COPENHAGEN, Denmark — When Copenhagen Fashion Week chief executive officer Cecilie Thorsmark introduced her Sustainability Action Plan at the beginning of 2020, she hadn’t accounted for all the ways the COVID-19 pandemic would shake up the industry.
But in Denmark, border closures, lockdowns and the inevitable budget cuts spurred by the pandemic didn’t discourage the local fashion industry from investing in sustainability and keeping up with its green goals.
Now, with less than a year to go until companies have to comply with the requirements in order to be a part of the showcase, designers are ready to present their progress and take on the challenge.
“We started early, so we are where we want to be: Nine out of 10 items in the fall 2022 collection are sustainably made,” said Ditte Reffstrup, creative director of the city’s all-star label Ganni, which has been investing heavily in building a dedicated corporate responsibility department to reach its commitments.
This season the brand already phased out all real leather from its ready-to-wear collections and Reffstrup is making it her goal to push the boundaries even further this year with more upcycling projects, new fabrics, and a focus on resale.
Copenhagen Fashion Week itself has been staying on track with its own set of goals (ranging from measuring and offsetting its own carbon emissions to banning the use of single-use plastic hangers and garment bags) while also inspiring brands and other organizations to do the same. This is what has been setting the showcase apart and upping its global relevance, even in a landscape where the future of fashion weeks is being questioned.
“It was definitely a risk setting those requirements in 2020 because you want to strike a balance between being ambitious and also attract the right brands to be part of our schedule,” said Thormsark, whose biggest mission for 2022 is to forge more international partnerships and ensure the sustainability requirements start to be implemented at other major fashion weeks. “We need a common direction,” she added.
She’s already conquering the Nordics, with her set of sustainable requirements now being adopted by fellow regional organizations such as the Icelandic Fashion Council, the Norwegian Fashion Hub and Oslo Runway, meaning that over 90 more companies will now implement similar standards.
The Danish government-funded program Fremtidens Tekstiler also picked up the requirements and is using them as a framework to train over 50 small and medium-size Danish enterprises.
“The progress made during the second year of our Sustainability Action Plan shows the potential of our strategy and three-year targets to inspire and push fashion companies to embrace more responsible business practices,” said Thormskark. “We strongly believe that the new Nordic partnerships we entered around the 2023 Sustainability Requirements set a major milestone that fosters stronger industry alignment and we’re very excited to seek out new partnerships internationally during this coming year.”
In an annual report, the showcase outlined a variety of green goals achieved in 2021, including ongoing offsetting of its own carbon emissions after each seasonal fashion week — calculated at about 45 metric tons of C02 — as well as identifying and promoting venues that comply with green energy standards.
The event has also been working out ways to reduce its carbon footprint by using electric cars; serving vegan or vegetarian food only, and stopping the production of fashion week merchandise.
However, the emissions that come with flying in international editors and buyers remain high and make up 90 percent of the event’s total footprint, with the company failing to reach its initial target of reducing those emissions by 35 percent.
“As an agenda-setting fashion week, it’s crucial that we continue to grow our international positioning. In other words, Copenhagen Fashion Week will not reduce the number of international guests,” said the report, highlighting that hospitality-related emissions actually increased by 7.3 metric tons in 2021. “When we set the target to reduce our emissions, we had hoped to explore other alternatives for traveling and were enthusiastic about technological advancements to lower the impact of flights in general. But both have proven too optimistic and we will take this into consideration when target-setting for the upcoming three-year period.”
To counteract the issue, the event will explore options like train travel and guest guides for traveling mindfully. All participating brands will also be charged a carbon offsetting fee to ensure that the emissions from their events are all offset by Copenhagen Fashion Week’s appointed partner.
A number of other goals, focusing on social responsibility, were also reached in the last year, including the implementation of a code of conduct for all suppliers; running an anti-racism and intersectionality workshop for all Copenhagen Fashion Week employees, and fostering partnerships with nongovernmental organizations, including Fashion Revolution and The Soulfuls, supporting the latter’s mentorship program.
Gearing up to the full implementation of its 2023 sustainability requirements, the showcase ran a series of pilot tests and individual meetings with local brands to guide them through the new set of expectations they will have to meet; the information they will have to share, and self-assessment surveys they will have to complete to be part of the event.
“Copenhagen Fashion Week decided to focus on the 18 Minimum Standards as the main admission criterion and all brands must comply fully to be part of the official show schedule,” added the report. “We believe that these minimum standards will allow for a targeted approach toward more responsible business practices in the fashion industry. Each consecutive year after the minimum standards come into effect in January 2023, we may add additional standards to advance sustainability efforts within the industry.”
This is no doubt a full-on set of demands, creating an extra layer of work for brands when organizing their seasonal shows. But in fact, the Scandis were happy to make the investment and are achieving significant milestones of their own, to ensure they meet all requirements by next year.
By Malene Birger for instance, which is under the new direction of sisters Maja and Ellen Dixdotter, has been in the process of reducing the size of each seasonal collection by over 50 percent, moving its production to Europe, and reducing the amount of dyed and mixed fabrics used, all in the last year. For its latest fall 2022 range, presented via a digital film, 43 percent of the materials were dye-free and the Dixdotters are set on establishing more measurable goals to map out the company’s next decade.
“It was just about listening to our gut and what we felt was right,” said Maja Dixdotter, the company’s chief executive officer, who started implementing swift changes from early on and is on a mission to move By Malene Birger to a more premium luxury positioning, spotlighting seasonless garments, like the cozy knits, chic silk dresses, and neutral-hued tailoring they presented for fall. “We cut down the amount of suppliers we use, created partnerships closer to home in Europe and are now only working with really high-end fabrics to bring this new vision to life. Not looking at trends just feels true to us,” added the sisters.
At Stine Goya, while husband-and-wife duo Stine Goya and Thomas Hertz have an ambitious growth plan for the next year, they are still making sure they execute their ambitions sustainably: their new swimwear category was made of purely recycled nylon fabrics, while a new biodegradable rubber material was introduced in the mainline collection.
Oslo-based Holzweiler has also been heavily investing in sustainable fabric development, adding recycled wool accessories to its offer and presenting a series of worn-effect leather pieces, made of upcycled leather. The message? “Garments which look or feel used still have value. We want to inspire our audience to find pieces in their own wardrobe which might have been worn out and see beauty in that or give them new life,” said Maria Skappel Holzweiler, the label’s designer, also pointing to the brand’s new resale and rental services.
Soulland, one of the city’s established streetwear players, has also started a detailed Responsibility Report where it outlines the work the company does across the sustainability sector. In the last year the brand said it has limited its manufacturing suppliers to 13 long-term partners in order to maintain visibility over factory conditions; it also cut down the amount of mills it sources fabric from, and is in the process of mapping out raw material suppliers.
In addition, the amount of sustainable fabrics — meaning deadstock, recycled, or organic — used in seasonal ranges was increased from 57 percent to 71 percent in 2021, while the company is committing to not building sets for its shows and doing away with goodie bags to minimize its footprint.
Saks Potts, too, which first became known for its fur-trimmed leather coats, is moving away from real fur and the more trend-led candy colors it was famous for in favor of more practical, timeless pieces made of natural or recycled fibers. “We are working really closely with Copenhagen Fashion Week and our new head of sustainability to keep moving forward. We talk about responsibility rather than sustainability because there’s really nothing sustainable about fashion,” said Barbara Potts.
As for the new generation of designers grabbing the headlines at Copenhagen Fashion Week, sustainable design is second nature. There’s Amalie Roge Hove, who produces ribbed-knit pieces in small production runs and one-size-fits-all, stretchy fabrics that eliminate waste, as well as buzzy labels such as (di)vision and Kerne.milk, which have upcycling at their core.
“Even as we grow, we want to keep that intimate, handmade element and focus on our sustainability plan even more, going deeper into our supply chain and textile choices,” said Kerne.milk founder Marie Mark.