Copenhagen Fashion Summit 2019: 5 Key Takeaways
The Copenhagen Fashion Summit 2019 took place at Copenhagen’s famous Concert Hall. The cavernous architecture of the building was combined with vermilion lighting concept. It almost looked more like the interior of a bond villains volcano lair than an international summit. But the drama of the venue was only matched by the drama of the summit’s topic. And if the red light seemed to reflect off the concert hall ceiling, it was only because, as Dr Martin Frick stated, “Our planet is on fire.” The idea being, that fashion set that fire ablaze and now we must come together to put it out.
The Summit, which took place on May 15th and 16th, was organised by the Global Fashion Agenda, an international forum for sustainable fashion. Despite the fact that the summit had run for 9 years before, this year felt different. More urgent. “We need radical cooperation,” Dr. Martin Frick noted. Dr. Helen Crowley told us, “We don’t have a choice.” Katharine Hamnett summed up the situation when she said: “You can’t be lazy about this. The future of the earth is at stake.”
Over these two days in Copenhagen, 1300 attendees listened to 78 speakers. Over 450 brands from 48 countries attended. And there were over 600 meetings between brands and sustainability solution-providers.
Here are the five key takeaways from the Copenhagen Fashion Summit this year:
A Movement towards Circularity
Nothing is more key to sustainability than having a circular economy. In other words, we need to be making products out of recycled materials rather than virgin ones. In 2017, the Global Fashion Agenda produced the 2020 Circular Fashion System Commitment. One of the key signatories on this commitment was athletics brand, Nike. This year, Nike took its commitment to circularity one step further by announcing its Circular Design Workbook at the Copenhagen Fashion Summit. They aim to provide designers around the world a much-needed common language for circular fashion.
This year, circularity was also on the mind of EURATEX (European Apparel and Textile Confederation). They teamed up with FESI (Federation of the European Sporting Goods Industry), GFA (Global Fashion Agenda), IAF (International Apparel Federation) and SAC (Sustainable Apparel Coalition) to write a new manifesto on fashion circularity. It’s aimed at EU policymakers to think carefully about implementing circularity in upcoming legislation.
A Movement towards Transparency
Transparency was a common theme of most discussions throughout the Copenhagen Fashion Summit. Emanuel Chirico, the Chairman and CEO of PVH Corp was one of the speakers. He especially stressed this idea, noting, “We need to increase transparency as we move forward.” As the owner of brands like Tommy Hilfiger and Calvin Klein PVH Corp is certainly an important voice in the industry. They used that platform at the summit to emphasise the importance of transparency. But they also practised what they preached. Chirico announced “Forward Fashion,” the evolution of its corporate social responsibility scheme. This ambitious document set our PVH’s plan for the future: to reduce negative impacts to zero and increase positive impacts to 100%. Forward Fashion was set out as the model of what all corporate social responsibility schemes should look like.
A Movement towards Collaboration
The sustainable fashion industry often faces the paradox of mission vs. profit. The nature of fashion businesses mean they exist to sell clothes and make a profit. This necessarily means different businesses are in competition with each other. However, from a sustainability standpoint, we must value collaboration over competition. This idea came up again and again from the Copenhagen Fashion Summit inspirational speakers. Anna Gedda, the head of sustainability for H&M, argued, “Sustainability needs to be a non-competitive area. Working with open source, using our experience and making sure we don’t compete.”
François-Henri Pinault, the Chairman and CEO of Kering, agreed, adding: “Leaders have to put themselves in a vulnerable position and push to find solutions together. We need to forge the path together to change the paradigms.” Pinault also announced that French president, Emmanuel Macron, had tasked him with creating a coalition of top fashion companies that could come together to set ambitious targets. Collaboration over competition.
A Movement towards Responsibility
Everybody is responsible for the shift towards sustainable fashion. The Global Fashion Initiative worked on the Copenhagen Fashion Summit with strategic partners that included Kering, H&M, Target, BESTSELLER, Li & Fung and Sustainable Apparel Coalition. But the sustainability movement is not just aimed at select brands that sign onto initiatives. It’s aimed at every fashion company. Anna Gedda noted, “If we cannot provide sustainable fashion for all, we have failed.”
The issue here is that the sustainability movement has swept through the luxury sector, while smaller and mid-market brands are left outside. Producing sustainable and ethical clothing is more expensive. And currently, not everyone can afford it. The solution offered at the summit was one involving legislation. The government must reward carbon-reducing initiatives with tax breaks. Taking steps like this will level the economic playing field between sustainable and non-sustainable clothing.
Within the theme of indiscriminate responsibility, Google announced a new initiative in collaboration with Stella McCartney. The search engine is launching a new tool that uses data analytics to give companies a more comprehensive view of their supply chains. This will be especially helpful at the level of raw material production — a particularly wasteful stage where emissions are hard to quantify. Google and McCartney are working together to make it easier for every company to take responsibility for its sustainability initiative.
A Sense of Urgency
The Copenhagen Fashion Summit didn’t just offer solutions to unsustainable business practices. It clarified that these solutions have to happen now. In conjunction with the summit, the Global Fashion Agenda published the Pulse of the Fashion Industry 2019 update. This document clarified the shocking role of fashion in climate change. It stated that if we do not take drastic steps, we will not meet the Paris Agreement’s objective of keeping global warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius during the remainder of this century.
Urgency was the key theme of this year's Copenhagen Fashion Summit. Urgency was the key motivator of the solution meetings. Urgency was the most tangible scent at the Copenhagen Concert Hall. Paul Polman, the Chair of the International Chamber Of Commerce and The B Team, perhaps summed up the summit best when he said: "To solve the issues we have today, we don't have to send people to Mars to find the answers. We have the answers; we only need the right leadership and our willpower.”