Reflecting on the Global Fashion Summit


The Global Fashion Summit 2023 took the theme of ‘Ambition to Action’, presented by Global Fashion Agenda.

On 27 and 28 June, the Global Fashion Summit: Copenhagen Edition 2023 gathered over 1000 industry representatives covering brands, retailers, NGOs, policy makers, manufacturers, and innovators under the theme ‘Ambition to Action’, presented by Global Fashion Agenda.

Following two days of panel discussions, networking and the innovation forum, CPHFW reflects on selected panels as an exercise of self-reflection upon the systems in which we operate. We hope that through critical reflections, we can move beyond current notions of business-as-usual towards shaping new ideas and ultimately take action.

Is luxury fashion inherently sustainable?

“I think luxury products are sustainable by nature. They are made from the highest quality materials, they are durable, and they are repairable” said Antoine Arnault (Image & Environment, LVMH Group), building on the assumption that higher quality garments will be used for longer and as such, consumers will purchase less new garments. We wonder how that reflects the reality of a growing luxury sector, growing at a faster rate than the rest of the industry (as noted by the moderator in the panel)? If luxury sector is sustainable, what data on their social and environmental impact relative to their production volumes are backing this up? Bella Webb reported “some attendees pointed out that fast fashion would not exist if it did not have a luxury industry to mimic, and many brands share suppliers, making collaboration across this divide crucial to progress.” – essentially, the fashion system is built on the direct and indirect relationships between stakeholders. Luxury and fast fashion companies alike are co-creators of trends, speedy cycles and its socio-ecological impact.

Just transitions within the growth paradigm?

In the keynote presentation ‘Solutions Beyond Growth’ Dr. Hakan Karaosman, (Assistant Professor, Cardiff University) noted “the definitions and activates of development are framed around Global North centric capitalist values of progress, but these actions are destructive at the expense of natural, social and emotional resources”. In a space where other speakers frequently refer to technology, innovation or data, it was refreshing to hearing Dr. Karaosman’s findings based on his research on social justice and climate action in complex fashion supply chains which placed human experiences at the forefront. While Dr. Karaosman’s was not the only person on stage to dismantle problems within growth logic, it can be questioned if radical thinking and action can be mainstreamed in the context of the Global North where people in power benefit from these imbalances? Thus, representation is key when creating space to question the growth logic but also to ensure a just transition.

Representation and shared realities

As reported by both Forbes and Vogue Business, the lack of representation from the supply chain from the Global South was notable “fashion production is where the industry’s main impacts are and where sustainability needs to happen, so let’s ask the producers (of raw materials through to garments) how to do it”, writes Roberts-Islam. Representation is a much needed first step exemplified by the ‘Textile Waste and The Global Circular Economy’ panel where Sammy Oteng (Senior Community Engagement Manager, The Or Foundation) and Cynthia Essoun (Abena) (Community Outreach Coordinator, The Or Foundation) passed on garments collected from the Kantamanto market in Accra, Ghana for the audience to touch the problems with their own hands. “It's very disgusting but this is our reality”, Oteng said when referring to the garments – the audience responded with an immediate laugh. Are we taking accountability of this problem and acknowledging the fact that Global North has created this reality, a reality where overproduction and overconsumption is polluting environments and harming societies in countries of the Global South? The Or Foundation is advocating to ‘Stop waste colonialism’, sharing very concrete actions on what can be done so the Global North won’t have to laugh at problems we created.

Ambition to action

According to research from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change immediate action is needed within the next 7 years to meet the Paris Agreement. As the Summit theme points out, our ambitions must be aligned with our actions. For the future, we hope to see more marginalised voices to be represented, heard and included in the decision-making processes. We also hope to experience acknowledgment that our current fashion system, its growth logic and imbalanced power relations are outdated as a first step to start envisioning and building new systems in reciprocity with people and planet.