trend forecast company Mintel found that 58 percent of Chinese consumers were willing to pay more for ethically-produced fashion products. Industry leaders like Kering Group and the Erdos Group, the world’s largest manufacturer of cashmere products, are also incorporating sustainable initiatives into their marketing outreach to better engage with Chinese luxury consumers.
And now, Yue-Sai Kan, the renowned Chinese TV host, entrepreneur, and fashion icon, is the latest public figure working to advance the burgeoning sustainable fashion movement in China. In collaboration with the New York-based fashion education platform WeDesign, Kan’s China Beauty Charity Fund will sponsor the “Executive Education in Sustainable Fashion” program created for mainland Chinese fashion executives, who want to learn more about this sustainable fashion movement.
The program has two phases. The first one, March 25th through April 29th, is a series of free online courses open to the public and led by seven industry experts, including Matt Scanlan, CEO & Co-Founder at Naadam, Toby Usnik, Founder of Philanthropic Impact Partners, and Francois Souchet, who leads the Make Fashion Circular Initiative at the Ellen MacArthur Foundation.
The second phase, April 29th to May 3rd, is only for a select group of 15 senior fashion executives from China, and will take place in New York City and Europe. The group will meet with thought leaders throughout the sustainable fashion landscape, including stops at the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA), the Future Tech Lab, and the New York City branch of Glasgow Caledonian University. Afterwards, on May 1st, the group will attend the China Institute’s Fashion Gala 2019, honoring the Asian-American fashion designer Jason Wu. From there, they will continue east to participate in this year’s Copenhagen Fashion Summit from May 15th and 16th.
“More and more executives [in China] want to learn about what is going on internationally,” said Simon Collins, co-founder of WeDesign and the former dean at Parsons School of Fashion. “Smart CEOs know they have to be prepared for the future, and the future is sustainability. International sustainable thinking is the most important criteria for a successful business.”
Usnik, one of the lecturers for the online portion of the program, said it is a good opportunity to “engage with a group of millennials and Gen-Z leaders [from China], who are going to be not just doing well in the future but also have a positive social impact.” Usnik, with over two decades of experience in corporate communications for major international companies, such as The New York Times and Christie’s, will advise on corporate social responsibility (CSR), philanthropy and impact investing for Chinese fashion executives during the program. “Sustainable fashion goes beyond supply chain. It is also about engaging consumers to make more informed choices,” says Usnik. “In the past, many Chinese companies didn't care too much about CSR. I will help them focus on it because now they genuinely want to do good while also doing well.”
As China becomes the largest fashion market in the world — its consumers are projected to account for more than 40 percent of luxury goods consumption in the world by 2023 — it is more significant than ever to educate the market about the importance of sustainability. Awakening consumer awareness, as well as consistent brand action and bold initiatives like this executive program, are all steps in the right direction for China, and the global fashion industry.