The Copenhagen Fashion Summit—one of the world's largest events dedicated sustainable fashion—just wrapped up its fifth edition.
It featured presentations, discussions, and announcements from a beyond impressive assemblage of the most influential people in the industry. I mean, when else can you find the head of sustainability at H&M, New York Times fashion reporters, Greenpeace campaign leaders, Eileen Fisher, and the princess of Denmark, all in one room? This year, more than 100 students from the Youth Fashion Summit also joined the fun to present their first-ever draft for a UN resolution on the future of eco-fashion (they're the ones who have the most at stake in it, after all).
Considering that global apparel consumption is projected to rise to 102 million tons in 2030—the equivalent of 500 billion T-shirts—we really need to listen up to the event's takeaways and do our part to forge a more sustainable system. Let's look at a few now:
1. The fashion industry has some work to do.
This year's summit kicked off with the first-ever "Pulse of the Fashion Industry" report, which surveyed industry leaders to assign the fashion world an aggregate "Pulse Score" based on factors like water consumption, energy emissions, chemical usage, labor practices, and waste creation. And, no surprise here, it's pretty low: 32 out of 100. The report shows that the size of a company affects its sustainability score but not in the way you might expect. In fact, it's larger brands that are paving the way with progressive initiatives while the small to midsize ones are falling behind on average.
2. Large companies are working sustainability into their DNA.
Over the course of the day, leaders at some of the world's most powerful brands shared plans to use their influence for good. HUGO BOSS is working sustainable metrics into its new corporate strategy to show that eco can, in fact, be profitable while Eileen Fisher is shifting consumer outreach to attract shoppers who are on the hunt for green labels. Even luxury brands are making a statement, with Tiffany & Co. CEO Michael Kowalski describing the company's exploration of more responsible mining practices and making a plea to President Trump to keep the United States in the Paris Climate Agreement.
3. The politics of fashion are complicated.
While there was lots of talk about the promising technologies that have the power to change the way our clothes are made (think 3-D printing and robotic cutting), these need to be used responsibly. The global textile industry employs nearly 60 million people, and their livelihoods must be factored into the equation as well.
4. Recycled clothing is about to become the norm.
The most exciting and tangible takeaway from this year's event is the Global Fashion Agenda: a call to action that asks brands to unite to create a circular economy. As it stands now, the norm is to produce clothes that people buy, wear them a few times, then toss. By signing the agenda, companies are pledging to collect, reuse, and recycle more materials. Big names like Adidas, ASOS, H&M, and Target have already said they're up for the challenge.
5. Ultimately, it's your dollar that casts the deciding vote.
The fashion industry can roll out sustainably made collection after collection and it won't mean a thing unless people actually buy into it. By committing to researching the environmental and social impact of the clothes on your back, you're playing a part in ensuring that these innovations make their way to the shelves of tomorrow. Because, after all, as Susie Bubble, the Youth Fashion Summit ambassador, proclaimed in her address, "Sustainability in fashion isn't just the 'right' thing to do, but it's where the future of fashion lies."