Dress to Impact : A discussion on sustainable fashion

A mutual consensus was acknowledged at CREA on Tuesday night, as Merunisha Moonilal  proclaimed “Let’s face it girls, we all want to have something nice”, words that resonated with humbling notes of shameless indulgence.

Flooded with a constant stream of ‘influencers’ spotting the latest trends provided by fast-growing retail markets, it’s easy to lose sight of the realities facing the people behind the production of such garments. Six years ago the Rana Plaza disaster caused over 1,100 fatalities in Bangladesh due to structural failure but has yet to spark a legitimate outreach from its primary western consumers.

From left: Merunisha Moonilal in discussion with a UNICEF student representative. Sarah Iacobacci/ The Amsterdammer

It is with this intention that the UNICEF Student Team Amsterdam and the UvA Green Office hosted a New Year’s Revolution Sustainable Fashion Show, on the 5th of February, 2019. The event was donation based, with proceeds going to the building of emergency classrooms in Aleppo, Syria. It consisted of a two hour semi-interactive discussion on sustainability in the fashion industry, followed by a student run fashion show with appearances from the following brands: Ovaries, PAPER FETISH and Noumenon.

Merunisha Moonilal was the guest speaker, providing insight on the implications and potential solutions to the fashion industry’s role in social justice, child labour and fair supply chains. The initial conversation with a representative from the UNICEF student team was smoothly followed by a well-reciprocated interactive audience Q&A session.

This is not Moonilal’s first foray into the domain of sustainable fashion, having worked within the corporate industry for over 15 years, specifically corporate social responsibility (CSR), sustainability management for SME’s and apparels. Most recently a lecturer at HvA’s Amsterdam fashion institute for sustainable fashion, she is a fellow graduate from Utrecht University, having obtained a Master’s degree in Sustainable Business and Innovation.  

Beginning with establishing the divide between the global north and global south, she affirms that the act of limiting the purchase of clothing from Bangladesh is not the evident solution. In regard to corporate sustainability there are three pillars: people, planet and profits. It is undisputed that a business needs profit to survive. In which, after the need to assess environmental sustainability and social responsibility is required in order to create corporate sustainability. Albeit the fact that this debate has been in circulation since before the 70s, corporations have been swayed to do otherwise by the rewards generated from fast fashion. However, in recent years consumers and businesses alike have been more open to its possibilities with many corporation strategies involving CSR in part of the brand’s ethos.

As sustainability moves up in the agenda in both B2B and B2C relationships, Moonilal notices herself that in her own classroom of twenty students, there are about two to three who mention a future which blatantly involves sustainability. With that being said, if there are any benefits from the Rana Plaza incident, it’s that it has created momentum.

Moonilal further tears into the pit of the issue by unveiling that it’s a consumer’s responsibility to engage with their brands, knowing “what you have on your back”. Comparing it with society’s concern with knowing what one is consuming when eating, she reiterates that “responsibility is to take action and to take it consistently.”

Offering a less technical solution, she explains that in finding one’s style, the average consumer could practice a more sustainable lifestyle. Divulging the fact that she is currently wearing an H&M dress, she redeems herself by explaining that she has had it for four years and wears it regularly. Moreover, she further debunks the theory that all luxury brands are sustainable, having witnessed denim factories in Italy and factories in Poland in worst conditions than one’s in India.

With that being said, her concluding solution for the future is to invest in and work with technology. With the cotton shortage nearing, we have no other option than to turn to technology in hopes that it could find appropriate replacements.

The Q&A session then ended with a sea of applause as she listed Emma Watson as her ideal candidate to represent fashion sustainability. This was in response to how influencers are the solution in helping mainstream media change in order to accommodate sustainable fashion.

With an event that left many with more unanswered questions than upon arrival, the discussion was well received, as UvA student Julia Lepetow explains: “everything she said was very insightful, current and valuable. It was dense and a lot to take in, but it was very precious to look into it.” Magda Rymsza, a student from UWM Olsztyn, states that one thing to take-away from this event is “innovation”.

The event ended with the fashion show and, although short, there was much enthusiasm from the audience for the brands being showcased and the models.

If this article has sparked any interest, the UNICEF student team are looking for additional members. Further information can be found on their facebook page.

Post Author: Sarah Iacobacci

Sarah Iacobacci is a 20-year-old Canadian student, studying Communication Science at the UvA. She is the University reporter of The Amsterdammer.