By: Ilaria Pasquinelli, Twitter: @ilaria78, international marketing consultant for the textile and fashion industry.
On May 3rd 2012, the Nordic Fashion Summit took place in its second edition at the Opera House in Copenhagen, gathering more than a thousand fashion business representatives from nearly 30 countries. The Summit was preceded by the Pre-Fashion Summit, a by-invite-only event for 100 international experts of the fashion industry. The Summit was hosted by the Nordic Fashion Association (NFA), founded by the five industry organisations of the five Nordic countries.
There is no doubt: The Danish have surely managed to create the biggest international event for sustainability in fashion without even mentioning “sustainability” or “ethics”. But have they really managed to engage the industry across all departments? Personally, I think that it will still take some time for corporates and high-profile stakeholders to set their personal agenda aside and align themselves with what is the requirement of the industry as a whole.
The second highly awaited event during the Summit was the launch of the NICE code of conduct, developed in collaboration with the UN Global Compact, the world’s largest corporate sustainability initiative. The code of conduct wants to be THE guide for fashion businesses to develop their own ethical programmes. It encompasses far reaching issues not often found otherwise, such as animal rights and bribery. While the focus of the NICE project is the consumer, the final objective is maybe also to create an open platform to which all stakeholders of the fashion industry can contribute to create common standards and lobby policy makers to include sustainability in their agenda. Sharing a common language is an essential element to make the complex issues around sustainability clearer and engage businesses particularly those that are at the beginning of their journey. Other tools or initiative with a similar aim are for example:
- the Fair Wear Foundation’s Wage Ladder, an online tool that is meant to help brands, factories, trade unions and NGOs to work towards living wages (not minimum wages!) for garment and other workers, or
- The Sustainable Apparel Index, by the Sustainable Apparel Coalition, a standardisation attempt with a holistic approach and a cross-sectorial aim (which hopes for the index to be adoped by e.g. interiors or technology companies) to adopt one same standard.
Those tools have the potential to support and drive fashion professionals’ decisions from the design stage throughout the whole production cycle: they will have a resource at hand through which they can measure their efforts, and try to compromise the least possible (or necessary) on design and materials.
It is important to state though, that the consumer was undoubtedly the protagonist of the Summit, notably because there is still an important educational opportunity – in the sense of ‘empowerment’ – and not much has been done about it so far. This is partly explained by the complexity of communicating sustainability issues especially if the final goal is to change consumers’ behaviour; partly it is due to the fact that some players, notably fast fashion retailers, are in a very difficult position: How can you really combine more responsible buying and consumption patterns with a business model that is meant produce discardable garments at a very fast rate?