At the beginning of this week, Antwerp was the stage for two conferences of the fashion and textile industry: IAF and Euratex. The two organizations joined forces and organized a two-day conference at the Hilton hotel in the Belgian city. The need to get together with industry peers turned out to be great, especially after the past corona year, when it was not possible to meet physically. However, the impact of corona was still very noticeable during the two days: corona checks, mouth caps, hand gel and online guests who could not be physically present due to the restrictions. Still, there was also old-fashioned shaking of hands, something that made some guests feel slightly uncomfortable in the audience. FashionUnited traveled to Antwerp at the invitation of IAF and Euratex and shares four insights it gained during the events.
The Hilton hotel served as a conference location on both days, with the IAF (International Apparel Federation) meeting on Monday and Euratex on Tuesday. The overarching theme at both events was the transition in which the fashion and textile industry finds itself. Topics on the program included traceability, transparency, 3D designs, digital samples and craft.
Insights from fashion conferences in Antwerp: ‘Work on a scientific basis, not from emotion’
The first thing that strikes you on Monday morning, and which is also mentioned by several attendees, is that the majority of the audience is male and middle-aged. It is a fact that simply cannot be ignored. Ironically, during one of the sessions on Tuesday, it is mentioned that actually prior to the two conferences, an event should be held for young people from the industry and the outcome should be presented again at the IAF and Euratex meetings. An idea for next year perhaps?
In addition to bringing the industry together, Monday will also be dominated by the transfer of the IAF presidency from the Dutch Han Bekke to the Turkish Cem Altan. Bekke will remain active at IAF as immediate past president. In an interview with FashionUnited earlier this year, he reported that his entire career (Bekke has been in the fashion industry for fifty years, ed.) calls on the industry to collaborate more, but that it is still not fully off the ground. The words Bekke spoke a few months ago will therefore continue to echo in the back of the undersigned’s mind during the two conferences.
Several times on stage and from the audience present, people are called upon to collaborate more. Consider, for example, that brand and supplier jointly decide to switch to 3D designs and digital samples, after it has been checked that it is beneficial for both parties. Not that a brand decides to move to a more digital system and impose changes on the supplier that the latter cannot finance at all. Cost-sharing is even mentioned as necessary when it comes to progress in the industry. It is also clear that not only the pain, which became even more apparent during the pandemic, for example, should be shared, but also the opportunities in the industry should be shared throughout the value chain.
It was inevitable that after two years of not meeting, the conferences also look back on the corona time. However, the problems that came to the fore during the pandemic are not new problems, it was said during the two-day event in Antwerp. Many of these changes had already started and were only being accelerated. This also means that hopefully when the pandemic ends soon, these changes and problems will not suddenly disappear. “We know there will be more disruptions even after the pandemic,” said David Sävman, Global Head of Supply Chain at H&M. Companies must therefore be prepared and resilient. Sävman’s statement is supported later on the first day by a presentation stating that every five years there is a disruption in the fashion industry and that every ten years one year of profit is lost due to these disruptions. It underlines the need to be resilient, even when there is no pandemic to turn the world upside down. Think, for example, of extreme weather conditions, political unrest and financial crises. All possible disturbances unfortunately sound very familiar to those present. Think of the trade conflict between the US and China, unusual weather in 2019 and floods in, for example, Belgium and Germany and the volcanic eruption on La Palma. Euratex president Alberto Paccanelli therefore indicates for nothing that the next six months will be challenging. Nevertheless, a positive spin is given during the two-day event and that is almost necessary to avoid sending those present out depressed. In every challenge there are also opportunities. Guy Ryder of the International Labor Organisation, for example, indicates in a digital speech that the recovery of the industry must be sustainable, but also inclusive.
Fashion industry together in Antwerp for two days: ‘We have to speak the same language’
In addition to the repeated call for more collaboration and the fact that disruptions will always exist in the fashion industry, there are two other themes that stand out during the conferences in Antwerp. First of all, several speakers underlined that the fashion industry should be guided more by science and data and less by emotion and ideology. This is, for example, mentioned by Paccanelli in his opening speech on Tuesday morning and is later also repeated by Robert van de Kerkhof, CCO of Lenzing and Sylvie Lemoine, Executive Director Product Stewardship at CEFIC.
The last point that is remarkably often repeated is the call for the industry to ‘speak the same language’. For example, there are calls for standardization, a level playing field, a shared library and dictionary. The need to be on the same wavelength was expressed by David Sävman, Vice President of BGMEA Miran Ali, 3D Specialist Kristina Nedeljkovic, General Manager of TYH Mehmet Kaya and Maria Teresa Pisani of UNECE. Speaking ‘the same language’ seems to be an absolute precondition for the fashion and textile industry to be able to move forward. Whether this will succeed in the short term remains to be seen, especially if the industry needs to be reminded to continue working together.
Next year the IAF conference will take place in Haka, Bangladesh. Perhaps that will be the moment when it appears that the industry has indeed made great strides and can join forces. Opportunities abound, now only the will is left.
Source: fashionunited.nl by fashionunited.nl.
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