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Copenhagen Fashion Summit: "Sustainability is the norm"

By Vivian Hendriksz


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London - The fourth edition of the Copenhagen Fashion Summit, the world's largest conference dedicated to sustainability within the fashion industry, offered its platform in the DK Concert Hall to some of the most innovation and conscious brands and insiders working to bring around the much needed changes. Experts ranging from Patagonia, Nike and Eco Age took turns sharing their vision of a responsible, innovative industry.

However, the most surprising and the most refreshing point of view of the day did not come from the numerous organizations and companies boosting of their sustainable achievements, but rather from a group students. Two days prior to the Copenhagen Fashion Summit, was the Youth Fashion Summit, organised by the Danish Fashion Institute and the Copenhagen School of Design and Technology which saw over 100 students from around the globe come together to discuss their ideas for a sustainable future.

Students makes 7 sustainability demands for the industry to reach by 2030

The students, who stemmed from over 40 different countries, came together to create their own set of guidelines and goals for the fashion industry based on the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) agreed on during the COP21 talks which took place in Paris last December. The 17 SDG's set to dictate the global development agenda through to 2030 are reflected in the student's final 7 demands for the industry, which were announced directly to the CEOs, designers, politicians and leaders present during the summit in Copenhagen.

The Youth Fashion Summit student speakers demands reflected the urgency with which the industry needs to change, whilst outlining tangible courses of action to take in order to ensure the survival of the fashion industry, as well as the planet's. "Their radical collaboration demonstrates what happens when you bring together dedicated minds, the makers and thinkers and doers, who think we can do better," said Dilys Williams, mentor to the student group and Director of Centre for Sustainable Fashion, University of the Arts. "This is the first generation of people who really understand climate change, and the last ones who can really do anything about it," she added.

A copy of the students manifesto is found below, but only time can tell if the fashion industry is ready to take heed and listen to their leaders, designers and CEOs of tomorrow before it's too late.

1) As a group of CEOs, business and opinion leaders, academics and students. Would you be here today without equal access to education? As inheritors of your roles we demand empowerment and education of workers and consumers. (based on SDGs #4 and #5)

We realize you are very intelligent and influential. But, you are kind of stuck in a system that is not really working anymore. So, we want to present our desired future.

In 2030, the fashion industry will have blended the line between work and education. Government, businesses and media will have created a positive symbiotic partnership that encourages the wellbeing of all it touches. With an online learning platform, we will be able to train employees, allowing them to build their technical and personal skills. It will have a positive effect on employee contentment and overall productivity. This platform will be incentivized by governments and employed, by businesses.

Moreover, we believe that education should not just involve the makers but also the wearers. The media has a huge impact and so does technology and innovation! Government and businesses can together with the media educate and cultivate behavioral change amongst consumers through their influence and widespread reach. This will create a feedback loop that in turn feeds back to the business.

With such an open system, education both within and across cultures, will allow empowerment to be possible for all. I hope we have empowered you to join us on this journey!

2) As inheritors of you roles, we demand that the fashion industry takes drastic and immediate action towards implementing closed-loop water systems to ensure that the industry is not dependent on fresh water as a resource. (based on SDGs #3 and #6).

According to the UN, without immediate action from the fashion industry, clean water will no longer be an accessible resource by 2030 for half of the world’s population. This is not acceptable.

Instead, we imagine a future where the fashion industry is no longer the second biggest water consuming industry. We imagine a world where there is full awareness of the chemicals in our fresh water and their effects on 9 billion people.

We also imagine a drastic shift in how we use and value water, creating a culture that both respects and learns from the value of our resources. The technology of water recycling is out there, so let us implement it today.

3) As inheritors of your roles, we demand a long-term investment on the well-being of the community as a whole, through: - Fair Wages - Improving Infrastructure - Ensuring food security. (based on SDGs #1, #2 and #10).

I would like to tell you the story of a man, that I am pretty sure you know already. His name? Brunello Cucinelli. Cucinelli is the living proof that creating a corporate culture that encompasses the local community is possible; as a matter of fact it is happening as we speak - his commitment managed to revitalize an entire Italian village. Now, the community is part of the industry and the industry is part of the community. Working hand in hand and mutually gaining - they have not only increase the quality of the final product but ultimately the quality of living.

In this new model, that we consider should be the new normal, community and industry thrive together by respecting the hands and hearts involved in the garments life cycle.

4) What do capital, profit, and success mean to you? What if by 2030, they meant something completely different? As inheritors of your roles, we demand you all to collaborate as active investors in a fashion industry where capital, profit and success are redefined and measured in more than monetary value. (based on SDGs #16 and #17).

By 2030, these concepts must be measured side by side with a holistic view of well being, social security, and global health. The priority must be on collaboration, on knowledge sharing, on rethinking where we place our value, and a lowering of the barriers between people, companies, and countries which halt the flow of progress.

We want you to imagine a future wherein success can be measured, not just through financial gains, but equally through the sharing and increasing of knowledge, technological innovation, and social and environmental progress.

5) As inheritors of your roles, we demand that by 2030 fashion is no longer the second largest polluting industry in the world. (based on SDGs #13, #14 and #15).

You - global policy makers, must work together with NGO’s, brands and corporations to create and implement legislation for no more land abuse. Invest in research and innovation. It is vital that we take responsibility in restoring the air, water and land that we have altered.

Furthermore, we must create more opportunities for life. To let this world flourish, we must stop taking that which we cannot restore. We are running out of resources.

6) As the next generation and inheritors of your roles, and our waste, we demand that designers, brands and governments collaboratively invest in the recycling technology and infrastructure that is needed to secure and enable a circular system. (based on SDGs #8 and #12)

Products, fabrics, and fibres will be infinetly cycled within and across industries. Today’s textile waste, is tomorrows textile resource. We support the concept of mass balance and ask that brands give as much into the system as they take out. This encompasses the continual sourcing of recycled content and active collection of textiles. Government must support this through incentives and regulations, so that early adopters benefit from circular behavior.

We want an industry that has zero waste practices embedded in its DNA, and causes no unnecessary harm. This means a strategic cross-industry roadmap, to eliminate post-industrial, pre-consumer and post consumer waste.

We also demand that brands proactively support the system, by incorporating design for circularity as a driving philosophy in their work. Our vision is a fashion world in 2030, where circularity is business as usual.

7) As inheritors of your roles, we demand economic consequences in order to reverse standards. (based on SDGs #7, #9 and #11).

We need to reverse the profitability of being unsustainable. Sustainability should be rewarded. This is why we are addressing you, the companies, the governments, the game changers of tomorrow.

The world happiness report validates the notion that happiness does not increase with financial exponential growth. For this reason, our industry needs to look at other metrics of success. We need to build a resilient infrastructure in order to create green cities.

In short, we are going to penalize reckless businesses and invest that money in sustainable fashion initiatives. Through this sustainability will be the standard in 2030. No one wants to be labeled as something negative but in the future we want to expose the ones that are.

Sustainability is the norm. Our industry has to reward the people that are making a change.

Photos: Copenhagen Fashion Summit and Youth Fashion Summit, Facebook

Copenhagen Fashion Summit
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Sustainable Development Goals