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Copenhagen Fashion Week Leads the Way as the First Sustainable Fashion Week

Copenhagen Fashion Week has set a new standard for the fashion industry by requiring all brands to meet 18 minimum sustainability requirements. This season marks the first time the requirements have been fully implemented, making it the first sustainable fashion week.

copenhagen fashion week sustainability

Scandinavia has long been known as a hotbed of fashion, with iconic brands like Ganni, Marimekko, and Stine Goya leading the charge. But as the fashion industry has come under increased scrutiny for its environmental impact, the region has turned its attention towards sustainability.

Enter Copenhagen Fashion Week, which made waves in 2020 with its ambitious sustainability action plan. The plan includes 18 minimum requirements that all brands on the schedule must meet, covering six key areas: strategic direction, design, smart material choices, working conditions, consumer engagement, and show production. This season, which showcases autumn/winter 2023 collections, marks the first time the requirements have been fully implemented following two years of pilot tests.

copenhagen fashion week sustainability

"It's a very significant milestone for Copenhagen Fashion Week," says CEO Cecilie Thorsmark. "Two years ago, not all brands on the schedule met the requirements. Now we can see this framework does accelerate change in the industry - a lot of progress has been made."

To meet the requirements, brands must show that at least 50% of their collection is made from certified, preferred, upcycled, or recycled materials. They must also demonstrate their commitment to due diligence across their supply chain. Other requirements, such as designing products to increase their quality and value economically, are more difficult to assess.

copenhagen fashion week sustainability

All submissions from brands are verified by a sustainability committee, led by consultancy Rambøll. While the process relies on self-reporting from brands, it undoubtedly drives them to be more ambitious in their efforts to be sustainable.

The transition period between announcing the standards and implementing them has meant that only one brand, which Copenhagen Fashion Week declined to name, did not meet the requirements, and therefore was not able to show on the official schedule this year. However, the standards will be ramped up on an annual basis to ensure that brands are continuously striving to do better, as well as reflecting wider changes within the industry, such as upcoming EU legislation.

Helmstedt’s AW23 show included recycled fabrics and upcycled sneakers.
Helmstedt’s AW23 show included recycled fabrics and upcycled sneakers.

"Going forward, we're going to introduce one new standard a year," Thorsmark explains. "But we will also work with the existing standards to ensure that they're strict enough."

The standards have helped smaller brands formalize their sustainability practices, too. "(Di)vision, which uses upcycled materials in its collections, is another brand on the Copenhagen Fashion Week schedule this season. Co-founder Simon Wick says, "For a small brand with a big focus on sustainability, we already work with sustainability in most of our day-to-day practices, but our team is quite small. Being able to work with Copenhagen Fashion Week means we have now developed an official preferred material list and both an internal and external code of conduct, which is something we're really happy about."

copenhagen fashion week sustainability

In addition to the 18 minimum requirements, there are an additional 58 questions that brands must answer, including whether they have signed up to science-based targets to cut their greenhouse gas emissions, and if their supply chain is deforestation-free.

"Each brand is given a score for each action point in the sustainability survey, depending on how urgent and complex the specific action is," Thorsmark explains. "We use that for internal benchmarking, but of course we encourage brands to increase their score from season to season."

Copenhagen Fashion Week CEO Cecilie Thorsmark Is Requiring Sustainability For The Scandinavian Haven
Copenhagen Fashion Week CEO Cecilie Thorsmark Is Requiring Sustainability For The Scandinavian Haven

Copenhagen Fashion Week has set targets to reduce its environmental impact, too. The event plans to offset all carbon emissions from its own activities and reduce its carbon emissions by 50% in real terms compared to 2019.

While some have questioned the environmental impact of fashion weeks, the emissions produced by a fashion week pale in comparison to those created by the production of garments, where the industry's biggest impact lies.

Copenhagen Fashion Week is now often referred to as the "fifth fashion week" after the established big four of Paris, Milan, New York, and London. As a part of a newly-formed European Fashion Alliance, which also includes the British Fashion Council, it is hoped that the framework will now be adopted by other fashion weeks globally. "Given the very central role that a fashion week plays in the fashion ecosystem, I think we've proven that we can play a role in the green transition of the industry," says Thorsmark. "We hope we can inspire other fashion weeks to go in the same direction."

The event has already been a positive force for change within the fashion industry. By setting minimum standards and pushing for more sustainable practices, Copenhagen Fashion Week has provided an example for others to follow. The implementation of these standards has caused a ripple effect throughout the industry, prompting other fashion events to follow suit. The move towards more sustainable fashion is not just a trend, but a necessity for the future of our planet.

The inaugural sustainable Copenhagen Fashion Week is a significant step forward for the fashion industry. By requiring all participating brands to meet a set of minimum sustainability standards, the event is pushing the industry towards a more sustainable future. This milestone marks a positive change in the fashion industry, and serves as an example for other fashion events to follow. The global fashion industry has an enormous impact on the environment, and as consumers, we must demand that fashion brands prioritize sustainability in their practices. With events like Copenhagen Fashion Week leading the way, we can hope for a brighter and more sustainable future for the fashion industry.

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