This year’s Global Fashion Summit took place amid a year of seismic change for the industry, during which a slew of regulations from the EU and the US promise to raise the bar for production and consumption, crackdown on greenwashing, and drive meaningful action towards social and environmental goals. However, while incoming legislation was a central focus, a bigger issue overshadowed the conference: how to make sure those most impacted by climate change — in the Global South — are being heard.
For many brands present at the summit in Copenhagen last week, the legislative changes pose an existential challenge, and they were looking for clear guidance. For others, the last year has simply started to level the playing field, and they were primed for more radical action. Either way, expectations were high, and reflections from attendees say a lot about the current state of play in fashion.
The overarching theme for this year’s summit — organised by non-profit the Global Fashion Agenda (GFA) — was “ambition to action”, a nod to the anticipatory mood, as well as the widespread critique of sustainable fashion that progress has been stuck in the pilot phase, and promises left largely unfulfilled. There was plenty of news to note, as brands and industry organisations came prepared with actionable case studies, step-by-step guides and attempts to decode complex issues such as new global policy.
“Turning ambition to actions requires a unanimous mindset shift from leaders,” says CEO Federica Marchionni. “This year, we redesigned our traditional programme to present content across multiple stages. In these stages, we demonstrated solutions that are being implemented, bringing together leaders to share learnings from their actions, and creating constructive collaboration through meaningful dialogue. Beyond the stage, we also hosted strategic roundtables to bring together executives and policymakers for productive discussions about pressing sustainability issues. There is no finish line, but I see great acceleration.”
Industry attendees had mixed feelings towards the summit, which is now on its 12th edition. “The ‘ambition to action’ theme was spot-on, because we truly do need to act,” says Sarah AlHamdan, founder and creative director of independent brand Mood of Thought. “The mindset shift needed in organisations — especially at senior leadership level — was not covered significantly enough,” counters François Souchet, global head of sustainability and impact at communications agency BPCM.
A truly global summit
There was much discussion about how global the Global Fashion Summit actually is — a criticism that was levelled at GFA last year, and has picked up steam.
The next summit, planned for September, will take place in Boston in the US. “If you judge us simply on Copenhagen, it won’t be fair,” says Marchionni. “We would host a summit in a different location every quarter if we could, but we don’t have that kind of funding. Africa may be the next frontier,” she says. “In the meantime, we have made our summit available to NGOs at lower price points, and we have a hybrid summit for the first time this year. We also have lots of free resources on our website for those who cannot attend the summits.”