Responsible Innovators in Copenhagen: An Urgent Call for Sustainable Fashion

Responsible Innovators in Copenhagen: An Urgent Call for Sustainable Fashion

Marianne Caroline Hughes's picture

The theme for this year’s Copenhagen Fashion Summit was responsible innovation. However, what I actually came across during my time in Copenhagen (at the world’s largest summit for sustainable fashion) were responsible innovators--entrepreneurial individuals with an action plan for making sustainability the new normal. These responsible innovators and their startups got me really excited about the future of fashion. However, how can we grow a collaborative environment around sustainable fashion that allows influential corporates and responsible innovators to work together?

I arrived in Copenhagen ready to understand what made this city such a haven for sustainably minded professionals. The city aims to become the world's first CO2 neutral capital by 2025, so I had to take the opportunity to cycle along to the Youth Fashion Summit.

The Youth Fashion Summit was a gathering of young innovators from 40 countries, who prepared their own demands for the fashion industry based on the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The SDGs give us a set of targets around 17 themes that we can hope to act upon for a more sustainable world.

I arrived to see the youth innovators pitch their demands to a panel of senior sustainable fashion experts from the likes of H&M and Nike. For example, they demanded “the empowerment and education of workers and consumers”. The power of these young voices stunned the audience and panel, demonstrating the potential impact of young innovators in particular. Later they pitched their demands at the main Copenhagen Fashion Summit and have been noted by many media outlets as a highlight.

One particular quote from Dilys Williams, organiser of the Youth Fashion Summit, stays in my mind: “This is the first generation of people who really understand climate change, and the last ones who can really do anything about it.”

The following day we went along to the Copenhagen Fashion summit, the central gathering of sustainability professionals from the world of fashion. Speakers included Anna Gedda, Head of Sustainability at H&M, Suzy Menkes, International Editor of Vogue and Imran Amed, Founder of The Business of Fashion. It was insightful to hear straight from the minds of the some of the world’s most influential corporations in sustainability (H&M, Nike, LVMH, Kering), and reflect upon their journey so far to responsible innovation. Let us not underestimate the power of the fashion industry which Evie Evangelou, Founder of Fashion 4 Development, reminded us is “the world’s second most polluting industry after the oil industry”. Although it was a unique opportunity to hear from the leaders of corporations, I had hoped to feel a greater sense of urgency for what actions come next. I sensed innovators in the audience shared a desire to get out of their comfort zones and be inspired by new thoughts.

Although panels were gathered to answer questions such as ‘what is the role of the media?’, or ‘will technology save fashion?’, I felt a lacking question was ‘what is the role of entrepreneurs?’ or ‘how can corporates work with start-ups?’. The reason being that responsible innovation can often be embraced more rapidly when agile start-ups work alongside influential corporations. I felt the Copenhagen Fashion Summit would have been a great opportunity to facilitate this type of conversation, which is often hard to come by between entrepreneurs and corporates.

Image: Marianne Caroline Hughes speaking with fashion industry leaders at the Youth Fashion Summit. 

My final day in Copenhagen demonstrated what was possible when influential individuals in sustainable fashion did meet with innovating entrepreneurs and their startups. It was inspiring to be a part of Ashoka’s Fabric of Change programme as their ‘Fabric of Change Blogger’. The Fabric of Change programme, sponsored by the C&A Foundation, shortlisted 10 startups from around the world with convincing solutions for a sustainable apparel industry. The leaders of these startups gathered at Mckinsey in Copenhagen for a workshop with leaders from the sustainable fashion industry. Members of the panel discussion included Jason Kibbey, CEO of The Sustainable Apparel Coalition, Helio Mattar, Founder of Akatu, and Nicole Rycroft, Founder of Canopy. This was a great opportunity for the shortlisted entrepreneurs to pose their most challenging questions to experienced innovators in the field. An especially valuable part of the day was a chance for the entrepreneurs to receive mentoring from them; challenges were shared and progressive plans for tackling them whilst progressing the industry were decided upon. This is exactly the kind of collaboration I had hoped to witness during this important summit in Copenhagen. To me, the Copenhagen Fashion Summit 2016 marked a great opportunity for the world’s most responsible innovators to collaborate. In 2016 we need bold change like never before. We need to hear the story and challenges of not only corporates, but the emerging leaders who step into some of the toughest challenges yet.

Image: Stacy Flynn, Founder and CEO of Evrnu, accepting the Fabric of Change Grand Prize at the Copenhagen Fashion Summit Gala Dinner.

At the Youth Fashion Summit I was inspired by the sense of urgency coming from the voices of our young generation. During the Copenhagen Fashion Summit the reality of the situation hit me, as I realised just how much more work was needed to ensure that we’re on a sustainable runway to conquering some of the world’s greatest industrial challenges. But the real momentum and drive came from those new entrepreneurs stepping up to nominate themselves as the leaders of a big shift in thinking. Stacy Flynn, the Founder of Evrnu, was announced as the winner of the Fabric of Change Award during the Copenhagen Fashion Summit celebration dinner. Her personal drive and motivation is something I know many of us were grateful to be inspired by. She is just one example of what I could call a responsible innovator. I believe responsible innovators are the entrepreneurial minds we truly rely upon to build solutions to secure the future of the fashion industry at the urgent pace needed. Of the next Copenhagen Fashion Summit, I would ask that more responsible innovators are highlighted and get the chance to present their solutions and challenges to the corporate leaders of sustainable fashion.


Editor's Note: This article was written by the Fabric of Change challenge's winning Youth Blogger, Marianne Caroline. Follow her on Twitter @M_CarolineH.

Image credits: Copenhagen Fashion Summit

Video by Ashoka and C&A Foundation