What happens when you put two dozen sustainability experts – founders, designers, content creators, brand execs and more – on one stage, powered by one of the world’s most well-known sportswear brands? You get PUMA’s Conference of the People, of course: the brand’s first ever, day-long event dedicated to tackling one of the biggest issues facing the fashion industry today: sustainability.
On 6th September, hundreds of guests flocked to east London (with thousands more logging on to a livestream) to join in on conversations surrounding all things sustainable fashion, from eco-anxiety and reducing textile waste to how brands can ensure responsible supply chains. Hosted by writer and director Reggie Yates and featuring speakers like actress Naomie Harris, former YouTuber Jack Harries and PUMA CEO Bjørn Gulden, the jam-packed day left attendees inspired, and hopeful for change – sooner rather than later.
Don’t be daunted by this mountain of progress we’ve collectively yet to climb. Keep reading to catch up on the conference via some of the event’s youngest female speakers, who all had a lot to say.
The ethical fashion advocate: brands owe it to us to make sustainability understandable
“We need to be reducing consumption, not just from a consumer’s perspective but from a brand’s perspective,” said 24-year-old ethical fashion advocate Izzy Manuel, directly addressing PUMA’s senior head of innovation, Romain Girard. “We’re always trying to tell people [about] circularity, to shop secondhand, ‘don’t throw your clothes to landfill’, but I think the problem is from a consumer’s perspective, we really struggle to find ways that we can actually sustainably reduce our waste.”
Manuel, who creates content to push slow fashion and secondhand shopping, went on to point out that muddled sustainability jargon doesn’t help anyone, neither consumers nor brands aiming to address the climate crisis. Instead, Manuel called for brands to start truly reducing their production and to offer up transparent and tangible solutions to their consumers. For example, making products easily recyclable, such as PUMA’s RE:SUEDE trainer, the brand’s first experiment with a fully biodegradable shoe.
Post-conference, Manuel told Refinery29: “If brands want to be more sustainable and want people to believe they are actually sustainable, then they just need to make it really easy to understand. It’s important to involve consumers, which is obviously what PUMA did [at the conference], but I think it’s doing that even more.”
The sustainable designer: we must be able to scale the upcycling process
A bra made of cupcakes and shoelaces, and a jacket that utilises upcycled goalie gloves are just two of New York-based multidisciplinary designer Nicole McLaughlin‘s eye-catching creations. As a designer specialising in upcycling and eliminating waste, McLaughlin joined PUMA’s Conference of the People to discuss the importance of upcycled fashion and why brands and designers like her need better tools to produce more of it.
“It’s a lot easier to create one-of-one pieces and capsule collections but in reality we’re going to need to do a lot more,” McLaughlin said with regards to her work creating low- to no-waste garments. Working on scaling her designs to a corporate level, she acknowledges that collaboration (between brands, designers, suppliers and so on) is key. “I think everyone can get involved in this,” she said.
From discarded boxes in warehouses to the sentimental items we keep but no longer have use for, McLaughlin describes upcycling as a major problem-solver in our current crisis of overconsumption and overproduction. A cupcake bra that can avoid becoming waste simply by being eaten (yum) might be tongue-in-cheek but solution-making garments like her PUMA goalie glove jacket could be world-changing if produced on larger scales.
The filmmaker and campaigner: vulnerable conversations are key
Alice Aedy, a documentary filmmaker and cofounder of creative studio Earthrise, describes herself as “a young person who is frankly terrified”. In the final panel of the day, Aedy directly addressed her fellow speakers, including PUMA CEO Bjørn Gulden and Under Armour CEO Colin Browne, with a plea for brands to be more transparent as all signs point towards a declining environmental state.
“I’m an eternal optimist but I have to say the pace of change over the last few months – like temperatures in the UK we didn’t think we’d see until 2050 – is terrifying. I’m desperately trying to navigate what to do and how to act,” said Aedy, echoing what a lot of young people are undoubtedly feeling with regards to true sustainable fashion.
Addressing the reality – and the seriousness – of the situation, she summarised the ultimate goal of the conference: “Young people want traceability, we want transparency, accountability… I think equally important is having deeply vulnerable conversations. It is healing and crucially important for you guys to say: ‘We’re trying, this is difficult, but we haven’t got it all worked out and there’s still some way to go.’ That level of honesty and truth allows the consumer to have trust.”
Head here to catch up on all of the panel conversations at PUMA’s Conference of the People.
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