suzy menkes talks millennials and sustainability

We joined the queen of fashion journalism to discuss how Generation Z can do more to make its future sustainable.

by i-D Staff and Marianne Caroline Hughes
18 May 2016, 1:30pm

"Millennials hold the key to a sustainable future," was the message at last week's Youth Fashion Summit in Copenhagen. Held to coincide with the city's annual Fashion Summit, the theme of this year's event was 'responsible innovation' and, in attendance, was one of the world's most respected voices in fashion: Suzy Menkes. With strong words on the disposability of the industry today ("I think brands have engaged the millennial generation too much! They have encouraged the idea of 'new party, new dress'") we used the summit -- the largest event on sustainability of its kind -- to sit down with the undisputed queen of fashion journalism and discover what she thought about engaging the millennial generation with the issue. Here are five things we learned…

We need to harness the true power of digital.
As International Fashion Editor of Vogue, Suzy writes digitally across nineteen websites in thirteen different languages, reaching an online audience of 38 million. Considering the access that both fashion brands and millennials have to digital spaces, she believes that "fashion brands, like most brands, are tremendously far behind on really understanding what's happening." She says, "It took brands ages to grasp that people were talking to each other on their phones using images and text. It's taken them a long time, with some exceptions of course, to realize that they need to get much more savvy."

And through it, promote a radically positive sustainability story.
Although fashion has grown its online presence and gained a following from the millennial generation, Suzy believes she hasn't "really seen fashion brands pushing the sustainability story." Reflecting on speakers at the summit and storytelling, she says, "I've been really fascinated by listening today and hearing people talk so sincerely. However there's a tendency towards saying 'the world is going to collapse if we don't do this'."

She continues: "I don't think this is a line which will work with many people, and certainly not a young generation who is filled with hope and enthusiasm for the future!" On the contrary, Suzy suggests that the story is told, not only in a radical way, but a positive one too. "By caring what kind of T shirt you buy, you will improve the state of the planet," she gives as an example.

Fashion does occasionally get it right.
Suzy often reports from the front row of fashion, such as at Chanel's Resort 2017 showing in Cuba earlier this month. During its January couture show, the French house was applauded for going eco and, when probed on whether brands want to engage consumers with sustainability, Suzy says that "one thing Chanel has done really well is to save the people who do their hand work when they were struggling by setting up a factory on the edge of Paris. That is really important, that's how big brands should act. Big fashion brands should see that they should support something." She also cited Renzo Rosso as another industry heavyweight attempting to address the situation: "Today I talked to Renzo Rosso and saw the many ways he tries to make things better."

Sustainability must take an international perspective.
Since Suzy writes for Vogue from a global perspective and sustainability is a global issue, it was a good opportunity to get her international outlook on the industry at this moment in time. "I think it's difficult for anyone to understand that things are happening at different paces in different countries," she says. "You have to realize that things do develop in a different way. Asia in itself is different since there are so many different countries. I just came back from South Korea and the whole outlook there is interesting. You see big statements from the young people in the millennial generation, for example trying on the same jacket as someone of another gender. I think this is one type of movement you definitely see coming out of Asia more than Europe."

Looking at sustainability as a potential movement in Asia, some suggest a possible link between the proximity to areas of manufacturing in China and the connection of Chinese consumers to responsible fashion. However, according to Suzy, the connection is not without its difficulties: "It's hard to talk to anyone in China properly about this," she suggests. "It's partly my failure as I don't speak the language but also I don't know if they say things to please me because they're told that I'm an important fashion journalist."

The power of the media is in our hands.
Another discussion that took place on stage at the Copenhagen Fashion Summit was about the role of the media. A panel discussed the fashion media's role in advancing the discussion of sustainability in fashion and Suzy was keen to comment, saying: "When you ask me about the media, I ask: who are the media?"

She elaborates: "The media doesn't just include people like me, who I suppose are professional people in media. What about all the people on social media on Facebook and Instagram? It's not just one group of people; we're all the media now, including millennials. Everyone should use the access they have to media for the good!"


Text Marianne Caroline Hughes
Photography GM Creative Studio and Copenhagen Fashion Summit

Copenhagen Fashion Summit
fashion interviews
suzy menkes