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Fashion Industry Leaders vow to move towards a Circular System

If the global fashion industry wishes to secure its future then now is the time to come together to and takes steps towards a circular system. That was the main takeaway from the Copenhagen Fashion Summit this week, which took place on May 11 at the Koncerthuset in one of the most green countries in the world: Denmark. Industry leaders from around the world came together for the annual conference, which asked brands, retailers and companies alike to come together and pledge to begin working towards adopting a circular business model. The Global Fashion Agenda, which organises the sustainable fashion summit, Call to Action has been signed by over 20 leading companies, including H&M, Kering, Bestseller, Asos, M&S, Target and Inditex.

Fashion Industry Leaders vow to move towards a Circular System

"I'm very pleased that some of the world's leading and biggest companies signed our Call to Action for a Circular Fashion System,” says Eva Kruse, CEO of the Global Fashion Agenda (GFA). “I take this as a clear sign that the industry is not only aware of the need to change and the need to strive towards a closed loop system, but also ready to act.” Together, the companies which signed the GFA call to action commitment have pledged to start working on defining a circular strategy within their business, setting fixed targets for 2020 and will report on the progress of their commitment. A circular system, different from the linear model most companies use which sees the raw materials used to create commercial goods that are bought and then eventually thrown away by consumers, reuse products (and waste) at their end of life cycle to create new products over and over.

Leading fashion players sign Call to Action at the Copenhagen Fashion Summit

The Global Fashion Agenda’s call to action comes after the release of a new report ‘The Pulse of Fashion 2017’. Created together by the GFA and the Boston Consulting Group, the report highlights the urgency the industry faces in shifting towards a circular model. For example, apparel consumption is predicted to reach 102 million tonnes by 2030, up from 62 million tonnes in 2016, as the global population will rise to 8.5 billion - putting a huge strain on the world’s resources. “We are currently using the resources of 1.7 planet’s - even though we only have the one,” says Kruse. The report also highlights the economic advantage in adopting a circular system which addresses the current environmental and social issues at hand: approximately 160 billion euros would be added to the world's economy annually by 2030. At the moment the fashion industry has a low pulse when it comes to sustainability, scoring a 32 out of 100 in the newly developed global Pulse Score. Although a number of big fashion players scored high, the remaining fashion players scored rather low, as a number of medium to smaller-sized companies are said to have shown little effort towards becoming sustainable.

Fashion Industry Leaders vow to move towards a Circular System

A number of larger players have already made a number of commitments initiatives towards becoming circular, including H&M, Kering and C&A. For example, H&M previously set itself a goal of only using 100 percent recycled or sustainably sourced materials in its products by 2030 last month, following the launch of its garment collection initiative in 2013. C&A, together with William McDonough, a renowned expert on Cradle to Cradle, took on the challenge of creating its first C2C certified t-shirts. Following the Cradle to Cradle Certified Programme, which sets standards for raw material and chemical usages, ensures products are designed using materials which allow for reuse and made in safe and fair working conditions, C&A created a t-shirt certified at “Gold” level which retails for 9 euros and decomposes in 11 weeks if thrown onto a compost heap. Kering previously launched its innovation labs which are dedicated to developing new and sustainable materials, ranging from regenerated cashmere and recycled nylon.

Kering, H&M and C&A have also invested in a number of start-ups to accelerate the development of the technology needed to take on a circular system. Together H&M and Kering have invested in Worn Again, which uses chemical recycling technology to separate and extract polyester and cotton from post-consumer products, while C&A teamed up with William McDonough, Kering, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation and the Sustainable Trade Initiative to create the global initiative Fashion For Good, which aims to help the industry rethink how fashion is designed, make used and reused. However, in spite of these initiatives, there is still much work to be done if the fashion industry aims on becoming circular, which is why collaboration, innovation, technology and creativity were underlined as the key drivers for change throughout the Summit.

Fashion Industry Leaders vow to move towards a Circular System

“At Kering we are rethinking luxury as sustainable but to make real progress and to address our global challenges it is essential to join forces across the fashion industry,” says Marie-Claire Daveu, Chief Sustainability Officer and Head of international institutional affairs at Kering. “Many of the conventional and unsustainable practices employed by our industry must be transformed and we believe that working with our peers through collaborative initiatives can influence real, positive change.” Kruse stresses that for the past 8 years, the Copenhagen Fashion Summit has unsuccessfully been trying to put that message across to the industry. “Actually we haven't succeeded very well in getting the message across the stage," says Kruse. "So we thought that we have to do it differently this time."

But with the GFA new call to action, which sees an increasing number of brands pledge to take concrete steps towards taking on a circular system, Kruse is hopeful for the future of fashion. As was McDonough, who reminded the fashion industry that "being less bad is not being good." Sustainability leader and co-founder of the Cradle-to-Cradle movement. McDonough opened the Summit's nine-hour programme, which included more than 50 industry speakers, such as Michael Kowalski, CEO of Tiffany & Co., Vanessa Friedman, The New York Times chief fashion critic, Dame Ellen MacArthur, circular economy authority and Livia Firth, founder of Eco Age Ltd. Together these industry experts shared their thoughts and ideas on how the fashion industry can work towards making sustainability the new norm and taking on a circular system.

Fashion Industry Leaders vow to move towards a Circular System

Part of the GFA call to action led to the launch of a new initiative - The Circular Fibre Initiative. This new initiative, launched by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, brings together key industry retailers and stakeholders to create a circular economy for textiles, beginning with apparel and is supported by the C&A Foundation, H&M, Nike, The Danish Fashion Institute, Fashion for Good, Cradle to Cradle and MISTRA Future Fashion. Together they aim to work together to create a new system for global fibres which will be based on the principles of a circular economy and generate growth for both consumers and businesses while phasing out negative impacts, like pollution and waste.

“The way we produce, use, and reprocess clothing today is inherently wasteful, and current rising demand increases the negative impacts. The Circular Fibres Initiative aims to catalyse change across the industry by creating an ambitious, fact-based vision for a new global textiles system, underpinned by circular economy principles, that has economic, environmental, and social benefits, and can operate successfully in the long term”, said Dame Ellen MacArthur, Founder, Ellen MacArthur Foundation. One of the initiatives first steps will be producing a report by autumn 2017, together with McKinsey & Co., which maps how textiles travel across the global economy, and the externalities which stem from the current system. The report will then explore what a new, circular economy for textiles - one that is restorative and regenerative - may look like, and lay out the steps needed to build it.

Fashion Industry Leaders vow to move towards a Circular System

Although the results and the initiatives launch are promising, the question remains as to how long it will take for the rest of the fashion industry to step up and start working together to take on a circular system.

Photos: Courtesy of the Copenhagen Fashion Summit