Copenhagen Fashion Week, a must-attend event for fashion insiders, positions itself as a pioneering platform in sustainability and leadership, with clear ideas about how the fashion week of the future should be. 

“In order to be memorable, you have to be different”, as simple and classic as that has been the mantra for the danish fashion organisation, Copenhagen Fashion Week (CPHFW), home of a cluster of cult-referential nordic brands.

Last year, it took the lead in sustainability efforts creating a three-year plan aligned with The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of United Nations, integrating tangible objective and commitments around the fashion event and exhibiting brands. 

Inside the strategy it highlights the reinvention of traditional fashion events, and the innovation inside the core business model. The organisation aspires to lead by example in responsible business practices inside the fashion industry, motivating fashion brands to get into clear actions regarding environmental issues and their impact in order to start changing the system. 

I therefore believe they hold tremendous potential to drive change and, if we dare to be bold, we can change how business is done. We can move from being a source of inspiration and a conversation starter to a facilitator of action.” Cecilie Thorsmark, CEO, Copenhagen Fashion Week.

The main objectives for the plan and its positive implementation are, on one hand, in the event, settling goals to reduce and innovate, on the other hand, the industry, creating guidelines and requirements for a progressive transition to sustainable business operations.   

Delivering Results Not Just Promises

The strategy is, in all ventures, a particular way of making things happen, a detailed plan for achieving success, and instructions on how to carry our processes in order to pursue a beneficial outcome for any industry 

Without a strategy any action plan will fail, mainly because developing a strategy requires to analyse the past, rearrange the present and predict, somehow, the desirable future. In this context, it is important to get into actions, but it is more relevant to know where these are going to lead us. 

CPHFW presented their 2020 annual report showcasing the specific areas of progress, besides their postponed goals due to Covid-19 restrictions. However, being transparent about it is setting a new standard to fight fashion’s opacity with specifics, as it “creates a possibility for knowledge sharing and conversations” according to the platform. 

Regarding reducing climate impact, they have collaborated with Climaider, a certified gold standard carbon offset provider, to keep the CO2 emissions under control. Comparing its 2019 edition to 2020’s, they had a 50% decrease in their baseline of 45 tonnes of CO2, mainly due to low international travel. They have committed, once the pandemic is over, to remain focused on this area as smaller digital events, and the lack of travel are correlated with this positive result. 

Travel emissions are a great concern for every fashion event, CPHFW is committed to reduce the impact with climate-friendly alternatives, using green energy, and establishing fees to name a few options. 

In reducing resource consumption and waste creation, they completed their partnership’s objective to sustainable service as cutlery, tableware, straws for all shows and presentations. They update the Guide to a More Responsible Show, to reflect the gained knowledge and insights. From 2021 to 2022, they will be banning single- use materials, like hangers, garment plastic bags in any part of the show and event production in the hopes of achieving zero waste in brand’s presentations, as well as the fashion week’s own back office activities. 

Partnerships and Accelerating the Industry’s Engagement

Implementing innovation inside business processes is hard work, as some structures refuse to change. However, change and collaboration have proven to be a smart way to jump into the future. 

The CPHFW platform will continue their strategic partnership with Zalando towards 2023, as they share the same values concerning environmental and people impact. With the do.MORE strategy, Zalando wants to encourage circularity, sustainable choices, and raise ethical standards doing business. 

The fashion week organisation has actively collaborated with the Dansk Fashion & Textile Institution, as well as developed a strong bond with the companies In futurum, and Rambøll, as knowledge and technical partners, respectively.

In futurum, is a consultancy founded by Frederik Larsen and Moussa Mchangama. Based in Copenhagen, they provide strategic advice on sustainable transition throughout core activities such as design, sourcing, logistics, communication, marketing and sales, as they are experienced professionals in the field of responsible business and lifestyle communications.

They are the mind behind their Sustainability Action Plan and the requirements and scoring for applicants to the Fashion Week. According to this, the 2023 Sustainability Requirements now comprise 18 minimum standards after adding the stipulation that brands must operate a safe, healthy, and respectful working environment for all employees, free from harassment and discrimination and where everyone enjoys equal opportunities regardless of gender, ethnicity, age, political/religious/sexual orientation, and physical appearance.

Striving for sustainability is increasingly important, and in the face of a challenging year, it is paramount that we stay on course”. CPHFW, Annual Sustainability Report.

CPHFW activated the pilot survey test to create a baseline for the requirements last February. Any brand who wants to apply must consider the six areas required to submit an application: Strategic Direction, Design, Smart Material Choices, Working Conditions, Consumer Engagement and Shows. Applications are open until May 4th.

Each category has set minimum standards to meet plus additional actions to earn points. The goal is, by 2023, for all brands to obtain the required score to participate in the fashion platform. All indicators are in the open on the webpage including, innovative technologies as 3D and laser cut, circularity design, body inclusivity, source of materials (organic, recycled, upcycled), certifications, reselling and repairing services/policies, as well as overstock control

“It was a great experience building a joint effort on bringing real change in the industry, and we are happy to see that the framework we developed is getting a lot of attention from other organisations, brands and media” says PhD. Frederik Larsen to ELLE Education as co-author for the recommendation standards. If the entire industry would rule by those parameters, a completely new system would emerge. 

For the researcher, the Fashion Week format globally has to develop a new purpose in order to be relevant, as activities such as buying and presentation are increasingly developing online formats. “Fashion Weeks are the symbolic centre of the industry and could continue to be so with another meaning”, Larsen states.  

If CPHFW achieves its targets by 2023, it is likely to set a benchmark for the rest of the industry as they keep providing accurate and tested frameworks in aims to transform fashion.