A model presenting a cozy, eco-friendly sweater as part of the Liisa Soolepp show during Helsinki Fashion Week - July 20, 2018 A model presenting a cozy, eco-friendly sweater as part of the Liisa Soolepp show during Helsinki Fashion Week - July 20, 2018

Making the rounds in a converted oil silo, models give the world a glimpse at the future of clothing for Helsinki Fashion Week.

The repurposed industrial relic makes an appropriate backdrop for the first-ever 100% sustainable fashion week. With a minimized ecological footprint, the only trace left of HFW after it is over will be the impressions made by the outfits themselves — which are the epitome of eco-fashion.

Natural light filtered through sieve-like holes in the circular structure for the first presentations on opening day. As darkness gathered ever so slowly over summertime Finland, the interior lighting changed to fit the mood of each successive show. Like everything else at Helsinki Fashion Week, the mesmerizing displays are solar powered.

Modeled after circular and sharing economies, a strict zero-waste guides the five-day event. With partners like Tesla and Bluewater providing everything from transport to water, attendees of Helsinki Fashion Week are treated not just to a showcase of eco-friendly fashion, but a fully immersive experience with conservation at its core.

“Our mission is to combine clothes and fashion life cycle decision makers and enable the revolution in the clothing industry that our world and our country need,” wrote Evelyn Mora in a manifesto published by Forbes Finland in 2017.

Mora is the Millennial mastermind behind 2018’s “EcoVillage” concept. The now 26-year-old entrepreneur partnered in 2015 with Nordic Fashion Week Ry to establish a yearly Fashion Week in Finland. 

Three years later, HFW totally transcends the traditional Fashion Week definition, and not just with its high-tech utopian setup on Finland’s Tahvonlahti Island. Unlike most standard Fashion Weeks, HFW accepts designers from all over the world, not just Finland. The criteria is quality, resulting from sustainable practices.

“We do not accept brands and designers with non-sustainable or unethical productions and collections,” Mora stated in an official press release for HFW.

This year’s 30 brands range from Finland-based MEM, which produces its clothes entirely from post-consumer textile waste, to India’s N&S Gaia, which blends up-cycled mill-woven fabrics with indigenous hand-weaving techniques.

As clean fashion continues to gain ground as a mainstream topic, labels like Versace and Gucci have been grabbing headlines with their commitments to go fur-free and green up their production in other ways. HFW shines a spotlight on lesser-known labels that have quietly dedicated themselves to environmental responsibility and transparency.

“It’s not always easy to know which labels speak the truth when brands don’t always seem to know, or care themselves what’s sustainable and what’s not in the long run, when the industry is rushing to meet the new needs of the consumers,” said Mora. 

That’s the modern problem HFW aims to solve.

“Our task is to listen to consumers and to highlight what they want,” Mora explained to Forbes. “The consumer wants to make the right choices, and our job is to show them brands and designers they may not know yet … Our responsibility is to provide products that promote social, environmental, and economic activities. It must be the norm.”

Showcasing eco-chic clothing that is as exquisite as it is environmentally friendly, HFW strikes a new path for the next evolution of the fashion industry as a whole.

“I read all these sustainability commitments from big brands saying they want to do x, y, and z by 2030 or 2040,” Mora told Vogue Australia. “Okay, I get that, but it is possible to make change much quicker.”

HFW is founded on a utopian vision, yes — but one that seems remarkably achievable under the glow of the event’s solar-powered lighting display. While much of the rest of the fashion industry is content to talk the talk, Helsinki is proving that it is possible to walk the walk, and not just at some uncertain time in the future, but right now. — jas