The fifth Copenhagen Fashion Summit (CFS), hosted by Amber Valletta and Tyler Brûlé, demonstrated the fashion industry’s emerging progressive commitment to sustainability and ethical self-evaluation with talks and panels by designers Eileen Fisher and Prabal Gurung, the founder of Ego-Age, Livia Firth, and Crown Princess Mary of Denmark. Functioning as fashion’s equivalent to the World Economic Forum, CFS was founded in 2009 in conjunction with the UN Climate Summit. Now an annual event, CFS has become the central forum for introspection, innovation, and peer-accountability in the fashion industry. The 2017 program emphasized how ethical practices benefit businesses with the stated theme as “Commitment to Change.”
Representatives of mass-market retailers like Target and H&M, whose fast-fashion practices are widely held to be responsible for environmental and human-rights harm, met with decision-makers for luxury brands, such as Tiffany & Co., whose previously soft-spoken attention to ethical sourcing, labor rights, and longevity wield moral power. Thinkers like William McDonough, founder of the Cradle-to-Cradle movement pushed for sustained renewable and reusable consumption by presenting the first C&A “Cradle to Cradle” ethically constructed tee-shirt designed for home composting as evidence that, as he said, “fashion is a verb,”—meaning the industry should push itself creatively to “fashion endlessly” and consider every stage of a garment’s life-cycle. On a policy-making level, Dilys Williams, the director of the Centre for Sustainable Fashion in London’s University of the Arts, introduced a group of international students who drafted the first resolution on fashion, to be presented at the UN next year.
Exemplifying the prevailing ethos was Tiffany & Co., a brand whose long-standing dedication to ethical sourcing, transparency, and weighing moral decisions was demonstrated by CEO Mike Kowalski’s interview with the New York Times’ Vanessa Friedman and his concurrent
open letter to President Trump urging him to keep the US in the Paris Climate Agreement (a decision that Kowalski said was “science, not politics”). A historic brand creating pieces designed for intergenerational use, Tiffany & Co. exemplifies how full transparency along the supply chain and positive practices can become a luxury insignia for consumers. For fast-fashion brands, however, technology solutions such as circular systems where textiles are collected and reused, or innovations like leather and fur grown from stem-cells, should allow ever-churning companies to avoid depleting finite resources.
Although key-note speaker McDonough stressed that “being less bad is not being good,” CFS’s focus away from ideological purity towards sound business strategies promotes a full win-win. At the summit’s conclusion, representatives from Inditex, H&M, Adidas, Kering, M&S, and Bestseller signed a “Call to Action” commitment vowing to implement a circular business model for the long-term future.