With sustainability as one of its three areas of focus, this year's Be The Change fashion industry summit, organised by the Singapore Fashion Council (SFC), has controversial fast fashion company SHEIN as its gold sponsor.
When queried on the sponsorship, an SFC spokesperson highlighted the importance of collaboration and dialogue in making "meaningful and impactful" industry changes.
Fast fashion, the business model of rapidly producing apparel for cheap and for mass consumption, has attracted much criticism for its impact on the environment.
Online retailer SHEIN often takes centre stage in such criticisms.
Besides environmental impact, working conditions at the retailer's factories have also been a point of contention.
Sustainability one of three focuses this year
In his opening address, SFC president Wilson Teo pointed out that the first instalment of the fashion summit, which took place last year, had a strong focus on sustainability.
This year, in addition to sustainability, the summit will also focus on craft and culture as well as innovation and technology.
Teo highlighted that craft and culture give us "texture and soul of the products we are creating", but said they are often sidelined.
"What is their impact on people, heritage, and its role in a slower fashion world?" Teo remarked.
On innovation and technology, Teo alluded to the advent of technologies such as artificial intelligence, the metaverse and non-fungible tokens.
Circularity workshop and guide part of newly-launched initiatives
However, environmental sustainability was still a key fixture at this year's summit, which was themed "The Future of Fashion in Asia".
Teo commented on the role of stakeholders in tackling environmental issues in an SFC press release.
“As one of the most important industries that is driving the global economy, every stakeholder in the supply chain - from the government to businesses, and to the consumers - has a hand to play in tackling on-going environmental challenges and building a more sustainable fashion ecosystem, for a better world."
A number of new capacity-building initiatives and partnerships turn Singapore into a "sustainable fashion hub" were announced by SFC at the summit.
For example, SFC shared in its press release that it will be partnering Temasek Polytechnic to develop a specialist diploma in sustainable fashion. The course will see its first intake in October 2023.
SFC will also be launching a circularity workshop and resource guide.
The workshop and guide are meant to help companies understand the landscape of circular fashion in the Southeast Asia context, as well as develop long-term sustainable development goals, SFC added.
Collaboration and dialogue integral: SFC spokesperson
When Mothership asked whether the SHEIN sponsorship will compromise the summit's environmental sustainability aims given the company's reputation in this area, an SFC spokesperson emphasised the role of collaboration and dialogue to help advance industry changes.
"Collaboration and dialogue are integral to making meaningful and impactful changes in the industry to develop our capabilities to further sustainability, innovation and technology, and promoting Asian craftmanship. For the Summit, we wanted to gather voices from both big and small industry players to drive conversations forward along these areas to better the future of fashion in Asia"
Regarding the details of SHEIN's gold sponsor status, Mothership understands that sponsorship agreements are not usually disclosed.
SHEIN is the only gold sponsor for the event.
Top image via Mothership, Be The Change Summit website