Copenhagen Fashion Summit 2019 #RewritingFashion

Published by Ocean Generation \ May 26, 2019 11:47 am

Copenhagen Fashion Summit 2019 marked the event’s 10th anniversary. When the first summit was held in connection with the United Nations Climate Conference COP15 in 2009, sustainability was still a new phenomenon in the fashion industry and often viewed as a charitable endeavour. 

Global Fashion Agenda, a leadership forum mobilising the fashion system to change the way we produce, market and consume fashion, saw the urgent need for fashion to take reasonability and sparked a discussion by creating what is now the Copenhagen Fashion Summit. The event gathers leading sustainability experts and fashion decision makers, CEOs and showcases innovations and brands determined to make the world a better place for future generations. Ocean Generation spent two full days in Copenhagen listening to panels, exploring eco-textile innovations and networking with leaders in the sustainability space. 

The fashion industry has been unregulated from the very beginning of its time. Therefore, for far too long fashion manufacturers and brands across all aspects of the supply chains have violated both planet and people. To put it into context, the Fashion industry accounts for over 10% of global carbon emissions and remains the second largest industrial polluter after oil and gas.  Fashion is destroying rivers and fresh water sources, microfibres are choking our sea life and fashion oppresses millions of farmers and garment workers by forcing into modern day slavery simply because fast fashion prioritises profit over people.  

The summit claims to have been ‘rewriting’ fashion for 10 years, and that 2019 will continue to move the industry from words to action, representing not just a meeting platform but an interactive space that inspires leaders to act on the most critical issues facing the fashion industry and planet. With topics like climate change, human rights and resource scarcity soaring to new heights, there is absolutely no doubt brands and especially fashion conglomerates must lead the way for change. 

For an entire decade, the same people have gathered at the Copenhagen Fashion Summit and talked about the same issues and challenges. What was expected from the Summit – to learn about sustainable action. The reality – listening to CEO’s from groups such as Kering, H&M, PVH Corp, Nike and others discussing “desires” for change, collaborations and using the Summit stage as a platform for a good PR story. The actual change makers with viable solutions that desperately need support and investment from large corporations were exhibiting in the basement of the Summit instead of on stage. There was also no audience participation and as a result, at the Copenhagen Fashion Summit not one speaker was challenged with questions and comments were kept at zero for the entire two days of talks.  

The elephant in the room was evidently consumption. How can the fashion industry built on growth respond to the fact that we already have excess clothing at home? 

Realising that it is the only the thing to do to protect and optimise our planet’s finite resources, more companies are beginning to integrate sustainability into their business models. Likewise, there is also a demand from consumers, making it an appealing business decision to change. But too many other companies are sitting back and waiting to see if ‘sustainability’ really does have a business case and this is creating an unequal playing field for global brands. 

Individually bigger companies are generally pro-active and intelligent on sustainability but collectively not coming together. The private sector is not used to working together because the natural market instinct has been to compete. It can’t just be a few big brands leading the way for more ethical supply chains or the small start-up brands creating with purpose. Instead, the sustainability fight must be an industry wide collaboration. The fashion industry needs collective intelligence without upsetting the world economy. 

The other idea brands need to get out of their head immediately is this idea that the consumer should pay for sustainable products. Absolutely not. The consumer has evolved over the last ten years and are the most informed, but it should not be their job to pressure their favourite brands into being aware or paying more. As noted by Director of Sustainable Business at Marks and Spencer, ‘It must be the responsibility of the brands who have the relationships with the hidden supply chains to solve the problems’. This will only start when brands admit the fact they have gotten rich from exploitation but commit to accountability and transparency moving forward. 

Ogul Kivanc Arseven, Innovation Value Manager at ISKO Denim rightly “Sustainability is the longest term project with the shortest term outputs”. 

If we look at sustainability from a designer’s perspective, the creators that determine what is cool. The fundamental bottom line is designers are creating great products so, let us take away the ‘sustainable’ terminology from the very start and stop making it the exception but the actual design norm. Nike and Levis gave some great examples using recycle polyester and laser dye products that have been a great success for their brands. Supply can be the driver of demand if the supply chains change. 

For the 10th year Copenhagen Fashion Summit gathered people from all aspects of the fashion industry and there were a lot of positive conversations, inspiring people and startling truths. The event definitely said as much about the people who were there as the people and brands who were not. As one of the only summits specifically dedicated to sustainable fashion it would have been nice to see other large industry players such as LVMH and Inditex participate, and also see some of the so called ‘sustainable influencers’ attend by their own means. 

The sustainability angle was embodied in the high environmental standards the Summit held to itself and production partners too. Everything form exhibition stands to water bottles and catering had been designed with sustainability in mind. The food was deliciously prepared for the Summit by .506 a vegan and organic company that also aims to minimise food waste. The cultural fuel provided by .506 included carrots sautéed in that morning’s coffee grounds, cookies made from hemp and absolutely no plastic packaging in sight. 

Sustainability has been on the global agenda for such a long time, the pace at which the fashion industry has committed to helping people and planet is simply not good enough. Fashion is polluting our planet at an unprecedented rate and prohibiting millions of people, especially in the developing world from earning a fair wage and live with dignity. 

If the brands and corporations won’t move faster, we as consumers must ask ourselves ‘Do we care?’. Only you can answer that but if you do care, let us ignite the 4th revolution and show your power by voting with your dollars and consciously consuming. 


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