Chelsea MA student Mai Trebuil wrote: In January I attended a conference hosted by the United Nations on sustainability and biodiversity issues within the fashion and luxury industries, in Geneva. There were several panel discussions with a range of speakers including biodiversity experts, designers, representatives from large companies such as Nestle, Gucci Group and LVMH and sustainable fashion representatives from Made By and the Ethical Fashion Forum.

The panel speakers discussed topics such as responsible sourcing, legislation, certification and educating younger generations towards a shift in values.

The opening panel sought to redefine biodiversity and sustainability within our current consumerist society. Petko Draganov (UNCTAD) emphasized the necessity of the inclusion of all stakeholders, by building lasting partnerships between local producers and multinational companies. This was later seen in the Weleda Group presentation on their model sourcing of arnica. By offering basic training to insure quality as well as set up biodynamic farming to increase habitat biodiversity, Weleda insures a long lasting partnership and strives to create win-win situations.

The panel on how to implement a successful sustainability strategy included Allana McAspurn from Made-By (UK) who discussed her business as a sustainable fashion consultancy, and Made-By's aim to “make sustainable fashion common practice”. Made-By has developed a labelling concept, with a track and trace component, as well as a supply chain support service with scorecards to encourage benchmarking. Their report 'Environmental Benchmark for Fibres' is available to download, and controversially places bamboo as one of the least 'sustainable fibres' and recycled polyester as 'highly sustainable'.

The next panel discussion was about The Rise of the Ethical Consumer and Eco-fashion in the Mass Market. Claire Hamer, founder of ei8ht, related her experience as a buyer for Topshop and her upcoming partnership with ASOS to set up a “Green Room”. She stated matter-of-factly: “We’ve outsourced our supply chains”. Fast fashion has been focusing on the consumer and short-term profitability. There has to be an increased consciousness. Her work for high street giants like Topshop sourcing fairly traded garments & accessories has showed her that partnerships, collaborations and the creation of platforms are essential to harbour change in the industry. Her advice was also to target buyers rather than designers or managers, as they are really the one deciding which materials are chosen for production. Her quadruple approach – profit, people, planet, product – aims to produce a clear message of what the label is all about especially in age where brands are marketing lifestyle rather than pure product.

The final panel was titled The Influence of Affluence: Luxury Brands as Sustainable Role Models. Burak Cakmak from the Gucci Group emphasised business longevity in sustainable sourcing as well as fostering innovation around sustainability by funding research in leading universities. He cited the example of the recent funding by the Gucci Group of the TFRG PhD 'Sustainable Technology for Future Luxury'.