The Kering Talk: Kelly Slater

“Sustainability should be the norm, not an alternative.”  Kelly Slater
Last night saw the second annual Kering Talk take place at LCF, as part of our five year partnership. This year’s guest was surfing legend, Kelly Slater. I thoroughly enjoyed hearing his story into sustainable fashion, it was inspiring and insightful, so I wanted to share with you some of what I learnt from listening to him.
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According to Kelly, it was when, aged 10, he was given a free pair of trunks at a trade show in Florida, he was signed to surf company Quicksilver.
As good a story as it is, in reality it wasn’t until he was 18 that Kelly officially belonged to the brand. Still, over the course of the 25 year spell they had together, they took over the surfing world, and dominated it.
During this time, Kelly fulfilled his ambition to create his own brand of clothing, introducing the VSTR line, standing for ‘visiting, surfing, traveling and responsibility’. However, after only a short while after launching, Quicksilver ran into financial difficulties, VSTR was one of the victims, and Kelly decided it was time to go it alone.
During a 5 day fast (he is well-known for his healthy lifestyle) Kelly explained how he felt a realization; he wondered “where do my clothes actually come from?” He had been aware of where his food was coming from, how it is processed and the damages involved to the environment, but had much less knowledge of his clothing.
Kelly rang up a yogi friend of his working for Quicksilver, who promptly informed him, “Kelly, you don’t want to know”.
So, if he couldn’t trust the companies he had used for so long to supply him with ethically made clothing, he felt it was time he created it himself.
Inspired by Yvon Chouinard of Patagonia and Stella McCartney, Kelly wanted to develop a more sustainable approach to what we wear. He wanted to be proud and responsible for his clothes, promoting higher quality instead of higher profit margins.
So, this set him on the journey to create his sustainable menswear company, Outerknown, which he told us about last night.
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Kelly spoke about the uncertainty of not knowing whether people will buy into sustainability; do people really care, or do they just want something fashionable and it’s a bonus if it is ethically sourced?
Previously the few who have had an interest in sustainability have been seen as tree huggers, or hippies with no money to spend on fashion. The people with money have less interest in ethics and just want something fashionable or luxurious.
Yet, he thinks this split is no longer a reality and there is a growing number of people placed in the middle of these extremes. Now, far more people are being educated on sustainability, more of us are aware and want to buy goods that have provenance (which I spoke about last week).
This growth in education and awareness across the masses, means that in Kelly’s mind, there really is a market emerging for sustainable fashion.
It was really inspiring to hear Kelly speak about his journey in creating his brand. It took courage, not only to decide to create clothes, when undoubtedly a man of his success could have done anything he wanted, but more so, to choose a sustainability focus.
I think his determination has reinforced my own beliefs to put sustainability at the heart of what we do here at London College of Fashion, and I fully agree with Kelly that education is the key to a more sustainable future.
For those who missed it, the recording of the event will be available to view shortly.