Today ‘sustainable’ practices are being adopted at every level of the fashion industry’s value chain, but what actions are being taken to improve practices related to fashion shows?

What was once a spectacle defined by countless international flights, a myriad of different fashions for street style snaps, extravagant single-use runway sets, and events which at the core centred around commerce and consumerism, all came to a grounding halt last year in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

Now, with fresh perspectives and innovations, we shine a spotlight on the opportunities and measures being taken to prioritise sustainability and consider the digital legacy that may be left behind when we emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic.

NOTEWORTHY INITIATIVES

Over the last few years Copenhagen Fashion Week (CPHFW) has firmly cemented itself as a frontrunner for sustainability standards in fashion weeks, launching a SUSTAINABILITY ACTION PLAN in 2020 and a follow-up ANNUAL SUSTAINABILITY REPORT status update for 2020. With these come all-encompassing goals such as a zero waste by 2022 plan, demands for social justice, as well the ambitious SETTING OF EIGHTEEN STANDARDS that those showcasing at CPHFW must comply with from 2023. Moreover, in partnership with Zalando, CPHFW present the ‘ZALANDO SUSTAINABILITY AWARD’. Measures such as this champion authentic claims from brands surrounding transparency and environmental impacts.

Elsewhere in Europe, some of the notorious “Big Four” fashion weeks have been pushing sustainability to the forefront. With all fashion weeks spotlighting a variety of up-and-coming sustainability focused designers, we are also seeing many classic brands shaking things up – take for example Coach combining pieces from its archives with a new collection and Gucci opting for two seasonless shows a year.

Paving the way for credible information regarding the true impact of these events, Paris Fashion Week recently announced plans to develop tools to measure the environmental, social and economic impacts of fashion shows, set to launch for the SS22 season this September.1

At Milan AW21 the project ‘DESIGNER FOR THE PLANET’ was developed to showcase independent designers with commitments towards the future of the industry.

Amidst London Fashion Week AW21 The Centre for Sustainable Fashion at London College of Fashion, UAL launched FASHION VALUES, a free educational platform promoting sustainability within the fashion industry in partnership with Kering, Vogue Business and IBM.

Priya Ahluwalia of eponymous brand ‘Ahluwalia’ received the prestigious Queen Elizabeth II Award for British Design in recognition of Ahluwalia’s work in “pioneering responsible sourcing and manufacturing techniques, while telling the stories of those who make her clothes and the communities she works with”.2 Learn more about Ahluwalia and her work in our CFS+ 2020 Designer Challenge HERE.

DIGITALISATION 

During LFW AW21 we also saw the launch of the first higher education DEGREE IN DIGITAL FASHION, indicative of the continuity of the digital elements many were forced to embrace in the past year at fashion weeks.

Steff Yotka for Vogue described ‘phytigal’ as that which is part IRL, part URL,3 and given the reach of online and social media, it makes logical sense that going forward shows are hybrid in nature – digital shows can be accessed millions.

Whilst many acknowledge that traditional physical fashion weeks are not only exclusive, but also, according to one report, contribute 241,000 tonnes of CO2 emissions annually,4 there is also the inescapable fact that the physicality of these creative crescendos holds a certain unique magic that goes amiss via the blue light of a screen. How then can we adapt and balance this conundrum?

Following COVID-19 it has been speculated that fashion weeks will never amass the same such crowds as they did pre-pandemic, and could this return to intimacy be part of the equation for sustainable fashion weeks? The solution seems to lie in meaningful and intimate shows that expertly execute the delicate balance between digital and physical. Not only might this be better for the planet but also, according to the BFC and CFDA, better for the wellbeing of those regularly flying to attend these physical events in often far-flung locations.5

Designers are already conjuring up unique and exciting ways to present digitally with everything from Balenciaga’s video game to Loewe’s show in a box, the opportunities are endless.

However, digitalisation isn’t a fail-safe answer. The often-invisible infrastructure of the communications and technology sector is responsible for two percent of global GHG emissions.So, going forward places must seek to balance the carbon footprint of both physical and digital events and preserve these powerful mediums to communicate about sustainability.

LOOKING FORWARD 

Fashion shows historically have immense cultural significance, transmitting new ideas in unique ways. As these events are beginning to reflect the important shift towards sustainable fashion, it is critical to recognise that we can’t simply dismiss Fashion Week, but rather we must reinvent it and harness its influence for good. There is no better platform for an open dialogue about the trajectory the industry must be on as these spectacles attract masses of people globally. Fashion Week is a creative outlet in which we can shape the future of fashion. Raising awareness and presenting highly creative people with the task at hand will prompt and galvanize people to come up with cutting-edge solutions.

REFERENCES

1. Guilbault L. Paris Fashion Week’s new plan to measure environmental impact. Vogue Business. 2021.

2. British Fashion Council. Priya Ahluwalia Receives the Queen Elizabeth II Award for British Design. British Fashion Council. 2021.

3. Yotka S. Fashion Shows Are Dead, Long Live Fashion Shows! Vogue. 2021.

4. Odre. Zero to Market. 2021.

5. Dirvanauskas G. What is the future for fashion weeks? Drapers. 2021.

6. Chan E. Are Digital Fashion Weeks Really More Sustainable? British Vogue. 2021.

What was once synonymous with luxury fashion, the industry is increasingly moving away from fur, as it reckons with both the ethical and environmental implications of the material.

The anti-fur movement has long since been established (cast your mind back to the Peta campaigns of the 1990s which enlisted stars such as Naomi Campbell and Christy Turlington declaring they would “rather go naked than wear fur.”), and companies are increasingly following suit by pledging to rid themselves of fur entirely. Consistent with an overall shift in the fashion sector and a growing commitment landscape from brands, in September of this year, Global Fashion Agenda’s Strategic Partner, Kering, announced that it was going completely fur free.

Speaking to this decision, François-Henri Pinault, Chairman & CEO of Kering, shared: “For many years, Kering has sought to take the lead in sustainability, guided by a vision of luxury that is inseparable from the very highest environmental and social values and standards. When it comes to animal welfare, our Group has always demonstrated its willingness to improve practices within its own supply chain and the luxury sector in general. The time has now come to take a further step forward by ending the use of fur in all our collections. The world has changed, along with our clients, and luxury naturally needs to adapt to that.”

Following on from Gucci declaring fur to be “outdated” in 2017, all the Group’s Houses, notably Balenciaga, Bottega Veneta, Alexander McQueen, Brioni and Saint Laurent, have progressively decided to take this step.

Kering’s move away from fur is indicative of the industry’s evolving stance on the material and is in line with other high-end fashion houses and retailers such as Prada, Michael Kors, Versace, Canada Goose, Mytheresa, Yoox Net-A-Porter, Burberry and Chanel who have committed to going fur-free in recent years. Earlier adopters of the fur-free commitments include Calvin Klein in 1994, Ralph Lauren and Tommy Hilfiger in 2007, and Armani in 2016.

The decision to eliminate fur is not only reserved for brands. Just this month it was announced that fashion magazine ELLE will no longer promote fur in any of its 45 international titles – be that in editorial content or adverts. Government action has seen fur bans in Israel (with exceptions for religious observances) and California, as well as talk of similar decisions in the United Kingdom. The Netherlands banned mink fur farming in 2013 and instances such as Denmark’s mink cull last year as a result of COVID-19 outbreaks on farms put fur firmly in the spotlight for revaluation. As a result, Kopenhagen Fur, the largest fur auction house in the world, declared plans to shut down by 2023. In line with growing concerns, animal welfare standards are becoming increasingly prominent, including International Wool Textile Organisation Guidelines for Wool Sheep Welfare, Textile Exchange’s Responsible Leather, Wool, Down, Mohair, and Alpaca Standards, and Kering’s Animal Welfare Standards.1 Read more about Kering’s Animal Welfare Standards here.)

With this shift comes a significant opportunity for innovative material alternatives as brands carve out their fur-free futures. Faux fur is not a failsafe in terms of sustainability, so brands must seek out alternatives that do not compromise on environmental or social costs. Material Innovation Initiative’s latest Next-Gen Materials report, indicates that consumers are ready to support this change but there is currently not enough supply to meet the specific criteria required by the industry. Thus, major investment is needed to scale technologies and test materials. The emerging market for next-gen materials is promising, with $1.29 billion invested in this area of the industry between 2015 and 2021 and this investment reaching new heights in 2020.1 We have already witnessed a similar trend correlation in the food industry – the past two decades have exposed growing concern for animal welfare, resulting in a rapid movement towards meatless alternatives, this has significant potential to be realised in the fashion industry too.

You can explore a range of pioneering new materials on our Innovation Forum.

REFERENCES

1. Material Innovation Initiative (2021). State of The Industry Report, Next-Gen Materials.

The fashion industry is operating at the expense of our planet and the communities that occupy it – with many companies prioritising profitability and convenience over quality and ethics. In the last 15 years, clothing production has approximately doubled yet clothing use has declined by nearly 40%.1 Whilst the industry grapples with the need to slow production rates and citizens reconsider such unabating consumption levels, it is crucial that the clothing which is produced is done so as responsibly as possible. Fashion design is due a total rethink. We need to incentivise practices that are less extractive, in line with circular thinking and respectful of the communities they impact.

Our INNOVATION FORUM, showcases a broad range of solution providers that are paving the way for industry-wide transformation by encouraging responsible design. Below we outline just some of these innovators.

Material Assessment

Higg is a sustainability insights platform for consumer goods businesses – delivering software and services for measuring, managing, and sharing supply chain performance data. From materials to products, from facilities to stores, from emissions to working conditions, Higg unlocks a complete view of a business’s social and environmental impact. Higg data can provide invaluable insights during the design process.

Alternative Materials

Eastman Naia™ is made with sustainably sourced wood, where cellulosic fibre brings the richness of nature to fabrics. Its filament yarn transforms into luxurious, soft, and easy-to-care-for fabrics, while its staple fibre creates eco-conscious blends that are quick-drying and consistently reduce pilling, giving designers more freedom and choice. Naia™ brings nature to fashion with sustainably managed resources; high safety, social, and environmental standards; and a low environmental impact.

MycoWorks developed Fine Mycelium, a proprietary biotechnology that harnesses mycelium to grow a made-to-order natural material that offers the performance of the finest animal leather with lower environmental impact. Recognised globally as a breakthrough in materials science, Fine Mycelium’s durability, customizability and aesthetic features unlock new design possibilities. The customisable, durable material evokes the same quality and emotional response as the world’s finest heritage animal leathers.

PANGAIA is a materials science company on a mission to save our environment. Whilst PANGAIA is a direct-to-consumer brand, it also functions as a B2B company, bringing breakthrough textile innovations and patents into the world, by distributing to brands.

PANGAIA pioneer breakthrough technology like FRUTFIBER™ which repurposes food waste such as banana leaf fibre, pineapple leaf fibre and bamboo into a new, innovative fabric and PLNTFIBER™ which uses renewable, fast-growing plants such as Himalayan nettle, bamboo, eucalyptus and seaweed.

Traceability

Haelixa has developed an innovative technology to mark, trace and authenticate products from source to retail using a DNA marker. It addresses three key challenges of today’s fashion industry: the need for transparent supply chains, the ability to prove product origin and to support sustainability claims. Its DNA marker creates a unique fingerprint to identify a brand, a supplier or even production lot. The data is highly reliable, because each marker is unique and the info about the origin and journey is safely embedded into the product all time. Offering reliable and genuine material information can incentivise brands to adopt more sustainable materials, starting at the product design phase.

Dyeing

IndiDye® Natural Color Company provides an eco-friendly fibre-dyeing solution based entirely on natural dyes and auxiliaries. The dyeing technology combines high colour fastness with very low water consumption. IndiDye® is applicable to natural, cellulosic and synthetic fibres.

Sampling

SENSE – IMMATERIAL REALITY exist to support the digital transformation journey through innovative technologies. Among its offerings is Sense Fabric – highly photorealistic and detailed 3D models of fabrics, reproducing all of the features of the real product. This customised solution means that all products in a collection can be viewed in Immaterial Reality – like having a sample in your hands only without the production. This way, products can be designed as efficiently as possible after virtual sampling to ensure minimal waste.

Browse the INNOVATION FORUM to explore the full array of solution providers.

References

1. Ellen MacArthur. Fashion and the circular economy.

Copenhagen is home to some of the most inspired and coveted brands of the moment. Beyond showcasing Scandi clothing aesthetics, Copenhagen Fashion Week (CPHFW) has firmly cemented itself as a sustainability frontrunner. Relative to other fashion weeks, it is renowned for subverting the status quo and acting as a bellwether for the broader industry.

CPHFW fosters creativity and incentivises responsible design by rewarding brands for their commitments to sustainability. Below we explore some of the key ways in which it achieves this.

Sustainability Report

CPHFW is distinguished by its extensive sustainability strategy. Ahead of the AW22 edition, its latest annual Sustainability Report was released. The report outlines progress made in 2021, while reflecting upon the targets set out in the 2020- 2022 Action Plan, and how these have been executed so far. The resounding message of the report is that CPHFW is well on track to deliver on most targets set, and in fact exceeding in many areas – only one target was not met.

In the Report, CPHFW indicated that ‘Hospitality’ remains a challenge. Hospitality-related emissions increased by 7.3 metric tons in 2021. In order to ensure its sustainability efforts are recognised globally, they believe it remains necessary to maintain the number of international guests. To tackle the accompanying emissions from flights, CPHFW will take this challenge into consideration when setting targets for 2023-2025 as they deem previous ambitions in this area have proven “too optimistic”. They incentivise people to travel via train where possible and for AW22 a carbon offsetting fee for brands was introduced. Carbon offsetting will be mandatory for brands showcasing from 2023.

Sustainability Requirements 

Among the most impressive initiatives from CPHFW, is the extensive list of eighteen minimum Sustainability Requirements with which brands must comply from 2023 – the new international partnerships in line with this were announced in the report.

Significantly, the requirements were selected by government-funded programme Fremtidens Tekstiler as the framework to train 50 SMEs in the Danish industry to lead to further action.

The requirements will now be implemented across brands involved at Copenhagen International Fashion Fair (CIFF), Norwegian Fashion Hub, Oslo Runway and the Icelandic Fashion Council. As a result, from 2023, around 1,600 brands will comply with these all-encompassing standards such as utilising upcycled or recycled textiles in all collections, using zero-waste show sets, not destroying unsold garments and using at least 50% organic materials.

Looking ahead, CPHFW aims to introduce new targets and refine its strategy for 2023 – 2025, whilst continuing to pursue new international partnerships. This will ensure that the benefits of such a comprehensive strategy are echoed globally.

Circularity

Aside from championing circular fashion via the brands showcasing, CPHFW hosted the talk ‘What role can circularity play in solving sustainability challenges.’

Our Impact Programme Manager, Sandra Gonza, moderated the discussion between Emily Chan, Sustainability Editor, Vogue, Lauren Bartley, Head of Responsibility, GANNI and Laura Coppen, Head of Circularity, Zalando.

Gonza opened with the question: “Everybody seems to be talking about the circular economy, but what does it really imply for fashion and how can we actually use it to create meaningful change within the industry?”

The conversation touched on the fact that there is a long way to go in achieving a circular fashion model, the necessity to reflect upon the social aspects of a circular economy and the responsibility brands have, to consider the entire lifecycle of products.

Hear insights from the panellists and watch the discussion here.

Zalando Sustainability Award

The annual Sustainability Award, presented by our Associate Partner, Zalando, provides both encouragement and recognition for brands exploring more sustainable avenues in their work. This year, Tobias Birk Nielsen’s label, Iso.Poetism, was awarded for its collection ‘The Echoes Which We Remain’ which focused on upcycled and recycled fibres and a low water use dyeing technique. The brand will subsequently receive €20,000 and the opportunity to collaborate on an exclusive collection with Zalando – leveraging sustainable materials, production and distribution methods.