School News

First-Ever Sustainable Apparel Summit Brings Together Fashion, Apparel Industry Speakers to Highlight How to Build a More Sustainable Future for Retail

By Alexa Tran

Sustainability in the retail industry was the focus of the inaugural Sustainable Apparel Summit.

The weeklong April event was hosted by the Ross Retail Club and Net Impact Club at the Ross School of Business, in partnership with Voiz Reviews, a global community of student sustainability analysts working to hold corporations accountable and empower individuals to make eco-conscious purchases.

The goal of the Sustainable Apparel Summit was to raise awareness of sustainability issues facing the fashion and apparel industry and to inspire students to take action, said Erica Jones, BBA ’21, one of the event organizers. 

“We wanted to inspire students who are passionate about the intersection between sustainability and business to learn from the methods of sustainable brands — from how to create a sustainable supply chain to maintaining transparency — and show the possibilities for becoming a part of the change in the business world, where the environment is finally acknowledged as a stakeholder,” said Alena Manzor, BBA ’23, another of the event organizers. 

The summit featured a series of talks from leaders in fashion and sustainability. It concluded with an interactive workshop hosted by Voiz Reviews, where students were able to learn how to analyze the sustainability of products. Events covered a range of topics including supply chain sustainability, transparency, B Corp certifications, and materials innovation. 

The idea for the summit came about when Jones, who is president of the Ross Retail Club, was connected to Manzor, who was on the Net Impact sustainable apparel team.

“We really just wanted to find a way that our clubs could collaborate and find a way where we could bring together like-minded people, which is what sparked the idea for the summit,” said Jones.

Jones said that the summit was unique because of the collaboration between the two Michigan Ross clubs, as well as the partnership with Voiz Reviews, where Manzor interned as a sustainability analyst. Voiz was launched in June 2020, with the mission to bring the voices of Gen Z to the table in order to achieve a more sustainable world.

“Having so many partners working to put this event on really allowed us to expand our reach,” explained Jones. “Additionally, with the virtual nature of the summit, we were able to attract audience members from all over the country and even in Europe. This was really cool to see, and it added to the richness of the discussions and audience Q&A sessions.”

About the summit

Even though it was the first year for the Sustainable Apparel Summit, the Michigan Ross students were able to attract brand leaders — who are looking to redefine industry norms and build a more sustainable future for apparel and fashion — to participate in discussions and panel sessions.

Speakers included Chloe Songer and Stuart Ahlum, founders of Thousand Fell; Shona Quinn, director of social consciousness at Eileen Fisher; Sébastien Kopp, co-founder of Veja; Annie Agle, director of brand and impact at Cotopaxi; Matthew Woolsey, global president at 66°North; and Cameron Walker, North American vice president and general manager at Icebreaker. Among the event moderators were Andy Hoffman, Holcim (US) Professor of Sustainable Enterprise and professor of management and organizations at Michigan Ross, and Morning Brew Retail Editor Halie LeSavage.

Manzor said she particularly enjoyed the event with Veja’s Kopp.

“I found it inspiring, especially as a business student, to hear about a brand that embodies the empathy, transparency, and sustainability needed to move towards a more equitable and sustainable world,” she explained. “It was also so refreshing to learn how Veja cuts advertising costs to focus on embracing transparency — sharing everything from their triumphs to their limits — and putting people and the planet first rather than simply product and profit.”

Jones said that sustainability is a complex issue and covers a range of topics, such as materials innovation, circular business models, and carbon footprints. 

Something that I hope people took away from the summit is that there are many different ways to make an impact from both a consumer perspective, as well a business perspective. Although sustainability is a great challenge for fashion and apparel as well as many other industries, I hope people are inspired by the leaders we heard from and optimistic about the future.

Erica Jones, BBA ’21

Retail and sustainability at Michigan Ross

Jones said that there are many opportunities for those interested in fashion and retail at Ross. 

“Every year the Ross Retail Club hosts a career trek. Normally, we take students to NYC to do company visits, but this year we hosted it virtually,” she said.

In addition, this year, the Ross Retail Club started a webinar series called “The Future of Retail,” where they invited industry leaders to speak to club members. They also launched a content creation team and are planning to launch a few other hands-on projects for students to gain more experience in the retail industry.

The duo share their advice for those interested in fashion and sustainability at Michigan Ross.

“Be confident in what you're passionate about, even if it is a less common path at Ross, and search out clubs that connect you with resources and like-minded people like Ross Retail Club and Net Impact,” said Jones.

As a first-year, Manzor shared that she was unsure of what path she wanted to pursue in the business world. It was not until she took Environment 208: Business and the Natural Environment that she was inspired to pursue a sustainability minor and learn more about the intersection between business and sustainability. 

“Joining Net Impact and working on the Sustainable Apparel Team in addition to joining the Voiz community have both been amazing experiences allowing me to connect what I learn in my business classes to projects and discussions about sustainability with fellow students who share a similar passion,” she said. 

Sustainability, however, is more than just a trend, and the apparel industry needs to learn from brands like those that were featured in the summit to prioritize the transparency and innovation needed to work towards a more sustainable future. Collaboration is key, but so is initiative from brands to actually want to change.

Alena Manzor, BBA ’23

 

Learn more about the ross retail club

Learn more about Net Impact

 

Featured Faculty

Andy Hoffman
  • Professor of Management & Organizations
  • Professor of Environment and Sustainability
  • Holcim (US), Inc. Professor of Sustainable Enterprise