Using fashion to increase awareness of global human rights issues is a mission that former refugee-turned-designer Céline Semaan has a strong, personal connection with. So when the United Nations recently approached her to create a Study Hall Conference at the UN headquarters supported by the UN Office for Partnerships, she didn’t hesitate to say yes. “Returning home to a post-war country, seeing the cost the war had both on my people and on the land, has created a form of a mission in me,” she previously explained to Vogue Arabia. “The presence of the UN in conflict zones is not new but growing up with the awareness of its presence on our land and their impact on our lives has always fascinated me,” stated the founder and CEO of Slow Factory.
Thus, on February 1, Semaan led a major Study Hall during New York Fashion Week alongside UN officials, the fashion industry’s leaders, designers, scientists, researchers, and activists like Dapper Dan and Phillip Lim with allies like Tesla, Adidas, G-Star Raw, and Swarovski to explore sustainability in fashion under the theme “Good for the Earth and Good for the People.”
Below, Semaan notes the five key takeaways from the jam-packed event.
#1. Inclusion and diversity are a core part of solving the lack of sustainability
“If we want to begin to see change, we must change the way the system within which we operate is designed.”
#2. Waste must be looked as a resource
“As we have seen with Orange Fibers, who take orange peel waste and turn it into silk. Their latest collaboration with Ferragamo has proven that such a process is needed. They are not the only ones looking at waste as a resource. In previous Study Hall companies, such as The New Denim Project who take textile waste to turn it into denim, as well as Osomtex, also working with textile waste to create a new fabric presented their work as part of this conference series.”
#3. Intersectionality is key in order to foster cutting edge innovation
“How can space technology enable innovation around social justice and sustainability was tackled by Dr. Minoo Rathsnasabapathy from Space Enabled program at MIT Media Lab. She was discussing solutions along with Microbiome expert Ara Katz, founder of Seed and Pashon Murray, founder of Detroit Dirt looking at the health of our soil in relation with future harvest and the overall health of our planet.”
#4. Solutions already exist
“It is a matter of taking a leap of faith in changing the current processes brands rely on. Sanjeev Bahl, founder of Saitex, shared the recent innovations in the denim space at his factory in Vietnam. He is making the cleanest denim out there and works with brands like G-Star Raw, whose denim and sustainability expert Adriana Galijasevic was also there to share how they effectively achieved the first cradle-to-cradle denim.”
#5. Marketing is dead
“The new way to connect with your audience is by investing in things that matter to them. Research and Development working to advance the Sustainable Development Goals is what we hoped to influence the packed room to begin exploring. Slow Factory, who has been creating products for the past seven years, is now pivoting into an open agency model. Working hand in hand with scientists, researchers, and activists around concrete solutions is needed now more than ever. It is time we make less but better products focussing on closing the loop of waste as soon as possible.”
You can watch the full conference here.