A Journey of Sustainability: From Hong Kong to Milan

A Journey of Sustainability: From Hong Kong to Milan

In the first week of June 2020, I had the honor of representing Hong Kong's sustainable fashion community in Milan, Italy. Funded by the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region Government's "Create Hong Kong" initiative and organized by the Clothing Industry Training Authority (CITA), the Fashion Summit Hong Kong's study tour brought together a diverse group of Hong Kong delegates. Our delegation included government officials, industrialists, designers, representatives from fashion associations, and NGOs dedicated to sustainable fashion.

Our mission was clear: to explore and discuss the future of sustainable fashion with some of Italy's most esteemed academics, industry leaders, and designers. This dialogue took us to roundtable discussions with the Italy China Council Foundation, ACBC sustainable consultancy and renowned institutions like IED-Istituto Europeo di Design Milano, Domus Academy Milano, and Università di Milano.

The Heartbeat of Sustainability: Global Perspectives

During our discussions, we sought to understand the significance of sustainable fashion in various regions, the major factors influencing market growth, and the integration of sustainable practices in businesses. We explored the successes of leading global brands and considered the opportunities for young designers and private labels to establish themselves in the market. The potential benefits of globalization and international collaboration were discussed, particularly between Italy and Hong Kong. We also evaluated the impact of carbon neutrality goals and the need for government intervention through policies and regulations. Finally, we pondered the future trends in sustainable fashion and how brands and suppliers should navigate these changes.

One of the primary driving factors for sustainable fashion is the growing awareness of global warming. With temperatures rising worldwide, the urgency for environmental sustainability is more palpable than ever. Regulatory support also plays a crucial role, as evidenced by France's recent legislation to ban the advertising of fast fashion and impose a levy on each piece of fast fashion sold.

 

Education and Accountability: The Pillars of Progress

A recurring theme in our discussions was the critical need for education, starting with younger generations. Equipping them with environmental knowledge and a focus on sustainability is essential. However, education alone is not enough. Businesses often struggle with understanding and executing sustainable practices. There is a lack of practical tools and clear steps for businesses to follow, and the financial implications of sustainable practices can be daunting.

 

Collaboration and Competition: Navigating the Market

While it would be ideal for young designers to collaborate with larger brands, the reality is often different. Market dominance by big brands can make it difficult for newcomers to gain a foothold. Even when collaborations occur, the influence designers have on production, distribution, and marketing is usually minimal. The market needs multiple business models, allowing smaller brands, despite their limited resources, to adapt quickly and make small but significant changes towards sustainable practices. Larger brands need to be accountable and embrace their Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) responsibilities from the core of their company's culture, rather than relegating them to sustainability or marketing departments.

 

The Role of Government: Balancing Support and Regulation

Government support is crucial for driving sustainable practices. Policies and regulations can set industry-wide standards and hold brands accountable. There have been such wonderful updates since our discussions. France have just set an example with passing a bill on banning fast fashion advertising and adding a levy of up to €10 on a single fast fashion item, the bill still needs to pass senate but is expect to come into play by 2030. The path continual when the European Council announced on June 17 that it has reached an agreement on a series of proposals aimed at protecting consumers from greenwashing, setting requirements for companies to substantiate and verify claims and labels regarding the environmental attributes of products and services. I'm sure we all look forward to more countries following in these great steps. Implementing rules to ensure accountability and provide verifiable data on sustainability efforts is the way forward. However, over-regulation can stifle innovation and inadvertently strengthen the market dominance of established brands. Therefore, a balanced approach is essential. Besides getting the brands, consumers and suppliers to pay for their environmental responsibility, offering tax cuts and grants for sustainable practices will be positive incentives.

 

Communication: The Key to Change

Effective communication is vital at every level—between brands and consumers, within companies, and across the industry. Transparency and honesty can bridge the gap between consumer expectations and business practices, fostering a culture of genuine sustainability rather than superficial greenwashing.

 

Stitching the Future

The round table discussions in Milan was a profound reminder that the journey towards sustainable fashion is multifaceted and challenging, but also full of potential. As we return to Hong Kong, we carry with us not only the insights and strategies shared but also a renewed commitment to push for a more sustainable, equitable fashion industry. Together, with the right mix of education, accountability, and regulatory support, we can stitch together a greener future for fashion.

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