I attended the Copenhagen Fashion Summit 2018, the world’s leading business event on sustainability in fashion, and it was truly an eye-opening experience about the current state of the industry and what brands and consumers can do to make conscious decisions going forward.
This year’s summit was opened by Margrethe Vestager, European Commissioner for Competition, who said that “the summit is not to talk about fashion but to talk about solutions and alternative ways of doing what we’re currently doing. The industry is big and this will have a global effect, which is why sustainability has to be built on fundamental change.”
Here are seven key takeaways from the Copenhagen Fashion Summit 2018.
1. Brands in the fashion industry are becoming more sustainable
The Pulse of the Fashion Industry 2018 report created by Global Fashion Agenda and The Boston Consulting Group shows that 2017 has been a turning point for sustainability. “The improvement is much more than we thought,” said Sebastian Boger, Partner and Managing Director at The Boston Consulting Group, “75% of the brands in the industry has improved across all segments in the industry, with giant players in sports and entry-price segment being the highest performers.”
He emphasises how 90% of fashion companies have sustainability-related targets and 50% of all companies are using their sustainability principles in their decision making. Generally, there is a clear shift showing that sustainability is becoming more important for brands.
2. But the general state of the environment is getting worse
Serial entrepreneur and thought leader, David Roberts, held an incredibly inspiring keynote about the current state of the global environment. He compares Earth to a fish bowl that has its own perfect ecosystem and says that “everything we’re doing that’s not circular is poisoning ourselves.”
He explains that even though the easiest solution may be to look at the opportunity of moving humans to another planet like you see in science fiction movies, a planet like Mars is still worse than the worst place on Earth, so that is not a sustainable solution.
3. Transparency and collaboration is key for sustainable brands to succeed
The summit had a huge focus on supply chain transparency. Representatives from H&M, Target, Ganni, Designer’s Remix and many more came to share their experiences when developing a transparent supply chain for consumers to see every step of how their products are made. “In 2014 we were the first to publish our list of tier 2 suppliers in the US,” says Amanda Busz, vice president of product quality and responsible sourcing at Target, “Transparency is helping us recruit talents and with the help of green supply chain mapping we’re looking to use mobile technology to find out how people can work in a safe environment.”
“We can’t fix what we can’t see so it’s all about opening up and talking about it”, says Orsola de Castro, founder and creative director of Fashion Revolution, “we see change every single day with brands wanting to improve.” She also mentions that some of the barriers to transparency can be cultural factors and competitive reasons, but looking beyond these, transparency is really disrupting the fashion industry.
A keyword that was used throughout the summit was collaboration. This is internally throughout the different stages of the supply chain, but also externally with brands teaming up and sharing knowledge with one another on how to improve their sustainable efforts.
4. Use your voice to spread sustainable and ethical messages
During a panel discussion moderated by Tim Blanks, editor-at-large at The Business of Fashion, he questioned three powerful women – the fashion director of Vogue US, Tonne Goodman, actor and entrepreneur, Lily Cole and model and entrepreneur, Amber Valletta – how brands and media houses should go about communicating sustainability.
“It’s becoming sexier to talk about sustainability,” says Lily Cole, “An important part of the conversation is how we’re innovating the business model itself when consumers think they need to buy more every five minutes. The question is how we can shift those cultural messages that we send out into a healthier mindset.”
With the increasing power of social media, Amber Valletta says, “You’d be surprised by how many people in the industry that are not aware of the issues. There is an endless amount of storytelling that is possible to increase consumer awareness.” And on that note, Tonne Goodman says, “And why shouldn’t social media be used for this? People are valuing what they put into their body, now they have to be aware of what they put on their body.”
One of the recent powerful initiatives has been Fashion Revolution’s #WhoMadeMyClothes social media campaign. Orsola de Castro says:
“We won’t stop until we see an improvement in the mass consumption and every single consumer who are sharing the hashtag is being heard.”
5. Consumers are more loyal to sustainable brands
The panel talks and keynotes from the large corporations represented at the summit put emphasis on the fact that consumers are more loyal to sustainable brands. Particularly Millennials and Generation Z consumers are seeking purposeful and meaningful brands that stand for something. David Fischer, founder and CEO of Highsnobiety, says:
“Millennials and Generation Z will incorporate sustainability into their lives because it aligns with their values.”
6. Solutions and innovations are already here
The Innovation Forum at the summit presented many new innovative solutions that can turn the fashion industry upside down. For instance, synthetic biology that copies DNA from nature to colour garments and a closed-loop process that is based on waste methane gas.
Some interesting concepts were Bioglitz, which produces plant-based glitter that does not harm the environment, compared to regular glitter that is made from plastic, which is poisoning food supply and heats the oceans. Econyl produces yarn made from nylon waste materials, such as fishing nets, fabrics, production discards and industrial components and is today used by over 200 brands, including Stella McCartney, adidas and H&M.
Still, there are unfair regulations that are being imposed on new sustainable materials. “My margins are smaller because some of my products are being taxed 30% more than leather goods when it is being imported into the US,” says Stella McCartney pointing out that these are outdated regulations that governments need to reconsider, “I’m just trying to do what I’d encourage.” During her interview, she shows off her over-the-knee boots and says that the material that, indeed looks like leather is not, and lasts much longer.
7. We all need to take action and make conscious decisions to continue to the growth
“We need bottom-up, top-down and side to side idea sharing,” says HRH Crown Princess Mary of Denmark, as she explains that it is all areas of the fashion industry that needs to act for change to happen, and that includes the manufacturers, retailers and consumers.
As consumers, we are all responsible for making conscious decisions about what we buy and how we are going to throw out or recycle our garments. A good place to start is with the app Good on You that was represented at the Innovation Forum. In the app, you can use to look up brands to see how sustainable they are based on reviews and public CSR information.
It is also important to keep questioning brands and share hashtags, as #WhoMadeMyClothes, to spark conversations. If you are interested in learning more about the sustainability and this year’s Copenhagen Fashion Summit, you can catch the event on my Instagram Stories Highlight, rewatch the keynotes and panel talks and read the Pulse of the Fashion Industry 2018 report.
Images by Copenhagen Fashion Summit