The Fashion for Good Experience will make us rethink what we wear
This tech-driven sustainable clothing museum is a good look on everyone
Jessica Gyasi pushes through the glass doors of the world’s newest fashion museum. Wearing a black shirt, printed hairband and red lipstick, the Dutch model and filmmaker grabs a stylish interactive bracelet and begins to look around. She admires a Stella McCartney dress dyed by Colorifix using engineered microorganisms. She designs, prints and models a sustainable Cradle to Cradle T-shirt, then walks over to check out what’s on sale in the ethical fashion shop.
As promotional videos go, it’s exceptionally cool, but the Fashion For Good Experience, a tech-driven sustainable fashion museum that opened in Amsterdam last week, has arrived at a high point for eco fashion. Stars includng Emma Watson, Gwyneth Paltrow and Olivia Wilde have all teamed up with ethical brands, while H&M has created a successful Conscious line and Asos is offering an Eco Edit. An Instagram search for the hashtag #ethicalfashion generates two million results; for #sustainablefashion it’s 2.5m.
When exactly did sustainability shake off its worthy, jute-and-Birkenstocks image? McCartney gives the movement some high fashion credibility, but recalls that she was seen as an eccentric when she launched her brand in 2001 and began sending vegan shoes down the runway. “People thought I was nuts,” she told Vogue last year. “How can you go into the fashion industry and not use leather?”
Gradually, though, growing concern about climate change has made the fashion sector’s wasteful practices – it is the second most polluting industry in the world after oil – seem very uncool. And when the Rana Plaza sweatshop collapsed in Bangladesh five years ago, killing more than 1,000 workers, consumers began to realise the human cost of their fast-fashion purchases.
The Fashion For Good Experience aims to feed that growing appetite for ethical and sustainable style, showing visitors how they can look good without harming the planet. “We think sustainability and fashion can walk hand-in-hand, especially if consumers drive the conversation,” explains Jake Barton, founder of Local Projects, the design studio behind the Experience. “We enable that conversation through a series of interactive exhibits and activations where visitors can learn about the past, present and future of the fashion industry.”
Welcoming visitors to the building is an installation of Econyl yarns, made of nylon waste collected from oceans and landfill sites around the world. Exhibits inside include a timeline showing the history of labour rights, sustainability and innovation in the fashion industry, and The Journey of a T-shirt, which explores the eight stages involved in designing, making and selling a cotton-polyester mix T-shirt – helping to explain the social and environmental impact of an item that almost everyone owns.
At the heart of the experience are the interactive bracelets, through which visitors can save information they have learnt, and commit to ways in which they can make a difference. “Each action and commitment is saved to visitors’ profiles, and at the end of their journey, they take home a personalised Good Fashion Action Plan, a digital guide with tips for extending what they learnt into their daily lives,” explains Barton, whose previous projects include the 9/11 memorial in New York.
The action points are based on supporting the “five goods”: good materials, economy, energy, water and lives, and make it clear that there’s much we can do as consumers. With the average European buying 60 per cent more clothing than they would have 15 years ago and keeping it (according to Greenpeace) for half as long, the Experience asks visitors to think about what they need rather than rushing out to buy cheap clothes in high volumes. Tips are shared on how to buy and select clothes (for example by shopping second-hand, or from innovative local designers). And rather than discarding unwanted clothing – around 70 per cent of which ends up being burnt or in landfill – we can give old clothes to a textile recycling programme.
It’s all music to the ears of Arizona Muse who, along with fellow model Lily Cole and sustainable fashion designer Orsola de Castro, is one of the museum’s ambassadors. “The Fashion for Good Experience is an amazing way of engaging and inspiring visitors on sustainability and innovations, showing that good fashion can still be cool, fun and wild,” she says.
Her personal picks from The Good Shop include a pair of red Adidas x Stella McCartney trainers made with Parley Ocean Plastic (“the colour is right on for fall”) and a recycled nylon backpack by EcoAlf that she describes as “big and practical but still stylish”.
With international influencers like Muse and Gyasi raising awareness one Instagram post at a time, the team behind the Fashion For Good Experience is confident that they can drive change at an individual and industry level. It’s been a long time coming, but the ethical fashion trend is a good look on everyone.