Copenhagen Fashion Summit

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Copenhagen Fashion Summit: The Davos for fashion?

Rubbing elbows with the likes of Lola Young, Livia Firth, Vanessa Friedman, Tyler Brûlé, Ellen MacArthur, William McDonough, Prabal Gurung, Eileen Fisher, Amber Valetta, the Danish Minister of Trade and some high-ranking officials from the Nordic Council of Ministers, always helps on the glam-factor. But other aspects of the Summit were more glum than glam, particularly for wool.

Tone Tobiasson reports from Copenhagen.

‘Being less bad is not being good’ – these were the words used by Cradle-to-Cradle movement co-founder William McDonough to kick off the Copenhagen Fashion Summit, held 11 May with some 800 key fashion industry players in attendance.

Interesting then that one of the Summit’s main outcomes, a 139-page report called Pulse of the Fashion Industry, calls for a shift to recycled plastics – specifically, to replace 30% of conventional cotton with polyester.

This earned criticism from, among others, Greenpeace’s Kirsten Brodde, leader of the global Detox fashion campaign.

Speaking in a break-out session, Brodde’s advice was to rewrite the entire report. She described the report’s reduction of the microplastics issue, mentioned only in two small paragraphs and taking that attitude that filters in washing machines will soon solve the problem, as ‘paving the road to hell’.

Brodde was referring to the problem of the plastic filaments shed by synthetic fibres during laundering. These microplastic fibres have made their way into our oceans and water systems, and into the digestive tracts of fish and other animals. According to a recent New York Times article, early research shows that these plastic fibres are among the most common environmental debris on the planet. But the issue has been widely reported since 2011 (from Mother Jones to The Guardian)

 More glum news for natural fibres, wool in particular, was the Pulse report’s focus on disruptive actions, one being consumer-facing labelling based on LCAs, Higg Index or Kering’s Environmental Profit and Loss (EP&L) tool.

Natural fibre production processes are significantly different – more diverse and complex – than those for man-made fibres. The LCA-based data behind the Higg Index and other tools is still being collated for wool. To make comparisons at this point in time is risky, and to issue ratings while data and methodology is still in progress could lead to undesirable outcomes. To refer back to the microplastics issue, there is growing evidence for concern that replacing natural, biodegradable fibres in apparel with synthetic alternatives will only add to the expanding volume of textile waste and microplastic pollution on our planet. Yet the Higg Index currently groups most natural fibres at the “least sustainable” end of the spectrum and synthetic counterparts at the “most sustainable”. What will happen if consumers heed this rating, and purchase more synthetic apparel?

Wool fibre is not implicated in the microplastics problem: one, wool is made of a type of keratin similar to human hair, and two, like human hair, wool fibres biodegrade.

One silver lining however was an on-line design tool for the the European Clothing Action Plan (ECAP), presented by Tobias Harboe from the Danish Fashion Institute (DAFI)/Global Fashion Agenda.

The ‘Design for Longevity,’ tool is the first item on ECAP’s agenda. While the main basis for the tool would be the Higg Index’s MSI (Material Sustainability Index), which would once again in its current state hurt wool, Mr Harboe was open to a more holistic approach including those pertaining to ‘forever fashion’ and wellness.


Tools are the New Black

Plans are being made left and right for on-line ‘help’ for designers and consumers.

The Ellen MacArthur Foundation, in an initiative’ backed by the C&A Foundation, H&M and Nike, will work together to define a vision for a new global fiber system.

Kering’s EP&L tool, developed with Parsons School of design, is also on the horizon – and here again, recycled plastics take center stage.

These initiatives/tools need to be checked out further and feed-back given to them, as their take on the circular economy is not on ‘reduce’, even though Kering’s Chief Sustainability Officer Marie-Claire Daveu did – when pressed – say that this was of course their main aim.

It was only Eileen Fisher, however, who brought this to the forefront at the Summit, and Patagonia’s Rick Ridgeway applauded her specifically for addressing the ‘hardest one of them all: reduce consumption.’


A Long Row to Hoe…

Later, in a closing panel discussion, SAC’s CEO Jason Kibbey acknowledged the need to use raw materials that last longer, and to put more focus on assessing environmental impact during the consumer phase.

Some of wool’s long-term messages are gaining traction. A representative from the Swiss EPA, who had been heading towards recycled plastics as a way to implement the ‘circular economy’ under the Swiss Ministry’s prioritization of textiles, is now exploring wool.

But the overall-call is, sadly, for more man-made fibres, which comes through very clearly in the Pulse report.

It even mentions a ‘merino wool-like fiber made from gelatin’ as a stellar example to look into.

This is a Swiss project, so we must ensure that our new friend in the Swiss EPA steers clear of this one.

Download the Pulse report here

The next CFS will take place 16 May, 2018

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