This June, Global Fashion Agenda convened over 1000 key stakeholders both in Copenhagen and online from across the fashion and interlinked industries to discuss critical issues, create connections and drive action at Global Fashion Summit. What ensued was two days of content experiences focused on tangible and evidence-based impact, notable announcements, newly formed alliances, many learnings and above all, an emphatic call for action.
With every edition of Global Fashion Summit, the level of urgency increases as we tread ever closer to crucial planetary tipping points. This urgency could be felt in the audience. On the back of what is set to have been the world’s hottest month on record and escalating extreme weather events globally, we simply have no time to waste.
The need to act is unambiguous, so Global Fashion Summit was primarily focused on clarifying tactics for action, promoting the process of systemic change, emphasising the need for scaling solutions and educating broad audiences. Action is no longer optional, it is obligatory. As shared by Federica Marchionni, CEO, Global Fashion Agenda: “This is indeed a decisive decade in the history of humankind: an opportunity that all of us must embrace regardless of specific interest.”
‘Ambition to Action’ was this year’s powerful theme and attendees heard from 137 speakers. Concurrent with case studies being presented, Global Fashion Summit created space for authentic debate and discussions, particularly with the new Red Stage and Studio Stage formats. Below are some of our reflections, considerations and highlights.
While voluntary action is critical, we also know that it is not enough to achieve the systemic change required to meet targets. Policy is one of the most compelling forces in our industry right now and is only set to become more influential. As such, this was a focal point of 2023’s edition.
From sessions covering the local and global dimensions of policy power to sustainability communication and waste legislation, policy permeated discussions across the two days. This included insights from the European Commissioner for the Environment, Oceans and Fisheries, Virginijus Sinkevičius and New York State Assembly Member, Dr. Anna Kelles. The textiles sector has gone from being almost completely unregulated to more than 16 legislative proposals on the table just at the EU level over the course of one and a half years. Kelles reassured those with mixed feelings about the sudden influx of policy: “Legislative and regulatory action creates an equal playing field and ensures that companies will not be put at a competitive disadvantage for doing the right thing”.
Global Fashion Summit marked the launch of Global Fashion Agenda’s Global Textiles Policy Forum to address the deeper layer of fashion sustainability challenges and create a global platform for government, institutions, industry associations, and federations to discuss and agree on ambitious sustainability pathways for the industry. The forum aims to provide a level playing field across the entire textiles sector, ensuring that policies and actions extend beyond the EU and consider the realities of the Global South. During the launch session, Maisa Rojas, Minister for the Environment of Chile, shared a video message expressing the importance of addressing textile pollution through global policies and collaboration.
Discover Global Fashion Summit policy takeaways from Leonie Cater, Sustainability Reporter at POLITICO here.
Policy implementation relies upon robust data, transparent communication about this data and equitable frameworks via which to collect those datasets.
In a time where communication executives are under increasing pressure to avoid irresponsible greenwashing practices, the resounding message from popular afternoon panel ‘What Comes Next for Communicating Sustainability’ was that well-defined regulations are necessary for the industry to move forward effectively. Rather than vague guidelines on what brands could do, there is an appetite for specific directives on what must be done. This approach would leave no room for ambiguous or misleading claims. Blake Harrop, President, Wieden + Kennedy, said: “We must find a way to compress all of the good work that a brand is doing in the supply chain, in materials in sourcing and in the communications into something that makes sense to a consumer and that can live within their attention span, and legislation will be key in setting this framework.”
Panellists also discussed that even without perfect regulations and perfect data, the fashion industry must take responsibility for creating a better framework for communicating sustainability. Brands and retailers need to proactively provide transparent information and take action to address sustainability concerns, irrespective of regulatory requirements.
Read more in this article from Ellen Ormesher, Senior Reporter, The Drum, on ‘What’s next for communicating sustainability in fashion?’
The right storytelling can transform radical ideas from idealistic to realistic. This was the focus of the first iteration of Global Fashion Agenda’s incredibly well-received initiative, Next Gen Assembly. Pedro Ferreira, Next Gen Assembly delegate and Country Leader, Slow Fashion Brazil, shared: “Here at the Global Fashion Summit, it has shown me that as youth I have power and I have a voice and I’m super glad for that.” Read more about the Next Gen Assembly in this article from Olivia Pinnock, Contributor at Forbes.
As a timely development to discussions on storytelling within 2022’s programme, this year’s Summit also made space to acknowledge compelling storytelling around buying less.
UNEP and UN Climate Change launched The Sustainable Fashion Communication Playbook, a guide for fashion communicators to align efforts to sustainability targets. It shows marketers, imagemakers, media and influencers how to take action through countering misinformation, reducing messages perpetuating overconsumption, redirecting aspiration to sustainable lifestyles, and empowering consumers to demand greater action from businesses and policymakers.
Shakaila Forbes-Bell, Writer, Consultant, Speaker and Founder, Fashion is Psychology, discussed an underutilised aspect of storytelling with transformative potential: “Right now, especially among younger generations, being sustainable is going to satisfy that need to belong and that is something that I think largely sustainable communications are ignoring.”
Storytelling was further explored within the Fashion Redressed online film series, which was teased onstage ahead of its launch later this year. The series will premiere in September and is presented by Global Fashion Agenda and produced by BBC StoryWorks Commercial Productions. As a foundation for this highly anticipated project, BBC Storyworks carried out a global survey with its audiences to understand their perspectives to inform the series themes. Mark Gavhure, Global Series Lead, Fashion Redressed, BBC StoryWorks, BBC Studios, shared some of these insights on stage and said: “Over 70% say that the world needs more constructive storytelling when it comes to sustainability.”
Conversations at Global Fashion Summit argued that industry transitions must be carried out mindfully with all affected communities included, front and centre, in both decision-making processes and implementation. As shared by Dr. Hakan Karaosman, Assistant Professor, Cardiff University within his emotive keynote centred around solutions beyond growth: “We need to understand that just transitions are context-specific – there is no one size fits all.”
Textile waste is a significant problem globally, particularly in receiving countries like Ghana. The volume of clothing coming from the Global North overwhelms the capacity of local infrastructures to handle waste management effectively. This leads to a build-up of used textiles, with serious health implications for workers and environmental degradation that only worsens with time.
The priority of a socially just transition to a circular economy was a key theme within Global Fashion Summit 2023. Waste colonialism was discussed with a focus on policy and the need for a globally accountable Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) scheme. During the ‘Textile Waste and The Global Circular Economy’ session on The Red Stage, Sammy Oteng, Senior Community Engagement Manager, The Or Foundation, said: “When we talk about partnership between the Global North and the Global South, I don’t think we have a partnership. I don’t think there has ever been a partnership. If you are dumping something on someone is not a partnership”
We must stand in solidarity with those most implicated by the industry both directly and indirectly and provide reparations and respond accordingly. Climate justice is a prerequisite for the true resolution of climate change.
Both the fashion industry and climate change are intrinsically intersectional: a narrow approach to Summit voices will not suffice. Global Fashion Summit acknowledged a plurality of voices to recognise the extensive scope of lived experiences based on role, race, gender, sexuality, ethnicity, class, ability, size, socio-economic status and many other factors. These aspects are all deeply intertwined.
Manufacturer representatives are key stakeholders to include when considering the global fashion value chain and following Global Fashion Agenda’s 2022 Singapore Summit (which focused on leadership from this stakeholder group), this year’s Copenhagen Summit programme featured 33 supply chain voices.
Building on GFA’s extensive collaborations with suppliers, manufacturers, and recyclers (through our impact initiatives such as the Global Circular Fashion Forum) , understandings of enhancing the textile recycling infrastructure in Bangladesh, Vietnam and Cambodia featured within the programme. The remarkable Cambodian designer, Tifanny Bophadavy Doche from Re-Made spoke and inspiringly shared: “A new generation is coming to Cambodia. A generation that wants to do thing different, do it better.” These insights followed a recent event hosted by GFA in Cambodia, which brought together core local stakeholders to discuss textile waste opportunities to foster post-manufacturing circularity.
On the panel ‘Regenerative Agriculture Realities’, Yoann Regent, Head of Sustainable Sourcing & Nature Initiatives, Kering also highlighted: “It’s part of our responsibility as fashion brands and fashion groups to give visibility to the farmers.” This intentional focus on the value chain was further demonstrated by the deep involvement of our Principal Sponsor for Global Fashion Summit: Copenhagen Edition 2023, Maersk, who spoke at multiple points across the programme on the power of leveraging logistics to take action on sustainability goals.
Through our recently introduced annual international Summit series, Global Fashion Agenda seeks to further diversify the voices and representatives we convene. Continuous efforts are required to achieve genuine inclusion in the fashion industry, and GFA is persistently working to improve this.
Global Fashion Summit demonstrated critical challenges and tangible opportunities of the key forces shaping the fashion industry today, including: policy, data and storytelling. The industry must take forward these learnings to bring about meaningful action and make way for a new prevailing fashion mentality. Collaboration is indeed key. As Seema Joshi, Fashion Campaigns Director, Stand.earth put it: “Pathways to change should not be done in secret, they should be public, and we should democratise access to the information about steps that companies are going to take.”
Future generations will be forever grateful for the trailblazers that were bold in their actions, not just ambitions. The team at Global Fashion Agenda can’t wait to see what comes next.
Join us for Global Fashion Summit: Boston Edition 2023 taking place 27 September by securing your ticket here.
Explore the key Global Fashion Summit outcomes and announcements here. If you missed out on Global Fashion 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.