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In Focus: Copenhagen Fashion Summit 2016

By Vivian Hendriksz


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"This most important event for those who care about sustainability," said co-host, model and actress Amber Valletta during the opening speech of the Copenhagen Fashion Summit. "Although there is no need to convince anyone here - we are preaching to the converted," added Derek Blasberg, co-host, fashion writer and CNN Style host. The industry's largest conference dedicated to sustainability welcomed over 1250 attendees to its fourth edition to discuss and debate this year's theme responsible innovation.

A range of influential speakers took to the stage at the sold out DK Concert Hall in Copenhagen, Denmark, including; Her Royal Highness, Crown Princess Mary of Denmark; Burak Cakmak, Dean of the School of Fashion at Parsons; Livia Firth, founder and creative director of Eco-Age; Vanessa Friedman, fashion director and critic at the New York Times; Rick Ridgeway, Vice President of Public Engagement at Patagonia; Hannah Jones, Chief Sustainability Officer and VP, Innovation Accelerator at Nike; and Anna Gedda, Head of Sustainability at H&M.

"2016 is no longer about if, but how we work together today"

One main thread which ran throughout the day and linked all the discussions, talks, debates and speeches was urgency behind the need to change the current fashion systems now. The fashion industry remains the second most polluting industry in the world, following oil, manufacturing over 8 billion garments per year - half of which end up on landfills as waste. "Each year we are using resources from 7 earth's," stressed Ridgeway during his talk 'Patagonia: Good for Business & Good for the Planet'.

"We need to only take from the earth what it can give back and accommodate business models for the reduction of global compound production." Reducing the consumption of fashion, along with recycling, repairing and reusing unwanted garments and embracing a circular economy were just a few of key changes highlighted at the summit which need to occur within the industry.

Another important driver of change mentioned by several speakers was collaboration - collaboration between companies, industries and governments, as well as consumers and workers around the world. "2016 is no longer about if, but how we work together today to ensure it happens as soon as possible," noted, Jones during her talk 'Designing the Future'.

"We must act, we must act now and act together," added Kristen Jensen, Denmark's Minister of Foreign Affairs in his opening speech. During the breakout session 'Will Technology save Fashion?', James Carnes, Vice President of Strategy Creation and Lead for Open Source at Adidas, stressed that the technology to change is there. "Most of the things we need are there, but it is the culture of collaboration that will make the big difference."

“Instead of making things less bad, we should be asking how do we make the future we want?"

In addition to collaboration, making supply chains more transparent for accountability and traceability was another was also a hot topic of debate. “I wish companies were more transparent as we need to create an equal playing field which celebrates sustainable milestones,” said Gedda during her talk ‘Transformation for Future Success.’ She highlighted the need for transparency to be done in the correct way and the problems linked to making supply chains and factories public, such as potentially becoming the target of a media campaign for working in a factory in the wrong area. “This does not encourage other brands to go transparent, which is what the brands and the fashion industry needs.”

Throughout the day, a number of the brands speaking shared their sustainable milestones as well as the goals and targets they wish to achieve over the coming years as an example of transparency and how they feel they can make a difference. However, some speakers questioned if it was enough to make a real change. "Working with efficient measures is not enough - less bad is not enough,” stressed Jones. “Instead of making things less bad, we should be asking how do we make the future we want?" She noted that design can be “the most powerful lever of change” in this regard as sustainability should start from the designer’s sketch pad and flow right through to the production of the product.

Even though the Copenhagen Fashion Summit revolves around sustainability, some speakers rejected the use of the word, pointing out its oxymoronic nature and preferring to use the phrase 'eco-conscious' or 'responsible fashion', another area of focus was how to convey the importance of sustainability to consumers and transform it into something desirable and coveted. "Responsible fashion may be many things, but it is not sexy," pointed out Friedman in her talk 'Sex and Sustainability'.

"When it comes to consumers the talk, storytelling needs work...we need the popculture pitch to convince the billions of people the real importance of it." The role and the power the media play in sending this message to the public was also discussed during the panel 'Power of the Media.' "Sustainable fashion is almost a cliche now," noted Imran Amed, founder and CEO of Business of Fashion. "You shouldn't say it, it does not sell...consumers want beauty. But I think it is time to educate consumers that good design is sustainable."

The Copenhagen Fashion Summit also welcomed the vision of the future designers of tomorrow, who came together during the Youth Fashion Summit and took to the stage to share their 7 demands for the future of sustainability, based on the list of the 17 United Nations sustainable development goals. "Their radical collaboration demostrates what happens when you bring together dedicated minds, the makers and thinkers and doers, who think we can do better," said Dilys Williams, Director of Centre for Sustainable Fashion, a University of the Arts Research Centre based at London College of Fashion. Their demands ranged from the empowerment and education of both workers and consumers, the fashion industry to taking on a circular economy and ensuring that the industry is no longer the second most polluting industry in the world.

Photos: FashionUnited

Copenhagen Fashion Summit