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Jun 9, 2014
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Madifesto rallies European fashion in Brussels

Jun 9, 2014

Over the course of two days of lectures and workshops, Madifesto, which held its first European fashion summit in Brussels, closed on an optimistic note. Somewhere between a "fashion G8" and a fashion version of a TED Talk, Madifesto undoubtedly delivered.

Mad Brussels, the organization behind the event, rallied together about sixty representatives from organizations dedicated to supporting fashion and design, inviting key institutions (textile federations, fashion and design schools), to reflect for two days on major challenges faced by players - and aspiring players – in their respective creative industries. Also present were several members of the European Commission, including the head of its creative industries unit.

A discussion at the event between Dutch and Latvian representatives (DR)

"We’ve come up with a list of findings and proposals following several roundtable discussions,” said Alexandra Lambert, founder and CEO of Mad Brussels, “and showed our problem areas as well as our strengths to members of the European Commission, which has lent us their support and has invited us to continue forward with Mad Brussels’ mandate, which should return next year, hopefully with even more participants."

Most of the guests made their way to the event at their own expense, and took a great interest in discussions revolving around three main topics: the fashion business model, production and education.

Participants expressed, for example, the need for a common digital tool, shared among European Union countries, that organizes the contact information of all those involved in European fashion along with a description their work - a kind of European design directory similar to what the UKFT (UK Fashion and Textile Association) in collaboration with the CFE (Centre for Fashion Enterprise) have together.

The general opinion at the conference was that these two organizations have a big head start as compared with their continental counterparts. They often led the debate and shared their experiences during discussions, particularly with younger associations, such as the Austrian Fashion Association, founded less than six months ago (!).

Mary Katrantzou is a big supporter of these European champions of fashion incubators. "She came to see us five years ago when her company had three employees,” recalls CFE executive manager, Judith Tolley. “Five years later, she has more than 50 full-time employees and Mary does business around the world.”

It’s an example, however, that is far from representative. "The same thing would be absolutely unthinkable for us,” says an employee of the Flanders Fashion Institute based in Antwerp.

This year, the CFE received a budget from the European Commission to launch, in partnership with the IFM in Paris, a the Worth Project, a new initiative aimed at supporting designers, its website worth-projects.eu opening up to applications in a few months.

One of its primary goals: to harness the talent of designers for the benefit of industries that are not necessarily rooted in fashion ... "Who knows what might happen if you put together a designer specialized in fur with someone from the healthcare sector. Just look at what’s been done with textile experts working for the automotive and high-tech industries,” said the bubbly and enthusiastic Wendy Malem, director of the Centre for Fashion Enterprise and dean of the Graduate School at the London College of Fashion Division.

The urgency of mobilizing fashion and design at the European level is of course linked to the fact that it is now more than ever a global industry, as Alexandra Lambert has particularly emphasized. “And if there’s one city that sees this happening, it is Brussels," said the founder of MAD, who received no less than 7 million euros from the EU to set up her organization and to make the move in 2015 into new 10,000 square foot building, highly influenced by “social design", a concept embraced by MAD Brussels, which considers “design” in its widest sense.

Madifesto 2014 promotion (DR)

Wendy Malem reflected on similar ideas when she opened the conference on fashion education, noting that Chinese students trained at the major European schools have returned to China, where they are doing well, describing their designs as "irreproachable".

The fédération française du prêt-à-porter was of course also in attendance, its secretary general François-Marie Grau presenting its latest initiative for sustainable development, a new European quality-control label that FashionMag will soon come back to. But the Scandinavians at the Danish Fashion Institute unsurprisingly took the cake as the most eco-friendly.

The organization’s director of development and innovation talked about production, craft trades, education and the environment, with the help of facts as surprising as: "Did you know that Puma sneakers turn back into soil only six months after being buried?" The Danish expert optimistically reminded participants of their responsibilities and emphasized the excellent report released at the last Copenhagen Fashion Summit, which drew more than 1,000 participants from 50 countries worldwide.

For Madifesto, it’s still a long road, but if large institutions continue the dialogue with smaller ones, as was clearly the case this year in Brussels, one could say that the event has benefited the industry at all levels.

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