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What was achieved at the Global Fashion Summit in Copenhagen?

It’s no secret that the fashion sector has a lot of work to do to solve its sustainability problem. The industry’s latest summit proved how challenging that will be.

Last week, leaders of the fashion industry came together to tackle some of the business’ biggest issues at the Global Fashion Summit in Copenhagen.

The focus of the meeting was ‘alliances for a new era,’ which implied that – despite most brands in attendance competing against one another for market success – the responsibility to improve the current mode of operation is one shared by all.

At least 900 members from the fashion industry were involved, including the head of sustainability at New York’s consultancy firm BPCM, representatives from the United Nations, and top-level employees of brands such as Chanel, Burberry and Nike.

Together, they discussed a series of collaborative projects and outlined ambitions environmental commitments. But does the summit share unfruitful parallels with past COP meetings? Let’s find out.


Addressing fashion’s waste problem

Fast fashion is a pandemic in and of itself, with studies revealing that brands like SHEIN, H&M, and Fashion Nova generate 92 million tons of the waste that is plaguing our planet every year.

Just as SHEIN attempts to polish its reputation by launching a ‘purpose-driven’ clothing line, it has also pledged to donate $15 million over a three-year period to support The Or Foundation, based in Ghana and the US.

In Accra, The Or Foundation is dealing with an ‘environmental disaster’ resulting in local women carrying heavy bales of discarded clothing found along coastlines and in landfills after being diverted from America.

Considering SHEIN was recently valued at $100 billion, not everyone was blown away by its ‘bare minimum’ ‘pocket change’ offer which ‘won’t be sufficient’ without changing fast fashion’s entire business model.

That said, The Or Foundation was encouraged to take SHEIN’s offer. The more optimistic of attendees called the company’s acknowledgement of their waste contribution ‘a significant step towards accountability’ taken by no other company before.

And though abolishing brands that adhere to socially and environmentally destructive practices would be more ideal, that certainly won’t happen overnight. Here’s where high fashion brands step in to do their part.

Ghana’s local landfill

Getting to the root of it all

On the flip side, high-end brands are choosing to bolster the fashion industry’s position on the sustainability index by getting their customers to think differently about how they shop.

A number of brands, including Ralph Lauren, put forward new business models which focus on producing ‘timeless designs’ as an eco-friendly solution. These trend-ditching pieces will promote continuous wear across seasons and years, minimising overall consumption.

Other big names like Bottega Venetta and traditionally sustainability-shy Chanel announced a look back into the past, choosing to release products from their archive collections for sale. I know, the Y2K girlie in all of us is screaming!

More great news for bag lovers, the latest plans for British brand Mulberry comprise of digi-tagged handbags to facilitate a pending pre-owned exchange program, while Scandi-based Ganni shared its success with environmentally-friendly ‘fabrics of the future’ like Mylo, Stem, and Circulose.

While these brands don’t commit the same offences as fast fashion giants, the onus to innovate still lies on everyone. Innovation of ethos and production is a great place to start.

Archive Bottega bags

Let’s wrap this up

So, despite the side-eyes at SHEIN, lacking representation of vital supply chain and garment workers, and constant guilt pangs for being one of the most environmentally destructive industries around (bar oil, of course) it wasn’t all bad.

The Apparel Impact Institute launched a $250 million Fashion Climate Fund which will work to decarbonise the sector, green-ify the supply chain via renewable energy, and support future research of sustainable material and fabrics.

On top of this, The Global Fashion Agenda outlined new industry values and a universal set of standards for sustainability. Explaining the report, it also presented brands with a written guide to achieving a net positive industry.

Just like the end of every COP meeting, it’s obvious we already have the answers to reducing our overall impact on the planet. Whether companies – and consumers – will follow through from here on out is where the real question lies.