Copenhagen Fashion Summit highlights the need for revolution and cooperation
"If we change the fashion industry, we can change the world" was just one of the many slogans repeated like a mantra at the first day of the Copenhagen Fashion Summit on Tuesday. The event's ambition is clear: it aims to propose solutions to help make the fashion industry more sustainable and responsable. Accordingly, the first day of the summit kicked off with a series of conferences discussing a range of subjects including transparency and innovation.
More specifically, the conferences at this sixth edition of the forum which attracts fashion professionals from around Europe to the Danish capital, discuss and respond to the findings of the 2017 report compiled by Fashion Agenda and the Boston Consulting Group.
The report keeps track of the fashion industry's progress in social and environmental issues and converts the results of its analysis into an index dubbed the Pulse Score. This produces a score out of 100, calculated taking various factors into account, including waste treatment, water usage and social responsibility.
Needless to say, the illusory score of 100 out of 100 is still a long way off.
In 2017 the fashion sector achieved a score of 38 out of 100, behind, among others, the sports equipment industry. It is, however, making progress – the previous year, the sector only managed 32/100. The report's writers state that 52% of surveyed companies had implemented policies in an attempt to improve corporate responsibility, a choice which pushes their score up by an average of 18 points.
And the rhetoric isn't all kumbayas either. The study's authors point out that by 2030, good social and environmental practices should help brands to increase their EBIT margin by 2%, a persuasive argument likely to convince both investors and shareholders of the benefits of such policies.
Improvements in consumer-facing transparency could also help industry practices evolve, particularly in terms of social matters and better quality sourcing, as discussed by the day's first conference. However, the conferences concerning the future of this transparency and the impact and opportunities of buying practices also brought other questions about sourcing to the fore.
"It's good to build awareness in the consumer," stated Paul van Zyl, CEO of Maiyet, a platform which brings together a number of eco-friendly brands. "But there are other improvements that we need to be making that are not necessarily expected of us by the consumer. Furthermore, I'm not sure that we can ensure decent salary levels while also having a responsable approach with t-shirts that sell for ten dollars or ten pounds", he added, receiving applause from the auditorium.
The conclusion reached by the 2018 report, but also by a number of speakers, is that if fashion is really going to make a difference, companies cannot work alone. "If brands are only achieving a score of 38/100, it's because there's still a lot to do. We need a systematic change," explained Baptiste Carrière-Pradal, vice president of the Sustainable Apparel coalition. "The objective is to collaborate with everyone involved, from brands to suppliers. And that, in concrete terms, means we need a common language."
And it was following this train of logic that Bill McRaith, supply chain director at PVH (owner of Tommy Hilfiger, Calvin Klein and others), sought to set the assembly thinking. "For half of my career, I was a supplier. I had factories in China," he explained. "When I arrived at the company, various members of the team asked me how to make suppliers work better. I replied that I was there to make them work better. Often, we blame the supplier. But in our case, their work represents only 10% to 15% of the value of the product. We should really start by asking ourselves what we can change internally. So my advice is: take a look at yourself in the mirror first."
It's an approach that could help accelerate change in the seven priority areas identified by the Fashion Pulse report 2018. The first three of these include improving traceability and supply chains, making use of water and chemicals more efficient, and ensuring a safer work environment where employees are respected. Thinking long term, the four points which could change the future of the industry include developing new responsable materials, establishing a closed-loop system that reuses materials, improving waste treatment and exploring the potential of new digital technologies, such as Blockchain.
Such a wealth of solutions should help these companies transform plans into decisive actions that will improve the lives of the approximately 60 million people the sector employs around the world, as well as the future of the planet's resources.
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