What is ‘Be the Change Summit 2023’?
Be The Change Summit 2023, was held on August 1st at the Singapore Chinese Cultural Centre. It commenced with a welcome address delivered by Wilson Teo, President of the Singapore Fashion Council. Teo’s opening remarks set the tone for the days discussions, underscoring the significance of advancing sustainability, innovation, and collaboration within the fashion industry.
He outlined the role of the summit in bringing together local and international industry experts, thought leaders and practitioners. By assembling a diverse array of voices, the summit aimed to tackle the challenges and opportunities facing Asia’s growing fashion sector. Teo’s words emphasised that collaboration and knowledge-sharing are pivotal in effecting transformative change.
Following Wilson Teo’s welcome address, Minister of State Low Yen Ling gave an impactful opening address. As the Ministry of Trade and Industry and the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth, Low’s presence as a key speaker signified the government’s commitment to the transformation of the fashion industry.
Her address bridged the gap between economic development and cultural preservation, high lighting a balance between economic aspirations and preservation of cultural identities.
Furthermore, Minister Low’s address was marked by a personal touch. She took time to acknowledge individuals she recognized in the audience. The gesture illustrated her connection to the fashion industry but also established an atmosphere of inclusivity and shared purpose. Minister of state Low Yen Lings opening address captured the essence of responsible transformation and cohesive action.
Panel 1: Responsible Consumption in the Fashion Ecosystem
The opening session of Be the Change summit 2023, “Responsible Consumption in the Fashion Ecosystem,” set a compelling tone for the day with an insightful introductory speech by Edwin Keh; CEO of the Hong Kong Research Institute of textiles and Apparel. Keh’s speech delved into the intricate psychology of consumer behaviour, particularly in the context of pre-pandemic and post-pandemic eras, and highlighted the evolving priorities of consumers.
Edwin Keh’s address began by illustrating the shift in consumer motivations -pre-pandemic, the emphasis was primarily on looking good, whereas post-pandemic, there has been a significant pivot towards the desire to both look good and feel good. This shift signifies a growing awareness of the interconnectedness between personal well-being and broader impacts of fashion consumption.
A central theme of Keh’s address was accountability. He questioned the various stakeholders involved in the fashion ecosystem: Is responsibility solely on the brand, the government, the supplier, or the customer? He prompted attendees to consider the shared responsibility and role of each player in shaping the sustainable landscape of the industry.
Education emerged as another pivotal point of discussion. Keh noted that the present era demands continuous learning and adaptation, especially as sustainable practices and technologies rapidly evolve. Professionals in the industry need to cultivate dexterity and flexibility, allowing them to swiftly adapt to changing technologies, innovations, trends, and consumer preferences.
The speech culminated in a thought-provoking reflection on the message behind consumption choices. Keh emphasised that today’s consumers emotionally connect to brands, and a focus should be on communicating brand values and beliefs to connect and align with consumers. Keh cited Patagonia as a prime example of this – a brand consumers actively choose to support, not just the products but the ethos it represents.
Edwin Keh’s speech served as a launch pad for the panel discussions. The first panelist Vincent Djen Director of Cheng Kung Garments represented a sustainable garment manufacturer. He provided a unique perspective on and shared his commitment to responsible fashion practices by discussing his work in textile recycling and end of life management of garments.
The second panelist Amirita Haralalka Knitght; founder & CEO of Telaship.com, was a representative from the artisan industry. She emphasised the importance of preserving craftsmanship and embracing slow fashion. She highlighted the need to connect artisans with designers around the world, fostering collaborations that celebrate cultural heritage and sustainability.
This session took the form of a question-and-answer discussion panel. Panelist had the opportunity to explore questions such as: Why do we purchase? “How can we become carbon neutral industry in an economy that is not carbon neutral”, “In a world over-flowing with clothes who is responsible for this? and “How can we effectively educate consumers about sustainable choices”?
Answers to these questions formed part of the sustainable fashion framework. The need to design better quality more durable materials, to reduce the rapid turnover of clothes as well as producing materials that can be easily recycled.
They addressed the supply problem within the ecosystem, stressing the importance of shifting from a culture of excess to one of mindful consumption. Keh illustrated that we don’t need any more clothes; there is already enough clothes.
The notion of responsibility reverberated throughout the discussion. Panelists collectively agreed that it’s the responsibility of the entire fashion ecosystem to drive change. This included educating consumers in small, digestible portions through effective labelling, waste accountability from retail brands and government investment for suppliers to develop new greener technology.
They highlighted role of designers; that their role was becoming one of an engineer as they embarked on a moral journey of knowledge to drive change. They discussed the problems this then presented for manufacturers who do not yet have the technology or the resource to implement or scale up new ideas still in pilot phase.
The contributions of the panelists demonstrated the diversity of perspectives needed to drive comprehensive and impactful change.
Panel 2: Culture, People, Heritage, and Sustainability
The Be the Change Summit 2023 continued its journey of exploration and discussion with the second panel; “Culture, People, Heritage, and Sustainability”. The conversation sought to convey the value of cultural heritage in driving sustainable practices.
The main speakers for this panel were Celia B. Elumba, Chief Technical Advisor of the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), and Dr. Joseph Lo, Consultant at UNESCO and advisor to the World Craft Council (Asia-Pacific Region). The discussion was moderated by Kennie Ting, Director of the Asian Civilizations Museum and the Peranakan Museum, as well as an advisor to the Asian Craftmanship for the Singapore Fashion Council.
Explaining Culture, People and Heritage
Elumba began with an introduction on cultural heritage, focusing on the preservation of traditional textiles in the Philippines. She called for support in safeguarding traditional knowledge in crafts that are passed down from generation-to-generation. Highlighting they form part of a community’s cultural identity and history.
The panel moved on to discuss ‘people’ and flipped the topic around asking us “What is it that we should engage in and how would we like to be remembered in 50 years” Do we want to be remembered as a victim, a bystander, or a participate of change?
Ultimately, the desire to be remembered as a participant of change resonates with the idea of leaving a legacy and acted as prompt for us to reflect on our current choices and actions.
The question of scalability was then discussed as whether the change being pursued can have a significant and lasting impact. Without scalability, even the most well-intentioned and impactful initiatives might remain limited in their scope and ability to drive significant change.
What is Sustainability?
The panelist then gave an insightful introduction to the term “Sustainability” with a breakdown of the Triple Bottom Line.
“Sustainability: People, Planet, Profit” is a framework often referred to as the Triple Bottom Line. This concept emphasises on the interconnectedness of social, environmental, and economic factors in achieving long term sustainable development. The idea behind the framework is that for any initiative, business, or action to be truly sustainable, it must consider the well-being of people, the health of the planet, and economic prosperity.
The panel emphasised “We do not have a second planet” illustrating the urgency of addressing sustainability and finding a balance.
They used an example of a designer who transitioned from creating new garments to offering lessons on repairing and maintaining clothing. The shift aligns well with the principles of the Triple Bottom Line framework.
People: By offering lessons on how to repair and maintain clothing, the designer is contributing to the well-being of people. Repairing garments encourages consumers to develop practical skills that can help them extend the life span of their clothing. This not only save money but also empowers individuals. To take control of their possessions and become less dependent on disposable fashion.
Planet: The fashion industry is notorious for its environmental impact due to over consumption, waste generation, and resource depletion. By promoting repair and reusability of clothing, the designer is actively addressing the “Planet” dimension of sustainability. Repairing clothes reduces the need for new garments, which in turn reduces the need for raw materials, energy intensive manufacturing processes, and the overall carbon footprint associated with the production and transportation of new clothing.
Profit: From a business perspective, the designers pivot towards offering repair lessons can still be financially sustainable. Whilst selling services instead of new garments may require a different business model, it can attract customers who value sustainable practices and want to learn practical skills. Moreover, it aligns with the growing consumer demand for ethical and environmental conscious products and services.
The example highlights how a shift in perspective and business strategy can lead to a positive impact on both industry and society at large. It demonstrates that sustainable practices can be innovative and aligned with consumer values. It serves as an inspirating illustration of how small changes can contribute to a more sustainable future.
The panel then moved on to the importance of measurement as a cornerstone of sustainability. They encouraged industry to adopt ways to track the environmental impact of a garment. This includes measuring factors such as water usage and energy consumption. The panelists highlighted the significance of knowing not only where our clothes come from but also how they are made, under what conditions, and the ethos of the brand behind them.
In the pursuit of accountability, the panel suggested the need for a quantifiable system to assess brands sustainability practices. Like checking the mileage of a secondhand car, they proposed a method of grading brands based on specific sustainability metrics. Such a system could provide consumers with a clear indication of a brands environmental impact, encouraging conscious choices that align with sustainability goals.
Drawing a parallel with food labelling, the panelists explored the potential of energy measurement as a means of transparency. Like how food label indicates the amount of sugar in ingredients, they question a similar approach could be applied to energy consumption in fashion production. The concept could enable consumers to make informed decisions based on quantifiable metric, further incentivizing brands to adopt sustainable practices.
Certifications emerged as another topic of discussion. The speakers highlighted the role of certifications to assess and grade brands sustainability efforts. Just as organic or fair-trade certifications offer assurance to consumers in the food industry, certification in fashion could serve as indicator or responsible practices and ethical production. BSCI Amfori, ICS and SEDEX are 3 examples of current certification standards currently used.
The networking lunch provided a unique and enriching opportunity for professionals and experts to come together and engage in meaningful discussions about sustainability.
We had a diverse group of thought leaders on our table including Edwin Keh; CEO of the Hong Kong Research Institute of textiles and Apparel. Kevin Kho: Research Biochemical Engineer. Cristina Kountiou: founding director of Revive Consulting, a dedicated advocate for responsible business practices. My husband Gilles Woo: Managing Director of Consumer Knitex, Bangladesh, a key figure in overseeing the operations of our textile factory and spinning mill. My self Gen Woo: Designer and founder of Gen Woo, a small sustainable retail brand in Singapore.
During the networking lunch, the conversation delved into various aspects of the textile industry in Hong Kong and Singapore. Among the discussions Edwin Keh provided valuable insights into the historical dynamics of retail brands shifting their Asia hubs. He recounted that in 1997 brands had relocated from Hong Kong to Singapore but eventually reverted, he thought the same would happen this time round. Edwin expressed his confidence that Singapore would find its place in the fashion landscape, but its small size was problematic.
The conversation then turned to ITMA International Textile Machinery Exhibition, a renowned and influential trade fair that focuses on textile and garment technologies. Held in Milan this year, it showcases a display of cutting-edge technologies and innovations that drive the textile and apparel manufacturing industry forward. Exhibitors present their latest machinery, equipment, software solutions, and materials that optimize production processes, enhance efficiency, reduce environmental impact, and improve the overall quality of textiles and garments.
Most members of the table attended the fair back in June 23 and shared their observations. Gilles Woo the managing director of Consumer Knitex noted that amidst the current economic and environmental climate, many industry players were hesitant to invest in new machinery. Instead, the focus appeared to be on improving chemicals and dyes, which contribute to reduced water consumption, chemical usage, and processing time. These improvements would lead to energy savings and shorter production lead times. This was evident from observations of footfall around the fair.
The dialogue extended to marketing strategies in the fashion industry and the integration of technology, particularly high-fashion brands like Gucci. We discussed tech and high fashion targeting Generation Alpha through platforms like Roblox, where virtual clothing is purchased, high lighting the evolving nature of consumer behaviour and the growing influence of technology on fashion trends.
The networking lunch provided a unique platform for industry professionals to exchange insights and perspectives on the various facets of the textile and fashion landscape.
Panel 3: The Evolution of Technology for the Future of Fashion
The panel titled “The Evolution of Technology for the Future of Fashion” marked a thought-provoking continuation of the day’s discussions. Kwok So Cheer: Digital solutions leader PwC Singapore shed light on the profound changes occurring within the fashion industry as it embraces technology in way previously unexplored. Six key themes emerged as focal points of discussion.
Supply Chain Disruption: The digital integration of technology is fundamentally altering traditional supply chains. From digital platforms for souring raw materials to block chain enabled transparency in production, technology is enhancing visibility, traceability, and efficiency throughout the supply chain.
E-commerce Transformation: E-commerce has become an integral part of the fashion industry. The panel explored how technology advancements are revolutionising online shopping experiences, including personalised recommendations, virtual try-on’s, and seamless checkout processes, all contributing to enhanced consumer engagement and convenience.
Gamification: The gamification of fashion is leveraging technology to create interactive and engaging experiences. Whether through mobile app’s, quizzes, or interactive campaigns, gamification offers new ways for brands to connect with consumers and build brand loyalty.
Augmented Reality (AR): Augmented reality is enhancing the way consumers interact with fashion. From virtual fitting rooms that allow customers to try on clothes virtually to AR-powered fashion shows, technology is blurring the lines between the physical and the digital realms, offering experiences that drive consumer engagement.
Metaverse Exploration: The emergence of the metaverse, a virtual shared space- has sparked discussions about its potential impact on fashion. Panelist delved into how fashion brands are experimenting with virtual store fronts, virtual fashion items, and even collaborations within metaverse environments.
Artificial Intelligence (AI): AI is driving innovation across the fashion life cycle. The panel explored how AI is being used for trend forecasting, personalised marketing, and supply chain optimisation.
Leonard Lin: Global head of public affairs and Singapore GM of SHEIN joined So Cheer, Cliff Szu and the panel was moderated by Sharon Lim. Leonard, a representative from SHEIN, shared strategies that the company has adopted into their operations. One high light was SHEIN collaboration with Queen of Raw, a tech company specialising in sustainable fabric sourcing and circular solutions.
Leonard explained that SHEIN leverages Queen of Raws software, Materia MX, to source high-quality deadstock excess fabrics from other brands. These unused fabrics are made available to SHEIN designers.
Additionally, SHEIN has launched a platform called SHEIN exchange, which is a peer-to-peer resale program. The initiative caters to the demand within SHEIN community for a centralised destination where users can buy and sell previously own SHEIN products.
Panel 4: Talent Development for the Future Fashion Economy
The final panel focus shifted to evolving landscape of the fashion industry and the changing nature of job functions within it. The last decade has witnessed profound shifts in consumer preferences, sustainability expectations, and a growing demand for transparency. These changes have given rise to new challenges and opportunities, which in turn have led to the emergence of new roles and skills sets.
Educational institutions, training programs and industry partnerships are working to develop a talent pool that can navigate the complexities of the modern fashion economy. By understanding and preparing for these new job functions, individuals and the industry at large can better adapt to the changing demands and opportunities presented by the future of fashion.
The summit focused on a diverse array of topics across four panel sessions, each delving into critical aspects of the fashion ecosystem:
The overarching theme of the summit discussed the evolving landscape of the fashion industry regarding sustainability. As the insatiable demand for fast fashion continues to strain resources and contribute to environmental degradation, the summit aimed to educate and encourage different participants, including businesses, consumers, and communities, demonstrating a need for collaboration and a multifaceted approach to drive lasting change.
In closing, I would like to extend my sincere gratitude to all the speakers and panelists who contributed their insights, expertise, and experiences through the day. The discussions were inspiring, reminding me of the tremendous potential for positive change within the industry. I have learned so much from the collective wisdom and I will apply the knowledge gained in my role as a fashion designer and creative director of my brand Gen Woo.