SUSTAINABILITY, TECH AND DIVERSITY
Amidst a heatwave in the first week of July, Berlin Fashion Week hit the town once again. Here we select our highlights from the occasion – naturally with an emphasis on sustainability and tech.
Kicking off the proceedings at the MBFW EWerk runway, Dutch design duo and Royal Academy of Antwerp alumni Botter continued to make a splash with their award-winning Fish or Flight collection while exploring themes of migration (both designers have Caribbean roots) in their latest unisex collection Al Fombra. Designed to raise awareness of how our everyday plastic consumption and petrochemical corporations are destroying the planet’s oceans, Fish or Flight took home the Grand Prix du Jury Première Vision at the Hyères Festival and was a top ten finalist for the LVMH Prize 2018. To have such an exciting young brand open Berlin Fashion Week is surely a harbinger of good things to come.
Meanwhile, outside the venue, a small but rather graphic Peta “Leather is a rip-off” demonstration took place (maybe more effective before a leather-heavy show) nonetheless we’re pleased to say there were plenty of vegan-friendly fashions over at the newly rebranded NEONYT at Kraftwerk.
Bringing the Greenshowroom and Ethical Fashion Show Berlin trade fairs together with the FashionSustain conference, NEONYT is one of the largest sustainable fashion and lifestyle conventions in Europe. Especially for this season, FashionSustain turned its attention to shoes and set up a dedicated Footwear Innovation Showcase to accompany the talks. Here nat-2 presented their leather-effect Fungi and Wood sneakers, Vivo Barefoot their Eco Suede line as well as their Ultra III Bloom amphibious shoe made of algae. Other animal-free options included Veja and Ecoalf recycled polyester kicks, spun from plastic bottles collected from both land and sea.
Whether leather can ever be ethical is questionable, however, produced under circular, zero-waste conditions, its longevity and durability can make it more sustainable than, say, cotton canvas. Luxury fashion tech brand Josefin Liljeqvist made the case for fully traceable leather production, using storytelling as a tool to help improve global animal protection – which in turn would ideally foster a more sustainable ecosystem. Each skin used to make the shoe comes with a unique tracking code so that the end consumer can learn exactly how the animal led a happy life at an eco-certified farm, therefore creating an emotional connection to it. As noted in the NEONYT brochure, sustainable approaches come in many forms, so it is important to keep an open mind and weigh up all the options.
In the evening back at EWerk, handpicked pieces from NEONYT were sent down the runway for the Greenshowroom Selected show, curated and styled by Claudia Hofmann (and somewhat ironically soundtracked to Plastic Dreams). For the first time, Greenshowroom Selected was part of the MBFW lineup, placing sustainable fashion on a more “mainstream” platform: an encouraging indication of an industry-wide move towards eco-friendly fashions being the norm and not the exception – we raise a glass of sekt to that!
The #FashionTech conference took to the Kraftwerk stage the following day, with a series of slick presentations focused strongly on selling products and the customer experience – or “emotions” – as eloquently put by Michael Kliger, President and Managing Director of MyTheresa. It was particularly eye-opening to see how enormous the readership/following for trendy e-commerce/media platforms like ABOUT YOU compared to long-established fashion print publications, and as Florian Heinemann, Founding Partner of Project A Ventures, affirmed: “Companies with direct access to users and the ability to maintain active customer relationships have a chance to prevail.”
As much as the #FashionTech speakers rhapsodised over exponential growth, convergent technologies and holistic experiences, the conference would have been more well-rounded had the discussion went beyond fashion tech in retail and marketing, i.e. at the sourcing and production stages, and importantly – with more female speakers! There was also barely a mention of sustainability, and considering the event shares a stage with FashionSustain, it would make sense for there to be more synergy between the two. FashionSustain on the other hand could have benefitted from exploring the customer more, as innovations in recycling and transparency are fantastic – but whether the average consumer engages or buys into it is another story.
In the meantime, however, the Sourcebook co-organised FashionSustain Thinkathon did bring all these factors together in a collaborative ideas workshop to solve industry-based challenges set by Hugo Boss, KPMG x Microsoft Hololens and Techtextil & Texprocess – read a summary of the results here.
Another day, another conference, the Zeit Magazin x Vogue Konferenz was held at the Kronprinzenpalais, and following on from Berlin Fashion Week AW18 it was great to see local style heroes Jörg & Maria Köch of 032c, and Founders/Creative Directors of GmbH, Serhat Isik and Benjamin Huseby, as well as 2016 LVMH Prize-winning London menswear designer Grace Wales Bonner on the podium.
Hitting all the right notes with their Berlin-clubbing inspired outfits collaged together from deadstock fabrics, GmbH conveyed how they find freedom of expression through fashion, using the well-publicised medium as a platform to explore and raise awareness of issues such as racism, homophobia and religious discrimination, much like Botter above with pollution and migration or for Wales Bonner the representation of a black masculinity that isn’t athletic or urban. Just days before in Paris too, Vetements unveiled their latest collection with an app to educate fans about the political turmoil of their home country of Georgia, further demonstrating that fashion can be far from frivolous.
Comparing two very different approaches to affordable sustainable fashion, Marie Dewet of Maison Cléo was put in conversation alongside Thorsten Mindermann, CEO of H&M Deutschland. Launched on Instagram in 2016, each made-to-order Maison Cléo piece is lovingly handmade by Dewet’s mother from cut-price roll end fabrics, with material and labour costs disclosed on the product page. The whimsical French-chic styles quickly amassed a following of social media influencers, calling into question whether social media platforms like Instagram could completely replace traditional sales and marketing channels. Where Maison Cléo trades on its exclusivity (the e-boutique is only open on Wednesdays) the H&M Conscious Collection creates sustainable fashion for the masses. Both parties agreed that as long as prices are attractive, sustainable fashion will grow, and perhaps H&M could take a leaf out of Maison Cléo’s book and be more transparent about their pricing.
Waving the sustainability flag on the runway, Marcel Ostertag presented his SS19 Muse collection outdoors in the hidden gardens of the Westin Grand Berlin hotel. Although on the surface the glamorous outfits embellished with sequins and perspex heels might not be an obvious exemplar of sustainable fashion, Ostertag addresses the issue by producing locally in Bavaria, with pieces that can be worn time and time again.
At yet another oasis in the hustle and bustle of Mitte, the latest iterations of William Fan’s signature maxi-length cuffed shirts floated across the Schinkel Pavillon. Young, old, male, female, in a kaleidoscope of skin tones, the diverse cast of models – a common thread throughout Fashion Week – made sure to represent the underrepresented: a reflection of Berlin’s longstanding history as a haven with “no boundaries, and being open to the world,” to borrow from Lutz Huelle’s notes for his own FCG Gallery show at techno mecca Berghain.
From the surrounding rooftops, builders stopped to take in the William Fan show below: first-hand evidence that fashion and beauty have the power to influence, to not only be diverse but inclusive.
Title image: Horror Vacui x Swarovski @ Der Berliner Salon, Kronprinzenpalais. All images photographed by Daniel Gebhardt unless otherwise stated.