COPENHAGEN — Sustainability needs a jolt of energy and more action than words, according to speakers at the Copenhagen Fashion Summit, which began Tuesday at the city’s Concert Hall.
The theme for the sixth edition of the summit is “From Words to Action.” Speakers and panelists from companies including Burberry, Kering, Ganni and Aquafil discussed issues ranging from transparency to waste to second-hand clothing and accessories.
While previous editions of the summit focused on bringing sustainability issues to light, the agenda for the 2018 edition, a two-day event, is about looking at collaboration — rather than competition — to create change.
Alongside the debates, guests, participants and companies were taking part in more than 350 pre-scheduled business meetings.
“Sustainability has sometimes been perceived as a philanthropic quest, but it’s not — it’s a strategic decision for a company to approach sustainability,” said Eva Kruse, chief executive officer and president of Global Fashion Agenda, who opened the summit with an immediate call to action.
“There are some quick and easy wins to be had, but innovation is going to be the key to help our industry,” said Pamela Batty, vice president of corporate responsibility at Burberry. It and other companies are looking at a 2022 goal to become carbon neutral, and Batty said the company is also thinking about longer-term solutions around raw materials and new processes.
“It’s always thinking about the next stage,” she said.
While big businesses are able to set clear goals, Ganni’s ceo, Nicolaj Reffstrup, admitted that this is not the case for small- and medium-sized enterprises.
“Although SME’s make up half of the global market, they’re not doing enough. We do not possess the skills and capacity to create innovative solutions for our supply chain which we can hardly control.”
Glancing over at Géraldine Vallejo, sustainability program director at Kering, with whom he shared the stage, Reffstrup hinted at potential collaboration: “If someone bigger than me will help, we can create this change to leverage our supply chain,” he added.
Companies also need to cooperate more, according to William McDonough, ceo of McDonough Innovation, who asked brands to put competition aside. Instead of seeking a competitive advantage, he said brands should begin to vie for a “cooperative advantage.”
Amanda Nusz, vice president of product quality and responsible sourcing from Target, agreed and said she wants to see a universal, standardized checklist for factories. “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.
Panelists and speakers said common keywords such as “waste,” “trust” and “value” needed to be redefined within the industry. “One of our 2022 goals is to revalue waste, to stop treating waste as waste and to start treating it as a resource,” said Batty with regard to Burberry’s sustainability venture.
Speakers said waste management and closed-loop systems were fundamental in driving impactful change. “Waste is not representing the problem but rather represents great opportunities,” commented Giulio Bonazzi of Aquafil, whose company creates nylon fibers from waste that can be recycled an infinite number of times.
Extending the life of raw materials — and the products themselves — is also becoming extremely important.
“Millions and millions of products are sleeping in people’s wardrobes, so our goal is to activate this sleeping supply and enable the product to have a second, third and fourth life,” said Sébastien Fabre, ceo and cofounder of Vestiaire Collective, which sells second-hand luxury goods and jewelry online.
Resale is now no longer a dirty word, but rather an imperative part of a brand’s story, according to Reffstrup of Ganni.
“Ganni is working on a project called Continued Fashion,” he said. “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.
Transparency in the supply chain is an ongoing challenge, and according to research by Fashion Revolution, only Asos is mapping out its raw material suppliers and only 18 percent of brands are putting their processing facilities under the microscope.
“There is still a cultural barrier, 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.
“We’re very acutely aware that transparency is very much a first step, but it’s 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.”
Although fashion has a trust issue, panelists believe the promise of blockchain technology will enable the industry to achieve true transparency in the not-so-distant future.
“By its very nature, the information stored has to be true and can’t be tampered with, so the customer is able to look from an authentication and sustainable perspective to verify whether [the product] is real,” said Rachel Arthur, chief intelligence officer of The Current, a new web site that covers fashion, beauty and retail.
Although there is still much to be done, summit attendees remain hopeful: Fifty percent said they are optimistic that consumers will have complete transparency to make informed choices by 2030.