The Ethical Fashion Forum Source Expo 2011 edition was held in Sadler’s Wells on the 17th and 18th of October and brought together suppliers, producers, designers, and industry professionals all working towards a more sustainable fashion industry. Source Expo is the worlds first and only fashion industry trade show dedicated to ethical sourcing and gives developing country fair trade and organic producers a much needed spotlight.
Stands from designers and suppliers were spread over 4 floors, all the exhibitors have a sustainable focus in their work, whether it be recycling, organic fabrics, or fair trade production or any combination of the above. As well as the exhibition stands there was; a source consultancy couch offering free 10 minute one-to-one slots with the Ethical Fashion Forum (EFF) consultants, all industry experts in either marketing, sourcing, buying or business; a cinema area showing EFF excellence training videos on marketing, business and sourcing for start up businesses as well as inspirational campaign videos; a trends area that gave spotlight to a number of the cutting edge designers exhibiting; and last but certainly not least, a full schedule of back to back seminars that discussed a wide range of subjects relating to sustainability in fashion with panels studded with industry experts and professionals and some very interesting issues raised. It really was an event not to be missed for anyone passionate about an ethical and sustainable fashion industry.
It was also a very important event for those interested in African fashion and textile industry too, there were representatives from suppliers such as Mantis World, Mayamiko, Bolo’no Mali Charity and Wild Earth Cotton as well as Scottish designer Mia Nisbet who produces her collection Fashion by Mia with Mayamiko in Malawi.
The last seminar to be held on the second day of the Expo was titled ‘Africa – Towards vertical supply’ and led to a very interesting discussion on the state and future of the African textile and apparel industry. The panel was composed of Abi Rushton of Cotton Made in Africa (CMiA), Mantis world founder Prama Bhardwaj, Paola Masperi of Mayamiko trust, and Christian Smith of ASOS. The wide variety of backgrounds, perspectives and experiences of the panellists led to a wide variety of interesting points being made. For example, Paulo of Mayamiko, a development textile project in Malawi, explained the difficulties they face in trying to get local fabrics. With refreshing honesty she confessed that it is impossible for them to say genuinely where their fabrics have come from as Chinese imitations of ‘traditional’ cloths are so accurate nowadays. However she still holds hope and aims for Mayamiko to have a vertical supply chain on day and therefore to maximise the value added and benefits to the Malawian economy. Nevertheless she also commented on the problems of there being no Fair Trade certification for cotton in Malawi and it being very hard to get everything 100% ethical under one roof.
On the other hand, right next to Paulo sat Prama of Mantis World who have managed to do exactly that, create an entirely vertical supply chain under one roof using organic cotton and ensuring high ethical standards in production. Prama attributes this to the fact that the Mantis World factory and production units were established in the mid 1960s and thus have been developing their supply chain for almost 50 years. It was only when Prama took over in the past 10 years however that she decided to focus on organic and ethical production. She sees a major change in attitude towards production in Africa as prices in China and Asia are rising and people increasingly look towards Africa to provide more cheap labour. However as Prama commented this is unrealistic and Christian emphasised, it is also not desirable for Africa. He believes Africa needs to aim at a mid-range market, focusing on quality and not try to recreate the Asian garment industry as we are all aware of the atrocities that that created.
Abi Rushton of Cotton Made in Africa commented on the fact that over 80% of African cotton is exported raw and therefore a great potential for value adding through processing the cotton is lost and African economies really gain very little from their cotton production as it stands today. She also highlighted the issues of infrastructure and logistics with her experience in Kenya when a fabric was held at Mombasa port for 12 months! The question of infrastructure opened the general ‘national development’ can briefly, so to speak, touching on oil, money and political corruption.
However it soon returned to its original focus and there was some discussion and agreement that design-led products were very important, and production units such as SOKO – Kenya were really setting the standard and opening up possibilities for a larger market, not least through their orders from relatively large brands such as ASOS and Suno. Overall the conclusions were that although there were many issues of sourcing local fabrics and components as well as logistical issues with the infrastructure, there was a lot of positivity for the potentials of the African textile and fashion industry and the benefits it could bring to Africa.
Some of our tweets from the discussion see image:
In the exhibition area, Wild Earth Cotton, a new sustainable fashion brand was launched by Hermes Otto International. The company has worked closely with the Cotton Made in Africa initiative to create a mid to high range of casual women’s and men’s clothing made from CMiA cotton. The first collection will be for sale next Autumn.
“Wild Earth Cotton represents a major step forward in the provision of fully traceable sustainable fashion at no extra cost to the consumer,” Derek Binns, Hermes Otto International UK commercial director.
Overall this years Source Expo was another great success for the Ethical Fashion Forum and all the exhibitors and others involved. It was an exciting 2 days of discussion, celebration and evaluation of all things sustainably fashionable.