A couple days ago, announcement came out. The Copenhagen Sustainable Fashion Summit was returning in April 2014. A flood of wonderous memories flooded my thoughts. So many earnest people pursuing a grand mission of good for so many and such a grand scale. It was a truly inspiring event where I made many good friends. In honor of that announcement, I post some reflections from my first day there almost a year ago.
The Challenge – Tangible Results for Sustainability within Fashion
Maybe the Scandinavians were the first to take up the challenge on a multinational scale, but they don’t have to be the only players. Any one of us, or better yet, any group of us could pick up the ball from here and make strides in the area of ethical fashion production and consumption in the places where we are. “Group” is the operative word; because if you really want to create effective solutions to a complex problem, you’re going to need more than one person. The Copenhagen Fashion Summit was nothing if not an ongoing collaboration among a large number of people around the world from various parts of the industry who care passionately about the fashion and textile industries becoming sustainable in the mainstream.
They started in 2010, shortly after the last Copenhagen Fashion Summit. Their goal then, as it is now, was to establish a framework that would have a positive impact on the industry’s capacity to more broadly use ethical and sustainable practices across the European Union and, indeed, the world. A multinational group of various stakeholders – environmentalist, researchers, retailers, designers, journalist, civic leaders, and government officials – rolled up their sleeves and went to work on a Code of Conduct for the industry that would address the issues of sustainability from the unique angle of fashion consumption. By the time, I arrived on the scene for the pre-summit workshop they were a cohesive machine. I found at once impressive and enlivening. Listening to reports from several small working groups, twinges of envy tugged at me. How fascinating it would have been to hear the debates and flurry of ideas.
Nonetheless, at the end of the summit a Parisian woman expressed disappointment to me that there weren’t more major brands involved. I pointed out that while they may not have all been represented individually, there were at least two large groups represented. First there was Rick Ridgeway, a Patagonia executive, who founded the Sustainable Apparel Coalition. The Coalition, as they call themselves, is a group of 46 industry stakeholders including Patagonia, Walmart (the first two to form the group), Target, Hanes, Nordstrom, J.C. Penneys, LL Bean, and H&M. They are creating a system of measuring environmental impact so a company can know what choices to make for both financial and ethical results. As it turned out both Patagonia and H&M were well represented through the research phase of the NICE Code of Conduct by able people. My compatriot, Rick was particularly thoughtful and charming. His comment about the irony of this potentially historic moment struck me, “ Wouldn’t it be cool if the fashion segment of the textile industry became the leaders in the solution to the negative impact that was created by the very industry that initially generated the problem with the Industrial Revolution.” I believe that’s called cleaning up your own mess. No matter that the mess has a myriad of threads that cross borders of every kind. This band of eco-warriors of a sort is fearless in the pursuit of their goal.
The other large collective, represented by Holly Dublin of the luxury brand group PPR at the summit, is also the home of Gucci who was a major player throughout the entire cycle. Rosella Ravagli, CSER manager was emphatic in her depiction of Gucci as having sustainability at it’s core, “It’s part of our DNA. At Gucci, we say think globally and act locally.” Nearly all of their production takes place in Italy. They maintain enduring relationships with their suppliers in the pursuit of the best there is to offer. She made it clear they are not in the disposable fashion business. “Our product is forever!” They have a very clear commitment to the integrity of their products, which includes how they are produced. In fact, it’s Holly Dublin’s job as special advisor to the Chief Sustainability Officer to make sure that Gucci and all the brands, including Yves St. Laurent, Alexander McQueen, and famously eco Stella McCartney, have of the tools they need to meet their CSR goals.
As you can see it was groups from comprised of other groups that in the end formed a Code of Conduct for the industry that can be implemented anywhere in the world that there is a desire to dig in and create real change in the fashion industry as it relates to people, animals, and the environment.