Sustainability is the theme of the Autumn/Winter 2023 Copenhagen Fashion Week, contrastive to the Haute Couture of Paris Fashion Week (Jan 17-21), but what does this mean for the Nordic and fourth European fashion week being held from Jan 31st to Feb 3rd?
Fashion Weeks give brands and designers the chance to introduce their seasonal collections to the world through spectacular events that reflect the tastes of not only the designers but also the local fashion industry, with models strutting down runways in highly ordained outfits that leave the average consumer wondering when someone would possibly wear something like. But, for the sustainability-conscious, these shows raise crucial questions about how such extravagances impact the environment. From the supply chain to the production of clothing, the practices involved in the fashion industry have environmental and social implications driven by many of the brands and designers who attend Fashion Week. Copenhagen Fashion Week is joining the helm with Berlin Fashion Week, whose theme this season was Active Alliance for Positive Fashion, in driving more sustainable practices in its own operations and pushing brands to do the same by enforcing Sustainability Requirements for all its brands.
CHFW, modeling after the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals 12,13, and 17 1 , announced The Sustainability Action Plan 2020-2022 back in 2020 and has finally been able to implement it starting in its 2023 shows. Reflecting this, the Sustainability Requirements is an online self-assessment survey to be answered by applying brands and designers, which covers 76 questions separated into two sections: Minimum Standards and Additional Questions, particularly, focused on five key areas: Strategic Direction, Design, Working Conditions, Consumer Engagement, and Show, encompassing 18 action points. The aim of these requirements are to motivate brands to implement sustainability initiatives while also standardizing sustainability in the fashion industry. Overall, to participate in the fashion week, brands must prove that they are “ at least 50% of their collection is either certified, made from preferred materials or new generation sustainable materials, upcycled, or made of deadstock”.2
After which, each brand is evaluated by a Sustainability Committee led by a consultancy, where answers to additional questions are scored based on complexity and urgency of the action. Although relying on self-reporting of sustainability practices by brands such as a B-Corp Certification, brands are required to provide links to strategies, certification documentation, codes of conduct, and examples of public communications. Many key actions focus on reducing environmental impacts, but social challenges are not forgotten and initiatives are promoted under the key area, Working Conditions, where brands are required to “exercise due diligence in supply chain according to international guidelines and standards and work with suppliers to ensure human rights e.g. have freely chosen employment, secure employment, or no child labor” 3. All brands and designers are required to comply by this year, 2023.
The onus to become more sustainable is not put on only the brands and designers, however, as CHFW aims to reduce its own environmental impact. The Nordic Fashion Week’s Action Plans include, but are not limited to, developing and implementing measures to continue to offset carbon emissions from operations of each edition, digital solutions to disseminate shows to wider audiences to reduce carbon emissions from travel, and banning single-use materials in any part of the show or event production unless otherwise documented to be reused later. The overall goal is to achieve net zero waste for its own activities. Self-reflection, transparency progress, and milestones allow for CHFW, as a “facilitator of action”, to continue to improve its standards, encouraging themselves as well as brands to strive for better. Amping up requirements each year is also part of that strategy to reduce negative impacts, innovate business models, and accelerate industry change. The new Action Plan 2023-2025 is expected to be announced spring 2023.
Copenhagen Fashion Week doesn’t just walk the walk, it struts down the runways along side the brands that match the strict sustainability requirements. Aiming for holistic sustainability by focusing on environmental and social challenges, CHFW has transformed into an agenda-setting platform that uses its voice to accelerate sustainability efforts in the fashion industry by implementing strict sustainability-driving minimum requirements for brands and also, going a step further to promote sustainable practices and knowledge sharing in communities. CHFW, as part of the European Fashion Alliance, “hopes to play a role in the green transition of the [fashion] week” states Cecilie Thorsmark, CEO of Copenhagen Fashion Week, adding that “[a]ll industry players-including fashion weeks- must be accountable for their actions and willing to change the way business is done”.