Why does a prestigious fashion professional support ACTAsia?
“I thought I knew about fur used in fashion, but when I went to China, visiting the fur markets with Pei, the CEO of ACTAsia, I learnt the reality of the fur trade and how important ACTAsia’s work in China and across Asia actually is…”
John Lau is the Dean of Academic Strategy at London College of Fashion, UAL and has been instrumental in highlighting ACTAsia’s work to students and the wider world.
Adopting the mantra of ‘just give it a go’, John has enjoyed a wide range of experiences in the fashion industry from starting out on the factory floor making jackets for airline crews, to working at a men’s magazine as a fashion assistant, to working in New York with a stylist, to designing shoots for Taiwanese magazines, before turning his hand to clothes design in Hong Kong. After this last role, John wanted to share the knowledge and expertise he had gained within the industry and use it in the world of education. John soon became a senior lecturer at Manchester Metropolitan University and in 2014, started at London College of Fashion (LCF) as Programme Director before his move to his role as Dean.
With such a diverse skillset and wide-ranging experience across multiple aspects of the fashion industry, John is a real authority in the fashion world and is perfectly positioned to understand and tackle the current global issues facing the industry – notably sustainability and a fur free approach to fashion.
How did John find out about ACTAsia and what the charity does?
John’s involvement with ACTAsia started five years ago when ACTAsia was introduced to London College of Fashion, to explain the charity’s work and how ACTAsia uses education programmes with schools and universities, consumers and professionals. Pei Su, the founder and CEO of ACTAsia, met with John and discussed how the College could make a positive impact towards achieving ACTAsia’s vision: “To create a more compassionate world for animals, people and the environment”.
After meeting Pei, John felt very engaged with ACTAsia’s goals: “I realised that we could do so much more through education at London College of Fashion. It’s all about education and it was the education side of ACTAsia that resonated with me. When I had a true understanding of ACTAsia and its scope, I realised I could help – in my own small way. This idea started with joining ACTAsia’s Sustainable Fur Free Fashion Forum and Show in Shanghai, and slowly snowballed into developing the online FutureLearn curriculum for fashion students, which could also be used to target a bigger online audience”.
What is Sustainability and the Global Fur Trade?
Co-written by John Lau and Dawn Peacock, Director of Programmes at ACTAsia, Compassion in Fashion: Sustainability and the Global Fur Trade is ACTAsia’s pioneering professional education course for fashion students and professionals. ACTAsia is the first NGO to create a fashion course focusing on fur free that is globally accessible, making it a major milestone in fur free education. The course has 12 guided learning hours and covers the impact of fur in fashion on animals, people and the environment. It also includes activities that help to develop the student’s professional portfolio, such as writing their own manifesto or completing a portfolio activity in either Design, Communication or Business. The course is run by online educators who guide and interact with students throughout their journey.
How is London College of Fashion working in collaboration with ACTAsia?
John is thrilled that ACTAsia’s work is now recognised at London College of Fashion: “Educating people to make a conscious decision really resonated with me. Education is so important. ACTAsia is now part of the College through a unit called Collaborative Challenge for postgraduate students studying their masters. The students work on a fur free project that ACTAsia sets, working together from any course – this year for example, we had students from costume, marketing and enterprise. What’s great about that is that they come up with amazing ideas to answer the brief”.
The briefs set by ACTAsia over the last three years have all been focused on encouraging conscientious consumerism across all generations:
- What are sustainable materials and how can we promote them?
- Looking at the FutureLearn curriculum and what can we do to advance its reach
- How to engage with young people about the work of ACTAsia
John comments that: “Outcomes have been fascinating”, demonstrating the level of engagement in the briefs and passion for ideas from a new generation of fashion students all keen to immerse themselves in the subjects that ACTAsia actively promote.
Presenting at ACTAsia’s Fur Free Fashion Forum in Shanghai
John was so passionate about ACTAsia’s work that in 2018 and 2019 he travelled to Shanghai and presented at the Forum to an audience of thousands. John found the experience to be very rewarding: “I went to the Fur Free Fashion Forum to explain how ACTAsia and LCF were working together and support and lend our name to the Forum. I got a lot out of it. I got a much greater understanding of what’s happening in China, about education and consumers and what consumers want. ACTAsia opened my eyes to the industry and I gained a much better understanding of the consumers, what makes them tick and what makes them want to buy fur”.
What knowledge has John gained as a result of his work with ACTAsia?
Whilst in Shanghai John visited a warehouse where he saw the reality of the fur industry. John found the experience to be very disturbing: “It was shocking to see fur as almost a throw away commodity. It was a real eye opener for me as that was not how the industry typically sees fur – as living beings being converted into items that are essentially worn and thrown away because they are so cheap. It was fast fashion for fur which was unsettling – this was not the vision of a luxury product”.
How does John’s role at London College of Fashion help ACTAsia in achieving their goals?
John is very clear about this: “To me, it starts and ends with education. If I can be of some influence to young people through education and help them to make an informed decision about whether to use fur or not then I am making a difference. For me, it’s so important to get students to think about the choices they make and the far-reaching impact of their choices, because using fur goes further than that one item – notably the people who are processing the fur, the farmers and the people looking after the animals. That’s what I tell the students – not just when discussing fur but with all fabrics. The impact and substantial environmental and mental damage is much more significant than what you see in front of you.”
How does John see his work with ACTAsia evolving in the future?
John has many ideas to offer and is always thinking ahead: “I think expanding the FutureLearn programme every year, reviewing it all the time, keeping the momentum going and seeking to reach even wider audiences is the goal. It would be great to reach out and tap into new markets in Australia, the Netherlands and China as a starting point, working with partners, colleges, and schools that are interested – and we can support them. Working with consumers will be our next giant leap. How do we educate consumers to make better choices? But this education will need to be different because you can’t do a four-week course with them – you typically have 20 seconds to sway a consumer! So, we need to develop this incredible education into 20-second soundbites so the approach will be very different.”
What is John’s takeaway from his time so far with ACTAsia?
John reflects and comments: “I’ve learned so much about the world and life through ACTAsia’s Caring for Life education. Their vision to create a more compassionate and sustainable world has enabled me to practice small things in my daily life: like eating more plant-based food, growing my own vegetables, and even making my own bread. If we focus on the real foundational level, we can make everything grow so much better, and that’s what I love about ACTAsia’s work because it helps me both personally and professionally.”
Visit FutureLearn today. ACTAsia’s free course is open for enrolment.