By Chere Di Boscio
With over a thousand people dead and more than 2,500 badly injured, all in the name of fast fashion, the Rana Plaza disaster was a wake up call for many. For the first time in history, people were made fully aware of the consequences of their cheap fashion habits, and they were motivated to do something about it.
Patrick Duffy is definitely one of those people.
After hearing about Rana Plaza, he decided to put his experience developing networks and activating ideas for creative teams in New York, London and Los Angeles to work to promote more sustainable fashion choices. He founded the Global Fashion Exchange (GFX) in 2013 in conjunction with Intandem Creatives, a Boutique Creative Agency that focuses on sustainability, design and the production around the world, and today Patrick is considered a true pioneer in the realm of sustainable fashion promotion.
In addition to his work with GFX, Patrick also manages global partnerships for Common Objective (CO) is an intelligent business network for the fashion industry.
Here, in this exclusive interview, he talks about style, swapping and a deep desire to change the world.
Tell us more about what sparked your interest in the sustainable fashion movement?
My interest in the movement came from my discovery of the fashion industry’s contribution to the world’s major pollution issue, after seeing the collapse of the Rana Plaza. At that point I realised I was contributing to the problem and promoting the disastrous cycle. I knew something had to change and that I needed to take action.
For example, did you know that more than ten million tonnes of clothing gets sent to landfills each year? Or that globally, only 16% of discarded textiles are reused or recycled? In fact the convenience of fast-fashion has meant that to the average lifespan of a garment is only seven wears! This and more make it clear to why the fashion industry is one of the most polluting industries in the world.
These figures blew me away, to the point of spurring me on to take action to do my bit to tackle this before the environmental effects became irreversible. So, I founded the Global Fashion Exchange (GFX) in 2013.
In your opinion, what are some of the greatest challenges facing the fashion industry today?
I would say the greatest challenges are to tackle the industry’s overall lack of consideration for the environment and empathy for the people who make our clothes. The fast-fashion industry is so overcome with convenience, we fail to think of the consequences of that ‘must have garment’!
Should the onus for those challenges fall more on the producer or consumer?
I believe accountability falls on both sides.
If the consumer wasn’t offered fast, disposable fashion by the producer, then they wouldn’t have the choice to overuse it. However, the producer might not feel they need to supply it in such high quantities if the consumer didn’t demand it. It is a vicious cycle and the sad truth!
As the onus is on both parties, we all need to make changes.
Consumers need to start taking responsibility of their shopping habits. Yes, fast fashion is cheaper, but it doesn’t last nearly as long as higher quality investment pieces. I don’t understand why people would buy ten pairs of low quality jeans, made from very little denim, that cost £20 each, but only last a few months, when you can buy one pair of high-quality jeans for around £150, created from fabrics which can last a lifetime, not just a season.
Producers need to be more considerate of the environment during the entire production process. The wasted resources are phenomenal, for example, the amount of water used to make just one T-shirt equates to 29 ten minute showers. It is the role of the producer to cut this number down as there must be another way to make garments.
Tell us a bit more about GFX. What’s your proudest accomplishment with the group so far today?
GFX is an international platform promoting sustainability in the fashion industry through inspiring forums, educational content and cultural events.
Our main aim is to educate the world on the environmental effects of the fashion and textile industry, to remove the stigma of second hand, recycled and upcycled garments and to swap, give new life to, one million pounds of clothing by the end of 2018. Essentially we are looking to revolutionise the world’s shopping habits!
From the very beginning, we have worked with some of the world’s top fashion brands to teach them the benefits of making environmentally-friendly decisions, such as the materials they use and how they dispose of any textile waste they might have.
In the five years GFX has been active, we have held SWAP + POP-UP TALKS events in some of the world’s major fashion capitals including New York and London, as well as Melbourne, Lisbon, Miami, Los Angeles, Bangalore, Toronto, and more. At these events, we invite the public to get involved in our high-end department style swaps which directly follow talks from influential people on the overall importance of sustainable fashion.
So far we’ve given over 300,000 pounds of textiles a new life. This number is also made possible with our partners and ambassadors from around the world including Fashion4Change (F4C), Fashion Revolution, Wearable Collections, Common Objective, and more! It’s a huge network of like minds who want to change the world!
Along with GFX, I also work and co-founded F4C with award- winning ethical photographer and director, Charney Magri. F4C is a content creation agency focused on delivering film, photography and telling the story that goes along with transformation The idea here is that we want to show what’s happening behind the scenes through rich and beautiful content to inspire industry wide change.
Additionally we have launched our consultancy which is quite unique. We work with brands who want to transform their supply change, help them to innovate and create new pathways to being “conscious companies”. That has been exciting as we are looking ahead and launching some really exciting stuff in the next year – stay tuned!
How do you see clothing swaps becoming more mainstream?
The only way is to take away the stigma of owning second-hand clothing. In recent years, vintage clothing has become more ‘on-trend’ and I think it is fantastic to see someone’s pre-loved high-quality piece being re-homed and loved again rather than being added to landfills. That is exactly what the GFX swaps are all about.
The GFX swaps have a great structure for how clothing is sorted and displayed. We sort clothing by quality and style – only hanging up the wearable pieces. We want our swaps to be more of a store shopping experience where everything is well displayed in a wearable condition. Everything else is given to the local waste authority, who we partner with for the event, and they responsibly recycle all textile waste.
We are also believers in the sharing economy. As there is an excess of “stuff” everywhere the world, it only makes sense to share. For so long we have bought into one way of doing things, there is no reason we can’t reframe how we move forward. It’s just going to take some work getting there.
In your everyday life, how do you manage to stay fashionable without consuming more clothing regularly?
My entire wardrobe is compiled of vintage second-hand clothing including pieces I’ve picked up from swap events. My favourite find is a designer suit I found on a fence years ago. To this day, I cannot believe that someone just discarded it like that! All I did to make it look new, was to freshen it up and took it to a tailor.
How can we tackle the economic/work issues that may arise with lower fashion production?
Economically the ‘manpower’ needed to handle the current state of global textile and general waste is huge. We need more people trying figure out how to remove the microfibres and plastics from our oceans, we need more people to go through our landfills and dumps to remove all recyclable materials and we definitely need more people monitoring societies recycling habits.
If (and hopefully, when) fashion production is lowered, more people will look into careers which help the environment rather than destroying it. With the reduction of low price low quality retailers, the public will have no choice other than to invest in their clothing.
Let’s take society back to the good old days before everything became disposable. If it’s broken, fix it! If it doesn’t fit anymore, swap or donate it! If you simply don’t like it anymore, upcycle it!
If this happened overnight, not only would that be amazing, but we would adapt faster than you think and our planet will thank us for it.
Any last words?
To celebrate GFX coming over the UK and to highlight sustainable fashion practices, cult fashion label FELDER FELDER have created a stunning one-of-a-kind dress, worth £1,000. The bespoke dress (above) has been made using six garments from the surplus stock of previous collections – including their SS13 signature Leo Butterfly print as seen on Rhianna and Elle Macpherson – which we are giving away on Instagram!
For a chance to win, simply take a picture of your favourite swapped or upcycled creation and tag @globalfashionexchange #GFXLondon.
If you’re in London at the end of September, join us at our next SWAP + POP-UP TALKS event.
To keep up with the latest GFX news by heading to our website www.globalfashionxchange.org or following us on social – Twitter – @mrpatrickduffy and @GFX_Change or Instagram – mrpatrickduffy and globalfashionexchange