by Amy DuFault
Fashion has been called one of the most powerful industries in the world. Whether members of that industry choose to make positive impacts with that power is another thing. Enter the Copenhagen Fashion Summit, a powerful platform where 1200 people from the apparel industry gathered to inspire, be inspired and take action with the hopes of transforming fashion into a more sustainable, ethical, and environmentally stable industry.
It’s already been more than a month post-Copenhagen and based on conversations we’ve been part of at the Brooklyn Fashion+Design Accelerator, many people are still energized by the summit’s three day experience. We reached out to 10 VIP colleagues who attended the Copenhagen Fashion Summit with us to see what really resonated for them and what they hope people will incorporate into their thinking moving forward.
What impressed them most? Read below.
Image: Lewis Perkins, Copenhagen Fashion Summit
Lewis Perkins, President, Cradle to Cradle
“For me, the powerful declarations of the Youth Summit felt like a call to action from one generation to the next. An accountability from a rising group of leaders who are saying, YOU are in power now, but we will be next. Their mandate for commitments and change reminded me of the critical role the leaders of today have in turning the wheel now, so that the momentum can begin. We don’t have time to sit around another generation as our planet heats up and our impact lends for toxicity and depletion of critical resources. Now is the time we must start the acceleration of positive impact which will be continued by our children and our children’s children. We owe this change not to our corporation and economies, we owe this to our descendants.”
Image: Sara Kozlowski
Burak Cakmak, Dean of Fashion Parsons School of Design
“Sitting on the plane back to New York, I was moved by the all personal commitments to a future for design that considered not only improving products but advancing people’s lives and experiences. As the leading innovator in design education, Parsons is challenging its students to understand the larger systems and societies into which they’re intervening, so that they can offer better solutions. After hearing all the positive feedback from brands and companies about the direction we’re urging our students to think, I left Copenhagen feeling immense hope that our graduates would in fact be educating brands, rather than companies training new employees.”
Image: Julie Gilhart (far right) in Copenhagen with Nadja Swarovski and Susan Rockefeller
Julie Gilhart, Fashion Consultant
“I thought The Copenhagen Fashion Summit was a benchmark event leading into a new time where many designers are questioning the way they create. The Summit serves as a gathering place to learn, debate, converse, and activate. I’m continually inspired by Rick Ridgeway at Patagonia who speaks about staying true to creating clothes that have a longer life. Hannah Jones at Nike continues to push on innovation in materials and processes. Vanessa Friedman of the New York Times drives hard the point that sustainability needs to be “sexy.” I moderated a panel with Susan Rockefeller and Nadja Swarovski, both women who have legacy names, that are pushing for better practices. We need leaders and Copenhagen gave us a platform for leaders to gather and inspire.”
Image: Dana Davis, Director of Production & Sustainability at Mara Hoffman, Celine DeCarlo, Director of Brand Communications, Head of Environmental & Social Affairs at Mara Hoffman
Celine DeCarlo, Director of Brand Communications, Head of Environmental & Social Affairs, Mara Hoffman
“Leaving a conference with even more energy than when you arrive is a rare feat. But my time in Copenhagen did exactly that. Granted this was my first sustainability conference, there were moments that have truly contributed to the growing momentum of the changes we are implementing at Mara Hoffman.
One of these moments came during Patagonia’s Rick Ridegway presentation when he declared, ‘Sustainability- you have to know you’re never going to get there…be aware. Get Active. Use your talent to do good. And remember the power of just one individual.’ This, for me, was the ‘Aha!’ moment for a simple reason. When embarking on a journey of sustainability, feeling overwhelmed is prevalent. Where do you start? Which direction do you take? What do you prioritize? Breaking down the notion that there was indeed no end goal only empowered the actions we as a company are taking. Without an end in sight, we can only move forward, grow and keep implementing positive change in the way we manufacture. Rick reminded me to always move forward, that there’s always something to be done, to stop talking and to start doing.”
Image: Sara Kozlowski of Copenhagen’s alternative energy skyline
Sara Kozlowski, CFDA, Education and Professional Development Director
“Copenhagen reminded me that fashion is largely a reflection of societal and economic trends and ultimately our culture is increasingly one of transience. However, the presence of global policy makers and institutional leaders triggered optimism and a sense that the power of ‘we’ is stronger than a silo of one. Today and tomorrow, collaborative infrastructures coupled with technological innovations, and new supply chains will be key in creating impactful fashion strategies. We now have a glimpse of a future where take back systems will drive the circular economy into action via breakthroughs in textile mechanical & chemical recycling processes. These inventions have the potential to break barriers and make closed loop material systems a possibility for small and mid-scale creative makers.”
Image: Deb Johnson
Deb Johnson, Executive Director, Brooklyn Fashion+Design Accelerator
“A week of being surrounded by 1200 leaders working to drive change was a heady experience, but along with the pledges to reduce impacts and induced optimism came some caution to remind us that our strategies might still be flawed. When H&M’s president announced the company was striving to create a closed loop system and Nike’s brilliant head of sustainability announced a commitment to reductions of 50% while doubling their size – a prickly and awesome British designer Livia Firth stuck her ground and told her truth, ‘The elephant in the room is fast fashion.’ Later on, an also awesome Linda Greer from the NRDC was determined to break the magic spell. She spoke on behalf of humanity making it clear that, ‘The industry is actively creating a race to the bottom in the developing world.’
Most poignant perhaps was Renzo Rosso, a very successful fashion entrepreneur, who was both poetic and crushing.’The speed of life leaves no time to dream,’ he said. He said it in English but his sigh was all Italian.”
*This story first appeared on the Brooklyn Fashion + Design Accelerator blog.
We joined the queen of fashion journalism to discuss how Generation Z can do more to make its future sustainable.
“Millennials hold the key to a sustainable future,” was the message at last week’s Youth Fashion Summit in Copenhagen. Held to coincide with the city’s annual Fashion Summit, the theme of this year’s event was ‘responsible innovation’ and, in attendance, was one of the world’s most respected voices in fashion: Suzy Menkes. With strong words on the disposability of the industry today (“I think brands have engaged the millennial generation too much! They have encouraged the idea of ‘new party, new dress'”) we used the summit — the largest event on sustainability of its kind — to sit down with the undisputed queen of fashion journalism and discover what she thought about engaging the millennial generation with the issue. Here are five things we learned…
We need to harness the true power of digital.
As International Fashion Editor of Vogue, Suzy writes digitally across nineteen websites in thirteen different languages, reaching an online audience of 38 million. Considering the access that both fashion brands and millennials have to digital spaces, she believes that “fashion brands, like most brands, are tremendously far behind on really understanding what’s happening.” She says, “It took brands ages to grasp that people were talking to each other on their phones using images and text. It’s taken them a long time, with some exceptions of course, to realize that they need to get much more savvy.”
And through it, promote a radically positive sustainability story.
Although fashion has grown its online presence and gained a following from the millennial generation, Suzy believes she hasn’t “really seen fashion brands pushing the sustainability story.” Reflecting on speakers at the summit and storytelling, she says, “I’ve been really fascinated by listening today and hearing people talk so sincerely. However there’s a tendency towards saying ‘the world is going to collapse if we don’t do this’.”
She continues: “I don’t think this is a line which will work with many people, and certainly not a young generation who is filled with hope and enthusiasm for the future!” On the contrary, Suzy suggests that the story is told, not only in a radical way, but a positive one too. “By caring what kind of T shirt you buy, you will improve the state of the planet,” she gives as an example.
Fashion does occasionally get it right.
Suzy often reports from the front row of fashion, such as at Chanel’s Resort 2017 showing in Cuba earlier this month. During its January couture show, the French house was applauded for going eco and, when probed on whether brands want to engage consumers with sustainability, Suzy says that “one thing Chanel has done really well is to save the people who do their hand work when they were struggling by setting up a factory on the edge of Paris. That is really important, that’s how big brands should act. Big fashion brands should see that they should support something.” She also cited Renzo Rosso as another industry heavyweight attempting to address the situation: “Today I talked to Renzo Rosso and saw the many ways he tries to make things better.”
Sustainability must take an international perspective.
Since Suzy writes for Vogue from a global perspective and sustainability is a global issue, it was a good opportunity to get her international outlook on the industry at this moment in time. “I think it’s difficult for anyone to understand that things are happening at different paces in different countries,” she says. “You have to realize that things do develop in a different way. Asia in itself is different since there are so many different countries. I just came back from South Korea and the whole outlook there is interesting. You see big statements from the young people in the millennial generation, for example trying on the same jacket as someone of another gender. I think this is one type of movement you definitely see coming out of Asia more than Europe.”
Looking at sustainability as a potential movement in Asia, some suggest a possible link between the proximity to areas of manufacturing in China and the connection of Chinese consumers to responsible fashion. However, according to Suzy, the connection is not without its difficulties: “It’s hard to talk to anyone in China properly about this,” she suggests. “It’s partly my failure as I don’t speak the language but also I don’t know if they say things to please me because they’re told that I’m an important fashion journalist.”
The power of the media is in our hands.
Another discussion that took place on stage at the Copenhagen Fashion Summit was about the role of the media. A panel discussed the fashion media’s role in advancing the discussion of sustainability in fashion and Suzy was keen to comment, saying: “When you ask me about the media, I ask: who are the media?”
She elaborates: “The media doesn’t just include people like me, who I suppose are professional people in media. What about all the people on social media on Facebook and Instagram? It’s not just one group of people; we’re all the media now, including millennials. Everyone should use the access they have to media for the good!”
*This story first appeared on Vice
A real discussion about sustainability in denim is not as simple as patting each other on the back for good work. At the Copenhagen Fashion Summit, a panel titled, “The Brave New World of Denim,” discussed what needs to be redefined, consolidated and focused on to push the industry toward greater responsibility.
The panel was moderated by Samuel Trotman, denim editor at WGSN, and included speakers François Girbaud, co-founder and owner of Marithé and François Girbaud; Peter Frank, product development manager at Nudie Jeans; Marco Lucietti, global marketing director of Isko; and Roian Atwood, director of sustainability at VF Jeanswear, Imagewear and CASA.
Girbaud said that the denim industry needs to stop looking to its past. Though vintage denim is certainly having a fashion moment, Girbaud emphasized that he can no longer endorse his invention of stone washing, which has led to water pollution. He said that he began denouncing the process in 1989, however, the message only began to sink in when Fukushima happened, and people began to realize that we all share the same water and air.
Fabric needs to progress in terms of design as well, Girbaud emphasized. He said that since lifestyles have changed, denim needs to change. Now that people are living an urban lifestyle, the iconic denim consumers—like cowboys and miners—are no longer relevant.
Panelists agreed that consumer demand is key to making progress with sustainability, however, it is necessary that brands facilitate sustainable shopping for consumers. Girbaud said, “It’s really important to create a label or something like this, because the consumer has to know what they are buying.” Otherwise, he suggested that the consumer would go on buying items made with the old “recipe” that uses stones, excess water and chemicals.
Sustainable certifications are also important, helping to acknowledge responsibility. Yet, Lucietti said that that there are too many sustainable programs currently competing. He said that Isko receives invitations from all sorts of coalitions and organizations, but there is a limit to the number with which the mill can work. Lucietti stated that the answer is for the government to harmonize these programs.
Furthermore, some concepts that are already in place, need to be further defined. Though organic cotton has been a buzzword for the industry, it is not as cut-and-dry as it initially seems. Atwood explained that there are different challenges to consider for cotton produced in different countries and even within the U.S. In Texas, where farmers are dealing with water scarcity, they need to work on water transpiration models; in Arkansas, where there is nutrient loading and runoff, they are concerned with proper fertilization.
The Bad News
Recycling old garments to create new ones, or “closing the loop,” is one of the key moves toward sustainability, however, this process has recently become more difficult with denim. The market has become dominated by stretch fabrics, which include non-cotton fibers that are much harder to recycle.
Luchietti said, “I have to be honest, we are still a little bit far from [recycling garments], mainly as far as the cost is concerned because recycling a garment means facing costs that are not competitive today in the market.”
The Good News
There are new possibilities for design in denim since laser finishing techniques have been developed. Girbaud highlighted the fact that before laser finishing, there was little new about woven fabrics. The idea of using a laser, however, is metaphorically engraving into the canvas, which he said will lead the new phase of design.
The other bright spot is that the denim industry is small enough that change is easier. Other sectors in apparel might be too large to be able to convene and innovate, but communication is easy in denim. “The denim industry is also called the denim community,” Lucietti said.
*This story first appeared on The Rivet