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For years, the fashion industry has been criticized for its unsustainable practices, but last week’s Copenhagen Fashion Week (CPHFW) marked a significant change in the industry. CPHFW, which started in 2006 with low-level fanfare, has gradually set sustainability requirements for designers to meet, and this year’s event saw designers and brands presenting their collections while meeting these 18 sustainability requirements.
Based on the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, the requirements include a rule that 50 percent of a collection must be made using textiles from new-generation materials, such as alternatives to animal-derived raw materials like leather, while deadstock, recycled, or upcycled materials are also encouraged. Fur is banned outright, and unsold stock from previous collections cannot be destroyed. Brands must also ensure that their supply chains are free from child labor and that factories provide safe and fair working conditions.
The event’s organizers, including CEO Cecilie Thorsmark, who previously worked for the Global Fashion Agenda, an industry group focused on sustainability and wanted to challenge the role and purpose of fashion week. Implementing the requirements was a risk, as they didn’t want to lose the bigger commercial names that attract international press and buyers. Thirty brands were approached with 28 qualifying, while one brand dropped out halfway through, and another was rejected after failing to meet all 18 obligations.
While on paper, the event looks encouraging, some critics, such as Ciara Barry, the policy and campaigns manager at the non-profit Fashion Revolution, believe that it’s concerning that the requirements don’t mention fair pay. In addition, carbon offsetting remains an issue as members of the press and fashion buyers flew in from around the world to look at new clothing that was being produced.
However, many designers remain optimistic about the changes. Henrik Vibskov, who has been showing for more than two decades, felt the requirements finally acknowledged the steps he has been trying to implement since 2016. Vibskov believes that everything has a life after its first use and described his basement filled with archive pieces, with his latest set featuring paper tomato trees going to be exhibited in Berlin.
While some commercially successful Scandi brands such as Stine Goya, Ganni, and Rotate continue to use sequins, which have devastating environmental consequences, they claim that they are sustainable as they are recycled or using recycled polyester. Some designers like Emilie Helmstedt covered their shoes with ribbons, beads, and paint, as it was better than using new versions. In contrast, others like (di)vision’s co-founders, the siblings Simon and Nanna Wick, use almost exclusively deadstock and upcycling materials, and source their fabrics from suppliers in Italy.
With Oslo and Helsinki fashion weeks already implementing Copenhagen’s framework, there is hope that CPHFW could spark wider change, or at least conversation. While the British Fashion Council (BFC) won’t be following suit, it encourages brands to commit to voluntary initiatives such as joining the UN’s Climate Challenge. However, Fiona Gooch, a senior policy adviser at the fair trade organization Transform Trade, believes that an EU regulator and a fashion watchdog, as proposed in UK parliament, is a better option.
In conclusion, while the changes made by Copenhagen Fashion Week are a significant step in the right direction, there is still more work to do to make the fashion industry fully sustainable, especially for NYC. It is essential to continue pushing designers and brands to meet these sustainability requirements while also addressing issues like fair pay and carbon offsetting. Look for and Support sustainable brands, like TinyRescue.Org, and buy less overall. Let’s all work together to ensure a sustainable future for the fashion industry.
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