By  on August 6, 2008

COPENHAGEN — As some 55,000 visitors arrive here to see the latest Nordic collections at the capital’s fashion week opening today, the fashion bodies of Sweden, Iceland, Norway, Finland and Denmark have joined together in a bid to make sustainability the future hallmark of Scandinavian or Nordic fashion.

The Swedish Fashion Council, the Icelandic Fashion Council, Oslo Fashion Week, Helsinki Design Week and the Danish Fashion Institute will today unveil the Nordic Fashion Association in a move to extend Scandinavia’s global reputation for healthy living and sustainable energy to its fashion industries.

“The ambition is to become front-runners in this area,” said Eva Kruse, executive director of the Danish Fashion Institute, who explained the aim is to strengthen the region’s apparel industries by tackling environmental and social production challenges and put Nordic fashion firmly on the map.

“Many individual companies around the world have gone far in this direction,” Kruse continued. “But nowhere in the world is a whole region setting goals like this.”

The association’s aim is to implement a code of conduct for the Nordic countries’ estimated 3,000-plus fashion and textile players, plus draw up a 10-year plan to meet a host of environmental and social targets, dubbed the Nordic Initiative Clean and Ethical project, or NICE.

“We know that the fashion industry is one of the big sinners, not only in terms of the environmental impact from the production of textiles, but also because lots of textiles, jewelry and fashion are produced in low-cost countries, often in very poor conditions,” Kruse said. “The theory is that we now have a bigger voice to make a difference in production which takes place in countries far, far away from northern Europe. If we are going to change how they produce clothing in China, for example, we need to pool our resources.”

Key to NICE’s success will be the participation of Nordic fashion companies, who will themselves formulate the code of conduct, which likely will include social concerns like working hours and pay, plus issues such as reducing the environmental impacts of dyeing. The association will solicit the input of the region’s leading players, such as Sweden’s Hennes & Mauritz and Denmark’s Bestseller, plus trend-setting labels in the hope that their commitment will prompt others to follow.

Labels like Danish brand Noir already have helped ethical issues enter the high-fashion marketplace. “[Corporate and Social Responsibility] is part of our national heritage,” said Noir’s designer and founder Peter Ingwersen. “Paris will always have haute couture and prêt-à-porter, London has its street-savvy style, New York has its sportswear, Milan has its knitwear and its over-the-top Cavalli. The DNA here is ethics, equality and high quality.”

Once the code of conduct and 10-year plan have been agreed upon, they will be signed at a fashion summit to be held next year. The summit will coincide with the United Nations’ Global Climate Change Summit here, where the world’s political leaders will meet to draw up a pact to replace the Kyoto Protocol, which expires in 2012.

“The fashion industry normally doesn’t set an agenda within politics,” Kruse acknowledged. “But it’s vital for us to be addressing global issues, along with the world’s biggest companies and with politicians.”

While developing its own Nordic label isn’t one of NICE’s fixed goals, the potential of existing international labeling systems, such as fair trade certification, will be evaluated. Other initiatives include developing an educational program for companies, plus a three-year research project into CSR conducted jointly by each nation’s business schools and spearheaded by the Copenhagen Business School.

In another move to boost the global competitiveness of the Nordic fashion, design and textile industries, the region hopes to open doors into the fast-growing Baltic and Russian markets by staging Nordic Look, a series of shows by new and established designers as well as conferences in Latvia during the fashion week in the country’s capital, Riga, in November.

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