COPENHAGEN — The French embassy in Denmark has awarded its Human Rights Prize to Eva Kruse, founder and chief executive officer of the Copenhagen Fashion Summit and former head of Copenhagen Fashion Week, for her work on sustainability in fashion and on promoting better working conditions in garment factories.
Kruse launched the Copenhagen Summit on sustainability in fashion on the margins of the United Nations’ “COP 15” climate change conference in 2009. Since then the biannual conferences have brought together fashion executives, humanitarian organizations, policy-makers and others to discuss ways to mobilize the international fashion industry to become more fair and environmentally sustainable.
In an early-morning reception at the French embassy during Copenhagen Fashion Week, Ambassador François Zimeray joked that the night had been short for many after an evening of fashion parties.
He pointed out that while the joy and frivolity of the fashion industry may seem opposed to the seriousness of human rights issues, both fields dealt with individual dignity and freedom of expressions.
“Wearing fashion says, ‘I am a person, I am an individual and I want to dialogue with the world,'” Zimeray said. “Fashion has to do with the dignity of the person, so it cannot work against the dignity of people [who work in the industry].
“Kruse has promoted Copenhagen Fashion Week and made Copenhagen a hot spot for fashion, and the same time through the summit, she has worked to reconcile the fashion sector with ethics and responsibility,” Zimeray said. He added that Kruse has “created awareness in a field where the desire for indifference, for ignorance is so great.”
“There’s a tiny margin between ignorance and indifference, and again between indifference and complicity,” he said. “You don’t want to be an accomplice.”
“The fashion industry brings jobs to some of the poorest parts of the world,” Kruse said in her acceptance speech for the prize. “But those gains shouldn’t have to come at cost of life.
“I think the fashion industry has an opportunity to make a change…and to create better lives for the women and men who produce it,” Kruse said. “It will either affect price or margins, but won’t consumers be willing to pay if they know? People buy fashion as an emotional choice — to feel good. Fashion has the opportunity to make it cool to think.”
The French Embassy’s Human Rights Prize has previously gone to the Maternity Foundation and a Danish antitorture group.
Guests at the reception included Danish designer Stine Goya and her partner Thomas Hertz, chief executive officer of the Stine Goya brand.
“Kruse knows that [sustainability in fashion] is important and that it’s going to be a really long journey,” Hertz said. “The fact that she knows good design and wants fashion to be beautiful, that makes her a good ambassador, a bridge.”
Hertz said his own brand was looking for ways to allocate more resources for a revamped corporate social responsibility plan. “It will be difficult, but I feel a pressure to show customers what we are doing on this….Eva has done a lot to put this on our minds.”
Kruse dedicated the award to women working in garment factories around the world, but she has also worked on changing conditions in the fashion business on her home turf.
Since 2007, Kruse has collaborated with Danish modeling agencies and fashion firms to develop an “ethical charter” to protect models. Modeling agencies in Denmark recently committed to paying up-front for health check-ups for all 16 year-old models in order to screen for eating disorders or the risk of developing one, a cost they will pass on to clients through a special fee.
The screening aims to reach at-risk models early, as well as serving to “clear” healthy models who are simply very skinny, Kruse explained.
Copenhagen Fashion Week revealed earlier this week all of the brands showing on this season’s calendar had signed the ethics pledge.