Copenhagen Fashion Summit 2017- “Commitment to Change” report

The Copenhagen Fashion Summit is the world’s most important gathering of leaders in fashion industry sustainability. This year, the event drew over 800 decision-makers from 41 countries, with representation from fashion brands, NGOs, and policy-makers alike.

You can guess the topics of discussion: circularity, industry collaboration, innovation, and human rights issues, amongst others. The overlap of panel topics with years past would be of little significance if the attendees were the same. However, according to the Copenhagen Fashion Summit, turnout included an increase in C-suite/Management level participation, who represented more than half of all attendees (54%). As we all know, change accelerates when there is upper management buy-in, so that’s a big win for the Copenhagen Fashion Summit organisers and the fashion industry as a whole.

Because the fifth year of the summit approached with very little action coming out of the past four meetings, this year’s theme was “commitment to change,” with circularity as the central focus. This year’s call to action is aggressive, asking companies to make drastic changes in the next 6 months toward industry circularity.

These actions include planning for product end-of-life at the design stage, introducing take-back programs, participating in resale, and implementing the use of recycled fibres. Cradle-to-Cradle’s Fashion Positive Plus initiative is leading the charge in bringing industry experts together to collaborate on circular materials.

The summit also unveiled the Pulse of the Fashion Industry report, a collaboration between Global Fashion Agenda and the Boston Consulting group. The report finds that the global fashion industry, worth €1.5 trillion, has to change immediately to avoid the rising costs of energy, materials, and labour. In fact, the report pronounces “profitability levels are at risk in the range of at least doing percentage points if they don’t act determinedly, and soon.” They call for “bolder leadership,” to address the impending threats to our businesses and, thanks to management turnout at the summit, this challenge may actually be embraced.

Another interesting takeaway from the report was that small and mid-sized companies were much less committed to sustainability than the big box retailers. I see this as an opportunity for inter-industry collaboration in the form of mentorships. The bigger corporations have the resources to risk implementing new projects. Why not share successes with smaller businesses to magnify positive change?

Based on the repetition of topics and continued discussion around the commitment to action, it seems paramount that organisations do not proceed to tackle sustainability in the fashion industry independently.

More collaboration is needed between brands to model a community mentality since we are, indeed, all in this together.

Ellen MacArthur of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation pointed out that since our industry is so fragmented, akin to the plastics industry (with whom her foundation has done so much work on circularity), it will, too, require difficult discussions amongst industry leaders.

In the past, we’ve allowed our governments around the world to lead us. But, with political leaders who don’t necessarily invest in, or believe in combatting climate change, businesses are stepping up to acknowledge their collective power to fight climate and human injustice. The fashion industry spoke loud and clear in Copenhagen this year: we are empowered and committed to do our part in reinventing systems, infrastructure, and outdated business models in our supply chains. This year, that commitment begins with circularity.

Image credit: Kenzo / Joseph Ford





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