Mission goes behind the scenes of the annual summit in Costa Rica that’s shaping the sustainable fashion industry.
Costa Rica was named the “most environmentally advanced place on earth” by the New Economics Foundation in 2016—the country runs on 99% renewable energy, and roughly 25% of its land is protected as national reservation. So, it’s very fitting that a country which has proven itself to be a pioneer in environmental awareness initiatives would also pave the way for sustainable efforts in the fashion industry. This year saw the foundation of the Costa Rica Fashion Summit, a new annual meeting of fashion innovators founded by CEO Andrea Somma-Trejos and held in San Jose. Says Somma-Trejos of the reason she created the Summit,
““Some time ago I was shocked to find out that fashion was the second most polluting industry in the world, and as a fashion lover and philanthropist felt that I had to take action and change that for good. It’s my commitment with my seven year old daughter to show her that we need to be the change we want to see.”
The Summit itself produced no waste by using glass and yucca-based biodegradable products instead of plastic. Since fashion is one of the most polluting industries globally—beat only by the oil industry—any discussion addressing solutions to this problem and alternatives to our current practices is pertinent.
The Costa Rica Fashion Summit was a fresh and relevant attempt to bring this conversation to the global playing field. The conference, which was held from August 3-4 of this year in conjunction with the Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week San Jose, included panels hosted by some of the country’s leaders in sustainable fashion while giving local fashion entrepreneurs a place to showcase their work. These ethics are incorporated seamlessly into the practices of the brands that presented at the Summit due in large part to the fact that they are based in an area which boasts an environmentally conscious ethos at the core of the country itself. While sustainability and environmental consciousness is undoubtedly “in” in the US, these issues are fundamental values in Costa Rica which is reflected in the work that their fashion innovators create.
Since Costa Rica does not have an organized fashion industry as is present in the US, the Summit aims to provide their attendees with tools and knowledge necessary to compete in the global sphere of fashion marketing. And attendees certainly learned from the best—notable speakers at this year’s summit included Carmen Busquets, keynote speaker and advisor to the Summit who made a career as an investor in pioneering sustainable companies such as Farfetch, Moda Operandi, and Business of Fashion; Karla Martinez de Salas, editor in chief of Vogue Mexico and Latin America; and Stefan Siegel, cofounder and CEO of Not Just A Label. These industry leaders participated in talks and panels which covered relevant ethical issues like social justice, corporate responsibility, environmental sustainability, slow fashion, and consumer empowerment.These topics are increasingly relevant in the landscape of the global fashion industry today, with more and more brands clamoring to incorporate their own solutions to these issues in their business practices.
Somma-Trejos quoted the visionary Vivienne Westwood in her commencement speech for the event--she says, “Buy less, choose well, make it last.” This quote shows the abilities that we as consumers have to shift the way that fashion is produced. As Somma says, “If we don’t buy it, it won’t last on the market. If we do buy it, other brands will follow suit.” The attendees at the Summit are responding directly to the consumer’s vested interest in the future of the planet, which has spilled over into the business models of more mainstream brand names. Somma-Trejos expounded on Westwood’s oft-quoted slogan, explaining how exactly we can incorporate these practices into our shopping experiences:
“Buy less, because we don’t really need that many more things to enter the system. The fashion industry is one of the most polluting industries in the world, and by buying less, we limit the damage we make on our planet. Choose well, because what you choose to consume does not just directly affect the damage that could have been made with that particular purchase, but it also sends a message to the rest of the industry: we want our clothes to be made by people who are earning a good living wage, in a safe environment, and whose work days are not longer than ours. Make it last does not only mean that we needn’t buy more and add to the weight of this already exaggerated market, but it also means that we need to give our clothes more value. Look after them,' say Somma-Trejos.
Solutions to the growing problem of pollution in the fashion industry cannot simply be remedied with a catchy slogan t-shirt or by avoiding fast-fashion stores (which is not always financially feasible), and the Summit seeks to address these issues in a more impactful and permanent way in order to allow consumers with access to sustainable options for the everyday.
By Bailey Calfee