Fashion Summit tackles tricky trends

Tone Skårdal Tobiasson
Posted on
Tuesday, 29 April 2014

“Do you really need to produce so many collections?” Livia Firth asked H&M’s Helena Helmersson during the closing panel debate on the future of fashion. When the obvious answer came (“The customers expect it”), Livia dead-panned: “You need to wean the consumer! My children want sugar every day all the time; but do they get it? No!!”

Solutions was the theme of the Copenhagen Fashion Summit 2014, and even if H&M didn’t quite see the need to drastically redo their business model, several key industry players presented their views and ideas for a more sustainable future. However, it was Vanessa Friedman, once again, who hit the essence of the problem right on the nail: Let’s start thinking sustainable wardrobes rather than fashion items. She also painted an optimistic picture of the new generation – the iwwiwwiwi generation (I want what I want when I want it): They are pinning, as in Pinterest, and in the end actually buying less. “The business of fast fashion has become a runaway train, and we all know what happens to runaway trains: They crash.”

H& M had some news up their sleeve, though, among others that they had meet with government officials at the highest level in Bangladesh. As several of the Summit-speakers reiterated the need to address the many issues through legislation and cooperation with governments. The Danish Minister of Trade, Margrethe Vestager, stated that the fashion business can lay out a path, while HRH Crown Princess Mary stated that with all the stakeholders in the Opera House, “together we can be a catalyst for change”.

H&M along with Ginetex launched the Clevercare® label initiative, with good help from Stella McCartney who via a video link encouraged the audience to wash less for longer lasting clothes. “When I worked on Savile Row I learned never to dry clean a wool suit,” adding that steam is the best way to clean an expensive suit. According to a 2012 WRAP report, the carbon, waste and water footprint of a garment can be reduced by around 20-30% each if the active life of a garment is increased by only nine months. Therefore, the launch of this new initiative where consumers will learn how to wash less and care more for their garments – making them last longer – will have a potentially huge impact. is the website to follow. However, scrutenizing the website unearthed rather confusing advice as well as some serious mistakes. 

Another initiative launched by Not Just a Label and the Summit, was Restart Fashion: Five Easy Steps to Sustainability. They were fairly obvious steps, and nothing revolutionary – but perhaps the packaging is clearer when one boils it all down to five points. The crowd-sourcing website now boasts 15.200 designers in 106 countries. The main focus was, of course, the one year anniversary of the Rana Plaza disaster. Livia Firth turned her jacket inside out on stage to show the label, Eva Kruse – CEO of the Danish Fashion Institute – stripped and did the same with her top – and the audience of well over 1000 people in the Opera house all rose and remembered those who died or were maimed with one minute of silence.

The Danish Minister for the Environment, Kirsten Brosbøl, announced that the Nordic Council of Ministers is planning to launch a Roadmap in 2015. And for those looking for breaking news in the sustainable fashion sector, it was interesting to hear Jason Kibbey from the Sustainable Apparel Coalition say that there perhaps will not be a consumer-facing Higg Index score. “It may be that there in stead will be a way for the consumer to get a snap-shot of the product’s sustainable profile from a QR code or via an app.” Several of the speakers touched upon the need for more tangible and easy graspable ways of assessing more sustainable products, including the Crown Princess. Who had commissioned the Danish designers David Andersen and Designers Remix to create her outfit as a sustainable challenge. “Finding a zipper that met the criteria turned out to be impossible, so they were forced to recycle an old one,” she said.

Summer Rayne Oakes and Connie Nielsen as the event moderators turned out to be a very good choice, Also not making the Fashion Challenge a competition, but rather just a challenge given the best Nordic designers using materials from the new materials library in Copenhagen.

On the theme of solutions, the consensus seems to be increasingly that there is a shift from incremental changes and focus on CSR, to new business models where services and experiences are at the core of what is offered rather than the endless stream of items with a short life-span. “An organic t-shirt can be rubbish in very many ways,” said Livia Firth.