Berlin Fashion Week transforms with innovation and sustainability in focus
Despite heat strokes and holidays, fashion never sleeps. And in a period which usually echoes empty in the fashion week calendar, Berlin Fashion Week, last week offered five days filled with innovation and progressive fashion.
By OLIVER DAHLE
July 19, 2023
When it’s easier to pinpoint when it isn’t a fashion week than the opposite, it could be hard to decipher their actual purpose. In the last two seasons — under the helm of Fashion Council Germany — Berlin Fashion Week has been going through a transformation. From being a generic fashion week, following in the footsteps of established fashion capitals, the week is now focusing on creativity, innovation and values — reflecting the city’s profound heritage of its other cultural and creative industries at large.
During the week, established names like Rianna and Nina, Odeeh and Namilia stand shoulder to shoulder at the schedule with upcoming names like SF1OG and, the Dane, Sia Arnika. The organisation has also developed a platform for Ukrainian brands — such as Podyh, Bobkova and Litkovska — to showcase their collections.
Sustainability in all its forms
As with many younger fashion brands, there is an inherent focus on sustainability among the brands in Berlin — both environmental and social. Which are reflected in the collections. One example of this is the production methods of the brand, SF1OG. A big part of their collection is made out of leather, an environmentally extensive material. However, the brand has chosen to work with recycled leather.
— We always use recycled leather for every piece that’s shown on the runway. This is challenging in a way because you are very limited in space that you have at the same time. But, it’s inspiring because the fabric basically tells its own story, because it’s aged, it has stains, it has maybe imperfections, even rips that we still use. It’s all inspiring the final piece in the end, explains Rosa Marga Dahl, Founder and Creative Director of SF1OG.
The sustainable values aren’t just limited to environmental practices. Being one of the world’s most forward-thinking cities, designers are also leveraging the city’s social values.
— What I like about Berlin is that it isn’t Paris, it isn’t New York. It’s Berlin and there’s not much fashion going on here. It’s not a huge industry here. You can still make your point, you can still connect with others. It’s a very small community, but I think it will turn out as a great community. It’s also changing how people see fashion because it is more political. It is more diverse here and also more conceptual and this is really what I like, explained Jale Richert, one part of the design duo behind the brand, Richert Beil.
Despite Berlin Fashion Week’s progressive approach, the most inveterate critic would still argue that a fashion week is unsustainable by nature, and if Berlin will grow as they intend, it is an inevitable question. An answer, that they’re looking for from a Scandinavian sibling, which has done the same journey.
— We’re close with Cecilie Thorsmark, CEO of Copenhagen Fashion Week and are in a regular dialogue exploring the possibility of adapting CPHFW’s sustainability requirements. Using synergies between fashion councils and fashion weeks is an ambition we pursue in the European Fashion Alliance. Not every market might have the same detailed objections or requirements, but in general, the fashion community should strive to synergize the ambitions more. That is one step that we are exploring. We do have our own minimal requirements that we check when people want to participate in Berlin Fashion Week. They must give us an idea of where their organization and venue stand in terms of some sustainability requirements. But our vision is that we implement a stronger system in the next seasons, explains Scott Lipinski, CEO of Fashion Council Germany.
Legislation on the lines
Fashion Council Germany is also a major player when it comes to the reckoning transformation that is awaiting the European fashion industry. A transformation that could be assigned to the legislative framework, addressing fashion, that is being developed by the European Union.
The German Fashion Council is one of the founding members of the European Fashion Alliance (EFA), and Scott Lipinski is the chairman of the organisation. The organisation is working across all Europe and represents independent designers, to bigger conglomerates.
The EFA is a special interest group for the creative part of the fashion industry in Europe and is the connection between the fashion industry and legislators. Currently, EFA’s main focus is to align the upcoming legislation with the actual needs of the industry.
— We need to ensure that upcoming legislation is developed and especially implemented with and not without the fashion industry in mind. Everyone we speak with in Brussels says we have not had an organization or representation of the sector like you to talk to. We had other great textile organizations, but none from the creative industries that represent the creative part of the fashion industry.
Currently, the EFA has been working with a focus on the upcoming legislation on Digital Product Passports and the Ecodesign for Sustainable Products Regulation (ESPR), which they earlier this summer presented a paper on. Proposed legislation, which from a creative perspective, has its flaws.
— The discussion on durability, currently, in ESPR considers the very technical- and functional aspect of fibres and textiles. We believe that is not the only aspect durability should be considered. Of course, it is a challenge to define metrics to measure a more holistic approach to durability. But the “emotional” durability should not be taken out of consideration. We owe some investigation into the methodology of metrics that we can have to actually measure any kind of “emotional” durability. We also feel that the consumer must be educated more, Lipinski explains.
— We had meetings and round tables with Commissioner Thierry Breton and former Commissioner Mariya Gabriel. Consequently, we are now conducting a European-wide survey and report. All results, findings as well as industry and policy recommendations will be presented and discussed during our conference in Brussels end of November. Looking at the first results, I can already project that one major finding will be: ’Dear legislators, the industry really does not have a clue of what is coming ahead. Implementing new and hard legislation has to be accompanied by transformational communication and support’.
An innovation melting pot
Berlin Fashion Week is not just about fashion shows. During the week conferences and panel talks take place across the city and the world wide web. One of them is Yoonaverse, a hybrid conference focusing on technology, innovation and sustainability in fashion. The conference went on for five days in a virtual space, created by i-mmersive, and one day which was physical in Berlin.
— The goal is to build a community around fashion technology and to bring this forward. The idea is that everybody starts to talk and work towards the same goal. I think Berlin is the number one startup city and on the other end, it’s the fashion- and creative city of Germany. I mean, all the creative people are living in Berlin. So bringing this together in Berlin is the perfect space, explained Anna-Franziska Michel, founder of yoona.ai® and organizer of Yoonaverse.
One of the participants was Timo Wolf, Innovation Lead at H&Mbeyond – a local innovation team based in Berlin that operates as a test lab co-creating innovation with startups and belonging to the H&M Group.
— Technology is intertwined with where to focus. Technology becomes so easily hyped. We see this phenomenon with Blockchain, NFTism, Metaverse, AI and so much more. From like an innovation process or -perspective, it’s interesting and important to focus more on the problem, so that you better understand; what is the core problem to solve? What is the problem statement? And to land into use cases to test and learn, where technology is the enabler and not the driver. Where to focus at the moment? Everything that serves to enable a more circular lifestyle, Wolf comments on where fashion technology should be focused.
Participating in the conference was also Martina Schiuma, Head of Sustainability at ID Factory, a company that has been developing product passports since 2015. The company works with more than 700 manufacturers and brands all over the world and creates unique QR codes in which the specific products’ lifecycle could be traced. Currently, the company is working closely with the development of the DPP legislation in the EU.
— We are part of the benchmark analysis, which is the EU analysis focused on finding the main DPP standards that will support the definition of the legislation. We do work with big brands, but with a core focus, which is compliance. Then there are other focus areas as well, that could be repair or resale, but we are partnering with a third party when it gets to that point, explained Schiuma.
A big focus during the conference was the role of AI in fashion design. yoona.ai® which also functions as the organizer, is a tech startup specializing in offering a SaaS focused on AI-driven design.
— I always talk about AI as your private consultant. You talk to a consultant, the consultant understands what you want and then brings you back information through that understanding. So, if you have an AI and you upload all your brand information, it’ll come back with good shapes, good colours and it all fits with your brand. The more data you have, the more accurate it is and suits exactly what you want. Another direction we want to take in is data analysis. Analyzing your best sellers and market information, explains Steven Boylan, CTO of yoona.ai®.
Felder + Felder is a brand that has been starting to utilize AI, and yoona.ai®, in their design process. The brand is trying to operate as sustainable as possible, by producing on demand and mainly using plant-based, biomaterials, such as waste from oranges, mango or algae.
— As we always aim to incorporate new innovations into our design process, it felt like a natural development to try to utilize the new technologies with the objective to further reduce our footprint and to hopefully create a bigger social impact. This is new territory for us and we are very curious and excited to see where this journey will lead us, as we are in the process of teaming up with a variety of different tech companies to see who is the best fit for us. With yoona.ai®, we created first a digital twin of our IRL seaweed dress made with OBALT ( an ocean-based alternative) and then wanted to explore the boundlessness of AI to tell the story of the dress in a unique way, explains Daniela Felder, Creative Director and Founder of Felder + Felder.