Highlights: Copenhagen Sustainability Summit 2017

The foremost conference looks at the current state of the industry's social and environmental footprint, with this year's focus on circularity and commitment to change

  • Dao-Yi Chow & Maxwell Osborn
  • Livia Firth & Jessica Simor
  • Vanessa Friedman & Michael Kowalski
  • Miroslava Duma, Martijn Hagman, Peder Michael Pruzan-Jorgensen & David Roberts

Now in its fifth year running, the annual Copenhagen Fashion Summit, launched by the Danish Fashion Association, is the fashion industry’s leading conference on sustainability. Designers, influencers, leading NGOs, company heads and fashion and sustainability experts from around the world discuss and exchange ideas on the current state of the industry’s social and envronmental footprint, in an effort to push conversations into a genuine catalyst for action. This year’s summit could not have surfaced at a more crucial time, with the instability of political climates across the world, and the United Nations predicting the overall apparel consumption to jump by 63 percent with a global population rise of 8.5 billion by 2030.

Taking place on the 11th of May this year at the Danish capital’s Koncerthuset, speakers included an array of top-tier industry leaders, by the likes of investor of newly launched Fashion Tech Lab, Miroslava Duma, independent barrister for the European court of human rights, Jessica Simor, founder of The Ellen MacArthur Foundation, Dame Ellen MacArthur, CFO of Tommy Hilfiger Global and PVH Europe, Martijn Hagman, founder and creative director of Eco-Age, Livia Firth, designer Prabal Gurung, creative directors of Public School, Dao-Yi Chow and Maxwell Osborne, sustainability program director at Kering, Geraldine Vallejo, head of sustainability at H&M, Anna Gedda, and HRH Crown Princess Mary of Denmark.

Circularity and a commitment to change were the core themes interweaved throughout the day, with a call to action by the Global Fashion Agenda for attendees and organisations to lead the way in actively taking steps to accelerate the industry’s shift to a more circular system. Panel debates, conversations and interactions between delegates were all geared towards unearthing promising solutions and tangible outcomes, sourcing raw materials and looking to disruptive technologies, and eradicating waste by closing the loops of product lifecycles and turning them into the building blocks for new products.


The fashion industry’s current linear ‘take, make, dispose’ system, depends heavily on large amounts of the planet’s finite natural resources and energy -  a detrimental process of consumption that erodes natural capital in favour of economic capital. Speakers took the opportunity to highlight the beneficial ramifications of a circular system, which is restorative by intention and looks to regenerative materials, renewable energy, minimising tracks and eradicating waste through careful and innovative design and processes.

Passionately advocating this concept was Dame Ellen MacArthur, whose namesake organisation - which focuses heavily on extending the lifecycle of products, tackling the plastic packaging industry as well as fashion - works hard to promote positive implications on society with this new model. Speaking this year at the summit, MacArthur emphasised that “[Today’s linear economy] is never going to win in the long term, because we are still going to run out of raw materials”.

A number of key industry players including Kering and H&M also disclosed their stances on the concept of circularity. Anna Gedda, H&M’s head of sustainability spoke about the brand’s vision to “become 100% circular, from design to materials, to processes, and ultimately how that is used by consumers”, after declaring “we can’t really do it today within the planetary boundaries, we need to change the way we make it into our fashion by going into a circular system and making sure that we have a completely different way of using resources today”. Gedda outlined the brand’s active solutions to include making sure all materials to be either entirely recyclable or sustainably resourced by 2030, and pushing the company’s shift to using only renewable energy in order to mitigating climate impacts.

For fashion conglomerate Kering’s sustainability programme director, Geraldine Vallejo, their 360 approach to sustainability is about transparency and disclosure. Their new strategy launched earlier this year for 2025 looks at “redefining luxury for a more sustainable luxury”. For Kering, the supply chain is “where most of the social and environmental impact is” and measuring their footprints across their supply chain through environmental profit and loss is what enables them to “focus on hotspots where there is improvement to be made and where we can make a difference” says Vallejo. She went on to state “most important for us is about raw materials, because raw materials are responsible for about 50% of our footprint, so it’s about setting high standards on different criteria including animal welfare, being able to implement it in collaboration with partners, with NGO’s, with local governments and being transparent about the results, in order to drive change in our industry”. Vallejo stressed “it’s about embedding sustainability deeply in our supply chain, because in the end that means embedding sustainability into our products”. 


A discussion between CFO of Tommy Hilfiger Global, Martijn Hagman, founder and CEO of Fashion Tech Labs Venture Inc., Miroslava Duma, and serial entrepreneur, David Roberts, brought attention to interesting areas of innovative and disruptive technologies and investing in sustainable growth. Entrepreneur and Founder of fashion and lifestyle platform Buro 24/7, Miroslava Duma, recently invested in the new Fashion Tech Labs venture that aims to fund, connect and develop sustainable innovation, by focusing on materials science, biotech, nanotechnology, wearable electronics and high–performance fibres and fabrics.

During the summit, Duma outlined sound examples of the start-up companies and technologies the venture has been in discussions with, which have initiated developments in highly promising technological advancements for the fashion industry. This includes Diamond Foundry, who create lab-grown diamonds and Orange Fiber, who produce fabrics made from 100% repurposed orange peelings. “There is around 700,000 tons of orange peels that end up in landfills in Italy only [sic]” said Duma. “They contacted the biggest juice companies in Italy and they gave them this so-called garbage for free, so it’s a win-win situation, a zero waste situation and it’s a healthy, breathable, sustainable material.”

“When we started to dive into the world of material science and bio tech and smart textiles, we realized that there is a revolution actually happening in that world. What seemed and sounded like science fiction is actually becoming science fact nowadays. The process of running the industry on 100% renewable and alternative energy and resources is inevitable and it will happen no matter what, it’s just a matter of time.” said Duma.

Other compelling investments that FTL have been investing in are a San Francisco-based company that “grow leather and fur in a laboratory environment out of stem-cells, without killing animals”, and a company that “embed peppermint in any kind of fiber, which has very strong anti-microbial and anti-radiation properties”. Duma claimed, in turn, this technology would reduce washing volumes, saving time, money, water and chemicals.

The Pulse of the Fashion Industry Report 

A major pinnacle of this year’s summit was the unveiling of the Pulse of Fashion 2017 report - a benchmark for the current progress of the industry at large, which took two years to culminate. Compiled by The Global Fashion Agenda, in collaboration with The Boston Consulting Group, the in-depth assessment looks at environmental and social performances of global fashion organisations and companies. Drawing from the Sustainable Apparel Coalition’s Higg Index, the report surveys over 90 senior sustainability members, using data from over 20,000 self-assessments by member companies and factories. It is the foremost comprehensive fashion report to date, revealing the overall ‘health’ of the fashion industry, which scored at a measly 32 out of 100. The report further claims the improvement of the industry’s social and environmental performances add as much as €160 billion by 2030 in annual value for the world economy - quantifiable results that highlight the imperative need for accelerated action on sustainable initiatives in the industry.