Copenhagen Fashion Summit: Big Brands and Sustainability, What’s Changed?
Collaboration, Collaboration, Collaboration! We must collaborate to achieve sustainability in the fashion industry. This was the key takeaway in nearly every session at the Copenhagen Fashion Summit 2019.
But where are we? Are big fashion players truly engaged in taking action? Or are we convening in a beautiful Nordic city simply to play lip service to each other? These were some of the questions I set out to answer and I think I have found some new light.
There are some amazing sustainable actions that are being taken by big brands, many are clearly trying to steer very large ships towards a sustainable path. However, we are simply not moving fast enough with 40% of the global supply chain are not even in the conversation yet!
At Compare Ethics, we don’t think this is good enough. We need system solutions for system change. Applying disruptive innovations will be key to achieving the scale of impact that is needed to save our planet and protect workers’ and animal rights. At the same time, conscious consumers are poised to increasingly choose the brands who authentically get the conversation right.
There is no doubt that The Copenhagen Fashion Summit has established itself as the world’s leading business event on sustainability in fashion. Through working with key Strategic Partners – Kering, H&M, Target, BESTSELLER, Li & Fung and Sustainable Apparel Coalition – the summit showcases best practice, new sustainable innovations and collaborations that can change the future system of the industry.
One inspiring example, has to be Innovation panel. Google launched its collaboration with Stella McCartney which will give brands a more comprehensive overview of their raw material supply chains (this where much of the environmental impact of making a garment takes place). This has amazing potential and it is even stronger that it will be open source for everyone to contribute. Cyrill Gutsc, Founder at Parley For the Oceans, was also inspiring and showcased how recycled fibres from ocean waste can achieve scale. I am looking forward to seeing what Cyrill achieves in the coming months.
The Rocky Road
While there is lots of great case studies, the reality is that sustainable action has slowed. The Global Fashion Agenda’s Pulse of the Fashion Industry 2019 report found that “fashion companies are not implementing sustainable solutions fast enough to counterbalance negative environmental and social impacts of the rapidly growing fashion industry.” If we are to make substantive system change happen, it has to be grounded in these facts with authentic action.
This action has to go beyond the status quo. In fact, you need to flip it on its head and create businesses that drive system change. The brands that fail to innovate, change business models and back strong people and environmental standards are simply on the wrong side of history. The brands who understand this dynamic and back these changes the quickest will be the biggest success stories of the next 30 years. Simple.
This dynamic is fuelled by conscious consumer shifts. From the rise of Extinction Rebellion, Greta and thousands of school strikes to protect the environment, we now see that the next generation are not having the status quo. And many in the workplace agree. Many are starting to put their money where their mouth is with 66% increase in sustainable fashion searches on Lyst last year. The CEO Pulse report also found that 75% of consumers are demanding action and view sustainability as extremely or very important. For consumers, product is still King but sustainability is a sassy Queen that demands to be heard. The time for brands running on business as usual is running out. It will be interesting to see when the cards fall: who will fall and who flourish?
For consumers, product is still King but sustainability is a sassy Queen that demands to be heard.
The New Era
The Summit made clear that there is a new reality. We are now in an era, where it is a competitive advantage to authentically build sustainable best practice to then communicate this via transparency and third-party verification.
Following the Summit, I was invited to a roundtable hosted by the Sustainable Apparel Coalition that was dedicated to sustainability communication. With many global brands in the room, it was clear that we need strong standards and an agreed framework of what best practice if we are to be in a better position to communicate sustainability on a large scale. It was a great session with an honest discussion – I am keen to see how industry can continue with this momentum to organise itself and achieve our shared goals.
The Copenhagen Fashion Summit is clearly the leading convening space for global brands to come together on sustainability action. It is what is done outside of this forum that is ultimately important. It is also sadly very clear that we are miles from where we need to be with environmental and social destruction still outpacing action. Consumers are aware of the situation and they are demanding better products in an authentic way. For many of us, we want to see how a product is sustainable. We want to know the product story and its journey. It is time for big brands to start digging deep for sustainable innovations with authentic transparent communication. I am looking forward to seeing how the next twelve months pans out. Will it be collaboration or lip service that isn’t moving quick enough?
By Abbie Morris, Co-founder and CEO at Compare Ethics