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World's Largest Fashion Sustainability Summit to Drive Responsible Innovation

More than a thousand experts, NGOs, opinion makers, media and politicians gather Thursday for the Copenhagen Fashion Summit—the world's largest event on sustainability in fashion. Jonas Eder-Hansen is development director at the Danish Fashion Institute and organizer of the summit. We asked him some questions about the big event and the state and future of sustainability in fashion.

Jonas Eder-Hansen. Photo credit: Danish Fashion Institute

Q. This is the fourth Copenhagen Fashion Summit. What is special about this one?

Jonas Eder-Hansen: We have come a very long way! We have a lot more decision-makers among the participants now and they come from very different positions in fashion companies, representing everything from design and material sourcing to sales and marketing. International participants are up from around 40 percent in 2014 to more than 60 percent this time. In short, I think the summit finally has been able to attract more from the "mainstream" fashion community, not just the sustainability experts.

Q. This year's theme at the Copenhagen Fashion Summit is "responsible innovation." What does that concept mean to you?

Jonas Eder-Hansen: We work in one of the world's largest industries but also one of the most resource-intensive. As an industry we have to develop new business models and solutions that can solve the massive challenges we face. The world needs innovators who can lead the push towards a more sustainable economy. The fashion industry has the potential to be one such innovator, working proactively to address critical environmental, social and ethical challenges on a global scale.

Q. Many fast fashion representatives are attending the summit such as H&M, Adidas and Diesel. How can these big companies become more sustainable when their business models depend on people buying more clothes more frequently?

Jonas Eder-Hansen: The large brands and retailers are built on a linear economy in which we extract, process, consume and dispose. This is the foundation of modern society not just the fashion industry. It cannot change overnight, but the fashion industry is definitely moving towards a more circular economy. H&M's vision, for example, is 100 percent circularity. In 2015, some 1.3 million of its clothing were made with closed loop material—more than 300 percent compared to 2014. A company like H&M is well aware of the challenges and are committed to use its size and scale to become fully circular.

Q. So is the fashion industry, in general, ready to take a leap into a circular economy?

Jonas Eder-Hansen: We have to! According to studies from Ellen MacArthur Foundation there even is a major business opportunity here. Many brands and retailers are testing various take-back models and investing in recycling technologies, while governments and local authorities are piloting voluntary extended producer responsibility schemes. We are still far from a perfect solution, but the right actors are giving it so much attention that I really think we can succeed.

Q. One of the most inspirational speeches from last summit was Vanessa Friedman's presentation of the idea "sustainable wardrobe" in which we carefully select clothes that will stay with us for a long time. What are your thoughts on this? Is a sustainable wardrobe irreconcilable with the prosperity of the fashion industry?

Jonas Eder-Hansen: Not at all—I think there are a lot of companies already focused on craftsmanship, quality and sustainability who at the same time sell their products at a premium and have a very healthy revenue model. Yet, much more can be done from the industry to engage in a dialogue with consumers about the wear and care of their garments. This could lead to increased customer loyalty and brand building for companies. From a consumer perspective, we have probably become a bit too lazy to think about how we care for our clothes in a smarter way, such as washing in cold water, line drying instead of tumble drying etc. I think consumers could learn more about "wardrobe stewardship" to make their garments last longer.

Q. The Danish minister for foreign affairs is on the guest list for the summit along with other political figures. What role do politicians play in making the fashion industry more sustainable?

Jonas Eder-Hansen: There is so much governments can do. A few examples include: 1. integration of sustainable fashion curriculum into primary, secondary, university and vocational education and research, 2. standardization of product transparency disclosures and driving of consolidation of ecolabel(s) for fashion products and 3. exploration and testing of economic incentives (such as tariffs, deposits, etc.) to internalize social and environmental costs of consumption and production.

Q. What do you want people to take home with them after the summit?

Jonas Eder-Hansen: That we are on the right track towards a more sustainable fashion industry and that Copenhagen is the central place to discuss ambitions and visions for how we get there quicker.

Copenhagen Fashion Summit takes place May 12 at the Copenhagen Concert Hall with speakers such as H&M's Head of Sustainability Anna Gedda, founder & creative director at Eco Age Ltd. Livia Firth and EU commissioner for industry, Elzbieta Bienkowska. Learn more on copenhagenfashionsummit.com and follow the event on the summit's Facebook page.

Check out Sustainia's fashion series on Facebook and Twitter and discover some of the most groundbreaking sustainable fashion solutions in our Solutions100 publications.

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