Reducing the fashion industry's impact on the planet is as urgent a task as ever. It brought voices from around the world together once again in Copenhagen for the 13th Global Fashion Summit (formerly known as the Copenhagen Fashion Summit) to discuss climate change challenges and solutions at every point of the value chain.
Under the theme 'Alliances for a New Era,' decision makers in retail, manufacturing, policy and other fields discussed their internal and ecosystem priorities and how promising current initiatives can be collaboratively scaled. While events like GFS are typically tailored to the reality of the global north, select speakers from global south countries (whose manufacturing capabilities make up a large portion of fashion's value chain) provided broadened context for a more comprehensive view of progress.
Here are 3 take aways from the 2022 Global Fashion Summit:
How do you grow a business while shrinking its impact on the environment? At GFS, the team from global fashion favourite Ganni offered a few ideas. While Ganni has used an offsetting/'carbon compensation' strategy since 2016, insetting is the centre of their new plan: developing greenhouse gas emission reduction, carbon capture and positive community impact within your own supply chain. Using insetting and other interventions, Ganni plans to halve its greenhouse gas emissions by 2027.
To achieve this, Ganni's insetting pilot programme has partnered with Strix, a consultancy that helps businesses achieve biodiversity gains in climate initiatives, and Plan A, a SaaS platform that allows businesses to calculate their emissions, assess elements of their ESG approach and get an automatic prescription on possible improvements. They're starting in Portugal, with the installation of solar power at the premises of 2 long time Ganni suppliers.
Brand & communications consultant Chinazo Ufodiama spoke to Vestiaire Collective CEO Max Bittner and Courréges CEO Adrien Da Maia about retail's role in addressing fashion's sustainability challenges. In a conversation centred on resale (most of the 2 day summit explored the supply chain), the importance of understanding and using your position and platforms emerged as an opportunity beyond technical and material changes to the supply chain. Using content online and the store experience offline, retailers can connect for the kind of meaningful experiences that make people more community than consumer or educate on product life span extensions like clothing care with the goal of resale. In production and procurement, retailers can also focus their resources on 'creating tomorrow's vintage,' as Da Maia put it, which might look like prioritising high resale potential as a metric for successful design & manufacture.
Scale impact with alliances
The climate change stakes are high for Pakistan. Its textile sector employs 40% of the working population and represents around 67% of the country's GDP. It's a global top 5 cotton producer and one of the biggest textile exporters in the world. As the global fashion industry seeks out innovative low-to-no impact practices for textile manufacturing, Pakistan's economy can't afford to get left behind. This is the challenge that the Pakistan Environment Trust's Net Zero Pakistan coalition exists to meet.
Since its start over 6 months ago, the Net Zero coalition has brought on 22 textile & apparel companies that are operational in Pakistan, representing 50-70 % of the country's textile export volume. Together, they will define victory conditions, support enabling policy changes, build internal capacity and skills, and develop branded credentials for demonstrating progress locally and globally. They also plan to mobilise funding for this transformation, which, according to PET Executive Director Talha Khan, may require around 25% of Pakistan's GDP. "There is a huge opportunity for countries like Pakistan to make this problem our own, to create programs and platforms through which we can mobilise that capital, but we need to show the impact being delivered on the ground as well," Khan explained.
Funding system-wide change will also take coalition action, and the Apparel Impact Institute (Aii) is already making that happen. On day 2, the Aii announced the Fashion Climate Fund, a 'blended capital' donor collaborative with a $250 million starting pot to accelerate the scaling of proven climate solutions across the supply chain for a 150 million tonne reduction in CO2 over 8 years. "While our ambition is powerful, without action, we will not reach these targets," Aii President Lewis Perkins said. "[Without action] We cannot get where we've all agreed that we have to go: To the year 2030, with our supply chain emissions cut in half, and of course, to total decarbonisation beyond that."
Perkins shared that the fashion climate fund will help de-risk its investment recipients, potentially attracting more funding from sources typically wary of the fashion industry. It will also expand climate action programming — clean energy and regenerative practices were mentioned — to help prepare the industry for expected policy shifts. Among the fund's leading partners are the Schmidt Family Foundation, activewear brand Lululemon, and the H&M group, as well as its foundation. While more partners and collaborators will be announced in coming weeks, the initial group seems to signal that the global industry is still more focused on finding ways around drastically reducing its excessive production volume, which many fear would throw a value chain that depends on current product volumes into chaos.
Change the story
"Fashion education is where the next generation find and finesse their world views," Vogue Business Sustainability editor Bella Webb said, moderating a panel called Histories and Futures for Fashion Education at this year's Global Fashion Summit. That makes it a space where telling whole, accurate, inclusive stories and designing equity into the rules about who gets to tell them is crucial. This was a key message from the panel made up of CIAFE founder Frederica Brooksworth, Custom Collaborative executive director Ngozi Okaro, creative director Rahemur Rahman and Nina Stevenson, UAL's sustainable fashion head of education.
Brooksworth spoke on why fashion education needs decolonising, while Rahman called the industry to action on creating empowering entry level opportunity including scholarships and mentorship designed for and offered to underrepresented groups. Okaro urged a move away from the term and toward original curriculum development grounded in the industry's updated priorities. Okaro also urged a focus on equity over diversity and inclusion. "I think that what we stand to gain is the possibility of creating leaders in the field who can imagine another way of profitability besides overproducing mediocre clothes and hoping that whatever sells, sells," Okaro said. "We need to ultimately think about what we want to see thriving, not what we want to make less bad, but what do we want to sustain, what do we want to see flourishing through fashion?" Stevenson shared.
New approaches to storytelling are needed to spark action and change in another key area: media. Speaking to Atmos co-founder Willow Defebaugh and photojournalist & labour rights activist Aditi Mayer, journalist Sophia Li moderated a conversation on what works and what doesn't in sustainability storytelling. Defebaugh's work at Atmos focuses on bringing the rich storytelling style of premium editorial work to the climate issue, while Mayer began intersectional coverage of the challenges and wider context of fashion's climate and labour issues after the Rana Plaza disaster in 2013.
Defebaugh highlighted the need to ask the right questions for wholistic answers. "You might have a story about a brand that might speak to their incredible sustainable innovations, but it's not speaking to the labour rights violations in their supply chain... that's the hallmark of what good journalism is, what storytelling is, is asking the right questions." Speaking on transcending the doom and gloom narrative, Mayer urged attendees to refocus on what matters — finding solutions. "Climate doomism exists because we have a crisis of imagination. And so if we can engage in that radical work of reimagination I think that's the future."