By  on May 17, 2018

LONDON — Organizers of the Copenhagen Fashion Summit, which wrapped up Wednesday night, had hoped to prod businesses into making practical changes and embrace new technology.What emerged over the two days was that change is difficult. It also requires companies to work together rather than compete against each other, and forces them to ask themselves the most difficult question of all: Why do we need to make so much stuff?“Why is the circular economy not growing as fast as we hoped? It’s simple; it’s because it’s hard,” said Robby Gu, vice president of investment and innovation at JNBY Group, during a panel discussion about sustainability in China and the difficulties of improving the supply chain.Paul Dillinger, vice president and head of global product innovation and premium collection design at Levi Strauss & Co., concurred. “Circularity is going to be the mechanism that will constrain our industry to an appropriate scale. Now, six out of 10 garments we produce end up in a landfill or are incinerated within the first year of production. It will force us to ask how much better the four could have been if the additional six had not been made.”Transparency in the supply chain also remains a challenge. “The fashion supply chain is built on secrecy,” said Orsola de Castro, founder of Fashion Revolution, an organization that wants to unite members of the industry to ensure that clothing is made in a safe, clean and fair way.She also said transparency is not a final solution. "We don’t necessarily praise those brands that are becoming more transparent. We ask them to keep improving and we won’t stop until we redress, to a certain extent, this mindless mass consumption and production.”Here, the top takeaways from the 2018 summit:Cooperative AdvantageFashion may be used to operating with a closed-door policy, but speakers openly called for collaboration. Instead of seeking a competitive advantage, William McDonough, chief executive officer of McDonough Innovation, said brands should begin to vie for a “cooperative advantage.” Despite making an ambitious commitment to a 100 percent circular business model in the future, H&M Group admitted that it would need collaboration across its value chain to achieve this vision.Big Companies Need to Make the First StepNicolaj Reffstrup said he wished that his company Ganni could make more of a sustainable difference, but he noted that small- and medium-sized enterprises face bigger challenges across the supply chain than its larger competitors do. He said they do not possess the necessary financial leverage in comparison to its multibillion-dollar counterparts. Stella McCartney agreed: “We need big corporations to truly commit to this, and when they do it, it means I don’t have three types of sustainable sequins available, I have 300,” she said.Innovation and New TechnologyHow can companies move from hype to business? Panelists agreed that they should be designing for "redesign" instead of designing for "end of life" via innovation and new technology. “Waste is not representing the problem, but rather represents great opportunities…to create value without using new resources from the planet," said Giulio Bonazzi of Aquafil, whose company creates nylon fibers from waste that can be recycled an infinite number of times.Scalable Solutions“It’s very energetic to work with people who are coming from start-ups,” said Marie-Claire Daveu, chief sustainability officer and head of international institutional affairs at Kering. Start-ups provide solutions throughout the supply chain, but implementation can’t happen without tackling issues of scalability.Ann-Sofie Johansson, creative adviser at H&M Group, agreed: “We have a dress made of orange peels. It’s [just one] dress made from orange fibers because the challenge is really being able to scale these small businesses up. We’re a big group and we need a lot of fibers and I think the real challenge is supporting them.”Universal LanguageEndless checklists for factories slow down progress, according to Amanda Nusz, vice president of product quality and responsible sourcing at Target Corp. She said she wants to see a universalized and standardized language for companies to use. “We have to work horizontally and vertically together so that we can actually make progress rather than make a factory go through a bunch of processes,” over and over again, she said.An AfterlifeProducts shouldn’t have an expiration date. Sébastien Fabre, ceo and cofounder of Vestiaire Collective, wants to give products a second, third and fourth life. “We have consumers who buy from us and they resell the next season and they buy again, so we’re getting people to circle in our own circular economy,” said Julie Wainwright, ceo of The RealReal.Reffstrup is also eager to jump in on the action, “Ganni is working on a project called Continued Fashion, it’s a widened platform for circular fashion, and so we want to facilitate the take back and resale of Ganni products," he said of the brand’s new initiative.

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