Creating a sustainable and stylish future

Amsterdam is changing the style game for the better. By looking at the long-term future of fashion, designers, educators and other experts are creating a culture of sustainability and circularity. They don’t want shoppers to wear their clothes a handful of times before trashing them.

Instead, they’re persuading people to invest in long-lasting garments made from non-toxic materials that can biodegrade or be turned into something else, resulting in a cycle that minimises waste. Piece by piece, this is changing the way people dress and inspiring them to reconsider their fashion footprint.

Each one teach one

Many labels and designers want to be sustainable, but don’t know how to begin. This is where the M-ODE Foundation comes into play. Managing director Peter Leferink was inspired to start the organisation after learning about fashion’s environmental crisis. He describes M-ODE as a coaching hub and consultancy that “builds up brands from a durable, sustainable perspective.”

Leferink believes sustainability requires a serious commitment involving more than just using organic cotton. Instead, he thinks this commitment must be embedded in the way he works. “Long-term investments and relationships are key. And with that, we believe we can achieve sustainable collaborations," he says.

And those connections are translating into real change. By forging deep, lasting bonds with the people and groups M-ODE works with, he can ensure his efforts have real impact, which wouldn't be possible if he simply offered a smattering of advice without any follow-through. 

Peter Leferink

Photo: The M-ODE Foundation's Peter Leferink

Education is also a priority for Leferink, and he’s worked as a principal design lecturer at the Amsterdam Fashion Institute (AMFI), honing its curriculum alongside other teachers. “We helped elevate AMFI’s offerings, turning it from an established fashion institute into one with sustainability embedded in its programmes, moving beyond the point where we have to prove it's a necessity," he says. And he's right - there's no need for instructors or students to explain why the school must prioritise sustainability; it's simply accepted as a requirement. 

Of course, Leferink isn’t the only one shaping the student experience at AMFI. Leslie Holden, the school’s head of fashion & design and head of MA fashion enterprise creation, feels a deep obligation to promote sustainability – not that he has a choice. “I see this movement of students understanding that things have to change. They’re demanding it, and the lecturers, deans and all of those people are trying to approach this challenge as a demand in the market, both from the industry and the students.”

He also takes a long-term approach to the issue and knows he must prepare pupils to cope with an ever-changing industry. “Many of the jobs we’re educating students for the at the moment will not exist in 10 or 15 years’ time. There will be different jobs and the industry will be very different, too. We have to prepare and educate students for a new kind of industry.”

The more you know

When it comes to sustainable style, Anne-Ro Klevant Groen, the communications manager for Fashion for Good, thinks “the more you know, the better you want to become.” Her organisation is making this easier by providing co-working spaces to entrepreneurs and overseeing accelerator and scale-up programmes for startups. It also hosts events and has an interactive museum she believes can change the way we think.

“More people want to know where their clothing is coming from and who made it. We try to explain [things] to consumers so they can ask more questions. I think people are keen on learning about what they’re wearing, and what the material is,” she explains.

The exhibits include samples of fluffy raw cotton, a powder blue Stella McCartney dress dyed with natural substances and photos of garment workers. Wandering past them, it's impossible not to consider the environmental and ethical cost of everything we wear. Circularity is an ever-present theme as well; a swatch of repaired denim is displayed next to a sample of biodegradable material that leaves no landfill waste.

While there are many problems to solve, Klevant Groen is optimistic. With a smile, she talks about vegan fashion, which she thinks will be the next hot topic in sustainability. “You’ll see a lot more about materials that have nothing to do with animal skin. It’s an easy trend for consumers to embrace because they understand it.” 

Just like diet mayonnaise

Trend forecaster Antoinette van den Berg is also thinking about what’s to come. She believes sustainability is “absolutely the most important thing,” and says people will have to enjoy fashion while consuming less. She’s promoting this through the RE LOVE Foundation, which is steeped in circularity and helps people re-style, reuse and repair their clothes.

And though she’s happy to see people buying sustainably-made apparel, she thinks it’s like eating too much diet mayonnaise. Sure, it might not have as many calories. But at the end of the day, it’s still not good for you. “The most efficient solution is simply to consume less new stuff. That is the next thing we are going to realise,” she explains. 

But that’s not a bad thing. There are many ways to transform and repair what we have, while second-hand and vintage stores offer treasures to savvy shoppers. As Antoinette says, it will be a “different way of dealing with fashion.” Sure, it will require ingenuity, vision and technological advances, but Amsterdam is cultivating the talent needed to face these challenges head-on.

Learn more about Amsterdam's growing fashion industry and some of the brands leading the sustainable style revolution