How the European Fashion Alliance will future-proof the industry
Last week, the European Fashion Alliance (EFA) convened its members and the fashion industry for the conference Status of the European Fashion Industry. We were there, listening to when several of the most influential voices in the fashion industry gathered to discuss and share knowledge on how to drive prosperous change, and collectively future-proof fashion.
11 Mar 2024

The first seeds of the initiative could be traced back to 2017 when a consortium of fashion councils collaborated to host showrooms across Europe. In 2022, the Frankfurt Agreement was reached when 25 fashion councils and institutions formed the transnational coalition, the European Fashion Alliance.

The main function of the EFA is to represent the creative side of the fashion industry within public affairs, as well as being a joint voice to accelerate fashion’s transformation. Since its foundation, a lot of work has been done behind the scenes. Summit meetings, political discussions, and gathering voices of the industry. The conference in Brussels was the first public outing from the work that has been done and gathered lawmakers, member councils, and executives from Chanel and LVMH. Before that, last year, members of the EFA gathered in Brussels for roundtable talks that involved European Commissioners and Members of the Parliament.

— We need the EFA to discuss how the European Union makes use of future spending programs to achieve the desired outcomes (in the fashion sector). We can’t discuss the future of the fashion sector without having the EFA as our conversation partner, said Dr Christian Ehler, Member of the European Parliament at the time, on the importance of the EFA.

To have a common and consolidated voice, the EFA has surveyed the fashion industry to gather information. The first results — which will be part of an in-depth report coming this spring — were presented during the conference in Brussels. What is evident is that there is a need for a support system, since 99% of the industry is built up by small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), and out of them a majority have ten, or fewer, employees.

The survey has been conducted within three focus areas, that the alliance have set forth as the most crucial; sustainability, education and digitisation. 

A shaded view of the fashion industry; that needs change

In the survey, 66% of respondents think that the general image of the fashion industry is negative. Quite a predicament for the industry, since it’s coming from within. Most of it could be derived from fast fashion and sustainability concerns. A view which the EFA, together with its members, will be able to adjust. 

— This is an opportunity for the industry to engage structurally with the European authorities to adopt, improve, and collaborate around the norms and the regulations of the Green Deal which is extremely important, Simone Cipriani, founder of the Ethical Fashion Initiative and chairperson of the UN Alliance for Sustainable Fashion, explains. The EU, with its Green Deal, is creating value value for everyone; for society, for the planet, and this industry. I think this is an important starting point for this collaboration and a process of joint value creation.

Here SMEs will have an opportunity to drive meaningful change.

Sustainability is needed — now

The most pressing issue for fashion is to combat sustainability concerns, which, due to legislation and to future-proof our planet, is becoming critical.

— The first issue, Cipriani continues, is decarbonisation which means carbon neutral, and then climate neutral, and we need to rush towards that because we need to heavily reduce all the GHG emissions by 2030, which is the day after tomorrow. Then there are other issues related to planetary boundaries, and the biodiversity issue. They are all related; the microplastic pollution, the usage of water, the biogeochemical — all issues related to the planetary boundaries. Some scientists have highlighted and defined nine planetary boundaries. Just a few years ago, we were trespassing three of them. Today, three, four years later, we have trespassed six. So, it’s very urgent.

Simone Cipriani.
Guy Morgan, Sustainability Director of Chanel.

Investing in solutions for sustainability is something which a majority of respondents in the survey are doing, but find hard to navigate. ”The question that drives us is ’how can you ensure that sustainability is simple, but not simplistic?’” Guy Morgan, Sustainability Director of Chanel, explained. A statement which other panellists agreed to.  

Bridging the fashion industry’s knowledge chasm

To combat environmental sustainability challenges, the fashion industry will be facing a lot of changes due to new regulations being formed and approved. In a slew of bureaucratic texts and proposals, many of the smaller companies are struggling to get a grip. 

— The knowledge of the upcoming regulations and directives is still very limited among the SMEs. There are limited resources and financial capacities that SMEs have and they’re now only starting with hiring CSR managers if they have the funds and capacity, says Elke Timmerman, Responsible for International & Business Relations at Flanders DC.

Elke Timmerman.

Out of the respondents in the survey, only 52% are familiar with the Ecodesign for Sustainable Products Regulation (ESPR). What is being highlighted are the fragmentation in the legislation, high costs connected to skilled labour and complexities connected to recycling. 

What is clear is that companies in the fashion industry will need external help, to reach upcoming goals and agreements by 2030. 88% of the respondents invest in sustainability, either financially or through human resources. However, 59% state they’re not equipped with the tools or the support for a sustainable transition. Currently, out of all the members in the EFA, there is only one organisation which has a Public Affairs manager.

”France and Italy have other concerns than Slovakia and Iceland but we all have the same concerns in terms of SMEs and the difficulties they are facing”

A big part of the upcoming work from the EFA will be to provide information and educate its members when it comes to policy and a sustainable transition.

— We will give updates in terms of policy and then in terms of practical actions. The idea is to set up actions and activities that translate into knowledge and information. It could be for designers, for the industry or between the councils. There are a lot of learnings between us. France and Italy have other concerns than Slovakia and Iceland but we all have the same concerns in terms of SMEs and the difficulties they are facing, explains Timmerman.

Technology will be crucial in the fashion transformation

By 2030, all textile products that are being sold within the European Union will need a digital product passport. In the survey, it was found that only 44% of the respondents have an understanding of the regulation, which will require investments in the technological sector.

— 70% of all the world’s luxury products are produced in Italy. We are then responsible for what is behind the production and we have to create a system that respects those values. Technology is very important — of course, we need to respect the past, the small enterprises, the artisans — but to apply all these new ideas, they are based on technology. I think that the artisan of the future is a digital artisan. We have to merge technology with tradition and from this merger start something new. We are pleased to represent a big part of the fashion industry of high quality, but we have a huge responsibility on delivering good values together with the clothes, said Carlo Capasa, Chairman of Camera Nazionale della Moda Italiana.

”The artisan of the future is a digital artisan”

Carlo Capasa.

Driving collaboration for sustainable fashion across Europe

Collaboration and knowledge exchange are important functions of the EFA and were stressed as vital to drive change and have influence on a regional level. The alliance has 29 members, which spans all over Europe. From smaller countries such as Latvia and North Macedonia to the biggest fashion countries — France, Italy, and the United Kingdom. 

— The Fashion Alliance gather luxury-, designer-, and contemporary brands. In the centre of all that is the design and designers. So, frankly, it is the same thing. Let’s say that it’s even more difficult for SMEs, commented Pascal Morand, Executive President of the Fédération de la Haute Couture et de la Mode.

Pascal Morand.

Among the members of the EFA, the British Fashion Council (BFC) is a diligent member and its CEO, Caroline Rush, is on the Board of Directors. The BFC is running several educational programs, on a national level, that are focused on sustainability and creativity. By having vast experience in incubating designers and driving sustainability projects, BFC will contribute with knowledge but also having a seat at the table in discussions of public affairs. 

— Giving SMEs a voice at the EU Policy level is a key part of protecting and future-proofing creative communities and EFA helps us (the British Fashion Council) continue to have a voice in the EU, despite very sadly no longer being part of the trading block, Rush told us afterwards.

Caroline Rush, CEO of the British Fashion Council.

Since the UK no longer is a member of the European Union, one might believe that regulation won’t affect British companies. However, legislation will be covering all entities that are trading within the EU, which by all means implies the importance for the BFC.

— As EU regulation is shaped, we are extremely supportive that it promotes and recognises the creative fashion economy. As we see businesses adapt, we can also advocate for reciprocal legislation where relevant in the UK to reduce additional levels of compliance for our industry, says Rush.

Iliana Ivanova.

To conclude the first-ever conference by the EFA, Iliana Ivanova, European Commissioner for Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth, held an inspiring speech, that reinforced the importance of the EFA and transnational collaboration.

— As we look into the future and embrace the spirit of innovation, sustainability, and education that has animated today’s discussions, the European Fashion Alliance and its members have demonstrated that Europe is not just the cradle of fashion, but it is also its future, she said.

The European Fashion Alliance in numbers

The Board of Directors of the European Fashion Alliance: Scott Lipinski, Chairman (CEO, Fashion Council Germany) Cecilie Thorsmark, Deputy Chairwoman (CEO, Copenhagen Fashion Week) Zuzana Bobikova, Treasurer (CEO, Slovak Fashion Council) Carlo Capasa, Board Member (Chairman, Camera Nazionale della Moda Italiana) Pascal Morand, Board Member (Executive President, Fédération de la Haute Couture et de la Mode) Caroline Rush, Board Member (CEO, British Fashion Council) Elke Timmerman, Board Member (International Relations, Flanders DC) Besides Copenhagen Fashion Week, the Nordic members include; Finnish Textile & Fashion, Icelandic Fashion Council, Swedish Fashion Council, and Norwegian Fashion Hub.