Exploring fair fashion (3): Fair Fashion Lab

A honest and humane future in the fashion industry.

This is what Fair Fashion Lab, the current temporary exhibition at the Humanity House in Den Haag, is exploring through six installations by Dutch artists.

The exhibition has been set up in response to many factory disasters in the textile and fashion industry which have happened over the last few years, of which the Rana Plaza collapse in April 2013 has been the largest recent disaster. The fashion industry is being confronted with more pressure – from some consumers and from government, at least in the Netherlands – since then to be more transparent about how and where it manufactures its products and what it is doing to clean up their supply chains.

It took me a while to actually make it to this exhibition, but I’m happy that I finally walked in a few weeks ago – considering my interest in this topic, and my own exploration to find responsibly produced clothes (here & here).

Rather than diving into a theoretical analysis of all the things that are wrong in the supply chains getting fashion into the shops, the Fair Fashion Lab invited six artists to give their perspective on solutions for the industry. This has resulted in six very diverse installations.

What all the installations have in common is that they challenge the visitor to think about what they wear, where they buy their clothing and what they might do differently next time they walk into a clothing shop.

For example, one artist shares different ways of DIY-fashion, and another commits visitors to always ask in a shop where the piece of clothing they want to buy is made.

These are easy things that people can do, even if it can sometimes be frustrating. My own questions to shop assistants about information on local production only rarely gets a satisfying answer. Yet, the exhibition also offers a great opportunity to give visitors more: even if it is just some additional information on fair fashion – such as referrals to apps and sites which lists brands that are open about their production process (such as the EerlijkWinkelen shopping routes, the TalkingDress app and more)

Luckily, part of that is covered in the events and side-programme that accompany the exhibition. Such as the Fair Fashion Lab Festival coming up on October 18 & 19: workshops, presentations, a fashion show and a pop-up shop for all your fair fashion questions.

The exhibition Fair Fashion Lab can be seen until 31 December 2014.

innovative Dutch: Guangzhou TV Tower

Dutch business: innovative, creative, diverse

Industrial design. Baby products. Digital signage. Horticulture. Online gaming. Ecommerce software. Veterinary pharmaceuticals.

This list is just a fraction of the industries I have encountered through the companies that I have spoken with over the last three months. In that time, I have met with nearly 60 Dutch companies from almost every conceivable industry and market segment. I spoke with them about – of course, their company and products, but mainly about their interest in doing business in China and what type of Chinese counterparts would be good business partners for them.

All these companies are participants of a trade delegation travelling to China at the end of next month with the mayor of Amsterdam. My part in their preparation for this trip is small, but essential: having a clear profile of the type of contacts and the type of business the Dutch company is interested in is fundamental for finding suitable matches in China. This, of course, is not easily done. China is a big place, the business and products of many of these Dutch participants are very specific and Chinese companies may have different expectations of meeting them. Nevertheless I feel confident that my part in this process will have contributed to this matchmaking search.

From advice to sharing experiences

Many of these meetings weren’t interviews where I would only check off the questions I had in front of me. Talking to entrepreneurs and export managers is one of my favourite (work) things to do, so I try to get as much information from them as I can – relevant to the context of course – but in so many of these discussions that also means you hit other topics.

Such as Japan: I was pleasantly surprised to hear that many of these companies are also interested to explore opportunities for their products in Japan – or are already there, alongside their China activities. Or, when talking to a company which is very new at doing business in China and international business in general, my role becomes that of an advisor in which I try to help them along in figuring out what is the best way for their company to grow their business internationally.

And then there are some entrepreneurs I spoke to which have been involved in China for much longer than I have – and those sessions turned into a mutual sharing of experiences in China.

Innovative, diverse, creative

But over all, what has been so good to see over the past three months – and what amazes me almost always when I talk to an unknown company – is the immense diversity, level of innovation and ambition that is inherent in Dutch business. Dutch business has raised world leaders in the smallest niches and the most advanced technologies, and includes some of the most creative work I know. It’s been a pleasure meeting and working with all of these companies which are hopefully heading towards a successful future of doing business in China, starting in Beijing.