Charlotte Turner manages and implements The Sustainable Angle’s projects including the Future Fabrics Expo and the Future Fabrics Virtual Expo, both aimed at showcasing the latest sustainable materials and resources to the fashion and sportswear industries.
We caught up with her to talk fashion, design and positivity.
How do you think the fashion industry can influence consumer demand for sustainable and ethical production?
To start with, the fashion industry can do a lot to help educate consumers by clearly (and honestly) communicating about their products, and the story behind making and sourcing them. Without brands providing this information, it’s very difficult for customers to get a clear picture of what they’re buying, especially in relation to issues of ethics and sustainability.
If brands show a sincere commitment to creating more sustainably and ethically produced products, and communicating honestly, customers are at least able to make more informed decisions about what they’re buying.
Through speaking with brands and consumers I’ve also found that typically issues related to human ethics are easier for people to connect with and understand, through being able to empathise with other people’s situations.
This does mean environmental sustainability can sometimes be overlooked, so what we’ve been trying to do with the Future Fabrics Expo is also highlight issues affecting the environment, and the impact that the textiles we make and buy have on our planet.
Over the past few years we’ve been visited by hundreds of designers and buyers from global fashion and sports brands, who have been able to discover and learn about hundreds of materials with a reduced environmental impact – just providing this platform has meant that these brands now have more information themselves to provide their customers with.
The film The True Cost recently created a huge amount of buzz for its uncompromising look at clothing manufacture. Why does now seem the right time for this conversation?
Conversations related to the issues and impacts of clothing and textiles production have been going on out of the spotlight for a very long time.
However, the film True Cost has come out close to the second anniversary of the Rana Plaza factory collapse, which was a disaster of such a huge scale that it’s shown brands and consumers alike that it’s vital the industry makes widespread systemic changes to stop such dangerous working practices, and prevent further disasters like this.
We’re at a completely unsustainable level of demand and consumption, and I think people are realizing they have the potential to effect positive change.
The words ‘sustainable’ and ‘ethical’ are often used as marketing tools, rather than being asserted as essential elements of business. Do you see this attitude changing?
This has really been an issue over the last decade or so, but as consumers are becoming wise to companies’ marketing ploys, it’s more and more commercially essential for brands to focus on authentic communication and transparency, otherwise they’ll lose trust and loyalty.
Having run Future Fabrics Expo workshops and consulted for high street, luxury, and independent brands, it’s been positive for us to see that there’s definitely an increasing commitment to this at all levels of the market.
How do you think sustainability and design can influence each other?
One of the key elements of design is creatively problem solving to come up with a product or service that meets the needs and desires of your customers – that looks great and functions to a high level, whilst still being good value.
So sustainability is another problem solving element that should ideally be inherent in all aspects of a product from it’s design through to production, and should never be in place of aesthetics and function – we’ve seen repeatedly that a product is hard to sell based purely on being sustainable.
This means that design and sustainability have an interesting relationship – they should go hand in hand, rather than being considered independently from each other. Again through the research and textiles sourcing we’ve been doing over the last few years, visiting trade shows in Europe and China, we’re proving that one of the key areas for sustainability improvements – materials – offers a vast array of high quality, desirable, and commercially feasible alternatives to today’s most used (and unsustainable) materials, cotton and polyester.
Hundreds of materials from our collection can be seen here in the run up to the 5th Future Fabrics Expo in September.
What’s the most difficult part of your job?
Juggling all the different tasks – a key part of my job is researching new materials and innovations, which entails visiting international trade fairs and conferences in Europe and Asia, as well as desk-based research.
Alongside this I plan the annual Future Fabrics Expo and manage our communications, so the main challenge is to juggle and balance all of these tasks – as with any fashion related business, we’re constantly focusing on today, tomorrow, and next year, and in a small organization like ours, everybody faces similar challenges.
How do you maintain a positive work/life balance?
It’s hard but you just need to remember the world won’t stop turning if you answer that email tomorrow rather than tonight, and that you definitely do your best work when you’ve had a chance to switch off and rest – the key is to be strict and allow yourself to fully disconnect each night.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given?
Never assume that just because you know something seemingly obvious, everybody else does – this constantly helps me to remember why we communicate the way we do at the Future Fabrics Expo, and also to learn from others on a daily basis.
That, and ‘your inbox is full of other people’s priorities’ – I think I read that recently in an article about managing email!
The Future Fabrics Virtual Expo is an online destination to discover a curated range of sustainable fabrics, and information regarding sustainability in the textile industry, rigorously researched by The Sustainable Angle. Receive a 10% discount by using the code: POSITIVE15. This online tool aims to introduce fabrics buyers and designers to international mills and suppliers of sustainable textiles, providing a sneak preview of hundreds of fabrics ahead of the free-of-charge 5th Future Fabrics Expo, 29-30 September in London.