Five insights the fashion industry should note from Global Fashion Summit
Fashion weeks and fairs have to excuse — the most important event in fashion took place last week, when industry insiders gathered in Copenhagen and the Global Fashion Summit to discuss the state of fashion and it sustainability trajectory.
5 Jul 2023
Federica Marchionni, CEO, Global Fashion Agenda

Last week it once again was time for Global Fashion Summit in Copenhagen. The world-leading event when it comes to fashion and sustainability. The summit gathered speakers from all parts of fashion’s value chain, under the theme, ”Ambition to Action”Even if there’s change happening, it is still a long way to go.

At the end of the day, if the fashion industry is going to reach the 1.5-degree goal by 2050, it will require a collective effort. Something which was stressed by Federica Marchionni, CEO of the organiser Global Fashion Agenda, in her opening speech. She explained that the fashion industry is making progress when it comes to sustainability, but more needs to be done, and it has to be done together.

— We are presented with an opportunity to reimagine and innovate the entire value chain. 

From sustainable sourcing, manufacturing, to ethical labour standards and conscious consumers, so we can subvert the current path. Every single aspect of the fashion industry plays an instrumental role in the pursuit of a sustainable future, Marchionni stated.

The two days contained panel talks across four stages, an Innovation Forum where companies presented sustainable innovations and roundtable talks where brands, shareholders and companies shared experiences on their sustainability journeys — all to, hopefully, make fashion and our planet more sustainable.

Here are five highlights, that will be playing a crucial part in the future of fashion. 

Virginijus Sinkevičius, Commissioner for the Environment, Oceans and Fisheries, European Commission

Regulations rolling out

What often is highlighted as the most efficient solution to fashion’s sustainability issues are regulations. For a very long time, fashion has been foreseen by regulators, but this is about to change. In the European Union, fashion is facing a fundamental change due to upcoming regulations and policies. In Copenhagen, Virginijus Sinkevičius, Commissioner for the Environment, Oceans and Fisheries, presented how the European Union are working to regulate fashion.

Currently, there are 16 pieces of legislation in the works, that are aiming towards the whole supply chain and will transform how fashion companies operate fundamentally.

In general, the upcoming legislation will put an end to fast fashion. It will change fashion from operating with a linear business model to becoming circular. The new legislations that are being formed are challenging the ways how clothes are being designed to become more durable and easily repaired, to have better recycling systems and responsibility of textile waste. Communicating green claims will have a standardized system and become more transparent. To mention a few of the upcoming changes.  

Pascal Morand, Executive President, Fédération de la Haute Couture et de la Mode
Carlo Capasa, Chairman, Camera Nazionale della Moda Italiana Cecilie Thorsmark, CEO,
Copenhagen Fashion Week Scott Lipinski, CEO, Fashion Council Germany and Zuzana
Bobiková, CEO, Slovak Fashion Council

The industry is working together

While regulation is being formed by policymakers, there is also a counterpart on the fashion side. In one talk, the European Fashion Alliance (EFA) explained their work and how they are part of forming a prosperous fashion system. The EFA consists of fashion councils, -organisations and weeks across Europe and acts — among other things — as a mediator between the fashion industry and policymakers. Hence, having a vital role in what currently is happening in Brussels. 

The alliance are working with the creative part of fashion and covers a wide range of market. From smaller markets such as Latvia and Slovakia to bigger ones like France and Italy. This means that the EFA ranges from big luxury houses, to fast fashion companies to independent designers. All with different needs.

— We need a consensus. The fact that we are here with each other and that the designers and brands know that they can count on us, facilitate what we will work. For designers, it’s often a world that they don’t know, it’s another paradigm. We need to connect, we need to network, we need to connect and do something which is collectively exemplary and this will lead to compromise and consensus, explained Pascal Morand, Executive President of Fédération de la Haute Couture et de la Mode.

Even though upcoming regulations are welcomed, there are pitfalls and flaws by design that could be avoided with input from the industry. Carlo Capasa, Chairman of Camera Nazionale della Moda Italiana, highlighted the fact that the new policies state that, by 2030, a majority of textiles have to be made out of recycled textiles. However, new policies don’t mention biodegradable materials, such as wool and silk, which can’t be recycled to the same extent as other materials. 

Currently, the EFA is conducting a survey, which is collecting information from fashion companies and will be used to advise policymakers on the need of the industry.

Rachel Arthur, Advocacy Lead, Sustainable Fashion, United Nations Environment
Programme and Danielle Magalhaes, Global Climate Action Team Lead, UN Climate

Make sustainability graspable and understandable

A lot of consumer-facing marketing and communication surrounding fashion and sustainability is often opaque. Companies and brands tend to highlight one specific measure or talk about numbers which often, to a consumer, is incomprehensible.

To combat this, the United Nations Environment Programme, together with United Nations Climate Change, launched The Sustainable Fashion Communication Playbook.

The playbook is first and foremost for anyone working with communication in fashion, either as a brand, media outlet, influencer or agency. Its intent is to change the narratives and the storytelling that is connected to the industry. Fashion doesn’t need to be an industry which only is about newness in the sense of products.

— If we think about fashion, we are gatekeepers for aspiration in so many ways. Fashion helps inform self-identity, belonging, our place in the world, desire and, certainly, what we end up consuming. So, when we start thinking about what that version of aspiration is and the goals that we have set out before us, why could it not be that aspiration is in line with the Paris Agreement? With the Global Biodiversity Framework? With the Sustainable Development Goals? Explained Rachel Arthur, UNEP’s advocacy lead for sustainable fashion.

Sammy Oteng and Cynthia Essoun (Abena) from The Or Foundation

Who’s taking care of the trash?

A big problem for the fashion industry is overproduction and garments not getting used to their full extent. Garments that are being thrown away, shipped and end up far from where they were consumed in the first place.

In a panel talk on textile waste, Sammy Oteng, Senior Community Engagement Manager of The Or Foundation, explained how his organisation is working to reduce fashion waste in the Kantamanto Market in Accra. 

Oteng stressed the need for waste management and global accountability for the waste shipped to Ghana. 15 million garments arrive at the Kantamanto Market weekly. There are currently opaque rules when it comes to waste management and garments could be labelled as second-hand when in reality it’s waste. 

The facility in Kantamanto, which Oteng is working with, is one of the largest upcycling facilities in the world and employs 1300 people. However, due to the amount of garments they receive, they can’t keep up. Besides being an environmental issue, the amount of clothes are being a health risk for women and girls carrying bales of clothing on their heads.

— It’s really disgusting, but this is our reality, said Oteng, while handing out examples of what they receive at the market. 

In the same talk, Pernille Weiss, a Member of the European Parliament, explained how the new Waste Shipment Regulation in the EU, will try to combat this, support circular economies and make companies and countries responsible for their waste and where it ends up.

— The textile industry has found each other so that we as legislators in Europe have someone to talk to. You also want to go green, you also want to be more truly sustainable and how can we provide the tools needed, not only in legislation that makes things legal or non-legal but also that we provide innovation and research in a transition pathway from now and into the future because we can’t change this in a week, Weiss explained.

Antoine Arnault, Image & Environment, LVMH Group and Jonathan Anderson, Creative
Director & Founder, JW Anderson; Creative Director, Loewe

Sustainability’s trickle-up effect

As much as 80% of a garment’s environmental impact is already determined in the design stage. What materials are being used, is the garment going to be recyclable and its durability, for instance, are all important aspects that need to be considered when designing.

This makes designers play a crucial part in how sustainable fashion is formed. And, it is clear that a shift is happening in the industry. This was brought up by Cecilie Thorsmark, CEO of Copenhagen Fashion Week, who explained how young fashion designers could have bigger importance for the industry at large.

— It’s the future of our fashion industry, they hold a very crucial key because if our emerging designers show commitment to sustainability, they have immense potential to inspire the already established brands and the established industry. They have the potential to inspire consumers because often we see emerging designers being very linked and very rooted in their individual communities or the subcultures that they represent, Thorsmark explained. 

Luxury, the fastest-growing sector in fashion, is also experiencing how the sustainability discourse is impacting the industry. In another panel talk, with Antoine Arnault, Director of Image & Environment at LVMH Group and Jonathan Anderson, Creative Director of Loewe and JW Anderson, Anderson confirmed Thorsmark’s statement and expressed how there has been a shift in designers’ sustainability values.