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Debrief: Fashion in the Anthropocene symposium

7 November 2022
On 27 October 2022, the Amsterdam Sustainability Institute (ASI) and Environmental Humanities Center (EHC), both of Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, invited a group of participants to explore how the fashion system might transition to more ethical, connected, and sustainable futures.

Mariangela Lavanga, Associate Professor Cultural Economics and Entrepreneurship at Erasmus University Rotterdam and academic lead on new platform Design Impact Transition (DIT), opened with a keynote on transition pathways during which she introduced the Three Horizons Framework, which moves from current paradigms to incremental adjustments and emerging ideas and innovations. The (sustainable) fashion industry is currently in the second horizon, displaying incremental adjustments in transformational experiments, for which the recent developments at outdoor brand Patagonia are a good example. The wellbeing economy, postgrowth movement and Doughnut economics are supporting these experiments and adjustments. Economic and cultural factors converge in the debate on fashion in the Anthropocene but further research might locate new kinds of micro-economies that are anticipating larger shifts in the fashion industry.

Transformative pathways to sustainable development require:

  • Roadmap to guide systemic innovation towards sustainability
  • Social and policy innovation
  • The phasing out of unsustainable practices
  • Engaging and enabling actors and stakeholders

The panel discussion with Mariangela Lavanga, Marité Flores, project manager at New Optimist, Fashion Revolution volunteer and lecturer in Innovative Textile Development at Saxion University, and Roosmarie Ruigrok, advisor Circular Textiles City of Amsterdam touched upon the complexity of the industry, the problems with the term “sustainable”, de-growth as a potential solution, the impact of small versus big companies on changing the industry as well as changes needed on policy level.

Some conclusions of the event include that sustainable developments in the fashion industry need to be accommodated while addressing social and cultural values within consumer as well as producing environments. A research agenda needs to be built with an environmental humanities approach to sustainability, to understand what drives fashion consumers and how behaviours might change.

Self-actualisation of consumer’s behaviour is a vibrant and growing area for research on fashion to establish limits, under a just government, with new exchange systems, a new narrative/vocabulary, as well as an active engagement of diverse stakeholders. ‘There is momentum now’, the power of buying less by buying better. Relationships between local (government, enterprise) and global dynamics in these transformations had been reflected upon and in addition, the role of technology in improving connectedness across the sector and increasing transparency needs to be incorporated.

Summarizing from the seminar and the debate it appears that the industrial transition that is needed in the Fashion Industry to overcome much of the problems that have been discussed are the Raw Materials transition and the Circular Transition. Raw materials include materials and colours made from organic sources. Furthermore, entrepreneurs in the fashion industry with a positive attitude and a (sleeping) desire to transformative change need to join the effort. Therefore, we envision a second symposium to be held in the Spring of 2023, dedicated to (more) industry partners and incorporating more students and youth in the audience. If you want to know more, please get in touch with Sjoerd Kluiving (

Want to know more?

Get in touch with Sjoerd Kluiving