How Copenhagen Put Sustainability At The Forefront Of Its Fashion Week

Though not one of the major four, Copenhagen Fashion Week has, in recent years, been a hotspot for trends that matter. Between its effortlessly cool street style and roster of It Girl brands like Ganni and Cecilie Bahnsen, it has also made a name for itself as one of the leaders of the sustainable fashion movement.

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Last year, Copenhagen Fashion Week launched a sustainability action plan. In addition to making a pledge to reduce its own footprint, it gave brands three years to meet a series of sustainability requirements in order to be eligible to have a spot on the official calendar. A year later and with a digital event as a result of the ongoing pandemic, Copenhagen Fashion Week released its first annual Sustainability Report that lists plans to become zero-waste by 2022.

“All industry players — including fashion weeks — have to be accountable for their actions and be willing to change the way business is done. The timeframe for averting the devastating effects of climate change on the planet and people is less than a decade, and we’re already witnessing its catastrophic impacts today,” said Cecilie Thorsmark, CEO of Copenhagen Fashion Week, during a press conference. 

This season, Copenhagen Fashion Week also partnered with Zalando, a European e-platform for fashion and lifestyle, to launch the Zalando Sustainability Award, which all brands on the calendar were invited to apply for. After looking at their sustainability strategies, a jury of experts selected House of Dagmar as the winner on Thursday.

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Founded in 2005 by sisters Karin Söderlind, Kristina Tjäder, and Sofia Wallenstam, House of Dagmar has been committed to sustainability since the beginning, prioritising design, ethics, and longevity as the house pillars of the brand. Instead of showcasing new trends, its new collection reimagines essentials like soft knits, relaxed suiting, and oversized coats — which the brand hopes inspires shoppers to wear their clothes season after season rather than a few times before the trend is over. As consumers, we must realise the need to support the sustainability movement,” Söderlind told Refinery29. “Maybe we don’t need the season’s It garment. But we do need a great sustainable wardrobe filled with your essentials.” 

In line with its eco-friendly practices, 90% of the products in the collection were made using at least 50% sustainable fabrics. “Our goal is to become climate neutral and offer 100% sustainable collections. To get there, we measure our fibre footprint every year so that we make decisions that lead to actual change in an effective and transparent way,” said Söderlind. 

“We still have a very long way to go to achieve our own goals. This gives us a push to keep putting even higher targets,” Wallenstam said in the press release announcing the win.

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Runner-up Marimekko, a Finnish fashion and home brand known for its can’t-miss prints, recently raised its sustainability targets to a much more ambitious level, promising to reduce the environmental footprint of its textile materials and its greenhouse gas emissions, among other initiatives, by 2025. “Deadlines are often the best motivator to hold ourselves accountable for any change that needs to be achieved,” Rebekka Bay, Marimekko’s creative director, told R29. “We also feel it’s important to be transparent to our community.”

To double down on its sustainability pledge, in lieu of a seasonal collection, the brand presented a conceptual film, highlighting its timeless design philosophy. “One of our goals was to make this film with a minimal environmental footprint, so the carbon footprint from the film’s production will be offset,” said Bay. “Our long-term vision is that our operations leave no trace on the environment.”

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RabensSaloner AW2021

Many designers see Copenhagen Fashion Week as the venue to unveil their own sustainability projects. Last season, Ganni partnered with Levi’s on a rental collection during the event; the season before, By Malene Birger made some of its fall 2020 runway looks available for rent. Other brands like Stine Goya, Baum und Pferdgarten, and Rabens Saloner that appear on the schedule are transparent about their sustainability efforts year-round. But while Copenhagen Fashion Week does boast a large number of brands who are committed to better practices — at least, in comparison to cities like New York, London, or Paris where you are significantly more hard-pressed to list sustainable designers outside of Collina Strada, Mara Hoffman, Stella McCartney, or Gabriela Hearst — there’s still the issue of greenwashing, where brands claim to be more sustainable than they truly are.

With 17 requirements on its action plan, by 2023, Copenhagen Fashion Week will require that brands meet specific benchmarks — like pledging not to destroy unsold clothes, using at least 50% certified, organic, upcycled, or recycled textiles in all collections, and using only sustainable packaging and zero-waste set designs for shows — in order to be able to participate on the calendar. As for those who don’t? “Sustainability is not a game or a sport where only one brand can win,” House of Dagmar’s Wallenstam said in a press release. And while that’s true, there are many fashion brands that stand to lose if they don’t adapt to the times.