After two years of delivering our annual Summit to people digitally, this month over 900 leaders of brands, retailers, NGOs, policy, manufacturing, and innovators descended on Copenhagen in a bid to drive urgent action at the latest edition of the Global Fashion Summit. What ensued was two days of notable announcements, newly forged alliances and many learnings for both the next Summit and the industry more broadly.
Whilst progress has been made, it is acutely apparent that fashion in its current state is not fit for purpose. What could be a vehicle for creative expression is instead operating at the expense of our communities and our shared planet.
Faced with the stark repercussions of the industry, the Summit exists to embolden our network of committed stakeholders to recognise the urgency of the situation and to give them a platform for accountability, alliances, collaboration and education. Action is no longer optional and to be loosely enacted by a small selection of principled brands; it is mandatory and elicits urgent and pervasive attention.
As Kathleen Talbot, Chief Sustainability Officer and VP Operations, Reformation shared on the main stage: “We don’t get to keep debating this. We’re talking about lives and livelihoods, right now. We know that we’re not there yet, lets hold hands and drive for accountability and real change.”
Under the theme ‘Alliances for a New Era’, Summit attendees heard from over 100 speakers from companies such as Kering, Bottega Veneta, Ganni, Vestiaire Collective and UNFCCC, as well as activists, policymakers, designers and authors. The speakers present represented 22 different countries. Throughout the two days, over 300 facilitated meetings between brands and sustainable solution providers took place. Since its inception in 2009, the Summit has served as a bellwether for the broader industry and this edition was no exception.
If you missed out on the Summit, tickets for the on-demand video library are now on sale, so you can catch up on all of the content. Find out more here.
Below are just some of our reflections and considerations. Explore the key Summit outcomes and announcements here.
Our recently launched GFA Monitor report provided apt context for the Summit – a comprehensive overview on the status of the industry, available solutions, clear actions to take, and proven best practices. The GFA Monitor was activated throughout the event during a pre-Summit masterclass as well as a main stage panel discussion.
Solutions to transform the industry already exist, though the resounding message at the Summit was that these solutions must be carried out thoughtfully with the affected communities in mind. Two of the biggest industry buzzwords of the moment, ‘circularity’ and ‘policy’ were explored thoroughly across various panels, case studies and roundtables, providing serious points of reflection for the industry.
The significance of legislation to incentivise change within the fashion industry is unparalleled. Recent proposals such as the New York Fashion Act and EU Strategy for Sustainable and Circular Textiles were landmark events. Going forward policymakers must continue to keep the global nature of the textile value cycle in mind, this was echoed by Miran Ali, Vice President, BGMEA: “We need new standards across the world… it cannot just be within Brussels or New York, it has to be something truly global.” Maxine Bédat, Director, New Standard Institute, added: “The fundamental key for successful legislations is going to be a shift away from passing the buck on to manufacturers and having a real, honest dialogue…”
In the same sense, it is crucial that we see a socially just transition to a circular economy and poignant discussions around waste colonialism took place on the Summit stage. Liz Ricketts, Co-Founder & Director, The Or Foundation shared: “We cannot preserve the hierarchies of [the] linear economy, we need to understand that a circular economy… means that there is no top or bottom in that supply chain. So, we need to stop talking about redistributing materials and really be talking about how we redistribute wealth and power.”
Concurrent with some of the higher-level discussions between brands, activists were present to hold organisations accountable. The poignant words of Climate Justice Activist, Xiye Bastida, reverberated around the venue, providing a stark reminder that we are not fighting for some abstract future for our planet, but rather the livelihoods of millions of people around the globe today: “We won’t stop holding companies accountable. We want you to listen to the people on the street. Join us and listen to your children.”
Let’s usher in a new era where we honour the people and stand in solidarity with those most implicated by the industry both directly and indirectly. Without climate justice we cannot even begin to comprehend the resolution of environmental decay.
Global Fashion Agenda believes that the responsibility to drive change predominantly lies with the leaders of brands and retailers that have the power and volume to redefine business and increase sustainability performance at the vast scale that is urgently needed. Therefore, our Summit programme primarily aimed to convene these executives and empower them to act. We strive to include other perspectives in the conversation too and the people whom we convene at the Summit will be the cornerstone of a reimagined fashion industry, that puts back more into the planet than it extracts.
However, we recognise that the Summit’s representation didn’t comprehensively encompass the entire value cycle, and this is something we endeavour to improve upon with each Summit. We cannot expect to better our understanding of the issues at hand without representation from manufacturers, suppliers and garment workers which are indeed key stakeholders to include when considering the global value cycle of our industry.
Federica Marchionni, CEO, Global Fashion Agenda candidly addressed this in the final panel of the summit entitled, ‘The Value Chain Representation Challenge’, alongside Nikhil Hirdaramani, ESG & Sustainability Consultant and Syed Naved Husain, Group Director & CEO, Beximco Limited.
Sourcing and labor editor at Sourcing Journal, Jasmin Malik Chua, reiterated during a panel discussion: “It’s important to not take a really Western-centric approach and a Paternalistic approach, and actually speak to the workers, because they know what’s really best for them.”
Global Fashion Agenda is also engaging regularly with suppliers, manufacturers, and recyclers through our impact initiatives such as the Circular Fashion Partnership which is working to enhance the recycling infrastructure on-the-ground in Bangladesh to foster post-manufacturing circularity.
We plan to expand our Summit programme to other regions, namely Southeast Asia later this year, and continue to build new initiatives to drive impact across the value chain.
The intersectional nature of climate experiences and the fashion industry means that it does not suffice to take a one-dimensional approach to Summit voices. It is crucial to acknowledge the vast scope of experiences on the basis of role, racial identity, sexual orientation, physical ability, nationality, religion, size, gender identity and socio-economic status. These are all inextricably linked. Climate language in the Global North is anchored in Western understandings, excluding valuable knowledge from communities most implicated by and most resilient to climate change.
Through our planned development to deliver Summit events in other regions we intend to further diversify the voices we convene. There is always work to be done in pursuit of true inclusion in the fashion industry and we must work to keep improving this.
It is empowering to know that we can all participate in the climate movement, but to do so sustainability, itself, must be sustainable – meaning that it is accessible, enjoyable and enriching. And it can be. Willow Defebaugh, Co-Founder and Editor-in-Chief, Atmos, spoke to the topic of meaningful storytelling and shared: “Authenticity is always what’s going to reach people, and that comes from understanding how your personal story can help shape your unique perspective that you bring to the storytelling.”
In the same conversation, sustainable fashion blogger, photojournalist and labour rights activist, Aditi Mayer, provided insight into reframing of the term consumer: “We need to expand from framing civil society as purely consumers but citizens, how can you engage with one another in the community, focusing on organising.” Reducing people to their consumption habits not only places the onus on the accumulation of more, but also limits us to thinking in extractive ways.
It’s time to flip the script on obsolete fashion rules and make way for the new prevailing fashion mentality. Here’s to no more hollow promises based on the abstract future. The time for bold action is now. We’re so proud of what we achieved at the Summit and look forward to witnessing the much-needed action we inspire going forward. As Aron Cramer, President and CEO, BSR, so perfectly put it: “This is an industry that doesn’t respond to trends, it shapes trends, so shape this one.”
Read more about the announcements made by brands and organisations at the Summit here. Relive the Summit here. Global Fashion Agenda will publish further details on the impact of the Summit in the coming months.