“If it’s not inclusive, it’s not sustainable,” said Andrea Somma yesterday during her introductory speech at the inaugural Omina Summit. The co-founder and CEO of the non-profit organization was referencing the need to make the concept of sustainability more accessible and democratize the fashion industry so that it benefits everyone, some of the key drivers behind the event currently taking place in Costa Rica. It is hoped that the discussions taking place will inspire the fashion industry to take decisive action on the issue of sustainability, and most importantly, to commit to change.
In partnership with Livia Firth’s Eco-Age, Andrea and Omina Summit co-founder Carmen are looking to instigate a global manifesto for change, and in contrast with other similar initiatives hope to address the often elitist and closed-door feel associated with the fashion industry, which they believe has led to many people feeling alienated or confused by current discussions surrounding sustainability. And the presentations and panel discussions on day one, which focused on everything from the wellbeing economy to the sharing economy, certainly set the tone for the three-day event.
Costa Rica was a natural choice for the host country, given its status as a leader in social progress and sustainability in the region. ‘A development success story’, according to the OECD, Pedro Beirute, Director of the Costa Rican Promotion Office for Foreign Trade, explained to the audience in his opening address how the country has demonstrated that robust economic growth can be achieved hand-in-hand with high levels of wellbeing for all citizens, while simultaneously protecting the environment; a little-known yet extremely impressive fact that prompted Livia Firth to ask, “How do you apply for a passport?” in the Q&A that followed.
Omina also welcomed Professor Katherine Trebeck, the research director of the Wellbeing Economies Alliance (WEAll), to the summit yesterday to share with the audience the organization’s holistic and forward-thinking vision. Echoing the approach adopted by Costa Rica, the WEAll is looking to bring about a major transformation of our world view, society and economies by shunning the prevailing ‘GDP growth at all costs’ systems in favor of economies aimed at also achieving sustainable wellbeing, with dignity and fairness for humans and the rest of nature. A blend of initiatives, the WEAll has already facilitated the coming together of governments from Costa Rica, New Zealand, Slovenia and Scotland, each having committed to being pioneers in implementing the new proposals, which Professor Trebeck succinctly explained represent “economies working for us, not the other way around.”
In the first of several ‘In Conversation’ sessions to be held during the summit, Gisele Bündchen spoke with environmentalist and activist Paul Hawken about Project Drawdown, a comprehensive plan to reverse global warming and the subject of his latest best-selling book. Known by many for her unprecedented modelling career, Bündchen is now widely recognized for her long-standing and passionate commitment to the environment, which as Paul Hawken was keen to highlight, has introduced the world to the woman and mother behind the famous face, and he thanked her for her work not only championing sustainability but in supporting his own environmental cause.
Explaining that ‘Drawdown’ - the point in time when the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere begins to decline on a year-to-year basis - was chosen as the name for the project as it was felt if the goal was the name it was more likely to be achieved, Hawken went on to say, somewhat surprisingly, how “The number one solution to global warming is educating girls and family planning”. Education, he believes, equips girls and women to face the impacts of climate change, and in turn they can be more effective stewards of food, soil, trees, and water, even as nature’s cycles change. And active management of their reproductive health will, he feels, result in fewer and healthier children, with the consequent curbing of population growth leading to a reduction in emissions.
One of 100 solutions, Hawken was at pains to point out that he and his colleagues didn’t devise them, and that they are all currently in existence and simply need to be acted upon. And inaction is unfortunately a feature of the entire debate surrounding sustainability, which despite having been a much-discussed topic in the fashion industry for years now, has seen very little movement. As Sharon Chang candidly put it during her talk entitled ‘Re-imagining sustainability’, “If so many people are working on sustainability, why aren’t we there yet?” The self-titled Future Architect delivered a provocative address that prompted the audience to consider what it is that is holding us back. And she questioned what rules we are afraid to break, the taboo subjects we need to broach and the truths we need to confront in order to instigate change, challenging both current thinking and practice on sustainability.
Carmen opened the summit’s afternoon session, hosting a panel discussion centered around the sharing economy and how it can help tackle climate change. Panelists Ytzia Belausteguigoitia (Troquer), Shanin Molinaro (VillageLuxe) and Trisha Gregory (Armarium) are all part of this new approach to shopping, which by favoring access over ownership fosters a spirit of sustainability. And Ben Demiri, co-founder of Platforme, spoke about how the customized ‘made to order’ products his company helps create for luxury brands taps into today’s need to reduce waste and overconsumption.
Closing day one was a discussion on social innovation that really captured the spirit of the summit, and spoke directly to Andrea Somma’s call for inclusivity. Hosted by Celina de Sola of Glasswing International, the El Salvador-based charity that gives vulnerable children across Latin America access to quality education and safe spaces, panel participants Amy Christiansen Si-Ahmed of Sana Jardin, Cameron Saul of Bottletop, Lula Mena, Linda McGlathery and Maris Stella, who work on social projects in El Salvador, Guatemala and Costa Rica, and Jasmine Aarons of Made by Voz, represented the entrepreneurs and innovators investing in local artisans, while among the contributing audience were Entre Costuras craftswomen from Guatemala. Visibly moved by being involved in the event, the participation by these women highlighted the summit’s democratic approach to addressing sustainability, a baton that will hopefully be picked up by others seeking to effect change – especially on the human level.
Everyone sat up just a bit straighter, even the most jet-lagged members of the audience, when Jasmine Aarons, showed her presentation. A strongly ethical brand that also employs rural indigenous craftswoman, the collections were surprisingly fashion-forward, defined by strong draping and silhouettes, and luxe touches. Moving very far away from the tree-hugger aesthetic that some associate with sustainable fashion, Made by Voz is a reminder to everyone that we must meet the criteria for beautiful design in addition to ethical credentials.
Photos: Tatiana Marín