By  on August 26, 2009

COPENHAGEN — Sustainability continues to be a key focus here in the countdown to this city’s fashion summit in December.

Marc Jacobs and Gap count among several major players invited to the summit, which coincides with the United Nations’ Climate Change Conference, and will unveil a 10-year plan for the fashion industry to meet a range of environmental and social targets, dubbed the Nordic Initiative Clean and Ethical project, or NICE.

The catchphrase, “I do 30,” proved popular for participants attending Copenhagen Fashion Week earlier this month. It comes from a new campaign backed by the Danish Fashion Institute and biotech company Novozymes designed to encourage consumers to wash garments at 30 degrees in order to reduce carbon dioxide emissions produced by washing machines. Novozymes’ enzymes can be found in a range of detergents designed to remove stains from garments at low temperatures.

When it comes to marketing fashion collections, however, the consensus for several exhibitors here at fashion week was that trumpeting one’s sustainable status is old hat. Planet-friendly production, many believe, should be a given for the fashion industry and not a marketing tool.

Fear of being associated with the frumpy, oatmeal-scented stigma, which surrounds the green fashion movement, has compelled several brands to communicate mainly on the design aspect of their collections.

Norway’s Fin, considered a pioneer of the green movement, is one such brand. The label, which introduced designs made from a milk-based fabric, recently received a personal order from model Natalia Vodianova. “People don’t buy fashion because it’s sustainable. They buy it because they want to look fabulous,” said Nic Herlofson, a partner in Fin.

He said the firm doesn’t target the politically conscious consumer and is picky about which green fairs or stores it works with. “Gallery [the Copenhagen-based trade show where Fin exhibited its spring collection] was carbon neutral, which is pretty amazing, but I’m still waiting for a sustainable boutique that reflects what fashion should look like. It’s either stylish but there’s ‘green-washing’ going on or it’s sustainable but looks truly horrible,” Herlofson said, using the term for disingenuously spinning products as environmentally friendly.

“I want people to be drawn to my brand for its arty design rather than the fact that it’s organic,” echoed Swedish designer Maxjenny Forslund, who opened her store, K29, in Copenhagen in June, with her designer parents Margereta Forslund and Owe Johansson. Specializing in raincoats and innovatively draped dresses and robes, Forslund mainly works with bamboo, hemp, silk and fabric made from recycled plastic bottles, with designs produced locally. “It should be something that appeals to the Burberry woman,” she said, tugging on a printed brown cape.

Ingvild Reeves, a Norwegian environmental consultant and the owner of Sungifu, a Copenhagen-based store specializing in luxury organic and sustainable fashion and children’s clothing, agreed while green fashion is gaining ground, largely due to exposure in magazines, the emergence of a number of bogus green brands has led to a dip in confidence for both consumers and for young designers considering the green route. “If you promote your brand as organic then people find out it’s not, then they feel really cheated,” she said.

The ailing economy has also led to fewer launches in the sustainable fashion arena, she said, citing The Baand, a new line of stylish sustainable basics issued under the MakeZenz label (a pioneer of Denmark’s eco scene), among one of her favorite new additions for spring.

Frederikke Aagaard, curator of the upcoming sustainable design exhibition, Copenhagen Showhow, conceded it was tricky sourcing brands for the show that were both aesthetically appealing and sustainable. The show, part of the inaugural edition of Copenhagen Design Week, which kicks off Thursday, aims to celebrate sustainable solutions that also delight the senses, with creations by brands including Nike, Freitag and Noir.

The Bright Green Fashion section on Friday will see 10 designers from Copenhagen and Berlin present sustainable designs in a catwalk show at Copenhagen’s City Hall. Aagaard said she wants the show to be uplifting and inspiring. “Certain eco-friendly brands have to look organic, which is not so flattering. Noir wants to be sustainable and sexy and I think that’s a good way to go,” she said.

Denmark’s knack for environmentalism has even hit its gastronomy scene with BioMio, a new organic eatery that has magnetized the city’s hipsters.

Besides the food and drinks, every aspect of the restaurant is sustainable, from the furniture to the cleaning products. It’s a formula that’s working. Moby recently ordered a fruit platter from BioMio, while Lou Reed hired the restaurant as caterers during a recent tour.

“Denmark is very big at pushing [sustainability]. They’re world leaders in it,” said the restaurant’s manager, Peter George, who is Australian. “You can buy organic food everywhere in Denmark, even in the 7-Elevens, but you can’t go out and eat it. Our aim is to make it part of everyday [city life], like an eco-diner.”

One of the best breakfasts in the city, meanwhile, can be found at the Axel Hotel Guldsmeden, part of a Danish chain of eco-friendly hotels that recently opened a boutique hotel in Menton in the south of France. The chain’s muesli is made from stale organic bread crumbs that are coated in honey and nuts and then roasted, while leftover coffee grounds are recycled in beauty treatments used in the spa.

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