Fashion endlessly – an MBA view on sustainability in fashion – by Tim Brenninkmeijer, May 21st 2018

“There’s no time to waste.”

A familiar call to arms, and one that became acutely appropriate across the days I spent in Copenhagen at the Youth Fashion Summit and it’s elder relative, the Copenhagen Fashion Summit  (CFS) – “the world’s leading business event on sustainability in fashion”, convening industry leaders, disruptors, change-agents and policy makers around the most pressing issues facing one of the most expansive and complex industries of our world today.

Time, as a resource, is hard to manage. On a daily basis, we are all engaged with tweaking our mental schedules to find more of it. Whether in a moment of reflection hovering over a fresh morning brew, or in the bliss of the late afternoon either with plenty to still tick-off or plenty to reflect on – the ways in which to use time seem both endless and compounded within the day, let alone week. Partaking in a 12-month MBA programme, this sentiment is felt regularly, personally and collectively as a cohort. And it is often shared, shiveringly, by those with whom we describe the variety of subjects and intensity of schedules this quite unique ‘One Planet MBA’ programme offers.

However, arriving at the Copenhagen School of Design and Technology (KEA) a little over a week ago, in what seems to be one of the most blissful and effortlessly sustainable cities in Europe, the sentiment described was due for a true test, as 3 days of brainstorming, debate, scenario-planning and synthesising were due to ensue. Under the flag of the Youth Fashion Summit, in a somewhat gauntlet-style waterfall of workshops, 110+ students from 36 countries, and 64 of the world’s top design and business schools, gathered to kick off a 2-year programme aimed at challenging industry leaders’ engagement with SDGs 3 and 5 at the Copenhagen Fashion Summits of 2018 and 2019, while working in partnership with a leading luxury retailer, PANDORA, on their own sustainability story.
The Youth Fashion Summit (YFS), initiated in 2012, formed as a partnership between a range of organisations looking to take new aim at one of the most polluting industries in the world, if not the second as often reported – fashion. Global Fashion Agenda, at the time known as the Danish Fashion Institute, had already held three of their convening summits focused on the issue of fashion’s impact on the planet and what industry leaders should already be considering with regard to sustainability. With the Sustainable Development Goals under draft, UN Global Compact soon saw the opportunity to begin engaging the next generation of leaders within key sectors. Thus, in partnership with Global Fashion Agenda and Copenhagen School of Design and Technology, Youth Fashion Summit was born as a platform, “for students passionate about a sustainable world with fashion as leverage and gives the opportunity to influence the decisions made today that impact the world of tomorrow – it is the voice of the next generation.”

Coming from the One Planet MBA at the University of Exeter, with its focus on global challenges and the emerging tools and technologies that enable business leaders to make better decisions for the planet and its people, the opportunity to engage directly with an industry platform, let alone a dedicated cohort of professionals, specialists and academics, seemed very appropriate. Especially given the 4 years before joining the MBA I was working within the fashion industry, across startups, non-profits and retail. The luck that it fell during a ‘reading week’ at the MBA just made it all the more palatable! Nothing to do with the Nordic sunshine forecasted either…

Day 1, Sunday – meet and greet, review of pre-assignment and alignment on goals and objectives.

‘Pre-assignment’ – yes. Soon after I was accepted to the programme, after having to write a 500 word application, we were delivered a reading list and a pre-assignment to be completed in solo. This went some way to already dispel any skepticism that this was going to be a ‘youthful’ jaunt in the Nordic sunshine with post-its and mind-maps. Nevertheless, the pre-assignment – with its focus on crystallizing a personal perspective on the implementation, or lack thereof, of the assigned SDG (5 in my case: gender equality, vs 3 for others: health and well-being) and the assigned ‘capital’ (human in my case, out of social, natural and manufacturing for others) within my country of choice (UK) – developed a broad scope of knowledge and perspectives within the groups we were assigned to.

We met and greeted each other on that first day by presenting, via mood-board, how either our national government, industry leaders or societal commentators had or had not yet delivered on the many aspects of gender equality and empowerment. With only a few relating their mood-board presentations to fashion, it was clear the ideas to come through the rest of the week were set to be diverse.

The moodboards of SDG5: Human Capital; capturing perspectives from California, Indonesia, Finland, Germany, UK, Denmark, NL, Pakistan, Egypt, USA, Italy and Hungary

The overarching goal of the Youth Fashion Summit programme was for the cohort to develop a set of ‘demands’ relating to the implementation of SDGs 3 and 5 by 2030, which would be presented to the industry leaders attending the Copenhagen Fashion Summit the same week. This was achieved, impressively, by employing a rigorous yet well-managed waterfall-type approach of workshops, each with specific objectives, feeding into the overarching goal, along with related outputs such as the keynote speech and graphic poster production (evidence to come below). A ‘future fashion narrative’ was created by each of the 14 groups to support the final outputs, so as to capture the collective and diverse voice of this next generation of industry leaders.

As day 1 came to a buzzing close, I found myself reflecting with excited anticipation – “while the format is familiar, with thanks to the many design-thinking workshops and group projects the One Planet MBA had already offered, the potential of the programme is unprecedented, in terms of network value and capitalisation on ideas and the strategies put forward.”

Alongside the 8 groups of 14 students each – comprised of Bachelors level, to Masters, to industry-veterans returning to take Masters or MBAs – a cohort of about 20 ‘experts’ and ‘facilitators’ fluttered between assigned groups and capitals. This investment in the support as well as execution of the process was most impressive, and went further to dispel any leftover skepticism. Having been through a variety of similar brainstorming type workshops within and extra-curricular to the MBA, I could say I have an experienced mind and hand with the post-it. However, I would just as quickly put both my hands up and say there are times where the process is lost on me, or the group seems to be floundering with details, in which a steadying voice from outside the post-it bubble is more than welcomed. A balance was well struck between the experts and facilitators guiding and probing these newly formed microorganisms of groups, and allowing them to evolve and find their own voice.

Complimented by the rich relationships with partScsner organisations, a highlight of the programme for many cohort members was the negotiation session with ‘stakeholder representatives’. This gave the groups the opportunity to present their vision and demands to members from organisations ranging from highstreet to luxury retailer, NGO, supply chain specialists, UN body and media. Through negotiations, groups were able to refine their vision and demands to both align the language and stretch certain aspects even further, given that the scope of the demands are the SDGs, which are due to be achieved by 2030.

The final output was three-fold, and was presented to the cohort as an evolution to that of previous years’ more singular output, through consultation and feedback with the main Summit’s delegates:

  1. 8 demands and narratives presented on impactfully-designed posters for display during the CFS
  2. A series of ‘hard-talk’ inspired questions to critically investigate the Global Fashion Agenda’s ‘CEO Agenda 2018’, which formed the basis of the Summit’s agenda, 2 of which were delivered in-person by YFS cohort members during the closing panel of the Summit
  3. A 10 minute speech, capturing the essence of the YFS cohort’s demands and vision for a future fashion industry they would be proud to inherit, presented to the Summit delegates as the opening keynote speech on the day 2 of the CFS. I was fortunate enough to be selected as one of 8 speakers, representing each group, to speak on stage on behalf of my fellow cohort members standing 100+ strong behind me.

The privilege to speak on behalf of gallons of sweat, tears and ideas from 100+ passionate change-agents, let alone on a topic so relevant and critically in need of address – gender equality and empowerment – was immense. To do so on stage in an awe-inspiring concert hall, in front of industry leaders and change-agents wrestling with the complexity of their business and its impacts, was something I won’t soon forget.

The theme of this years Copenhagen Fashion Summit was ‘words into action’, given that, at last year’s Summit, a commitment to a circular fashion system was signed by almost 12% of the global industry. Therefore, measuring the commitments’ translations to action will be of primary focus for the CFS team moving forward.

My good fortune to be chosen to speak on behalf of my cohort members

Some key insights from attending the main Copenhagen Fashion Summit, after the thrill of presenting on stage, highlighted the complexity of the challenges the industry is faced with. While it may appear a visually expressive industry with the catwalks and billboards, it also embodies some of the most complex and murky global supply chains. Compounded by an entrenched lack of transparency, a topic of great debate and emphasis during the Summit, this creates an immense challenge for change-agents to grasp elements of the value chain in need of redesign or redistribution.

A particular highlight across panels and presentations were points made about consumption and the relevance of it to a circular industry model; specifically that – as posited by Levi’s VP of Product Innovation – circularity is very hard to get right, but, as it appears the only way this industry is going to survive sustainably, achieving circularity will most likely constrain the size of the industry and its output to an appropriate size, for the planet and its people. A sentiment that resonates with the narratives and demands developed by the YFS cohort, and one we hope to explore further in round 2 of the programme.

The Youth Fashion Summit’s evolved 2-year programme looks to echo this sentiment and that of the CFS’ theme, by taking the demands developed and working them into a sustainability strategy for the programme’s brand partner, Pandora – a leader within a sector, jewelry, that has yet to deeply engage with sustainability. Therefore, I am thrilled to be returning to Copenhagen next year to complete the process and deliver an actionable strategy to the industry and an emergent sector in the sustainability space.

Ultimately, the programme truly demonstrated what can happen when you bring together curious minds, creative hands, informed ideas and really committed hearts and souls. Furthermore, given the underpinnings of fashion as a creative engine geared towards celebrating diversity through evolving expression and change, it presents itself as an ideal way to address the global challenges we face on a grand, beautiful scale.

With the One Planet MBA, we are trained to ‘think what nobody has yet thought, about that which everybody sees’. A mindset and skillset that proved a provoking compliment to the Youth Fashion Summit experience, and thus an experience I would highly recommend to any MBA looking for a challenge and an enlightening investigation into an industry on the cusp of revolution. There is no time to waste, as these words turn into action throughout the course of this next year and beyond.

Speaking about gender justice within the fashion industry, a topic truly close to my heart having worked within the industry and seen evidence of inequality and injustice across every stage of the value chain; from field, to factory, to store, to office and to boardroom

One Planet MBA shines a light on Women in Science and Technology

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Young girls in Europe take a great deal of interest in STEM subjects (science, technology, math) and that interest peaks at around age 11. According to a new survey, commissioned by Microsoft, by age 15, girls’ enthusiasm for sciences wanes and all but vanishes by the time they finish secondary school. Much of this is due to conformity and social expectations, and lack of positive female role models. “Not surprising”, says Stephanie Lindan, one of the recent graduates of the University of Exeter’s One Planet MBA programme. Having been featured as an Outstanding Woman in STEM by IBM, Stephanie may very well become the role model young girls need. Continue reading

Encountering the Unexpected by Hugh St Aubyn

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In discussions over the One Palnet MBA cohort’s trip to, St Michael’s Mount the theme of creativity was often talked about, Cornwall is known for its art scene and the arts play a vital role in the life of the local community and in attracting visitors to the area. We were lucky enough to make contact with the Newlyn School of Art who kindly provided one of their artist tutors, Faye Dobinson, to give a talk to the cohort about how artists respond to place. We spend a huge amount of our week applying cognitive learning and group work to challenges in sustainability, so spending a day in an area of outstanding natural beauty seemed like time we could connect with our felt responses to place.

Faye, talked about how there is a growing movement in art that sees humans as living in a landscape they hadn’t counted on. This landscape is a product of ideas, economics, urban, and spatial planning fuelled by an undercurrent of exploitation of natural resources. She asked us how we can rest easy in this landscape and how can we interrogate it? Faye described how she lets spaces unpack around her over time, as she gets to know different places and make artwork in them. Continue reading

MBA Students Step Back in Time: A retreat to St. Michael’s Mount – By: Delfina Zagarzazu

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Picture Credits: Chayaporn Kongcharoenkitkul

Conscious of time with deadlines fast approaching in the next few days, we departed Exeter at 7AM to spend a day away from the books. Away from Devon, we  stepped into Cornwall – a first for many international students who had yet to explore all of the Southwest treasures!

The day was co-designed by Hugh St. Aubyn and myself to allow the 30 person cohort a creative and inspiring visit to balance off the business theory from class. We placed colourful and inviting signs to find the emerging leader within each of us.

Don’t ask what the world needs, ask yourself what makes you come alive and then go do that. Because what the world needs is people that have come alive

– Howard Thurman, Great Civil Rights Leader

The day promised to be filled with friends, nature, personal reflections and a beautiful historic castle to carry our minds away into imaginary stories and tales that made us step back in time – couldn’t have asked for more on a cold February morning halfway through Term 2 of our MBA.

The magic about St. Michael’s Mount is that you can only access it during low tide, something very rare in the 21st century of drones, planes and automobiles. The patience and timing for our visit set the pace for the day, as we removed our MBA ‘speedometers’ and tried to slow down to the pace of the tide to connect with the magic of the island and the castle.

Continue reading

Dear Donald………..

We recently invited One Planet MBA lecturer Morgen Witzel,  business theorist, consultant, lecturer and author of many management books,  to advise President Donald Trump on his first 30 days in office.

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Dear Donald

You’ve had a chance to get your feet under the desk at the White House now, and – I think we must be honest with each other – it could be going better. Things aren’t really turning out as you had hoped, are they? Street protests, criticism in the press, judges overturning your executive orders; and worst of all, more and more people are making fun of you.

You wanted to be a leader who was respected, admired, even feared. Instead, you are turning into one that people laugh at. Oh, Donald. There is no sadder figure than a leader who is mocked. Do you really want to be the next Jeremy Corbyn?

Continue reading

Shifting the paradigm in order to create value – Tom Sisk

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As individuals on the MBA, we are on a path to transform for the better, to give back to society and make a difference. The One Planet MBA promotes change and innovation and our lecturers and mentors have one year to provide us with a skill set that will enable us to transform ideas into real projects and execute change for good. Continue reading

The People Are the Heroes Now – Morgen Witzel

 

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The people are the heroes now

Behemoth pulls the peasants’ plough

Thus begins the first act of John Adams’s opera Nixon in China, with a chorus declaiming the victory of socialism: the people rule, and Behemoth – a mythical monster associated by Thomas Hobbes in Leviathan with the overweening power of the state – subservient and domesticated to the will of the people. It is the people who now lead.

It is all tosh, of course, with Adams and his lyricist Alice Goodman poking fun at the pretensions of the Maoist state; in reality, in Mao’s China, Behemoth was very much in control and the peasants did what they were told. The illusion of freedom and the reality of dictatorial rule were very much opposed.

But it is forty years since Mao died and the totalitarian edifice he created began to be dismantled, and the world has changed. After the political upheavals of 2016 we are entitled to ask: is it true? Have the people really taken charge of their own destiny, voting for the leadership they want rather than the leadership they are told they should want? And if so, what are the consequences for leadership? Do our old assumptions about what leadership is still stand up in this brave new world? Continue reading

Engaging with Design Thinking and Regenerative Business Models with design thinking agency IDEO and the Ellen Macarthur Foundation

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by Delfina Zagarzazú – OnePlanet MBA Candidate 2016/2017 

One Planet MBA Students at IDEO Workshop (photograph by Tim Pestridge Commercial Photography Photo: www.timpestridge.co.uk)

One Planet MBA participants at IDEO Workshop (photograph by Tim Pestridge Commercial Photography : www.timpestridge.co.uk)

Starting the first week of the program, the cohort of the One Planet MBA was immersed in exploring, discussing and reflecting upon the complexity of the current global challenges facing the world today (see WEF Report on 2016 Global Risks).

The business world is recognizing that operating in fragments with an isolated vision of the world has great implications on other parts of the ecosystem. It is no longer rational to believe the exploitation of resources in Africa won’t have implications on security, migration or food supply issues tied to other activities. As we enter a more fragile epoch with climate change, these operations will directly or indirectly impact our workers, supply chain and/or bottom line of our business. Digital and technological innovation are disrupting entire sectors and promoting new approaches to production and consumption while enabling new business models. Continue reading

A road to sensible decision making

by Thomas Sisk, One Planet MBA 2017 Candidate

It is change, continuing change, inevitable change, that is the dominant factor in society today. No sensible decision can be made any longer without taking into account not only the world as it is, but the world as it will be.” (Isaac Asimov)

This quote by Asimov instinctively feels correct and true, but what does it mean? Nature and history are about evolution, and evolution is about change. If we use the broad definition of entropy as a measure to gauge the process of degradation, we can observe our planet’s entropy is increasing.  When a child is born, we automatically embrace, encourage and accept change in our children and our parental duty is to guide this change. So why do we, as adults, stagnate, fight change and strive for stability and security, essentially an inert state of being, and deny the disarray and damage we cause in the process? Continue reading

Facing the Dragons

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“Don’t expect anything from anybody, work hard, put your head down, be good at what you do and good stuff will happen…”

Deborah Meaden, Businesswoman

It’s that moment of high drama and pant-wetting tension.  Five infamous and be-suited business moguls scowling at you as you simper, stumble and struggle to communicate a complex presentation, imploring them for their understanding and agreement (as well as their cash…).  It’s excruciating.  Can you make them believe in you?  Does your business case make sense?  Or will the grumpy one look at you disgustedly and bark something dismissive like “You’ve got no idea what you’re talking about, it’s an awful business plan, the finances don’t add up – I hate it – and for that reason:  I’m out…”, as you redden, mumble your thanks and make an awkward bee line for the door…  Is this some kind of nightmare?  A bad reality show?  The moment when your business brainchild and legacy for your kids is cruelly exposed to be nothing but a castle built on sand?

Well, for participants of the One Planet MBA this was, in fact, a reality.  As part of one of their modules (the Entrepreneurial and Intrapreneurial Process:  Starting Successful New Ventures), Tuesday saw each participant facing a panel of successful business professionals to pitch their own, personal business idea. Continue reading