Reflecting on 15 Years of Global Fashion Summit

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Fifteen years ago, Global Fashion Summit, presented by Global Fashion Agenda, emerged as a beacon of inspiration in an industry grappling with its environmental and social impacts. What began as a platform to put sustainability on fashion’s agenda has evolved into a transformative force, driving sustainability initiatives and impact across the fashion landscape.


Since then, the Summit has solidified its reputation as a cornerstone event for the fashion industry. The 2024 edition, held on May 21-23 at the iconic Copenhagen Concert Hall, gathered over 1000 representatives from various sectors to discuss and drive sustainability. This year’s theme, ‘Unlocking the Next Level’, offered attendees the opportunity to learn about the industry’s most pressing barriers and solution unlocks – underlined in the new edition of the Fashion CEO Agenda – throughout the entire open programme and a series of intimate closed-door roundtables. Global Fashion Agenda emphasised the urgent need for actionable solutions to achieve sustainability goals, highlighting the Summit’s role in fostering critical industry impact and collaborations.


The lack of systemic progress to transform the fashion industry towards becoming a symbol for a net positive future does not dampen the enthusiasm and the resilience to bare the challenges ahead of us. Instead, it gives Global Fashion Agenda the responsibility to keep pushing to accelerate impact.



The Evolution of the Summit  


As we reflect on the evolution of the Global Fashion Summit, its significance extends far beyond its annual convening. It has become a rallying point for industry leaders, policymakers, and innovators to collectively address the pressing challenges facing the fashion sector. It has been the driving force behind Global Fashion Agenda programmes such as the Global Textiles Policy Forum and Renewable Energy Initiative, both of which concretely address two crucial keys to unlocking the next level – finance for decarbonisation and supportive legislation. Since the Summit’s inception, sustainability is now firmly entrenched in the C-Suite and boardroom agendas of fashion companies, signalling a shift in how the industry perceives and prioritises sustainability alongside revenue.


In line with Global Fashion Agenda’s original mission, the ‘why’ for changing fashion is now clear, however the ‘how’ remains a very complex puzzle of global collaboration across cultures, regions, languages, and nuances. The Summit stands as an encouraging moment to celebrate the work of those resisting the status quo and is increasingly focused on action-based case studies to collectively define the blueprint for the future of this industry based on tangible examples and pockets of progress. Beyond the actions and outcomes of the Summit, it stands as an important pillar for cultivating community, inspiration, and relationships in the sustainable fashion space.

Unlocking Tangible Solutions


The Summit aimed to showcase a range of pioneering solutions aimed at propelling the fashion industry towards a sustainable future. Each of the 33 content sessions addressed a critical barrier and proposed an actionable solution.

Better Wage Systems


A session on day two identified the barrier that wage increases have not kept pace with inflation and productivity demands, exerting downward pressure on wages and working conditions. The proposed solution involved collaborative leadership and defined roles across supply chain stakeholders, emphasising binding support for collective bargaining agreements. During the session, ACT revealed its success in supporting brands and IndustriALL in signing individual legally binding support agreements. This tailored support is crucial for the ongoing collective bargaining process in Cambodia, aiming to improve wages and working conditions.

Circular Business Models


The majority of fashion sector revenue is not coming from circular business models, and we must rethink performance indicators, incentives, products, and customer experiences while eliminating messages encouraging unnecessary consumption. This topic was covered extensively throughout the programme in sessions such as ‘Future Fibers: Enabling The Circular Model’, ‘The Preferred Fibre Face-Off’, and ‘Tipping The Scale On Circular Material adoption’. During the case study ‘Celebrating Circular Business Models’, The Ellen MacArthur Foundation announced The Fashion ReModel, a demonstration project involving leading brands from across high-end, activewear, retailers, mid-range, and high-street. It aims to identify solutions and unlock barriers in order to scale circular business models and begin to decouple revenue from production.

Innovation and AI


The  Innovation Forum connected companies with 31 sustainable solution providers, facilitating over 400 introductions and business meetings to transform sustainability commitments into tangible actions. GFA and PDS Ventures revealed Bloom Labs as the winner of the Trailblazer Programme 2024 who will now go on to receive a significant equity investment and commercial and operational support to help bring the innovation to scale. Through programmes like Trailblazer, which leverage the shared network and expertise of both PDS and GFA, innovators gain invaluable insight into industry dynamics.

AI is emerging as a pivotal tool for the fashion industry and responsible AI integration can amplify our efforts to create smarter, more efficient systems that benefit all stakeholders. The programme session ‘Ending Oversupply’ covered both the opportunities and limitations of AI for tackling overproduction, during which Dr. Ahmed Zaidi, CEO & Co-Founder, Hyran Technologies, said that through AI-supported shorter production lead times: “We move away from a forecast driven model, which is the predominant way of working in fashion, towards something that is more agile.”

Collective Financing Models


The first panel discussion on 22 May explored the barrier that individual company efforts to reduce environmental impacts lack the scale to meet critical commitments like the Sustainable Development Goals. As such, the session covered the need for the continued development of sector-wide capabilities to invest collectively for substantial shifts, such as electrification and renewable energy in major manufacturing countries. The session leveraged insights from Global Fashion Agenda’s Renewable Energy Initiative, and Thomas Tochtermann, Chairman, Global Fashion Agenda, reiterated: “We lack capital, we’re not lacking ideas. We lack money. Technologically it should be feasible to provide enough renewable energy to fibre, fabric, and garment producers but there are not enough investors at this time.”

Pay Equity


By promoting pay equity, the fashion industry can become a catalyst for change. One of eighteen strategic closed-door roundtables at the Summit, ‘Pay Equity Interventions In European Value Chains’ co-hosted by PwC, explored interventions for reducing the gender pay gap in European value chains. Leveraging insights from Italy, the session navigated how sector-level frameworks can be applied. At a later date, Global Fashion Agenda together and PwC will collectively present thought leadership that identifies and unpacks this further.

A Platform for Global Policy Action  


Each year, the topic of policy grows increasingly pervasive as many legislations begin to come into fruition. Some participants expressed their perception that real change is now primarily dependent on governmental legislation and external political pressure.

The industry’s approach to incoming regulation has been shaped by the industry initiatives championed at Global Fashion Summit has for many years. It is gratifying to see these frameworks evolve from voluntary guidelines to mandatory regulations. However, developing policy should be grounded in a thorough understanding of the fashion industry’s inner workings, and bridging those knowledge gaps is a crucial role of events like Global Fashion Summit. Sessions such as ‘Fragmented Futures: Fashion’s Policy Agenda’ underscored the importance of robust data and clear regulations to combat greenwashing and promote transparency. During this session, Bárbara Peñafiel Durruty, Circular Economy Policy Implementation Coordinator, Ministry of Environment of Chile reiterated: “The issue with textiles needs to be addressed not only at the national level but also internationally.” Global Fashion Agenda will continue to advocate for global policy action that is representative of fashion’s global value chain through the Global Textiles Policy Forum launched last year in Copenhagen.


Fostering Intersectional and Inclusive Dialogues


Driving holistic sustainability in the fashion industry necessitates a broad, intersectional, and inclusive dialogue. Representation was once again a critical focus, with the Summit featuring 113 speakers representing 28 countries from diverse backgrounds and roles within the industry. This marks a significant increase since pre-pandemic levels and the inaugural Summit in 2009 which platformed just 11 speakers.


Launched at Global Fashion Summit, the Indigenous Partnership Principles for the Fashion, Apparel and Textile Industries were developed in partnership between Conservation International and Textile Exchange with direct input and leadership from Indigenous Peoples and local communities. The principles include 12 criteria to guide companies to better centre Indigenous Peoples and local communities’ rights and perspectives across product development initiatives and supply chains. Speaking about the project, Apurv Gupta, Sustainability Future Thinker, Kering, said: “…the methodology is not just industry driven but driven by Indigenous communities and local communities around the world.”

Accessibility of the Summit and the underrepresentation of certain stakeholders, regions, and voices is of paramount priority for Global Fashion Agenda. Addressing these gaps is crucial to fostering broader participation and inclusivity within the industry and Global Fashion Agenda is committed to continuously supporting access to the Summit both in Copenhagen and at the international editions, as well as through Global Circular Fashion Forum events in key manufacturing regions such as Vietnam and Cambodia.

The Need for Systemic Progress


Despite the positive strides, the Summit highlighted a stark reality: the pace of sustainability progress remains insufficient. Federica Marchionni, CEO of Global Fashion Agenda, emphasised in her opening remarks: “To meet fast-approaching climate targets and implement measures to stay on track to 2030 and 2050 agendas, I must emphasise that we need to unite towards these common goals. Whether we differ in geographies, cultures, or political mindsets, sustainability must be a unifying bond among all of us. Ultimately, sustainability can help to surpass these divides.” This unity will ultimately accelerate progress and gain greater impact. The Summit’s discussions made it clear that while there is increased awareness and ambition, significant barriers still hinder widespread systemic change. The urgency to overcome these obstacles was palpable, reflecting the pressing need for industry-wide commitment to sustainable transformation. As Paul Polman poignantly said, “Good for fashion, bad for planet is not an option anymore.”


Global Fashion Agenda acknowledges that an annual two-day event cannot entirely transform a global, multi-trillion-dollar industry which employs over 300 million people globally. The Summit provides a platform for community building, dialogue, and knowledge exchange and serves as one of the most crucial tools to change fashion, but it is not the only one. Beyond this event, the global community and the wider Global Fashion Agenda team work throughout the year to implement initiatives to drive action further. We are steadfast in this mission and will not stop striving for a net positive industry.


Feeling disappointed by the realities of the fashion industry is discouraging at times. However, it is important to acknowledge the impressive strides that have been made in the sector such as binding agreements on wages, meaningful reparative financing models, influential and mandatory legislation – these are developments that Global Fashion Agenda has been laying the foundations for since the inception of the Summit in 2009.


The Future


As we reflect on the 15 years of the Global Fashion Summit, it is evident that while the platform has catalysed significant advancements and fostered an engaged community of changemakers, the journey towards a net positive fashion industry is far from complete. The insights and commitments from the 2024 Summit must translate into concrete actions to ensure a sustainable future for fashion. As Her Majesty The Queen of Denmark said in her speech: “A sustainable fashion industry is not a limitation but an opportunity for an inclusive, creative, and prosperous future that nourishes our planet and respects our people.”


To realise our shared vision, it is imperative that the sector implements the keys in this year’s special edition of the Fashion CEO Agenda to unlock the Next level for our industry:


  • Operationalising Sustainability


  • Redefining Growth


  • Activating Consumers


  • Prioritising People


  • Mobilising Based on Materiality


To facilitate this, we need supportive policies and financing models alongside collective and sustained efforts in the coming weeks, months, and years to truly unlock the next level. Ryan Gellert, CEO, Patagonia Works and Patagonia reminded us in the Summit’s closing panel: “I don’t spend any time trying to manufacture hope. I think hope is not a strategy, it’s a very passive idea. What gives me energy, what gives me motivation, is a belief that we have created existential problems. They are created by human hand, and we have a responsibility to solve them.”


Relive the Global Fashion Summit: Copenhagen Edition 2024 here!


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