Listen up Copenhagen Fashion Week: it’s time to change!

How European youth is taking on the EU Commission to talk about fast fashion

I’ve always wanted to receive an invitation to fashion week in the likes of Milan, Paris or London. I’ve dreamt of sitting front row, partaking the front lines of art and vanity and design. But that’s not the invitation I received, because in truth the front lines can’t be found in the comfort of the current fashion industry.

The front lines and the real VIP seats can be found in the organisations and projects trying to save our planet, from the crisis of what it is to be a 21st century consumer. Each European is contributing an average of 11kg of clothes each year to landfills – their part of the 5.8 million tonnes of textiles being discarded each year. The fast fashion industry is one of the biggest contributors to the current climate crisis. 

Slowing down fast fashion
On January 24, I was shipped out from Copenhagen to Brussels to partake in a new initiative by the European Commission to combat fast fashion. I was joined by the most amazing group of young change-makers, all of whom had their own diverse experiences and successful contributions in trying to make the world of fashion more sustainable. Over two days, we had packed agendas to get involved with the Commission’s next step in its EU Strategy for Sustainable and Circular Textiles. 

Our participation in this initiative consisted of two days. On January 25, the invited group engaged in a policy dialogue with Commissioner Virginijus Sinkevicius. The primary function of this was to close the gap between European youth and policy-makers, giving us the opportunity to share our intel, convey our concerns, and address important issues with the Commissioner on both the fast fashion industry and plans for a sustainable fashion industry. 

Following that, on January 26, the Commission hosted a launch event for their new campaign ‘Reset The Trend’ in Antwerp, which is their current effort to act on the objective to “make fast fashion out of fashion” in the EU Strategy for Sustainable and Circular Textiles. This event was filled up by a much larger and diverse group of all ages, with experts, activists and creators of change, unified by a common goal to see a much healthier, fashionable world. This event involved panel speakers, break-out groups and the sharing of potential solutions to the consumerist crisis. 

Roundtable EU Policy Dialogue for the campaign Reset The Trend

The reason for my invitation stems from the success of a project I co-founded with my colleague Aidan Miller in 2021. We made the first printed magazine in Europe on second-hand fashion, Proteus Magazine. It was limited in resources and its lifeline was funded by support from Tuborgfondet, but through its dispersed currents of influence, it managed to reach the attention of those who are major influencers on environmental policy-making within the EU. 

Homemade balaclava and scarf by Alexandra Diona (Greece) and Isabel Brems (Belgium)

Embracing circularity
On January 25, the Commission prepared its new campaign Reset the Trend by engaging us in a policy dialogue – the beginning of a movement that will continue to grow with time – and the topics of discussion were comments, advice and insights surrounding the European Commission’s agenda in their new strategy. For example, the EU Strategy for Sustainable and Circular Textiles includes the goal to make “textiles more long-lasting through design requirements”. In response, we proposed the EU supports the spread of local trades again by reteaching young generations how to sew, make shoes and other essential skills, so that the fashion industry is dispersed into small businesses with zero-waste that prioritise the quality and the longevity of products. 

This dialogue was effective in two ways: the first being that the Commission received genuine intel from youth representing the generations that make up about 50 percent of fast fashion consumers, so that they can both understand how to reach us and consider how sustainable changes can be successfully integrated into our lives. The second effect of this dialogue is how monumental it is for an international governmental organisation like the EU to explicitly say that it wants to stop fast fashion and prove this by advancing on its objectives within the EU Strategy for Sustainable and Circular Textiles. To have the EU loudly stand with this movement is immensely powerful. 

The following launch event on January 26 of their Reset The Trend campaign had a less bureaucratic approach and instead gathered together a large group of sustainable fashion activists, each with an insightful experience, project or approach to the issue in the real world, which resulted in a very insightful and collaborative day of pitching ideas. These ideas were long-term suggested changes that could become entirely new models of sustainable consumerism, and how they could be incorporated into our everyday lives. 

For example, there was a pitch about having a ‘rental’ model of consumerism, where consumers rent their clothes so that there would be a circular system for them, and no over-production. There was also a pitch for a ‘subscription’ model, where consumers would pay a monthly or weekly amount to receive clothes for that period of time, after which they’d be returned. Even with these impressive ideas of circularity, the importance of multiple voices and expertise showed in comments about how circularity isn’t just about the reuse of textiles, but also the recycling of them at the inevitable end of a textile’s lifetime. It was a hugely rewarding experience to be in a room full of experts who were qualified through their own initiatives, discussing topics such as greenwashing, circularity and innovation with solution-oriented perspectives. 

Robin Balser (CEO of VinoKilo), Danai Ntanaka (founder of Art and Industry), George Kyrou (Fashion Revolution in Cyprus)

It’s time to save ourselves
This experience at the European Commission reinforced a very important notion in my mind that I’ve taken away from these two days. After seeing such effective and collaborative conversations with my own eyes, I’m absolutely certain that the fashion industry as we know it is drastically going to change within the next 20 years, along with the entire model of how we consume. The aim of the EU Strategy for Sustainable and Circular Textiles is to complete its objectives by 2030, which is a beneficial act for everyone living on this planet. However, whilst we have protested and voted for acts of change like this, the next step is to accept and engage in the solutions that follow. For example, the objective to increase the longevity of textiles and reduce waste in production, is inevitably going to make items of clothing a lot more expensive. Furthermore, the increase of small sustainable businesses across Europe is going to rely on us as consumers to help them to survive. What we’re going to see over the next decade is a gradual shift from fast fashion to slow fashion, which could mean that there will be periods in time where slow fashion and fast fashion are somewhat in competition. To move forward with sustainability and make sure these careful solutions don’t go to waste, we have to choose the sustainable options and changes. 

At the end of the day, even though it is an essential step for governments to recognise the problem and put change in place, the fast fashion industry is fuelled by consumerism. The very business model of fast fashion relies on rapid trend cycles, bad quality clothing and a guarantee of over-consumption from us. There won’t be a way to have extremely cheap and overly accessible clothing that’s also sustainable. We need to adapt to entirely new habits. 

Someone at the launch campaign said on their panel, that they “don’t like the term ‘save the planet.’ Because the planet doesn’t need saving, the planet has been here for billions of years before us. It’s us that need saving.” 

That’s the truth of it. For myself, I’m among a generation that’s grown up with rapid trend cycles on social media and fast fashion available for purchase on our phones. But now we’re adults, we have the right to vote for, engage and practise the sustainability we assured the world we wanted for so long. It’s time to take real responsibility as a consumer, because the pressure and need for change placed on the European Commission will be for nothing if we don’t engage ourselves in the solutions that they are beginning to put in place. 

If you’d like to learn more about Reset The Trend , the European Commission launched a website about the campaign on January 26.

In the true spirit of teamwork, the website invites you to take a lot at “How is the EU making fashion sustainable?” and also how consumers can “Take action and become a role model!” 

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