In a time when sustainability is the number-one hot topic in the fashion industry, one unexpected place to lead the conversation is…Finland. Its biggest fashion event, Helsinki Fashion Week, is one of the first sustainable fashion weeks in the world – set in an Eco-Village outside Helsinki, the yearly event highlights both Nordic and international desginers in a fully sustainable event focused on topical issues such as circular economy and zero waste. From an animal rights standpoint, the event is more progressive than many larger-scale happenings: as international fashion weeks ban the use of fur on the catwalks, Helsinki Fashion Week have taken it one step further and committed to remove all leather from its event. The decision was made by its founder, Evelyn Mora, who launched the ground-breaking event at just 23 years old.
And what an event it is. Last year, visitors could not only enjoy presentations from innovative eco-friendly designers – they could also try out an Ocean Volt electric boat or a Narvi eco-sauna, and drink sea water purified with the BlueWater system – all to highlight the holistic, circular approach to sustainability that has become the trademark of this young, but very significant event.
“I started working on sustainability before it was cool”, writes Evelyn on her Instagram. “In fact I started working on it because it wasn’t cool and I knew it should and could be.” We couldn’t agree more. We caught up with this millennial game-changer to find out more about what drives her to bring sustainability to the concept of Fashion Week.
Photo by Romy Maxime
Can you tell us about your background and what led you to start Helsinki Fashion Week?
My background is in art and photography. My first production company led me to Paris Fashion Week where I started to work more internationally. I returned to Finland and was eager to collaborate with Helsinki Fashion Week – yet it did not exist, so I created one from scratch.
What sparked your interest in sustainable fashion?
For me, fashion has been a way to express myself. I started to shop in vintage and second-hand stores when I was twelve years old. It was, and still is, about the story, quality, colours and materials. Everything had to fit and match into the details. The focus on sustainable fashion that Helsinki Fashion Week has today started in 2016, when we finally trademarked the brand. Sustainability was sparked after our long research and analysis of the targeted audiences, trend-forecasting, and global economics. For me, it made perfect sense, in light of the impact of the fashion industry on the planet.
What are the criteria you use to choose the brands that will be featured at the event?
We always look at the brands’ sustainability and creativity. At the moment all the brands have their own interpretation of sustainability. There is no such thing as 100% sustainable yet but we are aiming to reach that, so we are open to the different perspectives of the designers. We love to give brands the opportunity to grow and become more sustainable by encouraging them to go beyond their standard. Sustainability should be incorporated into the brand DNA rather than just an accessory or an add-on. This year we examine the choice of sustainable fibers and innovative fabrics more closely, alongside the production process, whether it is closed-loop or chemical-free, and the business model, whether it takes initiative on the recyclability, transparency and the whole supply chain. We love to see brands that express their individuality and creativity, who are able to curate interesting narratives and appealing collections with sustainable values and commercial availability.
What prompted you to make the decision to ban leather from the event?
Leather as a material is lovely but its environmental impact is too high. We just simply cannot afford to exploit our planet the way it is currently being done. We must optimise technologies and multidisciplinary expertise to develop more creative solutions to issues like climate change. This is not just animal-related issue but as a bigger picture, terrible issues are found in the agriculture and chemical industry. There would be more sustainable alternative options if only we learn to collaborate and work together. For such reason, we decided to dedicate the Fashion Week platform solely to new material innovations in the upcoming season, aiming to find the weaknesses in innovations and tech-based initiatives in order to find cross-industry solutions. What we also want to pay close attention to are vegan materials that are actually sustainable and do not exploit nature in different ways.
What reactions have you had to your decision?
The reaction was AMAZING! After we made our decision, we thought nobody would even notice or care. But we were wrong! The global conversation started after the SS19 season when our EcoVillage concept was featured in press on six continents, 15 VOGUE magazines around the world and other major publications such as Marie Claire. International organisations and Finnish embassies around the world began to notice our association. And right after conversation was sparked around animals and leather, a new wave of conversation broke out again: Chanel banned exotic skins and fur, London Fashion Week banned fur and other platforms emerged followed by huge publications discussing the topic, like Business of Fashion and Dazed. Top industry professionals from all around the world also quoted us. There are now huge conversations around animal- and non-animal leather, including slaughterhouses, agricultural institutions, leather organisations and so on. We are very happy to initiate and inspire more concrete action – as more people pay attention, we will have better opportunities to solve the challenges of raw materials derived from animals.
What are some key areas of sustainability that you would like Helsinki Fashion Week to focus more on in the future?
For the upcoming edition of Helsinki Fashion Week, we are focusing on the development of innovations of material, transparency and resource efficiency. We will also expand the different aspects surrounding sustainability such as cultural influences, traditions, and perspectives on luxury.
What does 2019 hold for you and the event?
2019 is going to be so much bigger and more exciting for us. Our team has grown in size and so has the event, since we are expanding our operations and collaborations on a truly global scale. We have many ongoing projects and receive tremendous support and interest from different organisations and companies around the world. We are very excited to reveal more information on the upcoming season soon! I myself am also working on a couple of consulting projects for the Finnish government and consult international corporations.