Fashion industry needs systemic change – it’s called doing responsible business

As ‘sustainable’ as the latest Copenhagen Fashion Week was, it’s no longer good enough to throw the term around willy-nilly, argue Sourcing House, a tireless advocate for the better treatment of suppliers in the industry

Hey, Orange, your time is up … Green is here! (photo: UK in Italy/Flickr)
February 23rd, 2021 5:12 pm| by Ella & Linda from Delogue PLM

The 2001 edition of Copenhagen Fashion Week (CFW), which ran from February 2-4, was the capital’s most sustainable to date.

Held entirely online via a carbon-neutral website, the event’s carbon emissions were offset through the planting of trees and forest conservation. 

Single-use plastic was banned and featured designers were consulted regarding what actions and projects they carried out to reduce their environmental impact.

As per tradition, the opening show featured a value-driven brand. The selection, Stockholm-based Schnayderman, boasts made-in-Europe fabrics and a transparent supply chain.

The digitalisation of all the shows was mandatory due to Denmark’s COVID-19 restrictions. Nevertheless, it went in line with CFW’s goal to adopt more digital solutions that minimise travelling and carbon emissions.

Three-year sustainability action plan
CFW’s strong focus on sustainability began in earnest in 2018 with the appointment of Cecilie Thorsmark as CEO.

“Sustainability is the core tenet to our vision, as a forward thinking representation of Nordic talent to our global community,” she revealed in a press release. 

Read more about how fashion brands can benefit from a PLM software

Since then, in partnership with the Danish consultancy firm In Futurum, many actions have been taken to elevate the biannual event to a reference point for sustainable fashion and to position the fashion week as a beacon of change in one of the most criticised industries of recent years. 

In 2020, CFW launched a three-year sustainability action plan based on the three pillars of reducing, innovating and accelerating.

The ambitious project includes goals such as reducing the event’s carbon footprint by 50 percent by 2023 and going completely zero waste by 2022. The actions are inspired by the UN Sustainable Development Goals and strive to transform not only the fashion week, but the entire industry.

The second part of the plan aims to help the industry transition to more sustainable business practices. By 2023, brands will have to meet 17 minimum standards to be featured in the CFW.

Additionally, they will be given a sustainability score, which evaluates practices in five main focus areas: strategic direction, design, material choice, working conditions, consumer engagement.

Lastly, shows will be closely scrutinised in order to assess if they are in line with the Scandinavian Fashion Week values.

Call it ‘responsible business’ instead
CFW is at the forefront of a revolution that is taking the industry by storm. It is becoming clearer and clearer that investing in sustainability is the only way to remain ahead of the curve.

Hopefully, its efforts to facilitate a more responsible industry will create a ripple effect towards a future where sustainable actions are not a point of differentiation, but rather a standard everyone feels the need to raise to.

And now many in the industry contend that the time has come to stop talking about ‘sustainability’, which is in danger of becoming gimmicky, and instead focus on ‘responsible business’.

“That’s what we call it,” contends Silke Sønderstrup-Granquist  from Sourcing House, an organisation that is increasingly helping brands to understand that they have to become partners with their suppliers and treat them fairly, to Delogue PLM. 

“We don’t like to call it ‘sustainability’ because it’s a very fuzzy word and no-one knows what it really means. So we talk about ‘responsible business’ instead.”

Read more: How to optimise remote working in the fashion industry

Brands need to understand suppliers better
Over the past year, the industry has come under pressure, and a lot of suppliers haven’t been paid. “We’re focused on making brands understand the value of building this partnership with their supplier,” explains Silke.

When brands approach them about sustainability, their first recommendation is: start by building on what you do well. They begin by helping brands to establish their negative and positive impacts across the value chain. And once they identify the problems, they start looking into what initiatives they can implement to solve them.

“Our advice is not to consider only one aspect of the business. Most of them are looking at materials, but it’s not only about that. You won’t have enough impact if that’s the only thing you’re looking at. That’s why we are working a lot with social responsibility,” Anja Padget, also of Sourcing House, tells delogue.com.

“Among the things we do is connecting brands and suppliers who match in values and standards, or who can benefit and lift one another in co-operation. We seek to build partnerships that will thrive and grow into more responsible businesses. That is a very good place to start and build from.”

Honest communication
Another important element brands should focus on is promoting transparency in their communication. It doesn’t cut it anymore just to overuse terms like sustainability, green and conscious as a marketing strategy.

“The main goal is to communicate more honestly – instead of just putting a sustainability label on everything. Communicate about specific initiatives that you’re doing, specific things that you’re doing well and specific things that you think are difficult but that you’re trying to solve,” recommends Silke.

Brands shouldn’t be afraid of showing what they can’t do or what’s difficult, as everyone is facing the same challenges.

“Consumers are longing for honesty and they also need to understand that what they buy has an impact,” says Anja, who believes the demand is there.

“We’ve definitely seen a rise in the number of newcomers contacting us with a vision of wanting to do something different because they’ve seen something they don’t like in the fashion industry and they want to change it in some way. They ask to do something sustainable, even though they don’t always have a definition of what that is, so they come to us – that is the kind of reaction we have been observing,” she continues.

“I think it’s also due to last year’s virus. It has had a huge impact on how we think about the value chain and the fashion industry today. We have found out how vulnerable we are, and that a healthy and sustainable value chain is a necessity for survival. It is not enough to just work towards organic cotton. And that’s an amazing development: to demand certification across the whole value chain and not just the fibres.”

A balanced use of resources
The fashion industry is growing very fast and using an enormous amount of resources – both material and human. Its impact on the planet is undeniable. Therefore, to talk about truly sustainable development, we need to reveal what resources we use and how we can work towards a more balanced use of those resources.

“It all comes down to us using too many resources to push too many goods out into the world. We need products that are made to be used and cherished: that can be repaired, recycled and reused, ” says Silke.

“Ultimately, it doesn’t matter if a t-shirt is organic or made in the best possible way. If you don’t need the t-shirt, don’t buy it.”

To be part of a responsible transition the whole system needs to change its mindset, so it’s not only down to the brands. 

“We have to take into account the true cost of the products we make and buy. The value has been completely detached from the cost for a long time, causing overconsumption and overproduction,” concludes Silke.

“A systemic change is needed. We see the industry calling out to politicians and decision-makers to help this transition by setting a common frame and common terms for responsible business and responsible consumption. In the meantime, we need to do all we can to inspire and help each other move in the right direction.”

Delogue PLM


Delogue PLM is a fashion software designed to help brands during their product development process. Access every step from idea to market, collaborate with your suppliers, and achieve your goals in less time with its unique, easy-to-navigate platform. Delogue is used by 200+ brands with 9,000+ users in 70+ countries.

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