(By Dilys Williams)
Youth, fashion and summit are each words that conjure up a wide variety of emotional responses, perceptions and reference points. That’s before contextualizing them in notions of sustainability, the focus for the recent Youth Fashion Summit (YFS) in Copenhagen. It might be useful to clarify, therefore, who we were, what we set out to do and why, for you to better picture the three words in action together.
The who was a collective of delightful, curious, risk-taking, inventive, bold and committed, undergraduate and postgraduate students, their tutors and researchers from 22 universities, in five continents, spanning 30 nationalities. I’ll admit to bias here as my role in ‘hosting’ the summit meant that I got to spend precious time with each of these lovely people.
The where was Copenhagen, a place to think and act critically on the things that we stand for and want to stand up for. As a location, the city is a well-established global meeting point for discussion of matters relating to ecological and social interdependencies as well as home to a culture of deep respect for community and nature. However, whilst the legacy of COP 15 might be more about the challenges of thinking and acting interdependently – the legacy of YFS in bringing together open-minded, reflective, creative students to undertake an immersive journey together might be about co-operation through understanding each of our distinctions. If university is about examining your sense of self and your sense of the world and the interplay between the two, then we need to create environments of live experimentation such as this from which we can teach, learn and practice conviviality. This type of open space is however not the norm: different levels, different courses, critical questioning of the process and of the outcomes, shared commitment, not knowing, being prepared to stand in public and speak your mind. Bringing these elements together created a palpable social energy.
The what, new processes of connection, beyond networking, an experience of interdependence with all of its possibilities and its challenges was played out through a series of tasks related to now and for the world in 2050.
The what was also about having a stage at the Copenhagen Fashion Summit from which to speak to world -leading businesses, governments, NGOs, researchers and media.
(Huge thanks to Eva Kruze, who conceived and set up the summit with Johan and the team, Tina Hjort and the team at KEA, the tutors from Esmod, Kolding, CSM, Epsom and many others involved)
And why? Because, in the words of John Wood, ‘We are running out of imagination, not out of resources’ and good ideas need space, dedication, a time to be heard and time to hear from others. And we need to connect different aspects of life (human and nature) so that we can all live well. We spent two days flowing ideas about being human, the potential that we have to live well together and create amazing things, and about how and why we also mess things up sometimes. We researched a set of principles through a flexible framework to foster, open, then focus and apply ideas. Through my work at CSF over the past five years I’ve been able to develop, learn and share methods and techniques based on sustainability principles – one of the most crucial elements being the space in between things. There are many wonders around us, but also many distractions. These may be hampering us from thinking differently.
My response to the words Youth, Fashion, Summit put together in this way is that Youth is the means to see the world from a fresh perspective – without blinkers – what Al Gore refers to as having night vision glasses to see the world as it might be. Fashion is the means to make life personal and interdependent, to mark the times that we live in, by being relevant to their context, in diverse and delightful ways and Summit is the means to stand up, hear and see how human potential can actively commit to finding ways to live well.
The baton is being passed around – from the Youth Fashion Summit, we then went off to Hay Festival, back in the rolling hills of the Welsh Borders, where we spent a week with EJF and students selected through their competition to explore design for sustainability through the lens of social justice. Working with Bex at EJF, Alice Smith, Jessica Mor, Renee and Anna from CSF, the 9 students experimented with ideas from resourcefulness to self confidence, the results of which can be seen here. Katharine Hamnett and I joined them to take the ideas forward onto the stage at Hay, where Andy Fryers hosted a discussion between us about fashion, power and society. Having worked with Katharine for many years prior to setting up CSF, it was great to be back together to show how fashion’s fantastic means for empowerment, does cannot also contain intolerable injustice.