Institute of Positive Fashion Forum 2024: The Highlights

Last week I attended the British Fashion Council’s Institute of Positive Fashion Forum. This annual event is put on to celebrate achievements and progress made by the British fashion industry, ranging from developing nationwide recycling systems through to championing new circular innovations.

As a circular fashion student and sustainable fashion advocate, this was my kind of day. I love a good panel talk, and with six keynotes, as well as a further six panels, two workshops, and some all-day showcases, I spent much of the day scribbling down notes to share with you here.

Introducing: The Institute of Positive Fashion

Before I get into the day, let me introduce you to the Institute of Positive Fashion. The British Fashion Council launched the Institute of Positive Fashion (IPF) in June, 2020. The aim of the IPF is to “help the British Fashion Industry … be more resilient, circular, equal and fair through global collaboration and local action”. And through the IPF, the British Fashion Council is working on a 10-year strategy to enable the industry to reduce climate and societal impact in line with UN goals. Since its launch in 2020, the IPF has brought together a website with global resources, information and campaigns, and subsequently launched the annual IPF Forum in 2021.

The IPF focuses on three main pathways: Environment, People, and Community & Craftsmanship. Within this, they host the Circular Fashion Innovation Network, which is open to join and receive updates from. I really appreciate the IPF’s approach, as it is not only addressing the social and environmental issues within the fashion industry, but is also providing greater accessibility and diversity. It also meant that I was invited to this year’s IPF Forum!

7 Highlights from the Institute of Positive Fashion Forum 2024

Here are my highlights from this year’s forum – as well as my thoughts on where I’d like to see progress next:

1. Building The Circular Fashion Ecosystem

The Institute of Positive Fashion Forum was the first time I got to hear from the Circular Fashion Innovation Network (CFIN) in person. The day started with a welcome from Caroline Rush, CEO at British Fashion Council, and then a summary update from the CFIN, presented by Adam Mansell, CEO at UKFT. Here, we were presented with the Circular Fashion Ecosystem diagram (pictured above), and the network’s wide-reaching aims (detailed below).

Having studied circular fashion with RSA and Ellen McArthur Foundation in 20/21, it was great to see so much being put into practice. The teal and purple lines are where I’m particularly excited about – fashion rental, clothing care, resale and take-back schemes.

On the manufacturing side, it was also great to hear about CFIN’s work with The Materialist, a new marketplace for dead-stock fabrics that aims to accelerate a new ecosystem for circular textiles and materials. They will also be hosting a pop-up showroom from May to July 2024 in London, where you can book an appointment to view samples.

The Circular Fashion Innovation Network’s Aims:

Circular Business Models: Focus on reduction of waste and over-production of clothing by embedding circular business practices; consideration of regulation changes, the UK Net Zero Strategy, and broader climate goals.

Recycling Infrastructure: Focus on effectively using infrastructure and creating partnerships to optimise closed-loop recycling processes and lay foundations for extended producer responsibility.

Sustainable Manufacturing: Focus on reducing environmental impacts and waste from manufacturing processes from the production of textiles and clothing by 2025 and achieve Net Zero by 2050 globally.

Novel Technologies: Encourage the adoption and investment of technology-ready innovations and scale up and integrate novel technologies that support circular fashion.

Diverse & Futureproof Workforce: Upskill the workforce and build a diverse and future-proof talent pipeline to close the skills gaps, working across the Network to help attract, train and retain the next generation of talent.

Green Growth: Create new economically viable circular fashion products and services which enable new exporting revenue channels, generate high values jobs and opportunities.

2. True Textile Recycling Is Coming

Within the CFIN Network Update, we were also told of a 10-year plan for a national textile recycling programme. This is huge news! According to Adam Mansell, the infrastructure will aim to “capture, sort and process textile waste and produce recycled wool, polyester and cotton at scale”. However, it is still early days for the programme, with “key players” being invited to “outline what is required from beginning to end.” You can read more from the CFIN Network Update here.

Photo credit: British Fashion Council

In the meantime, there is still hope. Later on in the day, we heard about a ‘plug and play’ option for fashion manufacturers to recycle clothes, thanks to Annabelle Hutter of Santis Textiles. According to Annabelle, her father invented the “first true clothes recycling machine”. And, it seems, there is no real catch. Fashion recycling is woefully low, and this is usually blamed on the lack of technology, and the drawbacks produced by existing technology. However, Santis Textiles is offering textile-to-textile recycling that produces long-fibre textiles, which is relatively unheard of. While this isn’t my field of expertise, I do hope this takes off, and we see fashion brands designing pieces that they want to take back at the end of life, because they can recycle them into something new. It would solve so much of fashion’s current waste problem.

Finally, an addendum to this utopian dream. If you – like me – look for fashion brands promoting circularity, be sure not to fall for this one trick! During a break-out session, I learned from a fashion consultant that many fashion brands are greenwashing their recycling fibre targets by giving random figures (e.g. 100,000 garments made of recycled materials), when really, their aims for recycled content need to be by % of the overall amount they are producing. This not only ties the figure to a proportionate amount, but it also encourages degrowth.

3. Designing For Attention vs. Designing For Value

The first keynote of the morning was by Paul Dillinger, VP, Head of Global Design and Innovation at Levi’s. During his talk, the concept of ‘designing for attention’ vs. ‘designing for value’ captured my attention. While I didn’t agree with everything Paul said – such as Levi’s making “profit through principle”, despite still not signing the International Accord or Pakistan Safety Accord – I did think his standpoint on designing better clothing that provides additional value, even if the customer bought it for attention (or to fit into trends) was a cool concept. This seems to be something that Levi’s has been able to successfully balance, although I’d like to see how less “classic” brands can also achieve this.

4. We Need Radical Regulation

Baroness Lola Young speaking at IPF Forum 2024
Photo credit: British Fashion Council

Another attention-grabbing speech was made by Baroness Lola Young, Member of House of Lords, during the Human Rights & Environmental Sustainability keynote. After criticising the lack of policing of modern slavery statements (“you could say, I’m not making a statement [on modern slavery] and it would have been enough of a statement”) she proposed a new duty on cheap clothing, like cigarettes receive. She certainly has my vote on this.

Simon Platts, CEO Cofounder, Re-Up Recomme, also made some very blunt, yet very welcomed statements. “If you can’t trace your supply chain you’re doing things unethically,” he noted, and honestly, that’s how I feel when I can’t find out such simple information on fashion brands’ websites.

He also remarked, “This is not a meeting of drug dealers today. This is fashion.” in response to people being attacked for asking for higher wages in Bangladesh. He’s right, but it certainly feels like there are some kingpins we need to take down first.

5. The Case For Context > Carbon Accounting

The IPF's Low Carbon Transition Programme panel
Photo credit: British Fashion Council

One element of the IPF that I really appreciated was the balance between established players and innovative start-ups. During the third keynote of the day – The IPF’s Low Carbon Transition Programme – we heard from Fionn O’Sullivan, Junior Product Developer at Molly Goddard, Kyle Ho, Founder at KYLE HO, Mica Phillips, Sustainability Manager at Margaret Howell, and Patrick McDowell, Creative Director at Patrick McDowell. They represented some of the 50 SMEs on the programme aiming to decarbonise their supply chains by implementing low carbon transition plans.

Patrick McDowell began to lift the lid on the idealistic mission to reach net zero by saying “low carbon does not always go hand in hand with sustainable materials”. This is something I’ve noted before, too. In 2021’s post on 11 Fashion Lies, collaborator Amy Nguyen noted that certain materials indices put recycled synthetics higher than natural fibres due to their lower carbon impact. This is true, but it lacks further context. Do we really want to see fashion adopt recycled synthetics above all else?

At the same time, the business case was made for carbon accounting from day zero. “Having these calculators can help [smaller brands] to scale without increasing their footprint,” said McDowell.

But as always, it was legislation that was called for in order to really make a difference. “Legislation would make it easier for the “better” brands to exist while also reducing the wider issues in the industry”.

6. Make A Pledge To Repair

Pledge to Repair Leaflet

If you take one action from this Institute of Positive Fashion Forum summary, make a pledge to repair! Josephine Philips, CEO & Founder at Sojo, launched the Pledge To Repair initiative at the IPF, and it’s already gaining traction. This is an industry-wide scheme to group fashion brands, industry professionals, and clothes wearers who repair their clothes, and then gain traction with legislation.

As I’ve said in my fashion resale critique, repair is often overlooked in favour of resale and recycling, and yet it’s a lot less intensive, and a lot less costly. If you’re already altering your clothes, making repairs at home, or indeed, using platforms like Sojo or The Seam, take the pledge!

7. We Must Return To Nature

Finally, in a somewhat circular moment, the Institute of Positive Fashion Forum was both started and ended on the themes of returning to nature. At the top, a recorded message was played from Xiye Bastida, Climate Justice Activist and Executive Director, Re-Earth Initiative. She left me thinking about two big ideas – that “nothing in nature is waste” and we must “return to indigenous practices”.

This was later echoed by Daze Aghaji, Environmental Regenerative Activist, who spoke of her consultancy work, where she might be laughed at to invite staff to take nature walks and reconnect with nature, but would later be thanked for the impact those actions had.

I personally identify with this journey, and my own move away from pursuing traditional success in favour of connection with nature and others. Local, community action is what drives change, and also feeds the soul. Getting out into nature supports my mental and physical health. And yet, we are so very removed from it by our workplaces and by industry. How this will translate to the conglomerates in the room, I don’t know. But I do think it’s a pertinent reminder that we must embrace the devolution of power, the degrowth of industry, and the natural systems that we are not just bound by, but should be led by.

Disclaimer: I was invited to attend the Institute of Positive Fashion Forum 2024 by the British Fashion Council. All views and opinions expressed remain my own.


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