5 things that went down at the Copenhagen Fashion Summit

The Copenhagen Fashion Summit is an annual business event dedicated entirely to discussing the future of environmentally and socially conscious fashion, organised by Global Fashion Agenda, a business forum for the sustainable fashion industry. This year marked the 10th anniversary of the fashion summit. Held at Copenhagen Concert Hall from May 15 to 16, the main theme of the event was “10 Years of Rewriting Fashion”. Here’s our 5 things you should know happened at the Copenhagen Fashion Summit 2019.

image of two people talking to accompany article on the copenhagen fashion summit on ZERRINThis year's theme was 10 Years of Rewriting Fashion

1. Not such a good start...

Just a week before the event, Global Fashion Agenda announced their annual Pulse of the Fashion Industry Report 2019, a report on social and environmental impacts of the fashion industry. The report showed that the sustainable fashion movement was slowing down and that if the fashion industry carried on with their current unsustainable practices, the fashion industry would become a net contributor to climate change. This could mean that the Paris Convention’s goal to keep global warming below 1.5 degrees celsius would not be accomplished.

image of a man talking to an audience to accompany article on the copenhagen fashion summit on ZERRIN

Morten Lehmann, Chief Sustainability Officer of Global Fashion Agenda talking about Pulse of the Fashion Industry 2019 report.

In a somewhat controversial speech at the summit this year, Simon Collins, founder of Fashion Culture Design, told the audience: “don’t speak to stupid people.” He was referring to the overall climate of the sustainable fashion discussion, and how some people will remain adamant on purchasing from non-sustainable retailers despite the rampant sustainability movement. This careless statement not only implies that companies should exclusively sell to “smarter” customers, it also reflects the inherent issues within the fashion industry and the blame game between companies and consumers, plus the stereotype that the sustainable fashion industry is elitist.

6 out of 10 garments are incinerated within 1 year of their production and while consumers are partially to be blamed, the fashion industry is also an active contributor. Burberry made headlines last year for announcing that they had burned 37 million dollars worth of unsold products that year. Considering the fact that the Copenhagen Fashion Summit is directed towards business executives, the discourse should be focused on the top-down approach and less on blaming the uneducated decisions of the general public. For more on how to properly discuss environmental issues check out this insightful article.

Image of Francois Henri Pinault, CEO of Kering standing on the podium to accompany article on the copenhagen fashion summit on ZERRINFrançois-Henri Pinault, the CEO of Kering giving a keynote speech on the future of the luxury conglomerate. 

2. Kering CEO talks about how sustainability benefits corporations

François-Henri Pinault, the CEO of Kering, the luxury conglomerate that owns brands like Gucci and Balenciaga, spoke on the benefits of investing in sustainability efforts. He stated that sustainable business models motivates the team, inspires innovation, and leads to long-term success. He also encouraged financial institutions to include the company’s sustainability efforts as criteria for funding, instead of simply pushing for economic benefits.

While this statement is surely promising, I foresee that this could open a leeway to greenwashing. If more companies attempt at sustainability for its economic benefits without sufficient knowledge of how to properly implement these efforts, there is a higher risk of them falsely cultivating the image that they are socially or environmentally conscious.

3. Nike makes a circular fashion guide/handbook for businesses planning on implementing sustainable practices

Image of Nike Chief Design Officer John Hoke and A-COLD-WALL Founder Samuel Ross to accompany article on the Copenhagen Fashion Summit on ZERRIN A-COLD-WALL* Founder Samuel Ross and Nike Chief Design Officer John Hoke speaking at a panel discussion

Nike compiled a handbook to assist businesses trying to get on board with the idea of sustainable fashion and to help familiarize companies with the sustainability jargon. As a longtime rival of Adidas, which has spearheaded the sustainable fashion movement, this is a highly encouraging announcement, showing the influence companies can have on each other to spread the sustainability movement. I went to the website, which is available to the general public, and while I certainly saw the effort put into the handbook, the web design made it a bit difficult to find out the information that I wanted.

4. Bringing tech into sustainable fashion

image of stella mccartney to accompany article on the Copenhagen Fashion Summit on ZERRINDesigner Stella McCartney at the Copenhagen Fashion Summit 2018

Google is partnering up with Stella McCartney to create an algorithm to quantify the environmental impacts of producing cotton and viscose, the two most common materials used to produce textiles. Stella McCartney was not present at the summit but she previously mentioned in 2017 that, “Now is the time to look at what can be done and how technology can save us.” Within 2 years, she has been able to transform this idea into reality, setting an example for other brands to carry through with their promises.

5. Kering announces that they will not hire underage models

Not only did the CEO of Kering state that unsustainable business practices will result in company losses, but he also announced Kering’s plans to employ models over the age of 18 in their media campaigns for every Gucci show, Saint Laurent video, and Alexander McQueen media campaign from 2020. They also announced that they will reserve space for models to change into their clothes, establish a channel for models to file complaints to their agency, casting director, or brand, and provide food and beverages to meet their dietary requirements. The models are also required to have a valid medical certificate within 6 months of employment and must be in good physical health. This announcement highlights the important idea that the concept of sustainable fashion extends not only to the people who make the clothes but also to the models who advertise the clothes.

While there is a part of me that wants to celebrate the fact that the fashion industry is finally shedding their toxic practices and that Kering, which accounts for 7% of the industry is leading the movement, I believe it’s a little too late, considering how brands taking advantage of underage models and eating disorders among models have been a major issue for several decades now. The media hype over Kering’s announcement should not distract us from the fact that this decision should have come sooner. It’s not a clear-cut victory considering the sheer number of underage models who have been exploited in the fashion industry over the years.

On a final note...

Like many other large events, there is controversy surrounding the Copenhagen Fashion Summit, some arguing that the event has turned into a platform for corporations to market their brand initiatives.

image of two people being surrounded by clothes to accompany article on the copenhagen fashion summit on ZERRIN

The Innovation Forum is where small businesses developing cutting-edge technology for sustainable fashion liaise with industry executives

I agree that there is a lot of room for improvement for the event. For one, there should definitely be more diversity among the participants. The lineup of panelists show an evident lack of POCs with only 43 countries being represented in the conference. Despite being a conference on sustainable fashion, the only person present who represented garment workers was Nazma Akter, President of the Sommilito Garments Sramik Federation (SGSF) in Bangladesh, perpetuating the exclusivity plaguing the fashion industry. (Not to mention that  no farmers producing materials for textile were represented).

I believe one way of ensuring more inclusivity may be changing the location of the venue on a yearly basis (although the name of the summit may need to change), perhaps to countries where sweatshops and factories are located, so that the reality of unethical and environmentally harmful production of clothes are made glaringly clear. It is somewhat ironic that business executives are discussing issues of the exploitation of natural and human resources in developing countries on the other side of the world.

Some critics also argue that the event should even be live-streamed since the influx of participants flying into the area and taking cars to the venue conflicts with the purpose of the event. I also agree with this point, although I do believe that physical networking opportunities are crucial for small sustainable businesses to connect with larger corporations. I hope that in future summits, there will be more inclusivity and thought put into the overall structure (and location) of the summit instead of replicating the privileged structure of the fashion industry.

At the end of the day, however, I am happy to hear that there is increasing interest in this event. This year, only 1300 managed to enter the venue with 800 people on the waitlist and many many more applicants. The more momentum the Copenhagen Fashion Summit gains, the larger the event can be, which could gradually solve the issue of the event’s exclusivity. It’s also great that more people are interested in the sustainable fashion movement on the corporate level, and that there is some top-down action from the biggest contenders in the fashion industry.

image of contributing writer to accompany her article on the copenhagen fashion summit on ZERRIN

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