Fashion Transformation
5 takeaways from the Global Fashion Summit in Copenhagen
Last week, the fashion industry's key players gathered in Copenhagen for the annual Global Fashion Summit, organised by Global Fashion Agenda, to tackle sustainability challenges. This year's theme, ”unlocking the next level,” focused on evaluating progress and urgently addressing future actions.
Oliver Dahle
30 May 2024

Over the course of three days, events, talks, and roundtables were held to discuss and share knowledge on the state of the industry and how to move it forward. The summit was organised by Global Fashion Agenda, a non-profit organisation aiming to accelerate the impact on sustainability within the textile industry.

Fifteen years since the inaugural summit (then called Copenhagen Fashion Summit), this year’s theme centred around ”unlocking the next level”, evaluating past efforts and addressing the need for urgent action. “It’s asking us to firstly imagine what the next level is and articulate that in our organisations and our minds as people, and then it invites us to collaborate and unlock that next level together,” explains Faith Robinson, Head of Content at Global Fashion Agenda.

The summit is based on the Fashion CEO Agenda, a guide and thought leadership framework developed by the Global Fashion Agenda. It presents five priorities for fashion brands to propel their sustainability work: operational sustainability, redefining growth, activating consumers, prioritising people, and mobilising based on materiality.

— For us at GFA, our vision is a net positive fashion industry, ultimately. That’s an industry that gives back more to the economy, the environment, and the people than it takes. It’s a big, lofty ambition, but that’s where we would like to see the industry lead. That’s the next level for us,” Robinson commented.

One of the summit’s greatest achievements is bringing all stakeholders and key opinion leaders in the industry under the same roof. The summit attracts speakers and visitors from all industry parts: manufacturers, brands, start-ups, conglomerates, and NGOs. It provides a common ground to share knowledge and insights on driving change.

 — It’s important to explain that GFA is a multi-stakeholder initiative. We work with and are supported by many different organisations, from data companies to other nonprofits to brands, and historically, working with brands has been a big part of our theory of change. Over the last 15 years, we’ve built relationships with these companies that have allowed us to appreciate and understand when the ambition becomes real, and our partners are open with us on their climate transition plans, Robinson explains.

One of the most important parts of the GFS is the ability to share and learn from each other’s experiences, which could be seen even among the biggest players.

— We are a group but still very small in the industry. We must continuously engage our suppliers and peers to work collaboratively. That’s why moments like the GFS are so important, to be able to collaborate on standards and actions together. I would say the biggest challenge is alignment in the industry. There has been progress in that area particularly around the improvement on the taxability, says Géraldine Vallejo, Sustainability Programme Director at Kering.

If the sustainability discourse could seem a bit grey, there are som glimpses of light.

— I’ve been working in sustainability for 10 years now. When I joined, it was extremely complex to have information about the origin of the materials, and the the cycle of certified or innovative materials of high quality. Now we have certified materials for show or materials. We have high quality, use recycled natural fibres, and have reached 98% traceability of our materials. Still, the last ones are the most difficult — there is progress, Vallejo explains.

Géraldine Vallejo (center), Sustainability Programme Director at Kering.


As this year’s summit marked the 15th anniversary, GFA invited the panel present at the very first summit in 2009. These summits and conferences can be overly positive, suggesting that progress is being made and leaders preach to the choir. However, the retrospective of 15 years was an awakening and a good litmus test of what has been done since.

Eva Kruse, founder of both the Danish Fashion Institute and Copenhagen Fashion Week, initiated the summit in 2009 when it was unveiled that the climate conference, COP15, was going to be held in Copenhagen. Back then, fashion was not on the agenda in the global sustainability discourse and was so peripheral it needed its conference. Hence, the summit was initiated. 

Looking back, Kruse noted that the anticipated change from 2009 has not panned out as planned.

“I don’t think I knew how slow this would go. In 2009, it was initially a one-off, but it had critical mass, and we felt we were onto something, so we decided to make it more than once, and one led to the other,” Kruse explains. “But I always thought we would become obsolete at some point, that we wouldn’t need to meet. It wasn’t the idea that we would discuss the same things 15 years later.

— Sustainability is on all CEOs’ agendas today, but it’s still not getting the right attention or money. I’ll be brutally honest, I am quite disappointed with all of us, myself included, that we haven’t been able to push further forward.

Eva Kruse.

In the same panel, Vanessa Friedman, a journalist at the New York Times, stressed that one point not addressed enough is that too much stuff is being made, projecting that 148 million tonnes of textile waste will end up in landfills by 2030.

— We do need to discuss volume growth fundamentally. Textile fibre growth has increased by 46% in volume since 2009 and continues to grow. We have more people on the planet, but not equivalently more space for more stuff in our wardrobes,” Kruse commented. “We don’t have time, 15 years have passed, and here we are. 2030 is only six years away, and only 15% of the global goals are on track. That’s it. We simply need to step it up; we’re adults, Kruse urgently addressed the audience.

One big issue is funding. Today, as little as 2% of companies’ revenue is put towards R&D, and companies are often supporting one or two startups. An organisation that is contributing on its end is the H&M Foundation, a private foundation that aims to figure out how it’s possible to accelerate solutions for the textile and fashion industry by using philanthropic funding towards projects, research, and start-ups.

— The industry desperately needs new solutions, whether it’s supporting innovators, start-ups, or change-makers, in their journey from an idea to scaling up and becoming future tools for the industry and forming different types of partnerships and initiatives. We can function as a facilitator and a convenor to get projects going or insights produced so that we could both get action on the ground but also look at the whole narrative of where we are today and where we need to go, Christiane Dolva, Strategy Lead of H&M Foundation explains.

Christiane Dolva, Strategy Lead of H&M Foundation


One of the panelists, Julie Gilhart, a fashion consultant and former SVP of Barney’s, suggested AI as a solution to combat overproduction.

A solution provider that has implemented this is Hyran Technologies, which helps brands respond to consumer demand, increase profitability, and reduce waste by leveraging AI in the supply chain.

— The model of the fashion industry is built on forecasts. Based on a guess, those forecasts convert into the bill of materials, material orders, and capacity orders. So, my view was let’s stop guessing. Let’s stop trying to be precisely wrong and be approximately right. Understand the importance of speed and flexibility, and understand how you can model risk,” explains Ahmed Zaidi, CEO of Hyran Technologies.

Another way of leveraging AI, is coming from Vaayu. A company that has automated software that empowers companies within the retail ecosystem to track and cut environmental impact, by using predictive AI. 

— [the next step] for us, is how do we know all of the models coming through all of the AI technology coming through to accelerate the speed that we can do more, that we can give brands the tools to be able to understand really where reduction and optimisation is possible and how you scale that to understand complete portfolios and total supply chain data from the brands, explains Namrata Sandhu, CEO and co-founder of Vaayu.

Another solution provider is re&up, part of SANKO Holding, the world’s largest denim manufacturer. After more than a decade of research and development, re&up has found a way to recycle polyester and cotton blends of textiles and turn them into clean textile fibres, addressing a significant issue within the industry. Previously, such materials often ended up in landfills. Textile-to-textile recycling of polyblends has been hard to scale, but re&up now has a capacity of 80,000 tonnes of textiles and hopes to recycle 200,000 tonnes in the coming year.

During the summit, GFA and PDS Ventures revealed the winner of the Trailblazer Programme 2024. The programme aims to identify and platform early-stage innovators that accelerate the transformation of the textile and fashion industry. This year’s winner, Bloom Labs, leverages the billions of tons of fibrous protein waste produced annually to create bioplastics and textile fibres at scale. Using 100% bio-based ingredients, Bloom Labs can produce natural fibres with the characteristics of natural fibres but with the efficiency of industrial fibre processing.

Ahmed Zaidi, CEO of Hyran Technologies.


Fashion has long operated with a take-make-waste model, which has proven unsustainable. A big question during the summit and in the industry is how to decouple growth from resource usage. Could fashion brands make money without producing new clothes?

One initiative presented during GFS was ’The Fashion ReModel’ project led by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation. Along with a group of brands, including Arc’teryx, H&M Group, Primark, and Zalando, the project will work to find solutions for circular business models, such as rental, resale, and repair, and how to scale these.

— The fashion industry is rooted in reinvention, and we welcome business-led action towards a world where, instead of being worn once and discarded, clothes can be used many more times and threaded through the lives of more people, says Jules Lennon, Fashion Lead at the Ellen MacArthur Foundation.


One of the biggest touch points during the summit was the legislative wave that, in recent years, has focused on textile, clothing, and fashion production. Worldwide, nationally and regionally, legislation is being formed, proposed, and implemented. Two legislations that will change fashion trajectory are the New York Fashion Act in the US and the legislative package of 16 proposals in the EU.

— There are three pillars for regulatory actions. One pillar of global sustainability, which in that case includes environmental and social sustainability. You have things like the corporate sustainability due diligence directive which recently was adopted. Then you have another pillar on consumer information, which is super important to get the message across to consumers and get them to make responsible purchasing options. So there we have empowering consumers directive, the famous — or infamous — green claims, the right to repair. Then we have the central pillar, and I think one of the most important things that we’re talking about here, which is the product pillar and there the central initiative is echo design, António de Sousa Maia, Legal and Policy Officer at the European Commission explained the legislative work.

The mills of public affairs grind slowly, and obstacles could change the legislative framework. In 2024, more than half of the world’s population will go to the polls, with big elections happening in Mexico, the US, and the EU. The outcome of these elections could affect the policy that has been made.

António de Sousa Maia, Legal and Policy Officer at the European Commission.

— I think the worst thing that could happen is that we get a new European Commission that does not support the new Green Deal and a European Parliament that doesn’t support the new Green Deal and its implementation. Then, a lot of this legislation will be weakened or will not be implemented as we expect it to, says Lars Fogh Mortensen from the European Environment Agency, a candidate for the European Parliament.

— There have been five years of policy development, and all these policies have been developed ambitiously. If the elected policymakers have a different view, we can’t take it for granted that they will implement it. It’s a big risk, especially for the textile industry, which was not regulated very much in the past but is now being regulated. We’ve spent five years building all this, and if it is not implemented, that would be quite a disaster, Fogh Mortensen concluded.


All the solutions are out there to unlock the next level of sustainability. The author and business leader Paul Polman encouraged a general feeling of discomfort to drive change.

— Despite the great initiatives that many of you are having, we continue to create the problems faster than we apply the solutions. In other words, less bad is still bad. I don’t need to value all of the statistics; you’ll hear enough of those. But the most important statistic is that we don’t step up to that change. There is a risk to the existence of the industry itself. I would argue a danger to humanity, but your industry is under a bigger threat than you might be aware,” Polman argued, continuing.

— Good for fashion, bad for the planet is not an option anymore. Our famous take-make-waste model is running out of steam, a system dependent on selling more and more garments, which we use less and less with increasing frequency. If any of you are uncomfortable with what you’re doing, you are in the right space. If you’re awkward and don’t know how to get there, you might be getting close to where you need to be.

In the last summit talk, Federica Marchionni from GFA interviewed Ryan Gellert, the CEO of Patagonia Works & Patagonia. Gellert shared the same sentiment as Polman and urged the audience to take action.

— Hope is a very passive feeling. I don’t spend time trying to manufacture hope, Gellert said. Hope is not a strategy… We have the solutions but don’t have the will; that’s what we need to change.

Paul Polman, author and business leader.