A few months back, something very special arrived in my inbox. It was an email from a lady named Kylie, and she was reaching out to me on behalf of an organisation called ACTAsia. As I investigated, I discovered that they are a not-for-profit who run education programmes focusing on animal welfare, aimed at children, consumers, and professionals. My interest was instantly sparked as I read about the work they were doing in the sustainable fashion space, and how they were putting so much heart and energy into promoting fur free fashion in China.
They weren’t just educators, but also activists and researchers. They’d already had major success in their veterinary teaching programs and the work they had done with children in rural parts of China was inspiring. They were now organising a fashion event in Shanghai, bringing together speakers from all over the globe to participate in a forum and talk about the future of sustainable fashion and why we should all be going fur free.
And I was invited.
There was something in my gut that told me I needed to be part of this, even though I had sworn off any more travel this year (I was still recovering from my time studying in Milan and flouncing around Europe over Christmas). So, rather impulsively, I booked two tickets to Shanghai – one for me and one for my fiancé Jamie. The forum fell smack bang in the middle of my uni holidays, and I took this as yet another sign that this trip was destined to happen.
One bumpy 10 hour flight later and we’d arrived. The fashion forum took place in a bright and open venue called Coco Space, and thanks to Jamie’s navigating we arrived fashionably early. There was a media wall, where I was photographed and asked to sign my signature beneath my printed logo. As I wrote, I instantly dreaded sticking to my scribbled running writing autograph that I’d come up with in grade 9 and had never improved upon since.
There were packs of media teams buzzing around, and at one point I was pulled aside and interviewed about my journey as a sustainable and ethical fashion blogger. I won’t lie, I was having a lot of fun, and it felt so good to speak to such a receptive audience. Being so connected to the Slow Fashion community in Australia, it can sometimes feel like I’m preaching to the converted, but meeting new people in situations like this reminded me that there is still so much educating to do. There currently isn’t a strong culture of shopping second hand in China, and the interviewers were really intrigued as I talked to them about hosting clothes swapping parties and how I buy most of my clothing from markets.
I also had teamed up with a handful of local designers before I left, so that I could be dressed head to toe in Aussie made goodies. My dress was from Melbourne label Seagrass Design, shoes by ethical/sustainable designer Felicity Cooney and earrings by Teagan Watts.
Jamie and I were seated front and center, and were soon joined by a young lady dressed like a bohemian Chinese fairy and holding the cutest (and probably only) baby fox I’d ever seen! She had rescued it from certain death, and affectionately named it Tofu. Her hair was somewhere between lilac and silver, and her beautiful cheeks sparkled with glitter underneath the stage lights. She sported a floor length powder puff pink skirt made up of endless layers of soft tulle (one of her own designs).
She looked so. damn. cool. I couldn’t work out if I wanted to be best friends with her, or actually be her. She introduced herself as Tiffany Pattinson, a fellow sustainable and ethical fashion blogger with her own label. It was so exciting to meet a person with such similar passions to mine, except living in a totally different country. I could have talked to her for hours.
I was one of 10 guests giving presentations on the day, and was pretty thrilled to be amongst such influential and significant speakers. This included John Lau, Associate Dean of the School of Design & Technology and Jessica Saunders, Programme Director of Fashion – both from London College of Fashion. They each spoke so passionately about how a focus on sustainable fashion is an integral part of their teaching practice, and this basically sold me on applying for their Fashion Futures Masters programme in London next year.
It was clear as I listened to ACTAsia’s founder Pei su talk, that she was a true activist. She spoke with such calm conviction and knowledge, she had been fighting this fight for some time and it was amazing how far she and her team had come. Other speakers who greatly inspired me included Mr Carlo Imo (president of Kering), Jerri Ng (Editor of InStyle China who announced that they are officially going fur free) and Grace Chen (famous Chinese couture designer). I couldn’t believe I was able to share a stage with such influential fashion people, and it’s safe to say I was pretty nervous by the time I was handed the mic. But from what I could tell – it went well! I didn’t forget anything, my slides worked, and I didn’t fall on my face – job well done.
I learned a lot of shocking things about the fur industry, including some pretty eye opening facts about the issue of mis-labelling (dog fur is often labeled as ‘Asian Wolf’ and cat fur can also be called ‘Rabbit fur’.) By the end of the event, I was both completely elated and exhausted. A highlight for me was actually the networking event at the end, where I was able to connect with a lot of Chinese teenage girls who had endless questions about sustainable fashion, and they were so excited and passionate that their energy was contagious.
I may have to write about my Shanghai adventures in installements, there’s just too much to write! Stay tuned for my next post, where I’ll take you along with me on an afternoon at the fashion house of couture designer Grace Chen, and behind the scenes of our impromptu fashion shoot where I was able to try on some of the most amazing clothes I have seen in my life.