June 12, 2017

Colour Elements founder Karen Finlayson and the Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform - Roseanna Cunningham, MSP

A place at the table – NEF 2017

Scottish micro-business joins the national conversation on our economic low carbon transition

On 12 May 2017 we travelled north to Inverness to participate in the 2017 National Economic Forum (NEF) at the invitation of the Scottish Government Directorate for Economic Development. For the first time the topic of low carbon and climate change was on the agenda at this yearly event. Scotland’s 2020 Climate Group was asked to help engage businesses with the opportunity to participate in this important, national conversation about the shape and trajectory of Scotland’s economy. In particular we wanted to help engage businesses on the transformational change required by the transition to a low carbon economy. This was a key strand of the forum this year – the discussion paper for this topic, along with the future of energy discussion, can be viewed here. We invited over 30 businesses, from micro start-ups to SMEs and corporates, to join the national conversation about our economy and this unprecedented  transition. 

Below, the founder of one of the businesses who was present, Karen Finlayson, Director of Colour Elements, talks about her experience, and why having a place at the table in the broader conversation about Scotland’s future economy is so important for small businesses.

As the home of Harris Tweed and Barrie Knitwear, Scotland is well-known for producing high-quality textiles and clothingHowever, the business of sustainable fashion can be a lonely place.  Many consumers relegate the ethical side of fashion to a back-of-the-wardrobe priority, while promoters of sustainability are often more focused on renewable energy and smart cities. So when Colour Elements was invited to be part of the National Economic Forum last month, it felt good to be included in an open conversation about with policy makers and we were keen to take the opportunity to raise sustainability in fashion up the agenda.

Why sustainable fashion?

Why you might ask should sustainable fashion be considered here? The reasons are quite simple, one third of our clothing ends up in landfill every year and the clothing industry is both highly resource intensive and the second greatest polluting industry in the world. What’s worse, around 30% of the clothing that we have in our closets, has not been worn in over a year. According to WRAP, if we wear a garment for only three extra months then we can reduce our carbon footprint by 5 to 10%. In fact, extending the average life of clothes by nine months would save an estimated £5 billion in resources used to supply, launder and dispose of clothing. Isn’t this reason enough to consider a more sustainable approach in this industry?

It’s also good for business! On the same day that I was in sunny Inverness, Kering (the corporate parent of luxury fashion brands such as Gucci and Saint Laurent) and H&M (the largest global fashion retailer) were part of the Copenhagen Fashion Summit line-up discussing the future of sustainable fashion production and distribution. A few weeks earlier, Colour Elements helped to organise Fashion Revolution, an event at Edinburgh Centre for Carbon Innovation which encouraged local makers, academics and over a hundred members of the public, to consider a sustainable and ethical fashion future.

Why here?

There is an economic and leadership opportunity for Scotland to be part of this important conversation – and in many ways we are well placed to join it. Our wonderful water is famous for its magic properties with wool; our tradition with tweed is valued by big brands like Chanel and Hermes; and our tech know-how from textile and design centres like Duncan of Jordanstone in Dundee and Heriot Watt University’s School of Textiles and Design could be valuable in creating solutions to fashion problems.

Colour Elements was never set up to be a sustainable fashion brand. Our first priority was, and still is, connecting customers to colours of clothes that make them look and feel fantastic. We’ve created online services and digital products that make it easy for clients to buy clothes that they enjoy wearing. However, we recognise that when a person feels good about what they wear, they want to want to wear those clothes again, and again, and again. It was a happy coincidence for us to recognise that our services and products actually promote sustainable fashion practices.

Scotland’s chance to lead

Being part of NEF and speaking directly to the Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform, Roseanna Cunningham MSP, gave me hope that we can move sustainable fashion forward on the political agenda here. Until recently, Scotland was ‘the dirty man of Europe’  and we’ve done well to clean up our act on a number of fronts. But we must not forget that it’s easier to do this when we allow other countries to bear the true cost of our fashion decisions.  The Rana Plaza disaster in 2013 and the subsequent release of the True Cost movie, allowed the devastation that our current shopping practices cause to be seen in graphic detail by more people and created a global movement out of Fashion Revolution.

The people of Scotland are starting to indicate that they’re ready to bring sustainable style to our streets, NEF allowed Colour Elements to bring that to the attention of our Government. If you do nothing else after reading this blog I hope you will watch the True Cost movie, it’s available on Netflix, and if you want to do more please speak up and keep this conversation going.

Karen’s company, Colour Elements, is an award-winning personal colour consultancy that offers online solutions to the everyday problems of getting dressed quickly and sustainably. Find out more about Colour Elements and download the app here