Jul 20, 2018

The Global Youth Forum, Circular Fashion Challenge

written by Alastair MacGregor

In the first event of its kind, 600 young people, ages 13 to 21, gathered in México for the JA Global Youth Forum to develop innovative solutions to the systemic challenges faced by the fashion industry, as part of a wider programme of activities.

The challenge, sponsored by the C&A Foundation and designed and run by InSpring and JA Worldwide, saw teams from over 50 counties competing over four days to design and develop solutions to transform the industry towards circularity. As students worked to reduce negative environmental impacts of fast fashion and increase positive social impacts, they were inspired, equipped, and empowered to channel their ingenuity around an industry that needs fresh impetus to accelerate transformation.

The event didn’t disappoint.

Ahead of the competition, an educational survey completed by over 500 young people globally established that young people really do care about this transformation and are keen to be part of informing it. Highlights from the survey include:

  • 42% buy clothes at least once a month and 42% feel fashion and clothes are a way to express themselves.
  • 86% are interested in the environmental and human impacts of the clothes they buy.
  • Of the 14% that are not interested in these impacts, 60% cited the lack of information as the driver of this.
  • 81% are willing to pay a price premium of more than 10% for these clothes, with 30% willing to pay a price premium of more than 50%.
  • 59% believe that the fashion industry should prioritize the design and development of more sustainable brands.
  • Upon learning about the concept of ecomimicry (mimicking the natural world in the tech world), 44% believe this is a really cool idea and would be interested in buying clothes that were made this way.
  • 89% of young people want clothes that are custom made, second-hand, and/or available through a clothing subscription service like Spotify.
  • 74% are interested in being part of a multi-year innovation process that puts them at the heart of developing circular fashion brands.

Having completed the survey and been given access to a range of engaging content from InSpring and organizations such as Fashion for Good and Circle Economy, participants came into the México competition with ideas already emerging. After a kick-off and briefing session by InSpring, the young innovators developed their ideas further during a Design Thinking workshop run by SAP, and Social Innovation and Business Model workshops run by Disruptivo. They then filtered the best ideas, and a panel of experts selected the top 12 ideas to go forward to a pitch competition.

Teams were assessed over three rounds, based on the degree of innovation and creativity, the potential impact and scalability of the ideas, the clarity of the commercial model, the feasibility of implementation, and the quality of the pitch.

The ingenuity and originality of the ideas was remarkable, and it was no easy task selecting the six finalists, their representatives pictured below (from left to right): Turki AlQahtani, 18, Bahrain; Alex Advani, 13, US; Jelle Degeest, 20, Belgium; Luisa Fernanda Luna, 17, Mexico; Pedro Inyun Monge Hwang, 16, Mexico; and Mohamed Jaafar, 19, Bahrain. Huge congratulations to the teams.

Each of the finalists pitched to a diverse panel including the Head of Circular Transformation at the C&A Foundation, Douwe Jan Joustra, in front of 600 other competitors. Their ideas included sharing economy models, a model to create scale and liquidity in the second-hand market for clothes enabled by digital currency, a new application of blockchain to create a multi-ownership story of a garment, cotton substitute materials that utilise degraded land, plastic extraction technology, and social impact models that benefit disabled people. Truly inspiring.

The expert judges agreed that there were genuinely transformative ideas among the finalists, and some will now be taken to the next stage of development. The winning idea (led by Mohamed Jaafar) was a brand concept based on transparency throughout the entire life of a garment, using advanced technology, and underpinned by a customer proposition based on existing evidence of consumer preferences.

The process demonstrated beyond doubt the enormous value that can be generated when young people are inspired and engaged around systemic challenges, in industries that they care about. 600 young consumers of fashion are now better equipped to make more conscientious purchasing choices, and their minds have been switched on to the tremendous potential for innovation right across the value chain.

This exciting pilot has given us all a glimpse into what’s possible when young people are engaged, equipped, and empowered in the right way. It was inspiring to see such imaginative ideas emerge and be shaped and refined in such a short space of time. It makes you wonder what could be achieved with more young people involved over a longer period of time . . . and that’s precisely where we will now take this concept in the next phase.

We call on the fashion industry to lend its support to this exciting initiative as we set out, alongside JA Worldwide, to engage over one million young people globally over the next three years to unlock the ingenuity of a generation to inform and accelerate transformation of the fashion industry to more circular models.

Thank you to all of those who participated. You humbled and inspired us in equal measure.