Located on the Rokin, a busy street in Amsterdam, is the Fashion for Good Museum. It is the first museum of its kind. A sustainable fashion museum that not only looks to the past, but also displays the innovations of the present and the possibilities of the future.
The museum opened its door in 2017, aiming to educate visitors and activate impactful discussions on the good our fashion industry does. Currently, the museum is holding the exhibition ‘Fashion Week: A New Era’ until October, unravelling the story of the catwalks influence over fast fashion and plotting out a future of sustainability and even metaverse shows. I was lucky enough to have Fashion for Good answer a few questions I had after visiting their museum. Here’s what they had to say…
Q: What purpose drove the opening of the museum? Any inspiration from other projects?
A: Fashion for Good believes that changing the fashion industry is only possible if both the industry and consumers change. That is why the Museum combines stories and interactive learning and focuses around consumer behaviour change. We aim to change the hearts and minds of the visitors by showing them what sustainable fashion entails, how they can help drive change and what a good, healthy future - for people and planet - could look like. We also have a shop where we carefully curate a mix of up and coming and innovative brands to explain sustainable fashion can be affordable and beautiful but mainly to educate the consumers visiting to go beyond the label, explore the stories behind the brands and ask questions.
In the museum you will also find innovations we’re working on via our innovation platform (the industry facing side of Fashion for Good where we connect innovative technologies with brands and manufacturers, to change the way the industry is currently operating).
Q: It’s very interactive and engaging, would you say Fashion for good is a museum in the traditional sense or is it different?
A: It is the world’s first sustainable fashion museum, but indeed it’s (on purpose) highly interactive because we believe that if you want to learn and grow, the best way to do so is to see, hear, feel, explore new stories that you can become part of. That’s why we also have a design studio where you can design your own circular T-shirt for example. We try to inspire, educate, and engage people from across the world, not only by having the museum and its exhibitions, but also by organizing events, workshops and clothing swaps or school tours for example - bringing people together for a fun and educational experience where you can gain friends, knowledge or tips.
When visiting the museum visitors can also follow a digitally enabled Good Fashion Journey with an RFID bracelet, where you can discover and commit to ways that you can make a difference - you can select actions that you like most (like watching a sustainable fashion documentary with friends, or learn how to mend your clothes and so on) and at the end of your visit, you can take home a personalised Good Fashion Action Plan, a digital guide filled with tips for extending what you’ve learned in the Museum into your daily life.
Q: As I just said it’s highly interactive, with the wristwatches that ‘collect’ eco-friendly fashion tips, designing your own T-shirt and selecting a Job Kind artwork to be printed on a tote bag (I have the London one)! Is it important that your space is interactive? How did you come up with these interactive elements?
A: Fashion for Good worked together with Local Projects, a New York-based experience design studio known for its creative use of technology to create immersive spaces like the National September 11 Memorial & Museum and Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum. Together we created the museum in its current state. With the interactive features in the museum, visitors learn more about the history of fashion, how a T-shirt is made from A to Z, which sustainable products are already available and which innovations are on the way. The complete picture is needed to show visitors how we can and should bring about a change in the industry together. There’s a display wall of fabrics, how do you choose what fabrics to show and how to display them? We showcase all innovations from across the globe that we work with via our innovation platform. We carefully select, assess the best-in-class innovations, and connect them to large brands and manufacturers, besides connecting them we also help, educate, and support those innovators to reach scale as fast as possible. By showing what the future could look like, we educate consumers that alternatives are out there, that some of your items can be made in a very cool, circular way, we need to keep asking for a better product and by implementing these innovations we see great potential and a lot of amazing solutions!
Q: Any innovative fabrics or designers you’re particularly excited about?
A: There are a lot of innovations that we are excited about. Maybe a nice one to highlight is Natural Fibre Welding. They have developed an alternative to leather which is made using waste agricultural inputs, it’s called Mirum. Their unique approach utilises their welding platform to mould and strengthen waste inputs into a biodegradable leather like material. This offers the potential to produce plastic-free leather substitutes at scale. Brands are looking for alternatives to leathers with the same high quality, durability and hand feel as natural leathers. This can be difficult to achieve whilst also ensuring safer chemistry and an improved environmental footprint. Some alternatives currently available such as Polyurethane (PU) and Polyvinyl chloride (PVC) based substitutes are non-degradable, non-renewable, and usually not recyclable. Plant based leather alternatives are very promising, yet existing solutions are often blended (e.g.: with PU) and tend to need a fabric backing or foil, meaning biodegradable options are not yet scaled. Moreover, the lifespan of these alternative leathers tends to be shorter than natural leathers as they do not get worn and age over time. Assessments for many alternatives to leather are still in development. There has, however, been an increase in the companies and innovators that tackle the aforementioned challenges such as Natural Fibre Welding. They created a circular leather alternative that is recyclable in their own facilities and is made from natural materials like coconut fibres and natural rubber.
Q: On the exhibition, ‘Fashion Week: A New Era’, what was the initial idea behind it?
A: The exhibition concentrates on Fashion Week, where the latest fashion is shown on catwalks in Paris, Milan and New York and other metropoles across the globe. This iconic event has a major impact on the fashion industry and on our own wardrobes. In 'Fashion Week: A New Era', the Fashion for Good Museum unpacks Fashion Week, delving into its past, present and future. Viewing historic looks from the runways of Balenciaga, Versace, Moschino and many more; to discovering the innovative work of Dutch fashion designer Ronald van der Kemp and digital fashion house The Fabricant. 'Fashion Week: A New Era' celebrates fashion through the years and explores how this phenomenon influenced the fashion industry and what the future of Fashion Weeks will look like. Think about it, it all started with exclusive presentations for buyers and nowadays the collection presentations are immense entertainment and brand building vehicles that have a huge impact on our environment. Is this needed? Are there alternatives? Is buying right off the catwalk sustainable? We dive into all the looks, changes, alternatives and also showcase what a (digital) future could look like or what companies have done during the COVID-pandemic where physical shows were no longer an option. We celebrate fashion and creativity and challenge the visitors to rethink the current fashion system we know today.
Q: Why have you chosen these particular clothes to display?
A: The Attic - The Past
Fashion for Good chose to showcase Balenciaga. For its revolutionising shapes, Balenciaga is responsible for eliminating the waist, opting for a wider A-line silhouette in the 1950s as an alternative to Dior’s hourglass shape. The tunic, the baby doll dress, the cocoon coat, the balloon skirt, the balloon jacket and the sack dress are just some of the shapes Balenciaga created and have had a lasting influence on tailoring.
The Chanel suit is one of the most iconic and timeless pieces of fashion history, recurring in Chanel collections to this day. This is mainly because of its revolutionary and feminist character when it was introduced in the 1950s. The suit is associated with women’s freedom for its comfortable cut and minimalist shape, especially in contrast to Christian Dior’s introduction of the more restrictive New Look, with its accentuated narrow waist, in the same period.
Mila Schön (the golden dress) was one of the Italian designers who presented their collections at Palazzo Pitti in Florence, Italy in 1965, a show which paved the way for the development of fashion week in Milan. Palazzo Pitti was the chosen location of Italian entrepreneur Giovanni Battista Giorgini (1898-1971) to first organise an Italian version of fashion week. It was held in the Sala Bianca (White Hall), still used today for important exhibitions and biennales. Pitti Uomo, the world’s most important event for men’s clothing and accessory collections, now takes place there.
This Moshino dress exemplifies Moschino’s fondness for appropriation, channelling Yves Saint Laurent’s famous collection from autumn/winter 1965. Yves Saint Laurent’s dress already interpreted the modernist work of Piet Mondriaan, creating layers of cross-pollination between art and fashion.
Versace was dedicated to craftsmanship and opened his first boutique in Milan, Italy in 1978. His love for Ancient Greece can be seen in the prints returning in all of his creations, including this jacket. This jacket is part of the Spring/Summer 1991 ready-to-wear Pop Art collection shown at Milan fashion week. It was worn on the catwalk by Helena Christensen, known as one of ‘The Magnificent Seven’, the most famous supermodels of all time. In the 1990s, brands like Versace created the phenomenon of ‘supermodels’ by turning models into household names, photographed both on and off the catwalk.
Dame Vivienne Westwood is a British fashion designer and activist who has always used graphics in her collections to promote social and environmental activism. During London Fashion Week, the designer uses the catwalk as a platform to speak on issues such as sex and gender and address civil rights and systemic injustice. In the 2000’s Westwood turned her activism to the environment. The design on this T-shirt is called the +5°MAP/ ROT$ map and is a symbol which Vivienne Westwood started using to create awareness for the rising temperature of the planet as a result of global warming.
Ground Floor - The Present
The Ronald van der Kemp design was developed to take the creation of couture from discarded textiles to the next level, working towards the common goal of finding creative, technical and circular solutions to transform trash into treasures. As a kick-off for this collaboration and as part of RVDK’s presentation during Paris Couture Week, RVDK laser cut eco felt into chain links (#circulartextilechain) assembled by hand into a 100% sustainable couture statement.
1st Floor - The Future
The collections on the first floor represent a recent push towards accountability and collaboration in the fashion industry, taking place at Lakmé Fashion Week in India. Partnerships between brands and innovators are important because they amplify each other and because every such initiative works towards enabling systemic change. RISE Worldwide and Fashion for Good joined hands to facilitate the creation of these pieces and exemplify the move towards greater global collaboration in sustainable development. Divyam Mehta, Karishma Shahani Khan and Nitin Bal Chauhan are Indian designers inspired by circular fashion. They developed collections with three innovators from Fashion for Good’s Innovation Platform, which connects new sustainable innovations to partners in the fashion industry. The innovators Altmat, KBCols Sciences, and Graviky Labs offer solutions for alternative materials, microbial dyeing and carbon ink printing, respectively. The result of these partnerships exemplify the future of sustainable fashion weeks, and a more sustainable fashion industry.
For its Paris Fashion Week debut in 2022, Sheltersuit Label received support from the brand Chloé, through a donation of deadstock materials as well as office space and guidance in Paris. Additional fabrics for the collection were donated by Gabriela Hearst and deadstock from LVMH (French multinational Louis Vuitton, Möet, Hennessy). The collection consists of menswear, womenswear, and gender-fluid garments which nod back to the original Sheltersuit. The streets and the unsheltered are referenced through functional elements, weather-resistant materials, and graphic prints, many of which convey call-to-action texts. Made from luxury upcycled deadstock materials, these garments are designed to keep the wearer warm and protected, while maintaining the brand’s key pillars of innovation, durability, reusability, freedom, and hope. Collaboration is also fundamental to the Sheltersuit ethos, so this season features creations by independent designer Lisa Konno and luxury sustainable denim pioneer RE/DONE, both at the forefront of making a positive impact with fashion.
BOTTER’s Romancing the Coral Reef 2021 collection was developed deep in the Covid-19 lockdown period. It not only reflects the duo’s relationship with the sea but also represents a cultural nod towards ‘dressing up to show up’ no matter the situation, which is common in island cultures. “The harder things get, the more people get dressed up”. The collection features refined tailoring, as well as the use of recycled, leftover materials from family-run umbrella company Piagniol and tablecloths sourced from Rushemy’s grandmother. BOTTER has joined a number of brands who prioritise launching shows online via YouTube as well as physically, promoting the openness and reach which digitalisation can award.
Q: What do you hope visitors will gain from the experience?
A: The aim is to change the hearts and minds of the visitors by telling stories behind the clothes you wear, showing you how to take action and have a positive impact on the fashion industry. Through a personalised digital journey with an RFID-bracelet you can learn about the history of good fashion, discover sustainable products and explore fashion innovations of the future. The Good Shop, a concept store in the middle of the Museum, contributes to this goal by showing good fashion that is already available today.
Q: What are your hopes for the future of sustainable fashion and the future of Fashion for Good?
A: We see the future of fashion as being one that has circularity at its core, where products are designed to last, where they can be reused multiple times but when they come to their end of use can be recycled back into new products. We see opportunities for digitisation across the fashion supply chain. From 3D design, sampling, showrooms, to virtual try-ons and on demand manufacturing. If you think even bigger you could have digital only products like The Fabricant one of our alumni make.
Fashion for Good’s goal is to reimagine how fashion is designed, made, worn and reused. The firm wants to achieve this by harnessing the power of innovation, practical action and cross-sector collaboration. At the core of their mission is the exploration of new circular business models. In this way, the group will revolutionise the fashion industry so that people, companies and the planet can flourish together. The long-term plan is implementing as many sustainable innovations as possible, so more pilots, more projects, action! We have now opened an office in Mumbai with a dedicated innovation programme for South Asia.
Besides that, we would love to have more corporate partners, and would love to reach as many consumers as possible through our museum. We are in the process of developing a travelling exhibit as part of our museum to reach more people, because we need the entire fashion ecosystem to work together – whether that’s brands, retailers, manufacturers, investors, consumers and governments