“We Need An Entire Consciousness Upgrade”

Photos by by Ronan McKenzie, from left to right: Céline Semaan, founder of Study Hall and Slow Factory; Aja Barber, writer; Sophia Li, journalist and former entertainment media editor for Vogue

Photos by by Ronan McKenzie, from left to right: Céline Semaan, founder of Study Hall and Slow Factory; Aja Barber, writer; Sophia Li, journalist and former entertainment media editor for Vogue

On Saturday, April 27th, 2019, Slow Factory hosted “Study Hall: Sustainability as a Culture”, the fourth part of its captivating conference series on sustainability in fashion. Following swiftly after a successful partnership with the United Nations in February, the first international edition was held in London at Central Saint Martins and organised in collaboration with Fashion Revolution.

Words by Dörte de Jesus

As with preceding Study Hall events, Study Hall x Central Saint Martins brought together a wide range of voices – leading experts in fashion and textile production were joined by cultural influencers, academics, activists and artists – and proved itself to be among the most culturally diverse events of its kind. In response to the title, talks focused on topics that explored how culture can influence sustainability within the fashion industry, and opened up the debate to a variety of highly important and timely but so far little-talked up themes. 

“If you don’t have a seat at the table, bring your own folding chair”, a quote by American politician and first black woman elected to the United States Congress in 1968, Shirley Chisholm, formed the pretext to the opening panel talk that manifested the need of a shift of sharing power: We have to have a new and much larger table, designed for a wide representation of ethnically-diverse voices and different global perspectives.


Together with journalist Sophia Li and writers Aja Barber and Allen Salway, Study Hall’s founder Céline Semaan discussed racial justice, ethnic diversity and tokenism, and explored the elephant in the room when it comes to the current fashion system that is designed around exploitation of both labour and resources. 

After a successful ten days strike by Extinction Rebellion declaring a climate and ecological emergency in the heart of London, the strikers’ first demand “Tell the truth” felt very present in the room: In order to create positive change, we need to name things as they are. In today’s world, colonialism is an economic reality. Fast fashion is colonialism under a new name. 


“How can we design with aesthetics, sustainability and culture in mind? What is design really for—making beautiful products, or designing the world we want to live in? What is responsible design in today’s socio-political and environmental landscape?” These were the questions raised in the follow-up panel moderated by journalist Marjon Carlos and debated by fashion designers Mara Hoffman, Korina Emmerich, Recho Omondi, Priya Ahluwalia and Claire Bergkamp, Stella McCartney’s Head of Sustainability.

After Céline Semaan reminded us in her opening words that “the life that we live right now on this planet requires 1.7 earths to sustain”, designer Mara Hoffman called for “an entire consciousness upgrade so we’re not filling a void with consumerist purchases.” She continued: “Anybody that is sitting in this space and manufacturing, if you’re not in conflict with it then you’re not really thinking about this stuff.” 


With the looming climate emergency on our minds, the debates about sustainability have gained urgency. We know that a global system based on exploitation, overconsumption and inequality is causing the dying of our planet. In order to implement solutions for our current crisis, we need new stakeholders on the table: a fair representation of all of humanity, unborn future generations, and planet Earth. We need a mindful and holistic system’s upgrade.

You can watch the entire program on the Study Hall website, and follow Study Hall, Slow Factory, and Céline Semaan on Instagram.


About Study Hall:
Study Hall is the brain-child of Céline Semaan and her team at Slow Factory. Linked to the UN Sustainable Development Goals, the aim of each iteration is to drive forward the conversation around fashion and sustainability, bringing together experts to share knowledge and explore how fashion can adapt ideas from other industries to make practises and supply chains more sustainable. 

About the United Nations 17 Sustainable Development Goals: 
In 2015, countries adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its 17 Sustainable Development Goals. In 2016, the Paris Agreement on climate change entered into force, addressing the need to limit the rise of global temperatures. Governments, businesses and civil society together with the United Nations are mobilising efforts to achieve the Sustainable Development Agenda by 2030. Universal, inclusive and indivisible, the Agenda calls for action by all countries to improve the lives of people everywhere. 

About Extinction Rebellion:
Extinction Rebellion is an international movement that uses non-violent civil disobedience to achieve radical change in order to minimise the risk of human extinction and ecological collapse.