Government leaders weren’t the only ones to assemble in Copenhagen last week to discuss climate change and the environment. The Copenhagen Fashion Summit convened the industry’s leaders to discuss sustainability, ethics, and social responsibility in fashion in a shifting climate. The goal for this one-day meeting organized by the Nordic fashion industry’s NICE program (Nordic Initiative Clean and Ethical), was to sign a code of conduct and develop a ten year plan of action regarding environmental preservation, sustainable energy, and ethical production. With major apparel industry influencers like Gucci and Barneys in attendance, it was clear that commitment to sustainability is an enduring business trend that is here to stay. Ecouterre.com covered the summit, with key takeaway ideas for emerging fashion businesses:
What We Do, People Follow
Eva Cruse, CEO of Danish Fashion Institute and co-organizer of NICE, acknowledged that industry has a critical role to play in solving for climate change impact. “Politicians cannot lift this task alone,” she said, “they need the fashion and apparel industry, and we have a big responsibility. What we do, people will follow.” Cruse points to a compelling way to think about the role of the fashion designer in our society. To change the culture, start with fashion.
Customers Are Demanding This Approach
Mads Øvlisen, a UN Global Compact board member and chairman of the Danish Council of Corporate Social Responsibility pointed out the competitive advantage that can be gained by managing to a triple bottom line. “Experience shows you can actually improve your own business: Customers ask for this attitude, employees seek places to work where they see a deeper opinion about what they do, and investors increasingly invest in businesses that are managed on a sustainable basis.” Customers have become aware of the environmental and social impacts of fashion, particularly in the high-end, and are interested in supporting emerging designers that hold themselves to the highest ethical standards, and sustainably sourced supply chains.
Luxury and Sustainability Share Lasting Value
While the trend in fashion over the past several decades a move towards fast, cheap, and poorly produced “throw away” clothes, there is an effort to reclaim the meaning of luxury. Laurent Claquin, Senior Vice President of Corporate Social Responsibility at PPR (which manages Stella McCartney, Gucci, and Yves St. Laurent), spoke of the common values of sustainability and luxury. Buyers of luxury goods, he said, expect the best of everything, from design to working conditions. “Everything must be a model of transparency and integrity,” he said. “Luxury should be exemplary in that it should set an example—the best example.”
So if you are starting or growing a fashion business in the coming year, how are you aiming to be exemplary?