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October 24, 2017
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The second edition of the international Beyond Fashion Summit 2012 takes place at Station-Berlin on November 14 and 15. Source: beyondberlin.com.

In order to protect the planet for future generations, what will the fashion industry need to look like 20 years from now? On November 14 and 15, the brightest minds of the German fashion and textile industries will make their way to the Beyond Fashion Summit in Berlin, an annual gathering that aims to develop and promote sustainable fashion initiatives through innovation.

Beyond Berlin Fashion Summit 2012
Photograph courtesy of Beyond Berlin.

Now in its second year, the summit is organised by Beyond Berlin, a consulting agency for sustainable fashion and lifestyle labels. The agency's three founders - Lena Nocke, Frans Prins and Fredericke Winkler - are eager to make a difference in the fashion market and change the way fashion is consumed. Before launching the agency in November 2010, the trio had collectively racked up 15 years of experience in the sustainable fashion industry across a wide range of sectors including retail, design, consulting and academia. While working together at the eco-fashion trade show, THEKEY.TO., organising various workshops, one of Beyond Berlin's partners, Christliche Initiative Romero, encouraged them to organise a workshop themselves, leading to the births of the agency and the summit.

Every year, the summit focuses on a particular aspect of the industry; last year's inaugural summit focused on the relationship between "Ethics and Aesthetics". This year's theme is "Hypernature" - the interaction of ecology and technology. The summit asks the question: "In what way can new technologies and digital solutions support sustainable production?" The aim is to provoke discussion on how sustainable, technological advances can and will shape the fashion industry. After all, as the summit's website notes, it's not as simple as saying man-made is bad and "natural" is good; even many "sustainable" fashion products go through long, and possibly messy, supply chains. The summit questions whether a new vision of sustainability in fashion needed - one where technology plays a vital role.

And these days, according to Winkler, sustainability translates into innovation, technologies and improvement. "Anybody who claims that he is an expert in sustainable fashion is lying. [The field] is an ever-developing, never-ending process of innovation and new technologies. You need to constantly keep your head in the game to be up-to-date,” Winkler explains bluntly. Winkler provides the example of turning tobacco plant by-products into textiles fibres using resource-friendly technologies that use less energy and water. It's these kinds of innovations, it seems, that will help bring sustainable fashion to a broader market.

...it's not as simple as saying man-made is bad and "natural" is good; even many "sustainable" fashion products go through a long, and possibly messy, supply chains. The summit questions whether a new vision of sustainability in fashion needed - one where technology plays a vital role.

Speakers for the summit will be coming from within and beyond the borders of Germany, including Beth Mortimer, a third-year PhD student at the University of Oxford studying the biology of silks with Oxford Silk Group; and Peter Waeber, a Swiss chemist and textile engineer who is the CEO of Bluesign, developers of an auditing system over the environmental, health and safety procedures of textile production processes.

Also included among the speakers is Suzanne DeVall, founder and chairman of Ploughboy Organics, an American company that is converting the tobacco plant into a renewable source of dyes and textiles. DeVall says she is happy to participate in the summit, believing that it "draws the leaders in fashion and technology," noting that "Germany has made a significant commitment and impact on safe and non-toxic manufacturing practices."

According to Winkler, 90 guests participated at last year's summit, and this year she expects between 120 to 150 guests. "Last time, we worked within our personal and business networks. This year we expect sales representatives from big companies; some of them will send two or three of their staff. That's a huge success for us." Smaller labels, independent designers and NGOs are also expected, including GOTS (Global Organic Textile Standard), the Clean Clothes Campaign and Greenpeace International.

On the summit's progress and impact so far, Winkler points out, "The hardest thing is to offer solutions for the mass industry, to get them interested, not just [solutions] for small labels and companies already focusing on sustainability." Despite the challenges, Winkler holds out hope that the summit will make an impact in the future: "If you look at it, we're growing quite slowly, but as one of my colleagues says, 'quality is more important than quantity' - to take your time and do it right rather than rush things. That's the sustainable way, isn't it?"

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