Lilian Liu is a Sustainability Strategist at Futerra, a change agency with a mission to make sustainability so desirable it becomes normal. In this role, she helps companies set bold sustainability visions for the change they want to lead and develop the roadmap to deliver. Prior to this, Lilian managed Partnerships & UN Relations at the UN Global Compact.
Seeing that Lilian will be a speaker on Circular Fashion Summit Sustainability Panel, we had a chat with her to discuss the global perspectives of sustainable fashion.
Prior to Partnerships and UN relations manager for UN Global Compact, now holding Sustainability Strategist position at Futerra, where did your journey with sustainable fashion begin and what does sustainable fashion mean to you?
It started about ten years ago in Shanghai when I joined fashion NGO Redress. Our main goal was to minimize textile waste in the industry through design and brand initiatives, so we worked mostly on the environmental side of things. We have come a long way since then and sustainable fashion is so much more than just environmental considerations. For me, sustainability is about taking a holistic view to how you do business – making sure you are minimizing any negative impact and maximizing the positive – whether it’s around how you treat your people, how honest and transparent you are as a company, as well as the resources you are using and what you are giving back to the world.
From your international experience, how sustainable fashion is viewed in different cultural environments?
Growing up in Sweden, but with Chinese parents and having spent a lot of time in China, I definitely saw differences in how we approach sustainability. When I worked on sustainable fashion in China, we had to start talking about sustainability through the climate and environment angle, as well as health and safety – we could not get into human rights or labour issues. This was a decade ago but these are still sensitive topics politically.
In Sweden, it was about gender equality, social justice, and consideration for the climate – and this was somehow integrated into culture. For example, most people I knew were shopping second-hand clothes. I think reuse is becoming increasingly cool and accepted in China but at least among the older generations this can still be interpreted as ‘I can’t afford to buy new’.
What are the biggest challenges for the fashion industry to become more sustainable?
Many of the technologies and innovations we need exist, but it’s about change at scale. We need companies and organizations with the most impact to lead the way. We need to change culture. And this goes back to making second-hand cool – if we change our acts and wants to influence culture we can form a movement and change our society! But I also believe that businesses have a responsibility to act – we know about the impacts and we know the science, so we don’t have an excuse to sit around and wait.
Looking ahead, how do you see the future of the fashion industry?
A few words: equitable, personal, resource-efficient, transparent, long-lasting, valuable… I think as consumers we will need to completely rethink our relationship with clothes and come up with new ways to be creative that don’t just mean ‘buy new’. And fashion brands will have to take into considerations the reality of resource scarcity, rapidly changing consumer preferences and hyper-transparency – so they will have to re-think too and this is already happening.
Learn more about Sustainability: The Power of Recirculation in Fashion by joining Circular Fashion Summit.