The fashion industry is complex. It is globalised, it is not transparent, it is polluting and it relies on the work of impoverished workers. There is A LOT to fix.
The Copenhagen Fashion Summit is the world’s leading event for sustainability and fashion. Hosted by the Global Fashion Agenda (previously the Danish Fashion Institute) it brings together some of the biggest names in the industry to discuss where we are today, and what actions need to be taken to provide a life of quality for everyone involved, from garment workers to end consumers.
As Sammy is based in Copenhagen, being part of the Summit as a local was something of a novelty. It’s not often that working on opposite sides of the world has its perks, but when it does, it feels just right.
From sparking deep thinking about system change to making small every-day changes, here are our points of inspiration and five key takeaways:
WHAT INSPIRED US
- On the urgent need for transparency Orsola de Castro, founder of Fashion Revolution, reminded us that “we can’t fix what we can’t see”.
- Simon Collins encouraged us to engage with people we don’t agree with, rather than preaching to the converted. And to “get fired”, arguing that true system change comes from those who don’t confirm and accept what exists today.
- Paul Dillinger, vice president and head of product innovation at Levi’s, was one of few speakers to challenge the notion of circular systems as a justification for fast fashion: “The circularity thing makes it so we can double our business without worrying about things like straining water systems around the world. In fact, no. If six out of 10 garments we produce end up in a landfill or incinerated within the first year of production, should we have made those six?”
- Handy tips that every person in the audience could go home and implement right away came from Bert Wouters of Procter & Gamble: “Use high quality liquid detergent, fabric softener and a short, cold machine wash. This will allow your clothes to last four times longer than otherwise, and shed significantly less microfibres.”
- Stella McCartney on sticking to your morals: “I rejected a design job for Gucci when I was starting out as I didn’t want to work with leather or fur. They said they’d give up fur for me, but not leather, so I said no.”
Where we are today:
- 80% of the clothing we throw away ends up in landfill
- 50 million tons of clothes are thrown away each year
- The fashion industry is the second most polluting industry in the world after oil
- 85% of garment workers are women; fair fashion is a feminist issue
- Consumers are demanding transparency now more than ever.
Where we’re headed:
- The need for clothing will have doubled by 2025 due to the rising middle class
- The fourth industrial revolution is coming (technology, robots, automation)
- The circular economy is heralded as a promising ‘solution’ for fast fashion
- Equality needs to be addressed urgently.
OUR KEY TAKEAWAYS
If the industry continued the way it does today, it gives rise to a terrifying future, and now more than ever is there need for radical change, both socially and environmentally. Here is what is making impact and creating change:
- Re-thinking materials: Alongside hearing from some industry heavyweights, innovative startups had the opportunity to feature their solutions. We met the Bioglitz team (pioneering the glitter market with a biodegradable solution) and the Piñatex crew, who have developed a plant-based ‘leather’ out of byproduct from the pineapple agriculture industry. The image features Piñatex's founder Dr Carmen Hijosa.
- Technology for traceability & transparency: We were blown away by Bext360 who have built a software platform that enables brands to trace their product from growing phase through to end use. Having successfully implement their blockchain technology in the coffee industry, they’ve turned to cotton. By using a trackable substance, for instance the DNA spray that Haelixa has developed that is an invisible marker embedded in cotton after it is picked, Bext360 immediately transfers this to a token format, which then is an immutable record and proof that your data has not been altered. Not only can they support brands connecting with buyers and producers, they allow consumers to know where the product comes from originally and whether the farmer was indeed paid a fair rate.
- Collaboration: Much like the collaboration that was needed to fix the ozone layer in the 1990s (and we did that! People who weren’t responsible for the ozone layer came together, showed up and did the seemingly impossible), the fashion industry needs the many and diverse stakeholders to unite to create the radical shift needed to revolutionise and reorganise. In this spirit, several speakers emphasised collaboration. Many spoke of the power of merging the numerous sustainable fashion organisations and initiatives, and uniting certifications and standardising sustainability measures, so the industry can talk one language, disclose information that’s able to be compared and work towards the same benchmarks and goals. Achieving this, of course, is easier said than done. But the call was made loud and clear, that no one company or government can create a truly sustainable future on their own.
- Take it from the top & ownership: Research has highlighted that paramount to an organisation’s success in striving for sustainability is ownership or top management investment in sustainability and the incorporation of sustainability in the company’s DNA. Companies such as Outerknown and Patagonia were given as examples of this alongside Stella McCartney, who spoke about the value of 100% ownership. She is currently in the process of buying back her company so she has the ability to wholly drive her sustainability vision.
- Degrowth: With less emphasis on stage, this was a topic I discussed with many of the attendees in the breakouts. How can we deviate from the extraordinarily damaging path of: more clothes, faster, less quality, no ethics. And create the enriched, diverse, fair industry that many of us dream of? The Summit continually drew on research and industry knowledge that sustainability has now become a business imperative, and that there are long term profits to be made. But the question arises; who will pay for this? It often crossed my mind that shareholders are not the ones who would want to bare the cost burden of change. Particularly when it comes to fast fashion giants who have ingrained high margins into their strategy. This was where there seemed to be a disconnect for me… can we really justify ongoing growth? Haven’t we learnt from the past that this is inherently unsustainable? I met slow fashion journalist Dörte Lange, founder of The Lissome, and her mindful approach to fashion inspired me: “At its best, fashion is inclusive and diverse, liberating and empowering, conscious and kind.” She gave me a book recommendation, Doughnut Economics by Kate Raworth, who explores the double-bind of growth and social and planetary limitations, and how we go about working towards a sustainable future. Degrowth and behaviour change among both companies and consumers was not covered in depth during the discussions and it seemed like a wasted opportunity. Luckily, I met some wonderful fellow attendees to explore this notion with!
Piñatex founder Dr Carmen Hijosa
TO WRAP UP
We were tremendously excited to attend the Summit and glean insights into the global state of affairs in sustainability and the textiles industry. Because we at Seljak Brand are currently going through a trial phase with Australian fashion labels to use textiles waste as a resource for new products, and it often feels like an uphill battle, it was inspiring to know there are so many others in the world who are ‘working on it’... strength in numbers, we say!