Organisers press for a move from words to action, but real change is hard to find at the Copenhagen Fashion Summit

The Copenhagen Fashion Summit positions itself as the leading summit for sustainable fashion, drawing executives and “influencers” from the fashion world each year.

This year was no exception, with 1300 attendees from 50+ countries gathering in the Copenhagen Concert Hall to hear from speakers such as Simon Collins, former Dean of Parsons School of Design and Her Royal Highness Crown Princess Mary of Denmark.

Organisers pressed for a move “from words to action,” and while a few initiatives are beginning to roll out, the main takeaway is that real change is not yet happening. The industry’s current preoccupation with recycling initiatives won’t fix the whole system, and only a few brands suggest that the industry might actually need to make fewer garments, despite findings from the Ellen MacArthur Foundation that six out of every 10 garments are thrown away within one year.


  • “Why put a product out there when we know it is likely to be thrown away within one year?” – Paul Dillinger, Head of Innovation at Levi’s, used a “single fibre strategy” inspired by Bill McDonough of Cradle to Cradle, in creating a new jean jacket. Part of a collaboration with LA surf-brand Outerknown, the jacket was released last year in a capsule collection of responsibly made products. “There is this false notion that ethical fashion can’t also be good looking or cool – that ethics and aesthetics can’t exist together,” Mr Dillinger said at the time. “Outerknown is helping us break that perception and show that we can make ethical, amazing looking products that don’t sacrifice sustainability.

  • Digitalisation – Spencer Fung, CEO of Chinese supply chain management group Li & Fung, said that digitalisation should help reduce overproduction, as supply chains respond with increased efficiency to the changes in consumer demand.

  • Resell – We can add “Resell” to the 3Rs of sustainability, Reduce-Reuse-Recycle. The Oregon-based Renewable Workshop partners with apparel brands to refurbish returns and excess inventory; The RealReal has digitalised luxury consignment.

The industry agrees that real change is needed to create fairer trade and  better labour conditions, improve energy and water efficiency, and bring transparency to supply chains.

But so far, agreement has not crystallized into action.