R4 Fashion: Project Eco-Runway

The Sustainable Technology Education Project (STEP) of the University of Waterloo in Canada is throwing R4 Fashion, a fashion show event to raise money and awareness for sustainable fashion design. The evening is planned as an eco-fashion show that will present professionally designed garments composed of organic and sustainable materials. Featuring the biggest names in Canadian fashion and young emerging talent, R4 Fashion aims to promote the future generation of fashion designers who view fashion with ethical and ecologically-sound practice. We had a chance to sit down with Ali Suleiman, the event organizer, to learn more about the event and gather best practices for fashion-related events.


What is R4 Fashion and what was the genesis of the event?

R4 Fashion is an event bringing together students, social entrepreneurs, industry leaders, and general public to learn about sustainable design that provide an eco-friendly alternative to their everyday activities.

The whole message is that you can live your everyday life as you want it and still have a low carbon footprint. A fashion show delivers this message effectively since it is dealing with a sense of style and individuality. We are presenting sexy and fashionable attire using sustainable and organic fabrics.

The R4 comes from the original 3 ‘R’s of sustainability: reuse, reduce, ad recycle. However, eco-fashion also deals with responsibility, revolution, resilience, and resolution. It doesn’t have to begin with the letter ‘r’ but you get the point. Fashion has never played an important part in following the three ‘r’s so we present to you R4: the next dimension of fashion.

R4 Fashion was born out of the Sustainable Technology Education Project (STEP) of the University of Waterloo in Canada. STEP is a non-profit student organization aimed at promoting sustainable design/technologies and an environmentally friendly lifestyle in the community. We hope this fundraiser will be successful in supporting us in our mission, and maybe open the door to establishing chapters in other universities in the province of Ontario.

Are there particular highlights that you are excited about?

I’m excited in how far we came over the last year. We began with a small concept of a fashion show taking place in our university hall to a high profile event in the heart of Toronto featuring some of Canada’s top designers and Toronto personalities.

For instance, the most interesting part of the show is the emerging designers competition where a winner will be selected from our special guest jury: Kelly Drennan (Fashion Takes Action), Gail McInnes (managing editor Toronto Fashion Incubator), Amanda Brugel (Canadian TV/Film star), and designer Evan Biddell. The evening is emceed by Candice Batista, the host and producer of “A Greener Toronto” on Rogers TV.

It’s great to see those names behind a fundraiser like R4 Fashion for STEP. It shows how supportive the community is, especially in raising environmental awareness.

You have some prominent speakers and designer guests, how did you convince them to participate?

Convincing prominent designers and guests to participate was not difficult. I believe they wanted to because they care about these issues and wished to support our cause. In addition, it’s also something they enjoy doing. All we did was pick up the phone and call. Never be shy.

How big a role does social media play in this event (marketing, etc.) and how specifically are you using it?

Social media is the biggest tool we are currently using. As we are in Waterloo, Ontario and the event is in Toronto, our marketing in Toronto was predominantly dependent on social media such as Facebook and Twitter. It allowed us real time market research and definitely gave us a strong tool in reaching our target customers. Through social media we were identify key players and find out what groups, events, and discussions that were involved in. We could then approach them with a very targeted message. Whether or not they could attend the event, they could help promote it throughout their networks. We were able to build a large strategic network in spreading the word about R4 Fashion and STEP.

Most importantly, social media really eradicated the need for formality. You begin conversing with a person as if you’ve known each other since high school. It makes for a comfortable environment, and facilitates the building of strategic relations.

What was the hardest part of putting together this event?

The hardest part was financing this project. Four months into planning the recession began to play its part. Finding sponsorships was not an easy task in that economic climate. The good thing was that we were reaching out to a variety of businesses: energy, environmental, fashion, entertainment, design, and even educational.

Luckily as we are a non-profit student organization in the University of Waterloo, and were able to benefit from endowment funds of the institution. However, that only goes a certain distance.

We focused on in-kind sponsorships instead, and at this moment, we are working on promotion to increase ticket sales.

Do you have any best practices to share with other event planners who are throwing fashion-oriented events like this? Were there specific things you had to think about given the genre?

If this is your first time doing a fashion-oriented event, make sure you work with individuals who know this field. I am thankful for Kelly Drennan, founder of Fashion Takes Action, who has guided me in organizing this effectively by sharing her expertise.

Knowing the industry key players beforehand is also imperative in organizing your time more effectively. You’ll be able to know who to contact directly, rather than spending hours (or days) on the phone trying to find the appropriate person for marketing of public relations.

And most importantly, know how to adapt to the environment. Learn the language and what is the current mood of the industry. You may dress well because it’s fashion oriented, but you better hope what you speak matches the attire.

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