Sustainability Sunday #35

Copenhagen Fashion Summit: in review. Have we got commitment to change?

In response to the planet’s growing population, expected to exceed 8.5 billion by 2030, garment production will increase by 63%. In light of this, this year’s Copenhagen Fashion Summit gave one key call to action: asking fashion brands and retailers to adopt circular systems.

A circular system for fashion is the collection, reuse and recycling of garments, bringing them back into the manufacturing process so that the majority of textiles no longer goes to landfill. Pioneering high street retailer, H&M, have communicated their aim to operate under a fully circular model by 2030, only using recycled materials in its garment production. It’s no mean feat, yet I hope that they might set an example to other fast fashion retailers.

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The lengthy 9-hour day of discussions was documented both online as a livestream, and across social media with lots of Twitter and Instagram activity from the attendees, so here are 4 things we’ve discovered from the day:

1. Adopting circular systems is paramount

Putting a large percentage of existing garments into a reuse and recycling loop will significantly reduce waste, and gets us part way to solving other issues like the huge volume of resource put into producing new clothing for every season. Reducing seasonal volume will take a long time to filter into retail strategies, so whilst this works its way in closing the loop on existing products will begin to shift away from the resulting enormous amount of waste. By the end of the Summit on Thursday many of the brands attending, including Inditex, H&M, Adidas, Kering, M&S and Bestseller had all signed a commitment to accelerate a circular business model. Their signature on the Call to Action for a Circular Fashion System means they have committed to creating a circular strategy against which they will set 2020 targets and will report on their progress.

2. Collaboration between stakeholders across the industry is important for moving forward

There are lots of initiatives being put in place by fashion retailers, manufacturers, NGOs and industry bodies and whilst implementing ethics and sustainability programmes is good, for the industry as a whole this forms a very fractured plan. This is where the Global Fashion Agenda (organisers of the Summit) comes into play – building a collaborative approach to tackling the issues. Competition between brands can be rife, but working together on best practice for an industry-wide issue is the only way to move forward.

3. Educating and listening to younger generations is key

Budding designers have a lot of remit to bring sustainability to the forefront of fashion design; as a generation of environmentally educated and forthright young people it is important that they are both aware that having a positive effect on the planet is crucial, and that they can be responsible for finding solutions. The selected members of the Youth Fashion Summit were given the opportunity to present their own ideas at this year’s summit – a draft for the first-ever UN resolution on fashion.

4. We must work to change consumer attitudes to sustainable fashion

There is a rumour, that you may have heard, that a sustainable garment has been compromised on design and/or quality. FALSE. The real sacrifices are time and profit, however the fashion industry is both sat in a wealthy buffer of profit, and immensely influential therefore these two “sacrifices” are potentially easily absorbed. Brands such as People Tree and Alternative Apparel, as well as in-brand collections such as H&M’s Conscious Collection proves that ethical clothing can be made just as fashionable as fast fashion clothing, with just a minor step-up in price to the consumer. In the words of Roland Mouret, we need to “make sustainable sexy, and every woman will buy it.”

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