Are we taking action towards a more responsible fashion industry?
Last week was Fashion Revolution Week, a movement that always drives a lot of conversation around the topic of sustainable fashion, and long may it continue.
But with so much buzz around the issue, it often makes me wonder what real change, if any, has occurred? In a world increasingly dominated by the wants and needs of an individual rather than larger communities, how much are people engaging with this conversation?
Most of us are able to look at our own lives and clearly compare this year to the last, but when the question relates to a global industry, employing around 60 million people and valued at US$3 trillion, understanding what advances have been made can be more complicated to work out.
Next month will see the 5th edition of the Copenhagen Fashion Summit, the world’s largest and most influential conference on the topic of sustainable fashion. In the run up, its President and CEO Eva Kruse, someone with significant knowledge on the subject, kindly agreed to answer a few of my burning questions...
Eva Kruse, speaking at the Copenhagen Fashion Summit in 2016
Transparency in the fashion industry
What measurable advances relating to a more sustainable industry have you seen in both consumer as well as brand behaviour since the first Copenhagen Fashion Summit in 2009?
‘Transparency is the biggest change I’ve seen. People are sharing and being transparent about what they do and what they find difficult. The environment for companies to talk about the work they do and the challenges they face has become safer. More brands can talk. More consumers are interested and willing to listen.’
Calling for more conscious consumption of fashion
Many people cannot see how their individual purchasing decisions will affect the wider fashion industry. How do you address this point of view?
‘It’s always been my opinion that we all need to be aware that we are global citizens and that our actions have impacts. This is not to give people a guilt trip, but an awareness that everything we say, do and buy has a consequence. That’s why we all have to think; every time we purchase something, every time we turn on the washer, take long showers, book a flight, eat a steak, etc - that we do it consciously. That doesn’t mean we don’t purchase. It just means that we should be conscious that what we do and what we buy is feeding the machine. I still drive my car, take long showers and eat meat occasionally, but I am concerned and try to consider whether we need it. We have to be conscious, not blind in our consumption.’
What do you think are the real barriers for a consumer when it comes to buying clothing produced more responsibly?
‘The real barrier is that we shop emotionally when buying fashion. We might buy organic even if a tomato isn’t as red or shiny. In fashion, that’s not the case. We wouldn’t buy a jacket that was not exactly as red and shiny as we wished - no matter if it was organic. Fashion is driving us to want something new that we most likely don’t need. And we want it for reasons that aren’t logical. That emotional side is the biggest barrier. That is why intelligent progress needs to be led by brands and designers. If they can make it cool, then I want to buy the look.’
Responsible fashion requires an environmental and cultural shift
With regards to the relationship between the fashion industry and sustainability from a business perspective, what is the biggest opportunity?
‘Well, we know that planetary boundaries continue to threaten natural resources, and these resources will become more and more scarce. It will be more expensive to do what we do today. The price of water will go up, etc. That gives a financial incentive to minimizing the use of natural resources. The same goes for energy. Just like in our homes, if we save energy then we have a lower bill. Sustainability can be cost effective.
Technology and innovations, which allow us to minimize the use of resources, lead to new products as well. There are so many major opportunities there – recyclable fibres, recycling garments and new business models.
On top of this, these discoveries and initiatives are really interesting stories which brands and businesses can share with consumers.’
And what is the biggest challenge?
‘I suppose the biggest challenge is probably that we are transforming an industry that is already running and, in some ways, quite old fashioned. In these transitional years when we are changing the thinking within fashion, we have to support so many players along the supply chain. They all have to adapt. The industry is like a dinosaur. Getting it to think and act differently is difficult. Changing consumption and consumers’ minds is also difficult. The nature of fashion is to make us want something new all the time, so this is a cultural shift as well.’
This year's Copenhagen Fashion Summit will be held on 11th May and the overarching theme will be 'commitment to change'.