Fashion Week season is over. What happened to sustainability?

As the fashion industry continues to grapple with the effects of climate change, the issue of sustainability has become an increasingly pressing concern. While some fashion events have made strides in promoting eco-friendly practices, others have been slow to adopt sustainability requirements. This was particularly evident in the recent fashion weeks held in New York, London, Milan, and Paris, where sustainability was largely overlooked.

Copenhagen Fashion Week, the first to set sustainability requirements

Copenhagen, on the other hand, took a different approach by implementing strict sustainability requirements for its fashion week. Participating brands were required to comply with 18 mandatory rules based on the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, including a rule that 50 percent of a collection must be made using deadstock, recycled, upcycled or new-generation materials, such as alternatives to animal-derived raw materials like leather. Fur was banned outright, and brands were also required to meet social responsibility standards, such as ensuring that their supply chains were free from child labor and that factories provided safe and fair working conditions for employees.

While this may have posed challenges for some designers, it was a necessary step in reducing the environmental impact of the event. By setting these requirements, Copenhagen Fashion Week aimed to promote sustainable fashion and encourage designers to embrace eco-friendly practices.

Because of this, many were hopeful that CPHFW could spark change in the following Fashion Weeks; however, this was not the case. While a few designers like PH5 (NYFW) and Johannes Warnke (LFW) made eco-friendly choices, and Milan hosted an Ethical and Sustainable Showroom, sustainability was not a top priority for the major fashion events. The fear of losing big commercial names that attract international press and buyers creates a dilemma for organizers, who must balance promoting sustainable practices with showcasing high-profile designers. This is especially challenging in an industry that prioritizes newness over sustainability, and additionally, it’s difficult to set a one-size-fits-all sustainability standard. As Caroline Rush, CEO of the British Fashion Council, notes, “London Fashion Week hosts a mixture of established and emerging brands, so setting a one-size-fits-all sustainability standard is not feasible without alienating smaller businesses.”


In the fashion industry, newness is still preferred over sustainability

Even at Paris Fashion Week, where Coperni made headlines in the past for presenting a spray-on biodegradable dress worn by Bella Hadid, this year, the creative direction took a different approach. Instead of focusing on sustainability, they wanted to grab attention with the runway presentation of a yellow, four-legged robot in the shape of a futuristic dog. While this may have been an innovative choice, it highlights the disconnect between the fashion industry and sustainability. As an industry so focused on trends, it is clear that novelty continues to take precedence over other environmental factors.

So, should all fashion weeks follow Copenhagen and adopt strict sustainability requirements, regardless of the challenges they may face? For some, the answer is not a simple one. While it is clear that the fashion industry needs to take greater responsibility for its environmental impact, it is also important to recognize the challenges involved in making this shift. However, it is crucial for the industry to prioritize sustainability in a more meaningful way. Given the significant influence of these events, it is imperative that they set an example for driving change in the fashion world.


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