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Special Report: Copenhagen Fashion Summit, by Avril Groom

We are delighted to introduce Gather&See’s Special Contributing Editor, Avril Groom. Avril is a highly regarded fashion editor whose work is regularly featured in the likes of the FT How To Spend It Magazine, Centurion Magazine and many others. Avril travelled to Copenhagen last week for the Copenhagen Fashion Summit, the leading summit on sustainable fashion.

The third sustainable fashion summit in Copenhagen, held on the anniversary of the Rana Plaza disaster, was an emotional roller coaster, by turns inspiring, moving, pugnacious, thought provoking and only occasionally airy fairy. Over a thousand people sat down in the excitingly designed, modern Opera House, to hear the refreshingly down to earth, Aussie (and Duchess of Cambridge lookalike) Crown Princess Mary welcome everyone to discuss an area of fashion in which she is plainly no slouch - she was in a fetching sustainable outfit, by Danish brand Designers Remix.

As a summit virgin, I was impressed by both the level of optimism that change is achievable and the practical steps that are being taken, with a minimum of waffly do-gooding on display, though there was some corporate eco-speak. The Danes are way ahead on sustainability issues which is why they are good hosts for this event and their major chain-store - H&M - is a prime sponsor and is trying hard to square its fast fashion approach with sustainability, such as ensuring a fair living wage in the foreign factories it uses, and putting clothes recycling boxes in stores. But there are questions, such as the scarcity of its excellent Conscious range, which sells out as fast as its designer collaborations, apparently due to lack of the right sustainable fabrics. Room for improvement if they want to be taken seriously in this area.

There were surprises - who would have expected the sweet-looking and elegant Livia Firth (who turned her tuxedo jacket inside out for Fashion Revolution Day) to be a rabble rouser prepared to attack H&M for its perpetual renewal of stock at throwaway prices, and call the Rana Plaza disaster murder? And for the most inspirational ideas of the day to come from Marco Bizzarri, CEO of super expensive, discreet Italian brand Bottega Veneta? It has just won an award for the sustainability of its new Italian HQ, and Kering, the luxury group to which it belongs, is rolling out an environmental profit and loss accounting system to see what all its brands are doing right or wrong in sustainability terms, which is also an award winner.

Plaza, and footage played during the minute’s silence to remember the event, and the 120 fashion students from 15 countries on stage, rounded up by the wonderful Dilys Williams of the London College of Fashion, who had their own Youth Fashion Summit during the two days before and put seven demands for the future - reasonable if challenging requests such as big businesses sharing their resources and expertise to reduce energy use and unnecessary competition, and educating young people to create a critical society which would question methods and make sustainability an everyday reality.

It was all put in perspective by the New York Times’ fashion editor-elect, Vanessa Friedman, who pointed out that “fashion” and “sustainable” are two words impossible to put together while the industry continues its headlong rush to produce more, faster. A sustainable wardrobe of long-lived, beautifully-made, well-loved pieces is her solution - and, added Stella McCartney in a special video, don’t wash or clean them too often if you want them to last, and do it more gently in line with the new Clevercare label about to appear in garments. A lot of us came away with some new resolutions - buy less, buy better and keep the salad dressing away from the silk - and the feeling that change is afoot, though it will take time and it is a complex area. And maybe better call it the sustainable clothing summit next time.

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