Copenhagen fashion summit: an event for solutions, but were there any?

Powered by article titled “Copenhagen fashion summit: an event for solutions, but were there any?” was written by Laura Paddison and Hannah Gould, for on Friday 25th April 2014 17.23 UTC

More than 1,000 designers, producers, manufacturers, auditors, academics and NGOs involved in the fashion world gathered at Copenhagen Opera House yesterday to discuss sustainable fashion.

With the anniversary of Rana Plaza and Fashion Revolution Day as a hook for the event, the attendees certainly talked the good talk on sustainability but for a summit based on solutions, were there any? A summary of some of the days key sustainability lessons.

1. Luxury brands are in a good position to lead the way on sustainability

Vanessa Friedman, fashion editor of the Financial Times and soon to be fashion director of the New York Times spoke to Guardian Sustainable Business about the fast fashion versus luxury fashion. Of the latter she said:

Their production chain has always been more controlled and one of the premises of the modern luxury industry is based on vertical integration which really starts with the factory. So they have always had a much higher ability to trace their supply chain from the beginning and now increasingly they’re buying the actual suppliers of the fabrics and the materials that go to the factories, so they’re almost there from the ground up.

So in way you see that with Kering, the information they have about the goods they produce is probably significantly higher than the information that one of the mass suppliers has because they know every single link in the chain.

2. The bitter rivalry between the Bangladesh Accord on Fire and Building Safety and the Alliance on Bangladesh Worker Safety may be a media construct

At least it is according to Alan Roberts, CEO of the Accord. “I would really like to say to you that don’t believe what you read in the media about the antagonism if you like between the two organisations”, Alan Roberts told me.

However, he did go on to make clear two major differences between the two initiatives. Firstly the Accord is legally binding, where the Alliance is not. Secondly the Accord is publishing its inspections in the name of transparency. “The alliance isn’t”, said Roberts, ” but that’s for them to decide that’s not for me to criticise that’s just their judgment call.”

3. Proposal for a sustainability kitemark on clothes

Danish deputy prime minister Margrethe Vestager
Photograph: Thierry Tronne/Corbis

Denmark’s deputy prime minister Margrethe Vestager spoke of a proposal to include a standard sustainability mark next to the price on an item of clothing. This, she said, would give customers the chance to care about how, where and by whom their clothes were made and allow them to factor sustainability into purchasing decisions.

4. Even Livia Firth couldn’t persuade attendees to take their clothes off

Livia Firth
Photograph: Livia Firth

During her talk, Green Carpet Challenge founder Livia Firth removed her blazer and turned it inside out to mark Fashion Revolution Day, which called on people to wear their clothes inside out. Despite the loud applause she received, her plea to the audience to do the same wasn’t met with any action. No labels seemed to be on show among any of the Copenhagen attendees.

5. Social networks as sustainability saviours

The role of millennials came up at the conference, with the FT’s Friedman seeing hope in the number of young people shopping online. Sites such as Pinterest and Instagram were offered as examples of media platforms which could encourage people to spend more time thinking browsing, comparing and thinking about the clothes they buy.

6. Leather on the agenda

President and CEO of luxury fashion brand Bottega Veneta, Marco Bizzarri, called on government to create stricter rules for leather in the same way regulation is now in place for food. And Livia Firth talked about her collaboration with Gucci to create the first line of zero deforestation leather handbags. Incidentally, Ikea’s head of sustainability Greg Priest recently told Guardian Sustainable Business that leather was next on the agenda for the company. Perhaps 2014 will be the year for sustainable leather.

7. Where are the solutions?

Despite the emphasis on solutions at the summit, few concrete ideas shone through among the rousing speeches which pulled on familiar themes of making the world a better place and fashion as a great place to start. The sense was of a crowd of industry figures genuinely committed to and invested in sustainability, gathering together to reassure themselves of the good work going on but leaving with few new ideas. Unless, of course, all the work was going on behind the scenes at the Opera House.

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